A Special Visit With Tarzan, of The Apes
Where my love of Tarzan began
Every kid, no matter the age or financial station, loved Tarzan of The Apes. Including myself. I was given the treat of watching Tarzan of The Apes, Monday through Friday, at 3:30 p.m., when I got off of the school bus at my dad's parents, James and Ida Belle Avery, Hamilton. I did not have a choice in this matter for both my parents worked and James and Ida Belles place fit the bill for me to be babysat until my folks got off their jobs and whipped by their place to pick me up and get me home.
Let me tell you that James and Ida Belle were old. Not a bad old, but a good, seasoned, full of wisdom old. All of their kids were having grandkids now and one of their kids, an unmarried lady, Ludie, who had never been on a date took care of her parents while they were not stalking and yelling at me. To this day, I wonder why they despised me.
Watching television: My escape from my grandparents
A typical evening with my grandparents went like this. I ran from the school bus to their home and immediately threw my books on their couch and hit my homework to get it done so nothing would be on my mind while I was enjoying "The Bozo Show," or the "Cousin Cliff," show. In that day, Birmingham, Alabama and that growing television market had a lot of live, in-the-studio, kids' shows that urged kids to have their birthdays parties with "Bozo," on WBRC Channel 6, Birmingham or with "Cousin Cliff" from now-WVTM, Channel 13, also in Birmingham. Of course the "Birthday Kid's" parents paid a charge to whatever station the kid wanted him and his friends to celebrate his birthday. So with this detail finished, everyone was happy.
When my television shows went off, my grandparents' Zenith television was off almost immediately. James, who was obsessed with tormenting me worse than any C.I.A. "waterboarding session," just because he did not like kids. Especially those from my parents. But we dealt with it. When I was outside of their home like he demanded, I could not just sit alone and read or play with one of my model cars that I had brought from home because James was there every waking minute worrying if I was "hurting the grass on his lawn," he complained. Then I'd move.
Grandpa James didn't love me
Yep, I could see his long shadow approaching and before he could open his smart mouth, I would say, "Grandpa, I am not sitting on your grass, but in this sage grass out of your yard so you won't anything to worry you." "Somebody might want that sage grass," he argued. "Who?" I argued back. This frustrated him to such a level that he went inside his house to take a nap.
Before I go any further, let me describe for you, how my Grandpa James Avery looked. Did you ever watch the first release of "Poltergeist," with Craig T. Nelson and the sexy JoBeth Williams? Well somewhere in the first of the film, this old man came to their screen door to talk to Carole Ann. His hat was a flat brim and black in color as the rest of his wardrobe. His hair was a snow gray and his cheeks had fell in. That was how Grandpa James looked. Years later I dreamed of him, Grandpa James, hurting my dogs, and I challenged him to a fight and I was about to show him no respect for hurting my dogs.
It was this perpetual routine each school day that I got off my school bus at their home, but in the summer when school was out, that was worse than going with the Marines as they captured Iwo Jima. Grandpa James yelling at me for just sitting on the porch, Grandma forcing me to eat such as the prison wardens to, and after a meal, no television, but play outside so James could chase me and treat me worse than a wild dog.
Were You a Tarzan Fan?
Tarzan versus Superman
I wish there had been Child Abuse laws in this day. I did not know any better than to call the Human Resources Dept. and report these "demons" for causing me mental abuse. Ahhh, to just see them hauled-off to jail in a police cruiser. What a nice dream.
But I digress. My story is about Tarzan of The Apes. A hero that was a real ape's ape, because he was abandoned in the jungle by his human parents when he was a baby and a mother ape raised him with her babies and teaching him the ways and customs of the apes. Thus, Tarzan of The Apes.
In a lot of ways, Tarzan was more of a hero than Superman. Sure, the Man of Steel could fly, but so could Tarzan. With the complex network of vines that hung from the tall tress of his jungle turf, Tarzan could go from one side of the jungle to the other in a flash.
Superman had X-Ray vision, heat vision, and super-hearing and super everything, but could he talk to animals who lived in the jungle? No. But Tarzan, being raised in the company of animals, knew their languages and knew how to keep their alliances to him.
Weissmuller was Tarzan
As a side road to this story, here is a
List of Actors Who Would Not Have Played The Role of Tarzan of The Apes
- Dick York
- Ward Bond
- James Cagney
- Darrin McGavin
- Robert Horton
- Paul Fix
- Cisco Kid
- Gregory Peck
- Burt Lancaster
these are the ones that jump to mind.
Another thing I did as a kid, on my own turf, not Grandpa James' home place, was play in a wooded area below our home and swing back and forth on the older grapevines that were grown to the tops of the trees. My mom would be occupied with her housework and my dad would be working the fields, so I had free time to explore the "World of Tarzan." I didn't have a chimp to call "Cheetah," but I did have a dog named "Bally," and she did okay by watching me to make sure that I didn't fall on my rump with each dynamic swing I made and for good measure, I threw in my Tarzan-yell which was not as good as Carol Burnett's, but it was believable.
Of all the actors who played the role of Tarzan of The Apes, there is no contest. Johnny Weissmuller won vines down as "the" dominant actor who made us believe that such a man could exist in the dark jungles of Africa and the Amazon. Weissmuller's background as a competitive-swimmer was a big plus for his role as Tarzan, but the only thing he lacked was a certain charisma that was needed with "Jane," his companion. You know good and well that "Jane" was an exciting woman and women love the charismatic ways of a man who is chasing her. All Weissmuller ever did to show "Jane" that he liked her was fetch her a stalk of fresh bananas.
TARZAN: "Here. Good to eat."
JANE: "Wy' thank you, Tarzan. I love them. I think I will put them in some water."
TARZAN: "Uggg. No water. Eat."
Just one glitch with Tarzan shows
The writers and producers went a bit far with keeping Tarzan's ape-like personality as he grew and matured in the ways that were introduced to him by "Jane," who was once an educated, sophisticated woman. I guess his ape-like traits were cute, but if I were "Jane," in real life, I would demand that he get some formal education from some missionary near his jungle whose sole purpose in life was to teach people how to read, talk, and have some manners about them.
The only mystery about Tarzan, of The Apes was you never saw Tarzan shave his face. After all, he was a male. And males, as we all know, grow facial hair. But we never saw him shave. Then why didn't we ever see him with a full-beard? I guess this is one of those guarded secrets of the jungle.
Each time I wander back to my childhood days for a visit with one of my heroes of my then-black and white television world, I get excited all over again as I was each time I got to watch Tarzan on Saturday afternoons at my home and each weekday after school from 3:30 p.m. to 4 p.m., at Grandpa James and Ida Belle's house.
And Tarzan, if I never told you back then, I am telling you now. "Tarzan, you rock!'
Where were you when Grandpa James was after me like a charging water buffalo?