Part 3 Tarzan And The Lion Man: A Review

May 16, 2008

 

A Review

Themes And Variation

The Tarzan Novels Of Edgar Rice Burroughs

#18  Tarzan And The Lion Man

Part 3 of 10 parts

by

R.E. Prindle

First published on the ezine- ERBzine

 

Part 3: The Source

 

     Unlike the rest of Burroughs’ novels you don’t have to look very far for the main source of this one.  While Tarzan And  The Leopard Men was heavily influenced by the MGM movie Trader Horn Lion Man is the story of the famed MGM expedition to Africa to film it.

     In Chapter 1 ERB provides  a fictional account of the decision to make the expedition.  In the next few chapters he gives a fictional account of the safari.  Excising the story within the story Burroughs’ account is reasonably accurate, allowing for a little authorial license that is.

     The safare was active for seven months in 1929.  The safari was a cause celebre in Hollywood as the expedition ran up what were enormous costs for the time.  While they were in Africa Black Friday, the collapse of the stock market, occured plunging the nation into depression so that money became of more consequence to MGM.  There was speculation that the dirctor, W.S. Van Dyke would bankrupt the company.  Like Howard Hughes’ famous difficulties with Hell’s Angels of 1930 the bills kept rolling in but when the receipts were counted like Hughes’ movie there was a tidy profit left over.  If nothing else the hullabaloo was mere advance publicity and cheap at the price.

     MGM even liked the movie so much they did it again in 1953’s Mogambo.  While I see Mogambo as a remake of Trader Horn the movie site lists its antecedents as Red Dust, 1932 and Congo Maisie of 1940.  Haven’t seen either. 

     The 1929 expedition was incredibly audacious.  On the liner notes of my VCR copy of Trader Horn MGM describes the expedition like this:

     When this landmark film ws made, parts of Africa were still uncharted.  The savannahs teemed with big game, the rivers with crocodiles and snakes.  Few Europeans or Americans dared enter what was then called the Congo.

     That was true and still is, MGM rushed in where few Europeans and Americans dared to tread.  Africa was to transit from the stone age to the age of science in the blink of an eye.  As Van Dyke noted, barely pacified, already the Kikiyu or Kukuas as Van Dyke called them were organizing resistance.  A mere savage like Jomo Kenyatta was attending Oxford University in England.  Truly astonishing that a stone age African with no familiarity with either techonology or science could be listened to attentively by the most highly educated Europeans.  What could Kenyatta actually understand?  Would they have given equal attention to the mutterings of an Appalachian farm boy?  The mind boggles.

     It had been a mere forty years since Henry Morton Stanley had covered the same ground to relieve Emin Pasha.  Only Forty years earlier Stanley had been the first Euro-American to penetrate the Ituri Rain Forest  Only forty years earlier Stanley could claim the discovery of the fabled Mountains Of The Moon.  In the interim few Euro-Americans had been there.  Gosh, even the great beast the Okapi had just been discovered in the Ituri..

     Kampala and Entebbe in Uganda were now occupied by British governors.  The ancient kings of Uganda and Unyoro were no more.  As Van Dyke states, the Africans were held down by the few Europeans with an Iron Hand.  Ah, you say, the European Iron hand.  Abominable.  But when weren’t the African tribesmen held down by an Iron Hand.  But then it was Black or Moslem and not White.  The venerable ancient kings of Uganda wanted to hold a funeral for some distant relative during the time of Stanley so they selected a couple thousand Ugandans, slit their throats and dumped them in the grave as company for their dead relative.  The Ugandan king slaughtered a few of his own people in an attempt to amuse Stanley.  TV had not reached Uganda back then.

     King Mteses’ gangs roamed the countryside after dark murdering any citizens they met.  Well, that was normal.  Now White Bwanas arrested troublesome tribesmen and threw them in jail for a period rather than killing them.  That wasn’t normal.  Dead men file no complaints.

     So a benign rule in White hands was less desirable than a malign rule in Black hands.  Such is the way the human mind works.  In the African case the native king owns everything including oneself and that is acceptable.  In another invaders occupy a few thousand acres producing food that makes you better fed than ever you were on your own and that is bad.  Better savagery among equals than civilization as an inferior.

     Africa was not yet familiar with the wheel when a guy with the nickname ‘Woody’ shows up with nine-ton genearator trucks.  Sound trucks!  The talkies had been around only two years and they already had sound trucks.

     Van Dyke in his justification of himself to MGM in his Horning  Into Africa has this to say.  p. 212:

    On the screen we had over thirty-five varieties of African big game, with our actors working in the scenes with them.  We had the dances, the songs, the native life of over fifteen African tribes, and on our film was a thin dark strip running down the edge which constituted the sound they made in all their different activities.

     …on our film we had a thin dark strip running down the edge which constituted the sound they made in all their different activities….  Think of it.  Stone age Africans captured as stone age people by equipment of which the Africans could have no concept, no possible way of accounting for, let alone understanding it, that might have as well have been the work of aliens beamed down from outer space or one of Bertie Well’ visitors slipped through the plane of a parallel universe.  Was there any difference between Wells’ English visitors to his utopia of 1923 when he viewed the men of a parallel universe as gods and the Hollywood Mutia and Riano saw when transported from or ‘beamed’ down from Africa?  Not much I would say.

     If the Africans thought Henry Morton Stanley was supernatural what in the world did they think of Woody Van Dyke, his cameras and fleet of trucks.

     What did Van Dyke think about, talk about, such an excellent adventure?  p. 26:

     I did not realize what he meant by the adjective “amazing”.  It made me think of certain American film producers.  The only thing about it that had been amazing, to my mind, was its inception.  After all, for a Hollywood producer (Irving Thalberg) to conceive the idea of sending twenty-five or thirty Hollywood motion picture actors with ninety-two tons of equipment into the center of Africa, to go prancing around over the thorn bush terrain, considering the great cost in dollars and cents involved was a rather amazing idea.  Nobody but an adventurer would have thought of it, no one but a goof would have tried to do it, and no but a clown could have gotten away with it.

     Van Dyke considering the term ‘amazing’ further:

     Previous to our debut the largest safari to enter Africa had been that of Prince Edward, a stupendous undertaking with about a dozen whites, fifty blacks, ten or twelve cars, and possibly seven or eight tons of equipment.  His safari had not been underway many days when his Royal Highness was called home by the illness of his fathr, King George, but the fact that the white hunters had maneuvered such a large safari over several miles of Africa without a casualty and with no one dying from fever was considered remarkable.

     We had been in Africa more than seven months with thirty-five whites, one hundred ninety-two blacks, thirty-four cars, one generator truck and two sound wagons.  The speedometers on the cars showed that we had traveled over nine thousand miles of African soil, to say nothing of rail, lake and river travel and distances covered on foot, and we had brought everyone back- black and white.

     And furthermore they not only had it on a film strip, which was old technology by white standards but unimaginable by African standards and running down that strip of film was a thin black line indicating sound.  What would a stone age African think seeing and hearing himself on film going around and around on reels like wheels which in themselves had been but recently seen in Africa.  Jomo Kenyatta was at university in England.  They would have laughed at that Appalachian farm boy if he showed up for registration.

     So, MGM and Van Dyke provided ERB with a readymade story of epic proportions.

     We know he read the book.  The question is did Van Dyke regale him with other stories and details during ERB’s five week stint on the MGM lot, a little additional color not found in the book.

     Now we can turn to Burroughs’ story and align it with that of Van Dyke.  ERB is writing a novel so he doesn’t have to stay too close to the facts, he can play fast and loose with them.  Let’s see how he does.

     In the first place he converts the story from that of Trader Horn to Tarzan, The Ape Man.  Rather than filming Trader Horn they are filming the story of a feral boy who was raised among the lions.  p. 9

     “Joe’s written a great story- it’s going to be a knock-out.  You see this fellow’s born in the jungle and brought up by a lioness.  He pals around with the lions all his life- doesn’t know any other friends.  The lion is king of beasts; when the boy grows up he’s king of the lions; so he bosses the whole menagerie.  See?  Big shot of the jungle.”

     “Sounds familiar.”  Commented Orman.

     Yes, it does sound familiar, ERB says with tongue in cheek and a wink at we readers.  It sounds familiar to us too.  As the Lion Man the studio has picked Stanley Obroski, a giant cowardly fellow.

     As Harry Carey, a bete noire of ERB, played Trader Horn Burroughs may be projecting a little Carey into Obroski’s cowardice as vengeance although one assumes that Johnny Weissmuller is the model but Obroski isn’t that similar to him either.

     As a leading lady ERB creates Naomi Madison.  I’m sure there are a lot of insults and jokes about MGM in the book.  A lot or most of them may be lost on us today.  However Naomi may have been modeled on Irving Thalberg’s wife Norma Shearer.  Naomi=Norma.

     Some say Shearer made it on her own while there are those backbiters who say she got all those plum roles because she was married to the producer, Irving Thalberg.  I’m not too hep on early thirties films but it is possible a little favoritism may have been involved.  In the novel Burroughs casts Naomi in a rather unfavorable light as the lover of Director Orman.  Perhaps Thalberg saws such things in a negative light.

     It may be possible that Shearer was or was reported to be seeing someone on the side.  If so, ERB was taking some chances.

     He does have her down as having been a hash slinger before becoming The Madison.  There was a period in New York when the Shearer family was down at the heels when Norma was seeking theatrical work that she waited tables.  Bringing up that fact would not have endeared ERB to the Thalbergs or MGM.  Norma would probably have been more dangerous than Irving.

     The Thalbergs wouldn’t have mattered too much because Irving had a heart attack in 1933.  When he returned to work several months later Mayer had stripped him of his position.  He became just another producer for a couple years before he died in 1936.  Shearer got no more roles, plums or otherwise.  So as it turned out ERB wouldn’t have had to worry about either.

     ERB doubles Naomi with a stunt woman named Rhonda Terry.  As no comparable figure was on the safarie she must have been only necessary for the story.

     Van Dyke organized and led the expedition being the supreme authority, the actual Big Bwana.  As might be expected of a safari of this size and complexity there were numerous problems naturally occurrring while Van Dyke himself as a Hollywood director trying to realize his vision of the movie was rather cavalier with the landscape.  The native hierarchy was in disarray from the time of Stanley now having a Birtish hierarchy overlain on the native.  But the British had only been there for a couple decades while the native revolt led by Kenyatta and his Kikiyu was already underway.  As Burroughs indicates Leopard Men were roaming Africa while the Kikiyu would erupt as the Mau Mau only twenty years hence.

     The African chiefs considered every human, every animal, every stick or tree on their territory as their personal private property.  There hadn’t been enough time as yet for that understanding to die out.  And now we have a real muilti-cultural conflict brewing.  Van Dyke shows up with a fleet of cars and trucks such as was new to the sight of the Africans.  Van Dyke proceeds to drive these trucks all over Kenya, Uganda, the Congo and Tanganyika as they were then known.  Along the way he chops down trees that don’t belong to him, if you see what I mean, as though he was the sovereign of the land and not the chiefs.

     From the African point of view the man was contemptuous of Africans and disrespectful.  Van Dyke, in what we must assume was his innocence, was completely unaware of his desecrations.  His culture was not only White American, which would have been insult enough to the Africans, but he was of the fiilm capitol of the world, Hollywood, which respects no man or mountain in making a movie.  Van Dyke’s mind functioned on one premise alone- make this movie.

     At one point he wanted to shoot a scene near Lake Albert, probably didn’t even make the final cut.  At that point of the lake a volcanic dyke serveral feet high formed a barrier preventing access.  There was no way to get the trucks and equipment over the barrier.   The solution seemed rational to Van Dyke.  When no one was looking he got some dynamite and blew a big hole in this barrier.  Problem solved from Woody’s point of view.  I don’t know what the Africans thought about this desecration of the landscape but Van Dyke does report what seems to be a fair amount of unrest among the African bearers.

     In Burroughs’ story the movie company goes directly to the Ituri Rain Forest but Van Dyke began his filming at Murchison Falls where the  Nile flows from Lake Victoria.  After having brought his crew and equipment to the railhead at Jinja he crossed the lake to Kampala and Entebbe in Uganda.

     He wanted to film at Murchison Falls where, as he says, the entire flood of the Nile passing from Lake Victoria passes through a gorge only fifteen feet wide.  As he said a good broad jumper could leap the Nile at that point.  If he wanted to take the chance.

     Now, the British had determined the area at the foot of the falls to be so infested with the sleeping sickness bearing Tsetse flies that they had made it off limits to man and beast.  Well, Woody had a movie to make and wanted to make it in that exact spot.  In fact several scenes in Trader Horn are filmed there.

     Disregarding what we must assume were the real dangers of the place Van Dyke cajoled an exception for this safari taking his cast and bearers into this Tsetse infested area.  It will be remembered that Edwina Booth, the female star, was incapacitated for life because of diseases contracted in Africa.

     What seems normal to a movie maker may seem bizarre to a less interested observer.  Van Dyke wanted a crocodile scene involving an island.  There was no island where he wanted so he loaded the spot with fill until there was one.  Another neat job of problem solving.  Then he wanted a large nuber of crocodiles around the island so he slaughered game as lure for the crocs.  They came, they saw, the ate, but they wouldn’t spend the night as Woody wanted.

     So now Woody shoots some more wild life to lure the crocs to the island while he built a large barrier.  Once the crocs were within he closed the gate.  Well and good from Woody’s point of view but from the multi-cultural point of view of the crocs they either just broke through or climbed the six foot barrier.  Wasn’t high enough.

     W.S. Van Dyke was one determined guy.  He had a movie to make.  His next step was once the crocs got inside and they wanted out at, oh say, 2:00 AM, Woody got his whole crew of actors armed with torches and poles to place themselves between the crocs and freedom to force them to stay inside.  In a quite thrilling description he tells of stuffing burning torches down the throats of crocodiles.  When he said stay, he meant it.  Harry Carey, apparently some sort of testosterone driven madman, was a stalwart but Van Dyke even had Edwina Booth on the barrier torch in hand.  Van Dyke lauds his crew as well he should have but one is struck by a certain degree of lunacy.  Or, perhaps, Scotch.

     Burroughs draws inference away from Van Dyke by making Tom Orman a different physical type but as ERB was working from Van Dyke’s Horning Into Africa and possibly personal communication from Van Dyke, or members of his crew it is impossible for Orman not to reflect W.W. ‘One Shot’ Woody Van Dyke.

     Burroughs makes Orman a drunk or at least a real tyrant when he has been drinking.  Van Dyke records some heavy drinking of his own.  He slipped right into the colonial practice of’Sundowners’, that is when the sun went down the bottle came out.  There may be some factual basis then for Orman’s behavior.

     Orman heads for the Ituri through an area he has been warned not to go that would correspond to Van Dyke’s insistence on filming at the Murchison Falls where he ws forbidden to go but overcame the injunction.

     The attack of the Bansutos is ERB’s invention however there were a couple serious native disaffections in the safari.  Late in the expedition the Kikiyu show up, which I would think meant that they were unhappy with the expedition while Van Dyke describes them as a surly lot.

     In Burroughs’ story the safari falls apart after the Bansuto attack but then at the end of the story he reforms the safari at the Omwami Falls in the story or Murchison Falls in fact.  The party atmosphere at the Falls may reflect his impression of Van Dyke’s account.

     It was probably with a sigh of relief that the British bid farewell to this troublemaking Hollywood film crew.  Or perhaps, just perhaps, they wired MGM to get these people out of here.  I don’t know but I wouldn’t be surprised.

     So far as I know the only two accounts of Van Dyke’s excellent African adventure are his own and that of Burroughs.

     It is a pity MGM didn’t have the foresight to compile an extended account of the safari with hundreds of pictures.  In the liner notes to my VCR copy they say:

…director W.S. Van Dyke and his heroic cast and crew camped there for a year, hauling eighty tons of equipment through the equatorial jungle.  They battled disease and predators, to risk their lives to film this story of two men- legendary trader Alfred Aloysius Horn (Harry Carey) and his naive protoge Peru (Cisco Kid Duncan Renaldo)- and their struggle to reclaim a beautiful woman (Edwina Booth) who was lost in the jungle as a baby and raised by indigenous tribes.

     True enough as far as it goes.  Van Dyke’s obviously sanitized narrative takes it a little further, Burroughs’ fiction may reveal a little more, but Edwina Booth who was never able to work again adds another detail.  She petitioned MGM for compensation but MGM refused to consider it for this heroic, crocodile battling member of the cast who battled predators and disease and lost.

     What a fabulouss story.  ERB had a lot to work with and turned out a fabulous effort.

Next Part four of ten parts: The Safari To The Capture Of Stanley Obroski

 

    

 

     

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