Tarzan on (and off) Radio
In 1976, at the suggestion of Danton
Burroughs, I began work on a book to be titled Tarzan of the Air,
a history of the Tarzan radio programs. This was a project that had been
toyed with and abandoned by two or three ERB fans before me. From published
sources, telephone interviews with James H. Pierce, and information supplied
by Danton, I prepared two sample chapters and a 30-page detailed outline
and began seeking a publisher; I hoped to sell the book and use the publisher's
advance to finance a trip to Tarzana to complete my research. Before a
publisher could be located, however, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. underwent
a change of management and heart, and the project had to be abandoned.
One of the most fascinating things suggested
by my research was the influence upon Burroughs' canonical novels exerted
by the "secondary Tarzans"--the radio shows, the movies, and the comics.
A long and tortuous history emerged for some of the later novels; old questions
were answered and new questions--still unanswered--arose to take their
Tarzan debuted on radio on September 10,
1932 in a fifteen-minute serial produced by American Radio Features Syndicate.
James H. Pierce portrayed the ape-man and Joan Burroughs Pierce played
Jane. The first serial ran 286 episodes. Tarzan of the Apes was
adapted through number 130, followed by an adaption of The Return of
Tarzan. Burroughs was dissatisfied with the production and before the
two-year contract was a year old he decided that he could do a better job
than American Radio Features. When the contract expired he refused to sign
a second and Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., became the producer of the Tarzan
In anticipation of this ERB had outlined
an original story. He planned that each of the ERB, Inc., stories would
be completely new and would run thirty-nine episodes--three months--rather
than rambling on indefinitely. The first serial had not quite finished
Tarzan and Jane were not yet married. ERB's story took up the plot at that
point and kept Lord Tennington and Hazel Strong, Jane's friend, for continuity.
Before production could begin, however, Joan Pierce dropped out (she may
have been pregnant) and Jim Pierce announced that he would prefer not to
appear without his wife.
Undaunted, Burroughs found a new Tarzan
in Carlton KaDell and outlined "Tarzan and the Diamond of Asher" (scripted
for radio by Rob Thompson), in which Jane does not appear; she is off somewhere,
thinking over her relationship with the ape-man. In it Tarzan and D'Arnot
travel to a lost valley said to contain a hypnotic diamond called The Father
of Diamonds. Hulbert Burroughs acted as producer for ERB, Inc., and Ralph
Rothmund masterminded the sales campaign.
Delays ensued after the excellent "Asher,"
but in 1936 (two years later) "Tarzan and the Fires of Tohr" followed.
(I haven't been able to find a tape of this serial.) This was the last
of the ERB, Inc. productions, though many other radio projects were considered
and rejected in the following years. It was only after Burroughs' death
in 1950 that Tarzan appeared on radio again, this time in a once-a-week,
half hour format.
The foregoing is a very brief summary of
the early Tarzan radio serial. While interesting in itself, even more interesting
is the non-radio sequel. Burroughs' "waste not, want not" philosophy led
him to turn to his discarded radio plot when he found himself in need of
material for a new novel. Readers have long wondered why Burroughs returned
unexpectedly to Jane in one novel in the late 1930s, and why he resurrected
Lord and Lady Tennington for that book. The answer lies in the Tarzan radio
serial. Tarzan's Quest was plotted for radio and originally intended
to follow The Return of Tarzan.
"Diamond of Asher" has a very intricate
line of descendants. As the thirties drew to a close, ERB apparently found
himself hard pressed for new material. He turned to "Asher" first for the
idea of a hypnotic jewel, incorporating this into the first half of Tarzan
the Magnificent, then returned to the story a year or so later, removed
from the "Asher" storyline the element he had already borrowed, and did
a close adaption of what remained of his radio plot for the comic story
strip "Tarzan and the Forbidden City," which Burroughs wrote before writing
the novel of the same name. (I have not had the opportunity to compare
the two, but an article on this subject would be very welcome. This information
comes from Porges, page 764, note 39.)
"Tarzan and the Fires of Tohr" also appeared
as a daily comic strip, following soon after "Forbidden City." It seems
likely that ERB may have written the continuity for it also; and if he
did, then that story strip represents genuine, if minor, Burroughs and
should be reprinted. (This brings up the question of those other story
strips which were not adapted from Burroughs' novels. Some of these may
have been written by ERB; the one based on the movie New Adventures
of Tarzan--which itself is said to have been based on an original ERB
story--would seem the most likely candidate.)
The story behind "Fires of Tohr" does not
end here, however. In the late 1930s the story strip became the numbered
daily Tarzan strip and continued much as before, but with original stories
rather than adaptions of novels, until the late 1940s, when United Features
informed ERB that they were concerned about the strip's declining popularity.
In response to this Burne Hogarth took over the daily art chores and Rob
Thompson began writing the scripts--the same Rob Thompson who had scripted
the ERB, Inc. radio serials. For his first story (I suspect but cannot
prove) Thompson turned not to ERB's original novel, but to his own adaption
for radio of
Tarzan at the Earth's Core--one of the abortive radio
projects of the late '30s. Then, for his next two daily stories, he adapted
his own radio scripts for "Asher" and "Tohr"; but since these stories had
already been used in the earlier story strip versions, he changed the names
of most of the characters and places.
Thompson's comic strip versions were long
and meandering, and he seems to have been replaced after "Tohr." But around
the same time Dell comics expressed interest in a Tarzan comic book, and
ERB, Inc., suggested that Thompson write the stories. You guessed it. The
result was yet another adaption of "Tarzan and the Fires of Tohr" (Dell,
Tarzan and the Forbidden City, of
course, went through yet another incarnation when it appeared in a completely
different version in Argosy as "The Red Star of Tarzan," and must
rank as one of Burroughs' most adapted stories--something of an irony,
since it isn't one of his best or best known.
I might as well mention a few of the other
interesting tidbits that my research uncovered: Johnny Weissmuller did
an audition recording for the planned Tarzan at the Earth's Core
serial; not surprisingly, his voice was not right for radio.
Another plan was for Buster Crabbe to star
in both a radio serial and movie, which would play concurrently and be
related to each other. What a shame that this one never materialized.
"Diamond of Asher" is available in wonderful
sound, and has very good production values. It suffers somewhat from the
meandering storyline that seems to have been common to most serials--radio
as well as movie--but still makes very interesting listening. "Tarzan of
the Apes" seems to be available only in fair sound, and I haven't been
able to locate any programs above about number 115. "Tohr" is not available,
as far as I know. These serials, by the way, feature some very interesting
Tarzan cries: "Taaan-TOR" summons elephant help; "Kreee-GAAAH!" warns
enemies; "Tar-mann-gaaaaa-NEEEE!" announces the victorious ape-man to the
world. This last is the same cry used in the Burroughs-Tarzan Enterprises
New Adventures of Tarzan and Tarzan and the Green Goddess.
I can't resist, lastly, Joan Bledig's challenge
to translate the Swahili phrase "Leti Ginni qua Memshab!!" Obviously "More
Gin for the Lady!!" (Or "Let Jenny be a Lady"?)
--September 23, 1984
1999 NOTE: Robert R. Barrett is now researching a book on all of the sound recording produced by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., and his findings indicate that the basic plots of Tarzan and the Diamond of Asher and Tarzan and the Fires of Tohr were probably created by Rob Thompson and not Burroughs. Both of these serials were issued in 1997 by Adventures in Cassettes and probably will be reissued by Radio Spirits.