It‘s funny how we latch on to fictional characters.
For many decades we have followed the adventures on radio, TV and film of Batman, Superman, The Shadow, Flash Gordon, James Bond, and Tarzan to name a few. Every time a new genre was created to display these characters, it seems a new actor would step in to its place.
We have gotten used to seeing different people as many of these famous creations. If I asked you to name two or three people who have played James Bond you should be able to with ease. It seemed more natural when it was done in the movies than in TV, but it has been done. On TV we had 2 Darrens from Bewitched, 2 Beckys from Roseanne, 3 Billie Jo’s and 2 Bobbie Jo’s on Petticoat Junction, 2 Lionels on The Jeffersons and 2 Floyd the Barber’s on Andy Griffith just to name a few. ( Can you name more?)
When growing up I was confused by the different people who played Tarzan. I remember the TV show and I watched all those old black and whites movies on a local afternoon movie show called “Dialing for Dollars.”
Tarzan was a fictional character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs that first appeared in the 1912 novel Tarzan of the Apes, and then in twenty-three sequels. He is the son of a British Lord and Lady, marooned on the coast of Africa by mutineers. His parents died when he was an infant, and he was raised by Great Apes . His English name is John Clayton, Lord Greystoke. As a young adult, he meets Jane, and when she returns to America he leaves the jungle in search of his true love. Tarzan and Jane marry, and he lives with her for a time in England and then he and Jane return to Africa.
They have been over 88 movies with Tarzan in the title between 1918 and 1999. The first Tarzan movies were silent pictures adapted from the original Tarzan novels which appeared within a few years of the character’s creation. With the advent of talking pictures, a popular Tarzan movie franchise was developed, anchored at first by actor Johnny Weissmüller and Maureen O’Sullivan. Weissmuller’s Tarzan was a natural hero with a limited vocabulary and lasted in a total of twelve films, through 1948.
Following the Weissmuller films, Lex Barker portrayed Tarzan in five low-budget films (1949-1953), in which he essentially imitated Weissmuller. Next came six films starring Gordon Scott (1955-1960), of which the best received were Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959) and Tarzan the Magnificent (1960).
Gordon Scott four decades ago may have fought off wild animals, evil hunters or an African tribe but this week he did not survive heart surgery. He has taken his Final Taxi.
Scott was born Gordon M. Werschkull . In his teens he took up bodybuilding, which he quickly found impressed women. Mr. Scott attended the University of Oregon for a year and was drafted into the Army in 1944, serving as a drill sergeant and military policeman until 1947. After the Army, he then went to work at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas as a lifeguard and Sol Lesser, a Hollywood producer, discovered him there.
After climbing trees, jumping into pools and swinging from ersatz vines for six hours, Scott beat out 200 other would-be Tarzans from across the world who had auditioned for the part. And he was an impressive physical and athletic specimen, standing 6-foot-3, weighing 218 pounds and with 19-inch biceps.
In 1953, he was awarded a seven-year contract and the last name of Scott by Mr. Lesser, becoming the 11th Tarzan, replacing Lex Barker.
During the 1954 production of his first film, Tarzan’s Hidden Jungle, Scott met and fell in love with co-star Vera Miles. The couple married in 1954 and divorced four years later.
The film was followed by Tarzan and the Lost Safari (1957); Tarzan Fight for Life (1958);Tarzan and the Trappers (1958); Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959), with co-stars Sean Connery and Anthony Quayle; and Tarzan the Magnificent (1960).
Scott, having had his fill of Tarzan, moved to Italy in 1960 and acted in spaghetti westerns and films such as Hercules and Buffalo Bill, Hero of the Far West.
His last film. The Tramplers, made in 1966 with co-stars Joseph Cotton and James Mitchum, was released in 1968.
Gordon Scott supported himself later by attending autograph shows, film conventions and living off residuals. He may have hung up his loincloth four decades ago, but he was still fondly remembered by some movie fans for his portrayal of the Lord of the Jungle.
He was 80.