Glory was starstruck at a young age and fell in love with classic Hollywood movies and movie stars and loves writing about both!
Actors Who Wore Tarzan's Loincloth
Edgar Rice Burroughs first introduced the world to Tarzan in a 1912 issue of The All Story Magazine.
It wasn't long until Hollywood took notice of this popular literary character and decided that he should become a movie character too. The 1918 silent film Tarzan of the Apes starred Elmo Lincoln in the title role. It was a hit and Hollywood had a new hero, one that continues to enthrall movie-goers to this day.
This guide to the actors who have played Tarzan is as complete as I could put together. If you know of any omissions, let me know in the comments section.
Please note that all photos used on this page, if not otherwise indicated, were sourced from Amazon or eBay.
Who Played Tarzan, and When
Film or Television Show
Tarzan of the Apes (silent)
Gordon Griffith (Tarzan as a boy)
Tarzan of the Apes (silent)
P. Dempsey Tebler
Son of Tarzan (15 chapter movie serial)
Kamuela Cooper Searle (young Tarzan)
Son of Tarzan
Revenge of Tarzan
Tarzan and the Golden Lion
Tarzan the Mighty and Tarzan the Tiger
1928 and 1929
Tarzan the Ape Man and 11 other Tarzan films
The New Adventures of Tarzan
Tarzan's Magic Fountain
Tarzan's Hidden Jungle
Tarzan the Ape Man
Tarzan Goes to India
Tarzan and the Valley of Gold
Tarzan the Ape Man
Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes
Tarzan in Manhattan (TV movie) and Tarzan the Epic Adventures
1984 and 1996
Casper Van Dien
Tarzan and the Lost City
The Legend of Tarzan
Big, barrel-chested Elmo Lincoln was the first actor to bring Tarzan to the big screen, in the 1918 silent film, Tarzan of The Apes. Edgar Rice Burroughs wasn't impressed with Lincoln and didn't want him to play the role. Rice preferred actor Stellen Windrow, who had given up acting at the outbreak of World War I. This left the role available for Lincoln.
A second film, Romance of Tarzan, was released in 1918 and also starred Lincoln.
In 1921 Lincoln starred again as the famous ape man, in the 15-part movie serial The Adventures of Tarzan.
Lincoln died of a heart attack in 1952. He was 63.
Griffith's got his first acting role when he was seven, playing a regular part in the four Little Billy short movies in 1914 and 1915.
Mack Sennett of Keystone Studios cast Griffith in several of his slapstick comedy movies and Griffith played opposite Charlie Chaplin, playing a paperboy in Tillie's Punctured Romance. Milton Berle often took credit for playing this role, but it was Griffith's work. In 1918 he played the boy Tarzan in the silent Tarzan of the Apes.
Griffith's career made the transition from silent films to talkies, but he got smaller roles. His last role was in the 1936 film Outlaws of the Range. After that, Griffith moved into other areas of the movie industry and got his first job as assistant director at 23. He continued to work as an assistant director until 1940, and had over 20 films to his credit.
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Griffith produced five films between 1937 and 1956 and worked as an associate producer under Robert E. Sherwood. In 1941 he worked as a director and associate producer with Gregory Ratoff Productions. That same year he was named production manager at Columbia Studios but he eventually moved on to RKO to work as an associate producer.
Griffith died of a heart attack in 1958 at age 51.
P. Dempsey Tebler
Born in 1876, Perce Dempsey Tabler had a varied career: opera singer, businessman, founding member of Paramount Pictures, athlete, and wearer of Tarzan's loincloth.
Beginning in the summer of 1920, Tabler starred in a 15-chapter movie serial, The Son of Tarzan, based on a Edgar Rice Burroughs story of the same title. The series tells the story of Korak, son of Tarzan and Jane, who is kidnapped and taken to Africa.
Gordon Griffith played the role of of Korak as a child and Kamuela C. Searle as an adult. The role was Tabler's first acting role and he did act in one more film, Spawn of the Desert in 1923. He went on to become successful in advertising.
Kamuela Cooper Searle
Samuel Cooper Searle was born in Hawaii in 1890. Around 1915 he met director Cecil B. Demille on the beach at Waikiki. DeMille was so taken with Searle that he encouraged him to pursue a career in film. It has been said that Searle acted in small parts in a few early DeMille films, though he is not credited for any acting work during this time.
During World War I, Searle enlisted in the U.S. Army and was wounded in France. When he was discharged, he changed his first name to Kamuela, the Hawaiian spelling of Samuel.
In 1919 he appeared, uncredited, in DeMille's Male and Female. In 1920, Searle took the role of a young Tarzan in the 15-part movie serial The Son of Tarzan. There is a myth that Searle died during the filming when an elephant slammed him to the ground. Though he was injured badly, and a double had to complete some remaining shots, Searle survived and went on to complete Fool's Paradise in 1921. After that he retired from the film industry and devoted his time to painting and sculpting.
Searle died of cancer in 1924 at age 33.
When producers at Numa Pictures wanted to make another Tarzan film, they approached Elmo Lincoln to reprise his role, but he refused. At 28, New York City firefighter Joseph C. Pohler stood 6' 2" and weighed 215 pounds. He was the perfect choice.
Pohler changed his name to Gene Pollar (some sources show his name spelled as "Polar") and earned $100 a week. The Revenge of Tarzan turned out to be a big hit and he was offered a contract with Universal. Numa wouldn't release him from his contract, so Pollar went back to being Joseph Pohler and fighting fires in New York.
He eventually retired to Florida, where he died in 1971 at the age of 79.
James Pierce was a football player at Indiana University. After graduating in 1921, he moved to Arizona where he coached football and worked as an actor on the side. Pierce moved to California and in 1924 he got his first movie role, in the film Leatherstocking. He continued to coach football, at Glendale High School, and some of the student players on his team would eventually take up acting, men like John Wayne and Robert Livingston.
Pierce's career and life took a major turn when he was invited to a party given by Edgar Rice Burroughs. At the party he met Burroughs' daughter Joan. The couple fell in love and married in 1928. Also, Edgar Burroughs thought Pierce was the perfect shape and size to play Tarzan. Right there at the party he offered Pierce the lead role in Tarzan and the Golden Lion. Pierce earned $75 a week while working on the film, which was released in 1927. While it was popular with audiences, the movie was panned by critics. It was Pierce's first and last role as the famed ape man.
However, Pierce and his wife Joan were the voices of Tarzan and Jane on national radio between 1932-34. They remained married until Joan's death in 1973 and James Pierce passed away in 1983.
Frank Merrill held many jobs during his lifetime: gymnast, police officer, stuntman, and actor.
Merrill was Elmo Lincoln's stunt double in the 1921 movie serial, The Adventures of Tarzan. In 1928 he wore the loincloth again in Tarzan the Mighty, replacing actor/stuntman Joe Bonomo.
In 1929, Merrill was Tarzan in Tarzan the Tiger. While this film was mostly silent, there were a few parts that had sound and unfortunately Merrill's voice didn't make the cut for "talkies." His career was over after just two outings on the big screen.
This suited Merrill fine. He found a new career he liked better—working with children. He got a job at the Los Angeles Parks Commission as a recreation director and volunteer gymnastics instructor. Merrill passed away in 1955 at the age of 62.
Weissmuller was a swimmer in the 1920s and considered one of the best in the world, winning five Olympic gold medals and one bronze for the United States during his athletic career.
His success as an athlete made him somewhat famous and in 1929 he signed a contract to be a model for BVD, a men's underwear company. This brought him even greater attention and that same year he made his first movie appearance, in Glorifying the American Girl as an Adonis wearing just a fig leaf.
But Weissmuller's acting career really didn't start until 1932, when he signed a contract to play the lead in Tarzan the Ape Man. The film was a huge success and Weissmuller was on his way to stardom. He played Tarzan in 12 films before giving up his loincloth, only to assume the role of Jungle Jim in a series of films based on the comic strip character Jim Bradly. He made 13 Jungle Jim movies before retiring from the movie business.
Weissmuller died of pulmonary edema in 1984 at the age of 79.
Was Johnny Weissmuller the Best Tarzan?
Buster Crabbe was an Olympic medalist, swimming in the 1928 and 1932 games. His athletic skills and powerful body made him a logical choice to replace Johnny Weismuller as Tarzan, or so the studios thought.
Crabbe's first and only turn as Tarzan came in 1933 when he starred in Tarzan the Fearless. The project was meant to be a 12-chapter movie serial, but it was released instead as a feature film using just the first four parts of the serial. This was Crabbe's only outing as Tarzan, but he worked on several more movies that had a "jungle" theme: King of the Jungle (1933), Jungle Man (1941), and the 1952 serial King of the Congo.
Crabbe's his real claim to fame, however, was as Flash Gordon in 1936. He died in 1983 and is buried in Green Acres Memorial Park in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Another Olympic medalist to play Tarzan, Herman Brix won a silver medal for the shot put track and field event in the 1928 games.
In 1929, Brix came to Hollywood where Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. arranged for a screen test at Paramount Studios. Brix was cast in a film called Touchdown but he injured his shoulder during filming. This was a bad break for Brix, because MGM had decided they wanted him to play Tarzan in a new movie. His injury prevented him from taking the role, which went to Johnny Weismuller and made him a star.
Brix got another chance to play Tarzan. In 1935 he starred in The New Adventures of Tarzan, produced by a newly formed Burroughs-Tarzan, Inc. Since Burroughs had a hand in making this film, Brix's Tarzan resembled the one of the books. He was educated, cultured, and well mannered. In 1938 a second film, Tarzan and the Green Goddess, was released.
Brix changed his name to Bruce Bennett when he joined Columbia Studios. He was considered a fairly competent actor and played in Sahara, Mildred Pierce, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and other films.
Brix lived a full life, dying in 2007 at age 100.
As a track and field athlete, Glenn Morris set a new record and won a gold medal in the decathlon in the 1936 Olympics. This success led to a lot of media attention and Morris did a short stint as an NBC radio commentator.
In 1938, Morris was chosen to play Tarzan. He appeared in only one film, Tarzan's Revenge. The movie (and his acting) were panned and he never tried to expand on his acting career. Morris left Hollywood to play football for the Detroit Lions, but after just four games an injury stopped that career short. Morris would eventually give up the sporting life altogether.
He was in the Navy during World War II, commanding an amphibious-assault landing craft, when the stress took its toll and he was admitted for treatment for psychological trauma, spending several months in a Navy hospital.
There are those who call Morris one of the greatest athletes ever. He died of heart failure in California in 1974.
Handsome Lex Barker was disowned by his family when he chose to become an actor. On his own, he supported himself by working in the steel industry until 1945, when he landed a small part in the film Doll Face. A string of minor film roles followed, but his big break came in 1949 when he was cast as Tarzan in Tarzan's Magic Fountain. Barker made five more Tarzan films before leaving the role.
Barker had his great success post-Tarzan in the foreign cinema. He starred in westerns, war dramas, and comedies. Barker married five times and two of those marriages were to famous actresses: Arlene Dahl (1951-52) and Lana Turner (1953-57).
In 1973, just three days before his 54th birthday, Barker suffered a heart attack while out on a walk and died. He was cremated and his ashes taken to Spain by his ex-wife Carmen Cervera.
In 1953, while working as a lifeguard in Las Vegas, young Gordon Scott was spotted by a Hollywood agent who believed Scott had the right physique to play Tarzan. He met with producer Sy Weintraub and signed a seven year contract.
Scott replaced Lex Barker as the swinging ape man and made six Tarzan films, beginning with Tarzan's Hidden Jungle (1955). His later Tarzan films were Tarzan and the Lost Safari (1957), Tarzan and the Trappers"(1958), Tarzan's Fight for Life (1958), Tarzan's Greatest Adventure (1959), and Tarzan the Magnificent (1960). Gordon was considered by many to be the best Tarzan.
When Scott left the Tarzan role, he moved to Italy where he became a popular action star making "sword and sorcerer" films. He died in Baltimore in 2007 of complications from heart surgery.
Denny Miller was playing basketball at UCLA when he was discovered by a Hollywood agent and signed to a contract with MGM Studios in 1959.
He was the first blond Tarzan, appearing in the film Tarzan, the Ape Man. It was a cheap movie that included a lot of footage from previously filmed Tarzan movies. It was Miller's only venture as the ape man.
After Tarzan, Miller made numerous guest appearances, usually playing a villain or jerk. He appeared as the Gorton Fisherman on commercials for Gorton's fish sticks.
Denny died at age 80 on September 9, 2014.