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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 places.
   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 serial.
   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 Return; 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, August, 1947).
   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 films 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.

 
Tarzan: Nostalgia Radio Six-Pack (Episodes from the 1950s series.)

  ERB & Tarzan Audio Books
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Copyright © 1999 Patrick H. Adkins. All rights reserved.