Almanac: Screen debut of Tarzan

Elmo Lincoln starred in the 1918 adventure "Tarzan of the Apes," the very first screen adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' jungle hero.
CBS News

(CBS News) And now a page from our Sunday Morning Almanac: January 27th, 1918 . . . 95 years ago today, the debut of a dashing new silver screen hero.

For that was opening day for the silent film "Tarzan of the Apes," with Elmo Lincoln in the title role.

The first film to be based on the stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs was an immediate hit, to be followed by several other silent Tarzan films.

In 1932, came the first full TALKING Tarzan picture, "Tarzan the Ape Man," starring Johnny Weissmuller.

A gold medal-winning Olympic swimmer, Weissmuller had no acting experience, but as Tarzan he found his true calling:

File photo shows Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan, Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane, and Cheetah the chimpanzee, in scene from 1932 movie "Tarzan the Ape Man"
Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan, with Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane, and Cheetah the chimpanzee, in a scene from the 1932 movie, "Tarzan the Ape Man." MGM

In the film, Tarzan also finds true love in the form of Jane, an English explorer's daughter, played by Maureen O'Sullivan..

And though Tarzan never actually says "Me Tarzan, You Jane" -- in this film, or any other one -- this exchange comes close:

Jane: "And you? You?"
Tarzan: "Tarzan. Tarzan. Jane. Tarzan."
In the 1939 film "Tarzan Finds A Son!" the couple adopts the infant survivor of an airplane crash, for whom Tarzan comes up with the perfect name:
Tarzan: "'Boy'!"
Jane: "That's not a name!"
Tarzan: "'Boy'!"

And Boy it was, played convincingly for years by Johnny Sheffield.

And while all three actors had left the series by 1948, many another Tarzan films has followed, including 1984's "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes," starring Christopher Lambert, widely regarded as the adaptation most faithful to the original character.

Still, for many fans, Weissmuller remains THE definitive Tarzan, despite a lack of acting credentials that gave even him some doubts, as he admitted years later: "For a while there, I didn't think I was going to make it. But I was so bad that I was a natural."

Johnny Weismuller, Maureen O'Sullivan, even Johnny Sheffield are gone now.

Tarzan himself lives on, never to know defeat . . . and never to be silenced . . .

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