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JANES OF THE CINEMA

And Other Suggestions Culled from ERBList September 2000

David Bruce Bozarth


In 1912 Edgar Rice Burroughs created a near mythic popular character, Tarzan of the Apes, who has been the star of several dozen books, a handful of tv shows, and a cinema filmograpy that spans the years 1918 to the present. Tarzan is the hero, of course, and is the prime interest for readers and viewers, but a Tarzan without a Jane is not good box office or best-seller material. Jane Parker (of the films) or Jane Porter (of the books) is the ever constant and devoted wife, the woman who civilizes the savage ape-man as gently as she intensely loves him, and is the person that Tarzan loves--and protects--above all others.

Maureen O'Sullivan

Maureen O'Sullivan is the most famous film Jane, who swings through the trees with her jungle husband.

Jane of the books is an American girl of good education and background, a brave heart, and physical beauty. In Tarzan of the Apes she is a little out of her element as the jungle is unlike anything she has ever experienced in her young life. She is to be forgiven for being initially frightened and confused, but when she is in the presence of her "forest god" there is no fear and all uncertainty disappears.

Jane of the movies is a girl of the English aristocracy, who is also of good education and background, a brave heart, and physical beauty. In Tarzan the Ape-Man she is a little out of her element as the jungle is unlike anything she has ever experienced in her young life. She is to be forgiven for being initially frightened and confused, but when she is in the presence of her "forest god" there is no fear and all uncertainty disappears.

The preceeding sentences are nearly identical and are meant to illustrate the underlying uniformity of Jane's character whether found in book or film. Where the real differences between book and film Janes arise is the difference in entertainment mediums. Film Janes are simply more athletic.

Early film going audiences saw Jane of the Long Skirt or Dress, much as the book Jane was attired. Maureen O'Sullivan in 1934's Tarzan and His Mate set a new style for Jane film fashion: more skin—less cover. Though a departure from the more demure Jane of the books, I doubt there were many male readers or movie goers overly dissatisfied with the new look—O'Sullivan was a very attractive lady. The film contains a full nudity underwater sequence, usually cut from TV broadcasts; however, the woman swimming with Weissmuller is not Maureen O'Sullivan.

Bo Derek

Bo Derek is the Jane who bared the most skin in Tarzan the Ape Man. Unfortunately the film was not as perfect as her form.

In the original Burroughs novels Jane Porter is a daughter of Baltimore and is described in Tarzan of the Apes as young (19-ish of age), blonde, buxom and attractive. ERB's pastel prose paints a picture of Jane that can be—and is—every male reader's secret dream girl, the girl who won Tarzan's heart, and thereby suggests that there might be a Jane out there for them, too.

The ape-man without Jane is only half of the Tarzan legend. As early as 1912 Edgar Rice Burroughs was writing adventure romances that included gals in prominent roles in the overall plot. These women were more than simple trophies for victorious heroes, they had hopes and dreams, and philosophies of their own. Many of these heroines were quite capable of taking care of themselves. The early films followed that same paradigm, showing Jane as a girl of strong personality who was the civilizing influence that shaped the savage ape-man's future character—and was a willing partner. Later movie Jane civilizing influences usually meant correcting the monosyllablic speech, or adding a woman's touch around the home. Jane was frequently Tarzan's conscience: help those, don't help those, don't kill, do kill. These Janes of the early and mid years of cinema are help mates and supporters, and all cleave to the ape-man singlemindedly.

Then, after nearly 60 years of Tarzan and Jane on film, we encounter two Janes who are inconsistent with all the previous Janes: Derek and MacDowell.

Andie MacDowell

The most emotionally repressed of all film Janes, Andie MacDowell lets Tarzan get away.

Bo Derek's appearance as Jane does reflect the initial meeting of the girl with the ape-man and the romance that followed, but this cinematic version appears expressly intended to reveal as much of Ms. Derek's unclothed pulchritude as possible. There is quite a bit of female nudity in the film and water scenes. While appealing as eye candy, there is little this Jane has to offer as regards civilizing her forest god, and the film does little to advance the Tarzan mythos.

Andie MacDowall takes Jane into an equally unusual direction for screen Janes. A woman severely dressed at all times and, worse, severely repressed most of the time. This Jane is more bystander to Tarzan's difficult encounter with civilization than participant and guide. In the end she does what no other film Jane has ever done: she lets Tarzan go back to his jungle. To be fair, it is doubtful that Ms. McDowell requested this script: blame Hugh Hudson for this travesty of Tarzan films!

The following is a list of Janes in film (as of 2000) and the Tarzan actor's name (no particular order):


As periodically happens at ERBList's discussion, casting for the part of Jane came up just recently. Here's a few of the Janes we'd like to have seen or hope to see on the silver screen. Though I suspect one or two of these actresses were suggested for laughs!

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Elizabeth Berkley
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Clara Bow
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Cheryl Miller
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Grace Kelly
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Fae Wray
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Gina Gershon
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Olivia Newton-John
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Heather Angel
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Elizabeth Shue
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Virginia Bruce
3 Brunettes
6 Blondes
and a Redhead.