Exploring the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
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Art: John Martin. Click image for full size.
Joe Lara (1962-2021): licensed falconer, licensed pilot since 16 years of age, advanced open-water diver, surfer, boxer, trained marksman, passion and love for animals, specifically horses. In 2009, produced and released his first Country and Western album, "Joe Lara: The Cry of Freedom."
Source: Joe Lara website
Tarzan In Manhatten, In memory of Joe Lara
By John "Bridge" Martin
Copyright © 2021
Back in 1989 when we opened TV Guide to see an ad for "Tarzan in Manhattan," most of us had probably never heard of the star, Joe Lara.
He had only one movie credit prior to that, when he played an unnamed American soldier in a film titled "Night Wars." His next role after Tarzan would be playing a renegade named Wolf in "Gunsmoke: The Last Apache," a made-for-TV movie. It was in 1996 that he returned to the role of Tarzan in the syndicated TV series, "Tarzan: The Epic Adventures."
Memories of Lara and his Tarzan roles came rushing back to many over the past few days as we heard the tragic news that he, his wife Gwen, and several others had been killed in the crash of a private jet plane.
One of my memories is that I took notes during that 1989 movie and wrote a review of it for Bill Ross's "Tarzine."
In re-reading my review 32 years later, I find that I haven't changed my mind about what I wrote back then. So, here it is:
This is very slightly edited from the version which appeared in Bill Ross's "Tarzine" #75 (also designated inside as Vol. 9, No. 4), April 1989. Copyright 1989 by Bill Ross.
Tarzan In Manhatten
As a lover of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, I am both excited and apprehensive when I hear a new Tarzan movie is coming out—excited at the possibilities, apprehensive about what Hollywood may do to my favorite character.
And, I'm particularly wary when I hear the adventure is to take place in New York City!!! (Said with all the venom of the cowboys in the Pace Picanta Sauce TV commercial), and involves a cab driver named Jane. What? Our Jane a cabbie? One has visions of a hard-looking, rough-talking, cigarette-sucking floozie, and one shudders.
Certainly, "Tarzan in Manhattan" takes liberties with ERB's facts. Tarzan's parents weren't killed in a plane crash; Jane's father wasn't an ex-cop; Tarzan didn't have a chimp named Cheeta. Yes, there were those and other inaccuracies and those familiar with the Tarzan books can enumerate them as well as I.
But, I liked "Tarzan in Manhattan."
For, while there were numerous differences between what ERB wrote and what the script writers penned, I did believe the movie makers were faithful to the character of our hero.
Thus, we have:
- A Tarzan who speaks fluent English, not half-understood monosyllables;
- A Tarzan who doesn't crawl into Jane's boudoir to seduce her (as in "Greystoke") but who sleeps outside on the fire escape, knife drawn, to protect her while she sleeps (just as Tarzan protected Jane in "Tarzan of the Apes").
- A Tarzan who has a sense of humor.
ERB's Tarzan had such a sense, though it was often a grim one. This Tarzan says, "My friend Joseph told me that I have a sense of humor."
Even so, Tarzan doesn't have many chances to exercise it. Most of the laughs come when he makes serious statements, such as, when arriving at a costume ball at the villain's house, he asks, "Why is that man dressed like a banana?"
One time when Tarzan shows his wit is when Juan Lipschitz, local gang leader, breaks into Jane's apartment and Tarzan, in turn, break's Juan's baseball bat in half.
"That bat was autographed," says an outraged Juan.
"Well, now you've got two," Tarzan replies.
ERB's Tarzan has always been adept at learning new languages and he must learn some new terms in Manhattan.
For example, when Juan first enters Jane's bedroom to find Tarzan not there, he asks, "Where's the dude?"
Comes a voice behind him: "The dude is here."
Run-ins with the law are inevitable and Tarzan soon starts learning the word: "Freeze!"
"Well, that seems to be a very popular expression in this city," he says.
Later, when Tarzan, Jane and Cheetah are involved in a melee in the villain's headquarters, Tarzan suddenly yells, "Freeze!" and everyone stops and looks at him. "It works!" he happily notes.
I like Jane, too. She is a girl who can take care of herself. She is not the Jane who was frightened and fainting through the first two Tarzan books, but the Jane who began to get tough in "The Beasts of Tarzan," who proved her mettle in "Tarzan the Terrible," and who stole the spotlight in "Tarzan's Quest."
Tarzan wins Jane's heart when he stops a runaway horse in the park a la the Old West. More Old West flavor is provided when Tony Curtis, as Archimedes (Archie) Porter, Jane's father, tells Tarzan he has 24 hours to "get out of town."
But Tarzan grows on the old man, and Porter's soon telling daughter Jane, "I got to admit, this guy is a notch above your other boy friends."
In a scene reminiscent of the first Christopher Reeve "Superman" movie, in which Clark pulls open his shirt to expose his "S" on his way to save Lois, Tarzan "strips off his thin veneer of civilization" in a similar manner as he dashed into a burning building to save Mr. Porter.
One time Tarzan comes to Jane's apartment with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. "I found a building with a jungle inside," he grins.
Jane: "You shouldn't have."
Tarzan, smiling: "Lunch!"—and heads to the salad cutting board with the flowers.
Jan Michael Vincent, as Brightmore, is the head villain, but at least he's an honest villain.
"Do you know what I do, Tarzan?" he asks.
"You kill animals," replies the ape man.
"It's my hobby," he acknowledges.
After the climactic chase and arrow-vs.-bullet battle on the villain's estate, and the cops come to haul Brightmore off, the bad guy says: "You know, best hunt I ever had."
Another way in which the movie is faithful to Edgar Rice Burroughs is in its treatment of the "fetid breath of civilization."
When Tarzan decides to leave Africa to go to Manhattan to rescue kidnapped Cheeta and avenge Kala, his friend Joseph says, "Now don't you go and get civilized on me."
No problem with that.
There IS a problem, though, with Tarzan's passport and upon his arrival in New York he is jailed.
In "The Return..." Tarzan said, "They will never lock Tarzan of the Apes behind iron bars." This Tarzan has similar sentiments.
With muscle power, he does away with the bars and dives four stories into the murky river, polluted with the leftover "refinements" of civilization.
"Y'hear that yell," says a guard.
"You'd yell too if you jumped in that crap," said the other.
Another time, Tony Curtis (I think of him more as Tony Curtis playing Tony Curtis than as Tony Curtis playing Archimedes Porter) says, "Hey jungle man, don't breathe too deep; you're gonna choke."
Replies Tarzan, "What have they done with the air here?"
If Edgar Rice Burroughs were living today, what would he think of this movie? I don't think he would appreciate the tampering with the story of how Tarzan came to grow up in the jungle, how Kala was killed, how Jane and Tarzan met, etc.
But, ERB himself wrote of how Tarzan coped with civilization in the front of "The Return of Tarzan" and in the back of "Tarzan and the Lion Man."
And I believe the adventures of "Tarzlaran" in Manhattan are consistent with the way ERB showed Tarzan to behave in those books—a loyalty to friends, a noble character, a desire to right wrongs, and a sense of humor.
If this does become a TV series, I hope it will keep Tarzan's character traits intact, and will spur the show's viewers to read Tarzan the way ERB wrote him.
"In Memory" postal cover for Mr. and Mrs. Lara
Editor: Bridge provided more thoughts when responding to posts on the private erblistreplyall:
We tend to think people are going to live forever, but when they die it makes us realize what we've lost.
I had never before thought much about which Tarzan series I liked better -- Ely or Lara. But I did some reflecting on that.
Both were good Tarzans in their own way, in that they were macho and spoke well instead of using grunts and half sentences.
Ely's series was more like "the bad guy of the week" whereas Lara's took us to versions of actual ERB characters -- La, the Leopard Men, Pellucidar, Amtor. True, they were not all exactly the way ERB wrote them, but I thought at least an effort was mada.
So, on the basis of Lara's series going more into ERB's world, I would place his series above Ely's, though both rank high.
Fan wise, both avoided fans for many years, as far as I know. But in 2012 Ely did show up at some fan gatherings whereas I've never heard that Lara did. So, in that category, Ely outclasses Lara.
As for Wolf Larson's Tarzan and Travis Fimmel's Tarzan, they are definitely further down the ladder, though Wolf easily rates far above Fimmel.
Animated? That's another animal.