"Who are you?"
"My name is Tarzan."
"Oh yes, I've heard of you."
So have millions of other people around the world. They know Tarzan from two dozen adventure stories, a syndicated comic strip, 48 years of motion pictures and, most recently, a weekly television series. In many ways, the TV Tarzan is the same old ape-man. He is big and strong, wears a loincloth and swings through the jungle on vines. At the start of every program he stands at the edge of a waterfall, cups a hand to his mouth and gives forth a cry that summons every animal like a call to dinner.
But there are differences, too. No Jane, for instance. The TV Tarzan is a bachelor. He is also a talker—Madison Avenuewise. To cite from a recent episode: Tarzan is helping a friend capture a golden puma. After they shoot it with a tranquilizer, Tarzan notices a piece of bloody cloth in the puma's jaws. The hunter friend wonders if the puma could have done in two bad guys known to be loose in the jungle.
"No," responds Tarzan. "They're too smart to lose a decision to a puma."
Later a young lady who is fleeing the jungle and her teaching duties asks Tarzan if there will be room aboard a boat for her suitcase.
Says the ape-man: "There'll be room for everything—except your self-pity."
And there is a bit of camp, too. A cornered bad guy addresses Tarzan and says: "Anything you want, oh topless one." For those who grew up on the Tarzan books of Edgar Rice Burroughs, or paid a quarter to watch Johnny Weissmuller, The most famous movie Tarzan of them all, swim across crocodile-infested rivers, it is a little bit tough, if not sickening, to watch.
The literary Tarzan stepped forth, catlike, from the brain of Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1912. Until then Burroughs had lived the life of a classic loser. Born into a well-to-do Chicago family, he had tried a number of professions without success. He had been in the U.S. Cavalry, mined gold in Oregon, been a storekeeper and cowboy in Idaho and a policeman in Salt Lake City. By 1912, he was 37 and desperate. He had developed insomnia and had begun to tell himself stories at night. By day he put the stories on paper. His fantasy lands were Mars and Africa, both of which he was equally familiar with. (Indeed, in his first Tarzan story, which was published in a magazine in 1912, he placed a tiger in Africa, an ecological gaffe. When the story was published in book form two years later the tiger had become a lioness.) His only research for his first Tarzan story was Stanley's In Darkest Africa
. Burroughs sold his Martian story first—a limited success—and then Tarzan of the Apes, which eventually made him a multimillionaire.