Part 1 Tarzan And The Lion Man: A Review

May 14, 2008

A Review

Themes And Variations

The Tarzan Novels Of Edgar Rice Burroughs

#18 Tarzan And The Lion Man

Part one of ten parts

by

R.E. Prindle

First published on the ezine-ERBzine

Preface

     As has been seen 1931 was a very eventful year for ERB.  The viewing of Trader Horn was a seminal event in his life.  The movie became a major influence on his next Tarzan novel- Tarzan And The Leopard Men.  As has been noted, in April he signed the contract with MGM.

     Reports vary but it appears that he may have sold the movie rights for the first film for twenty-two thousand dollars plus a five week employment contract at a thousand dollars a week.  It is fair to assume that ERB spent his five weeks on the MGM lot in Culver City.

     During that period of time he obviously attended conferences with Irving Thalberg so his descriptions of the ‘Boy Wonder’ are taken first hand.  One imagines that he became acquainted with the Director Woody ‘One Take’ Van Dyke.  I like to think they hit off with ERB getting some first hand accounts of Africa that showed up in Lion Man.  As he had a copy of Van Dyke’s privately printed Horning Into Africa in his library it would seem obvious that Van Dyke presented him with a copy.  Thus ERB had a fund of first hand information lacking in his earlier novels.

     One also imagines he met the African stars Mutia and Riano when they visited Hollywood.  They would have been the first Africans he had met.  There is a world of difference between Africans and American Negroes.  Perhaps for these reasons his Leopard Men varies somewhat from his usual hidden civilizations formula.

     And also he would have met his script writing counterpart Cyril Hume.  His new partner one might say.  And coincidentally Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’ Sullivan.

     One is astonished at the speed with which MGM signed Burroughs, developed a script, found actors for Tarzan and Jane, made a movie and released it a bare ten months later.  What orgzainization.!

     We know that ERB watched the result with sinking heart and bitter remorse for signing the contract.  The MGM version of his creation was the antithesis of his own.  Rather than a literate, cosmopolitan Tarzan at home both in the jungle and the capitols of Europe and cities of America the MGM Tarzan was a feral boy who wasn’t even a lord, let alone  the lord of the jungle.

     Our Man had just finished Tarzan And The City Of Gold  when he viewed the movie.  Now with his brain reeling in shock it would be a year before he got out his reply.

     In my estimation it would be his last great Tarzan novel.  The Big Bwana had been emasculated.  But the greatest of the Tarzan novels was the result.

     ERB also made it a Hollywood novel, perhaps as trenchant a criticism of the film capitol as his 1922 effort The Girl From Hollywood.   He ridiculed the whole thing.  MGM, Thalberg, the African expedition, the movie Tarzan and in a closing chapter Hollywood itself.  In his pain and hurt he drove himself to heights he had never before attained.

     Stunned by the duplicity of MGM his novel is a story of duplicity, of doubles and more doubles until one has doubles coming out one’s ears.  The story within the story, the double of the story itself, of God in Heaven but all wrong with the world is a masterpiece of imaginative fiction that transcends even the exploits of his Martian creation, Ras Thavas.

     As Leopard Men was permeated with sexual desire with a hint of madness, Lion Man is deeply involved with madness, insanity and a complete feeling of unreality.  As Tarzan says:  Sometimes I think I must be dreaming.  Yea, verily, brothers and sisters.  This story is one of dreams and nightmares but a dream of a story.

1.

     In the novel Burroughs had two major objectives: 1.  To ridicule and humiliate MGM and 2.  To show them how to use all new material in a much more imaginative way than Cyril Hume had.  Hume is probably ridiculed as both the writer Joe in the foreword and the scenarist Pluant in the Hollywood afterword.

     There can be no mistake that the introductory story refers to the Trader Horn expedition while Burroughs includes a planning session with Milt Smith/Irving Thalberg in his MGM/BO office.  Let us look at the introductory chapter carefully.

     There can be no doubt that Burroughs was included in such sessions concerning the movie Tarzan, The Ape Man so that the chapter ‘In Conference’ is an authentic snapshot of how business was conducted.

     The opening sentence is:  Mr. Milton Smith, Executive Vice President In Charge Of Productions was in conference.  There is no doubt that here Burroughs is referring to Irving Thalberg.  Burroughs goes on to describe Thalberg’s actions which were considered peculiar by everyone in Hollywood.

     Mr. Smith had a chair behind a big desk, but he seldom occupied it.  He was an imaginative dynamic person.  He required freedom and space in which to express himself.  His large chair was too small; so he paced about his office more often than he occupied the chair, and his hands interpreted his thoughts quite as fluently as his tongue.

p9.  Smith was walking around the room, acting out the scente.  He was the girl bathing in the pool in one corner of the room, and then he went to the opposite corner and was the Lion Man.

     That doesn’t sound unfriendly or hostile to me but as ERB has already identified MGM as BO (Body Odor) or Stinky Pictures Louis B. Mayer, MGM’s president, may have taken all ERB’s comments from then on as intended insults.

     In point of fact ERB’s descriptions of Smith/Thalberg seem to be accurate.  Thalberg was the subject of Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished final book The Last Tycoon.  The novel was made into a movie of the same name in 1976, the last movie directed by Elia Kazan.  Thalberg is portrayed exactly as Burroughs depicted him.

      The conventional mind seems to be unable to grasp the idiosyncrasies of genius.  The genius of Thalberg was that he was able to visualize the film in the manner Burroughs describes, alsmost as the author.  Had he failed he would have been merely weird but as he was the greatest and surest producer of the studio era the seeming eccentricity becomes an attribute of his genius.  As a writer of genius I think ERB saw Thalberg that way; how the latter of MGM interpreted ERB’s remarks may have been less generous.

     The director, Tom Orman’s character is quite similar to that of Woody Van Dyke although as the physique of Orman is opposite that of Van Dyke it is clear that Orman is intended to be more fictional.  The name Or-man can interpreted as Gold-man from the French Or which translates as gold.  As Goldman ERB may have been slamming the Jews.  ERB was less than careful in that respect in the novel.  In the last chapter ERB definitely characterized Abe Potkin as a Jew placing his conversation in dialect.  By Abe Potkin ERB may have been referring to Louis B. Mayer.  The introduction of Clayton to Abe leaves this open to conjecture.  p. 186:

     This is Mr. Potkin, John Clayton, Abe Potkin, you know,  (italics mine)

     If ERB did ridicule both Thalberg and Mayer or was perceived as doing so then he was definitely asking for trouble.  Fighting the Law in Hollywood as it were.

     Like Van Dyke who had been called in to relieve director Robert J. Flaherty on a behind schedule film White Shadows On The South Seas in which Van Dyke was successful so Orman had been called in to complete a picture being shot in Borneo.

     Just as Van Dyke was then assigned Trader Horn on location in Africa so now Orman is assigned to make the biggest African picture ever in the Ituri Rain Forest.

     ERB probably met Van Dyke in the summer of ’31 on the MGM lot.  It would seem that the two men hit it off as Orman is as well treated as Lion Man allows.  It  is to be presumed that Van Dyke presented ERB with a copy of his privately printed Horning Into Africa  at that time.

      The rest of the chapter is joshing around in a light hearted banter that was characteristic of this type of conference and introducing the members of the cast thus establishing the nature of their characters.

     A detail of interest is the following quote.  p. 8:

     “And are we going to shoot:” inquired Orman, “fifty miles from Hollywood?”

     ‘No, sir!  We’re going to send a company right to the heart of Africa to the -er-ah- what’s the name of that forest, Joe?’

     “The Ituri Forest.”

      “Yes, right to the Ituri Forest with sound equipment and everything.  Think of it, Tom!  You get the real stuff, the real natives, the jungle, the animals, the sounds.  You ‘shoot’ a giraffe and at the same time you record the actual sound of his voice.”

     “You won’t need much sound equipment for that, Milt.”

     “Why?”

     “Giraffes don’t make sounds; they’re not supposed to have any vocal organs.”

     “Well, what of it?  That was just an illustration.  But take the other animals for instance; Lions, elephants, tigers- Joe’s written a gret tiger sequence.  It’s going to yank them right out of their seats.”

     “There ain’t any tigers in Africa, Milt,”  explained the director.

     “Who says there ain’t?”    

     “I do,”  replied Orman grinning.

     “How about it, Joe?”  Smith turned toward the scenarist.

     “Well, Chief, you said you wanted a tiger sequence.”

     “Oh, what’s the difference?  We’ll make it a crocodile sequence.”

     In this instance ERB is spoofing himself.  Over the years he had all kinds of complaints for faunal inaccuracies.  The tiger bit probably hurt him the worst.  He had written a great tiger scene for the first Tarzan novel that had to be changed from the All Story magazine version to the book version.  ERB finally gets a chance to exorcise his frustration over that one.  He was also criticized for having deer in Africa, Bara the deer, of which there are none.  He first tried to bull his way through by saying he just wanted Bara the deer there.  He gave in by Tarzan The Invincible  and spoke of Bara the antelope.  This also apparently proved unacceptable as in Leopard Men he speaks of Wappi the antelope, while the name Bara disappears completely.  In the joke about the giraffe voice he is showing off knowledge while venting a little steam.

     Thus he sets the scene for the first stage of the novel, the penetration of the film company into the Ituri Rain Forest.  I found this sequence as well handled as any movie version might have been.  ERB doesn’t try to follow Van Dyke’s narrative but creates his own story based on Van Dyke’s.

     I have no doubt that there are references in this introduction and throughout the book to real people and real incidents that have gone over my head.  I have located what I can with my present knowledge but I’m sure the novel is loaded with many others.

Go to:  Part 2:  Doubles And Insanity

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