Years ago in Mexico City I was having coffee at a sidewalk cafe when an old guy with a bad leg and a droopy moustache sat down beside me. Soon after, he asked me where I had come from. “London, “ I replied. He pulled the ends of his moustache and said, “Ah, America.” I was polite and said, “No, sir, England.” He was a bit confused. “Oh, yes,” he said, smiling and showing all his gold teeth. “By California!” The coffee was excellent.
When I was a young boy my parents had a television for a short time. Every day during the week my mother was in front of the box staring at it like a zombie. “Why do you watch that stuff?” I asked. My mother didn’t turn her head while she said, “I like watching the wildlife.” Little did I realize that the big animal that held her attention was an American athlete turned movie star, Johnny Weissmuller, a tall, good-looking fellow who walked around in a loincloth playing Tarzan of the Jungle.
During a commercial my mother asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said I wanted to be the guy who made the Tarzan yell when he used a vine to swing through the trees. My mother said that sound was made by a machine. I was supposed to try again. I said, “I want to be a laugher on television. Seems laugh tracks were made by machine as well. Third chance was to say I wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer. “Cowboy,” I would say.
I don’t know how it went with other kids, but getting a beating from my mother didn’t inspire me to go to law school. Nor did a bloody nose make me want to be a doctor. I really wanted to be a writer, but who could tell where that would lead had my mother ever heard me confess it.
I was a smart kid. I wanted to write books. If I had been a smarter kid, I would have said I wanted to write books that people actually read. And if I had been really smart I would have decided to write books that sell and make a lot of money. What I did know, even at an early age, is that I did not want to write stupid books like Tarzan of the Jungle.
Edgar Rice Bouroughs was a popular and rich writer of Tarzan novels. He wrote about Africa. My mother loved Tarzan, little did I realize. One of those movies she was so keen on was set in a place sort of like, but not even close to sort of like, Liberia. If I had said to my mother that the movie was supposed to be about Liberia she might well have said, “Oh, somewhere near California?” At least she didn’t have a gold teeth and a droopy moustache. Edgar Rice Bouroughs lived and wrote about Africa from his home in Tarzana, California. He made a lot of money. Smarter guy than I am.
Writers write books, sometimes about places they know nothing about. Some of those books are very good, even if they are science fiction and the writer has never actually been to Mars or Jupiter. Some books about Africa are almost science fiction, but they too can be good.
I’m not so sure I can recommend Tarzan novels, even those set in Liberia. One Tarzan novel is set there, though it is hardly about Liberia at all. It’s an action romance novel. Later, the same rough idea became a movie. For those from Liberia the experience might be like mine when I watched a movie in China about my homeland. I spent two hours laughing till my stomach hurt as hundreds of intense young Communists watched in horror as America showed on the screen, America according to the Chinese Communist government. It was to me pure comedy. To the rest of the audience, it was horror on a platter. I assume they liked it. I know I did. Sort of. In a weird way.
In this “Information Age” it’s still very common to find people expressing opinions that have nothing to do with the facts easily available to most people. Not that people are too lazy to look up information to see for themselves what is or isn’t more or less true; it’s mostly a matter of people being so convinced that their opinions are facts that they don’t think they should look further into the opinions they have. Knowing about Tarzan novels might well be enough for most to talk with some authority on Liberia. What do I know? I spend a lot of time asking questions, looking up information, and asking more questions. I could get a job and make some money, which would be a better plan, probably. It might not hurt my life to assume that all foreign places on earth are somewhere near California. If I get all my knowledge about Liberia from Tarzan novels, it doesn’t hurt that much. I guess. But, I do a bit more, being a curious guy. I read the history and details of the nation, and then, because I don’t have to go to work every day, I have time to read Tarzan novels, too. If anyone is interested in giving me a dollar for a cup of coffee, I am an interesting fellow to talk to. I might be a richer man if I just made up stuff about, let’s say, Liberia, and wrote silly novels knowing nothing at all but how to get the good guy to thwart the bad guy and save the beautiful girl as well. No, I’m not that smart. I spend my time learning, sometimes about silly novels.
How about Tarzan and the Leopard Men? It was written by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1933, long before the Age of the Internet. Published in serial form in The Blue Book Magazine, August 1932—January 1933.The first US book edition: Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., September 1935. Say what we will, the cover is totally cool, and well worth the five cents it would have cost for the book back then.
Rather than spending a hundred dollars on a collector’s copy of this nonsense, one can find the text for free at the link: Text: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks05/0500201h.html.Being an old guy, I found it far easier to get a copy from the library. I can’t lay any claim to knowing more about the Leopard Societies of Liberia from reading this novel. I didn’t expect to learn about the Heart Men.
That wasn’t the point. I wanted to know about how people in America saw Liberia in 1932-33.
Or, maybe I should just confess that I was bored and tired and wanted to read a cheap pulp novel to pass a few hours.
In 1933 Liberia was facing severe hardships, an economic catastrophe due to world-wide depression, the League of Nations threatening to take over the country due to the Fernando Po scandal, Firestone Rubber demanding money from a bankrupt nation, and local rebellions tearing apart the social fabric. For an American novelist in California, the interesting thing was the beautiful girl looking in the jungle for her lost brother, two ivory hunters seeking to get rich, and Tarzan and his monkey companion Nkima coming into conflict with the Leopard Men. Let’s face it, who needs the facts from a brilliant American sociologist from the University of Chicago writing about social conditions in Liberia when one can instead read about the beautiful girl being captured by bad guys and will the ivory hunting handsome guy save her so they can live happily ever after? Damn the facts, will Taran escape from the hut to save everyone? That really matters.
Tarzan and the Leopard Men is Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 18th in a series of 24. It’s terrible. It was, however, a serious hit with young mothers in America who could watch the movies with a muscular young man strutting around in his underwear. Wildlife, as my mother called it. And, yes, the movies were made in California.
There’s no deep need to police movie-goers for having bad taste in B-movies. For those in 1946 who cared to pay ten cents for admission to the movies, they could get a double feature, one of which might well have been Tarzan and the Leopard Woman. (RKO Radio, 1946), directed by Kurt Neumann. Writers: Carroll Young (original story), Carroll Young (screenplay.)
Stars: Johnny Weissmuller, Brenda Joyce, Johnny Sheffield.
The plot, such as it is: Boy meets girl; boy loses girl; boy gets girl back again. Whoops! I forgot to note that in the meantime, good guy is chased and captured by the evil bad guy, escapes, is caught again, and finally manages to defeat the villain. Life returns to normal, and everyone lives happily ever after. If only I could write such stuff!
It turns out, having done some study on my own and having some experience of the world, that Tarzan movies and novels do not reflect actual life in Liberia. Further, only very minor intellectuals would care about the misrepresentation. It’s too trivial to care about. Some do.
The funny thing about Tarzan novels and movies is that it shows us a universal truth about humanity: that most people, sadly, just do not care about the life and times of Liberia. Instead, what they do care about is love, romance, and sex. Yes, even my mother was interested in such things. I had no idea. One learns some terrible things in this life. Most people learn only what they care to learn to live their lives in some state of contentment. If for many people Liberia is somewhere close to London and California, so be it. If such mistakes are harmful, it is only to those who fail the exam. But, what exam? Life is private, for most of us. We might well go to our graves not knowing the fine details of Liberia, but there are other things to interest us. Here is a review that probably tells us more about life than the dry accounts of any hundred anthropologists.
“Tarzan’s Sexiest Movie,” jery-tillotson-17 July 2016
“Tarzan and the Leopard Woman” is probably the sexiest Tarzan in this series. Since it’s 1946, you naturally are not presented with anything graphic, but with nearly all this cast wearing very little, the possibilities are all there for a wild sexual fantasy. Johnny Weismueller has long outgrown his days as a lean, jungle machine. Here, he’s big, buff and has obviously worked out. We see his pectorals, his concave stomach, powerful shoulders and thighs. His loin-cloth is almost a bikini. The glorious Acquanetta looks fabulous in her clinging gowns and robes as Lea, the high priestess of the leopard man cult. For once, all the male extras in their brief sarongs are handsome and buff and they really show their stuff when they perform their leopard dance. Just as sexy is Anthony Caruso who shows off his muscular torso as Lea’s accomplice. Johnny Sheffield is now a handsome teenage boy and he would soon be making his own jungle series as Bomba, the Jungle Boy. As has been cited by other reviewers, the most erotic scene is when Tarzan is captured and bound to a post in the temple of the leopard cult. His handsome body is covered with welts and his chest is thrust out with his hands bound behind him. Lea approaches him slowly, holding her leopard club with claws. The scene is played nearly silently. Tarzan’s chest is heaving up and down in anticipation and then, there’s an interruption. The nearly naked Tarzan, helpless, must have aroused many a fantasy in 1946 and by millions of TV viewers later when it played on TV. The movie is beautifully photographed and cast. This is one Tarzan movie I play regularly. Rarely did Tarzan have so many attractive cast members to play against.
Looking back, I see that my mother was not an educated woman; but even so, perhaps she would have made a better novelist than I. That is only because, of course, I have no interest in half-naked men. I might now turn my attentions to my latest book, The Perils of the Crazed Intellectual. Please wish me luck on that one.