Lord of the Apes

In 1912, Edgar Rice Burroughs published the short story Tarzan of the Apes.  Since then at least ninety books, 350 radio serials, three TV series and forty-five full-length films have told the story of the Lord of the Apes.

April 28, 1934 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

Tarzan was the first pop culture icon to attain worldwide fame, paving the way for a host of comic-book superheroes that would follow. Recalling his youth in post-war Leningrad in the early 1950s, Joseph Brodsky wrote of the bootleg Tarzan movies he devoured at the local cinema, and the effect a “long-haired naked loner” had on the regimented, inhibited lives of Soviet youth: “The Tarzan (film) series alone, I daresay, did more for de-Stalinization than all of Khrushchev’s speeches.”

ME ELMO, YOU ENID…Elmo Lincoln as Tarzan and Enid Markey as Jane Porter in the 1918 silent film Tarzan of the Apes. The movie was released just six years after the publication of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ short story and subsequent book. (times-herald.com/Wikipedia)

Starting with Elmo Lincoln in 1918, four different silent film actors portrayed Tarzan before Johnny Weissmuller (1904–1984) swung onto the screen with co-star Maureen O’Sullivan. Other Tarzan portrayers would follow, but it was Weissmuller—winner of five gold medals as an Olympic swimmer—who defined the role over two decades, starring in twelve Tarzan films from 1932 to 1948, O’Sullivan playing Jane in the first six of those films. Critic John Mosher sensed that Weissmuller was in for the long haul in just his second outing:

FAUX JUNGLE…Critic John Mosher was impressed by the wild and forbidding jungle scenes portrayed in Tarzan and His Mate—actually locations around Los Angeles. At left, MGM poster proclaims “Johnny Weissmuller is back again,” a reference to the 1933 dud Tarzan the Fearless starring Buster Crabbe (his single turn at Tarzan); top, Indian elephants taken from MGM’s zoo had attachments fixed to their ears and tusks to suggest African elephants; bottom, Weissmuller rides a rhino (named Mary), imported from a German zoo to appear in the scene. (Wikipedia/IMDB/Reddit)
NOTHING TO HIDE…Tarzan and His Mate has acquired cult status mainly due to Maureen O’Sullivan’s skimpy halter top and loincloth—in 1934 it was one of the most revealing costumes ever seen on the silver screen. Hays Code puritans had fits over scenes that showed O’Sullivan nude in silhouette and swimming sans bathing suit with Weissmuller (the swimming scene used a body double, Olympic swimmer Josephine McKim). On April 24, 1934, all prints of Tarzan and His Mate were ordered changed, the nude scenes removed—the original print was not restored until 1986. At bottom left, O’Sullivan on the set of Tarzan and His Mate, looking quite unperturbed. (IMDB/hotcorn.com/Twitter)

In 2003, the Library of Congress deemed Tarzan and His Mate “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

A note of trivia: Irish actress Maureen O’Sullivan (1911–1998) was the mother of actress Mia Farrow and grandmother of journalist Ronan Farrow. She’s also the grandmother of Soon-Yi Previn, Mia’s adopted daughter and current wife of Mia’s ex-partner, Woody Allen. 

 * * *

Spring Has Sprung

E.B. White began his weekly column with some thematic suggestions for the Maypole’s ceremonial ribbons. Excerpt:

A few of White’s references explained:

SPRING IS IN THE AIR, or in E.B. White’s case, horse manure, likely used to amend the soil in Bryant Park. In 1933 Parks Commissioner Robert Moses had the park’s Federal Hall replica demolished (erected in 1932 to commemorate the bicentennial of George Washington’s birth) and embarked on an ambitious facelift that included elevating the park from street level and planting numerous trees and hedges. The bottom image shows a 1934 view of the reconstruction looking south on 6th Avenue from 42nd Street. (Untapped Cities/NYC Parks Dept.)

White also referenced the “Neo-Angle” bathtub, shown here in an ad from the same issue:

James Thurber added this embellishment along the bottom of White’s column…

 * * *

Freaked Out

Alva Johnston contributed his third and final installment on the world of circus freaks, using descriptive language that would not pass muster today:

THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT…In his third installment of the world of circus freaks, Alva Johnston referenced the following performers, clockwise, from top left: circus giant Jack Earle; Lady Little, aka “Anita The Doll Lady,” on a 1918 postcard that described her as “26 inches high, 36 years old”; Artie Atherton, aka “Skeleton Dude,” weighing in at 38 pounds; Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus advertised “Geniune Ubangi Savages”—the word “Ubangi” was made up, plucked from a map of Africa because it sounded exotic. These “savages” were actually Congolese natives. (Pinterest/University of Sheffield/Worthpoint/Harry Ransom Center)

 * * *

Biding Its Time

“The Talk of the Town” took notice of a lighthouse that was mounted atop the Seamen’s Church Institute, which overlooked New York Harbor from Battery Park. A time ball above the lighthouse would drop down a pole to signal twelve noon to ships in the harbor. Installed on April 15, 1913—to mark one year after the sinking of the RMS Titanic—the lighthouse and time ball were relocated to the South Street Seaport Museum in 1968.

REFUGE BY THE SEA…The Seamen’s Church Institute at 25 South Street (left) could house up to 580 seafarers in dormitory-style rooms. The building also housed a shipping bureau, a restaurant, a postal service and a chapel. When the building was demolished in 1968, the lighthouse and time ball were salvaged and relocated to South Street Seaport Museum. (southstreetseaportmuseum.org)

 * * *

Gall of a Gaul

French writer Céline, aka Dr Louis Ferdinand Auguste Destouches (1894–1961), is considered by some to be one of France’s greatest 20th century writers, influencing the likes of Henry Miller, Samuel Beckett, and Charles Bukowski. However Céline is also widely reviled as a Nazi sympathizer and anti-semite, but whatever one thinks of the writer, most agree that he hated pretty much everyone. Clifton Fadiman tried to make sense of the bilious Céline and his most celebrated novel, Journey to the End of the Night (Voyage au bout de la nuit). An excerpt:

DON’T STAND SO CLOSE TO ME…The French writer Céline in a 1932 photograph. (Bibliothèque nationale de France)

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From Our Advertisers

There’s nothing hateful about these brightly colored blankets and throws if you were looking for something for Mother’s Day…

…it’s interesting how Fifth Avenue department stores such as Bonwit Teller embraced new-fangled synthetics made by Dupont—not exactly material favored by those to the manor born…

…however Lyda Roberti, the “Bright Particular Star” of the Broadway musical Roberta, seemed pleased to be sporting a gown spun from “Lastex,” formed from a combination of silk and rubber…

…more fashionable women, this time paired with Buick’s latest model displaying a bit of streamlined flair…

…the folks at General Tire touted the safety of their blowout-proof tires, but as with most things in the 1930s, the scene suggests little regard for safety in general…the boy driving the soapbox racer perilously close to the limo is not a supporter of the National Rifle Association—in the 1930s NRA stood for the New Deal’s National Recovery Act…

…recalling a style perfected by fashion illustrator Carl “Eric” Erickson, this lovely ad beckoned us to an outdoor cocktail party courtesy of Martini & Rossi…

…working the growing market of female smokers, the folks at Lucky Strike gave us this sophisticate caught in a pensive mood…

…of course advertisers also appealed to another female market, the majority of women stuck at home doing the cooking and cleaning…and so we have pandering ads like this one from Heinz (did people really read these things?)…

…another approach was to cast women as a nagging emasculators, here illustrated by James Thurber

…however, in Thurber’s cartoon world, it was the men who got the upper hand in the final installment of his “war” series…

…Thurber was busy in this issue, also supplying this spot illustration…

…we switch to a more leisurely pace with Syd Hoff

…and check in with Clarence Day, who in addition to his continuing “Life With Father” series occasionally contributed these illustrated poems…

…and we close with Otto Soglow, and an early bird who should have stayed in bed…

Next Time: A Tadpole on Wheels…


Published by

David O

I read and write about history from the perspective that history is not some artifact from the past but a living, breathing condition we inhabit every moment of our lives, or as William Faulkner once observed, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." I read original source materials, such as every issue of The New Yorker, not only as a way to understand a time from a particular perspective, but to also use the source as an aggregator of various historic events. I welcome comments, criticisms, corrections and insights as I stumble along through the century.

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