Volume 1160
An analysis of Arthur Weiss' Tarzan of the Apes screenplay 

We don't know much about the script that prompted the following response from John Coleman. Had it been commissioned by ERB, Inc.? Whatever became of it? Did Weiss ever submit a rewrite or did he realize from JCB's comments that his approach was totally out of touch?

The most recent Tarzan appearances had been Tarzan and the Valley of Gold in 1966 and the Ron Ely TV series which completed its run in 1968. The time was probably right for a serious remake of the first Tarzan novel, Tarzan of the Apes. But the late '60s marked the start of a long Tarzan film drought that did not end until the remake of Tarzan, The Ape Man, by John Derek, fifteen years later. We can only wonder as to what went wrong.

A film that follows the spirit of Tarzan  as described in the books created by ERB -- and the Tarzan film that JCB wanted to see come to fruition -- has yet to be made. We do know that Weiss was a successful TV and film scriptwriter for 40 years. His credits include Golden Age of Television shows such as Science Fiction Theatre, Highway Patrol, The Man Called X, Sea Hunt, Flipper, The Fugitive, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Mission Impossible, Mannix, Land of the Giants, and Mission Impossible ... and films such as Rhino!, Flipper, Around the World Under the Sea, and Namu the Killer Whale.

In any case, John Coleman's comments give excellent insight into his love and knowledge of his father's most famous creation: Tarzan of the Apes.


August 15, 1969
John C. Burroughs 
comments re Arthur Weiss Screenplay:
Tarzan of the Apes

I feel the screenplay as written is in places quite interesting, and seems to carry good suspense.

Page 1: I like the abundance of animal shots, especially the ape-Tarzan sequences, and I feel since viewing the motion picture "2001, a Space Odyssey" and seeing the ape sequences in that picture, that similar treatment of apes in Tarzan of the Apes picture could be handled quite successfully. This is important, especially in this 1st Tarzan of the Apes picture, and probably more so in this 1st story of Tarzan than in succeeding pictures, because it is in relationship to his early life with apes and other animals that Tarzan's character was developed. 

I think that more humor as well as pathos can be developed here in Tarzan's relationship with his anthropoid companions.

While I find the screenplay as written seems to evolve well and with suspense, I cannot find it as interesting or as mind-haunting as the original classic story. Where one is dealing with such a classic that has remained popular for so many years, it seems the better part of wisdom to me to alter this classic as little as possible in order to make the transition from the written word to the filmed scene. Of course, all material in a written novel cannot be used, but I feel that great care should be exercised in transferring to the screen all the elements that make the original novel so enduring. 

Tarzan of the Apes as originally conceived, exemplifies the well-known statement accredited to Michaelangelo that "trifles make a masterpiece, but a masterpiece is not trifle". So my succeeding remarks may seem to deal in trifles, but it is my belief that around just such trifles Tarzan of the Apes became a masterpiece of genius. 

Page 2: I keenly miss the sequence we find in the opening of the original story in which Tarzan's parents were abandoned on the jungle shore of Africa and was the reason for Tarzan's advent into the wild environment where he was to eventually develope into one of the most fascinating characters in fiction. 

As much of Tarzan's character, as stressed throughout this first book and other Tarzan stories, was the result of heredity, it would seem important to devote a few more scenes showing Tarzan's father and brave but hopeless encounter with the wild environment in which he was stranded with his young wife. Not only was the father responsible for passing on the Greystoke name and inherited characteristics to his son, but the father's foresight in a host of little things constantly appeared to influence Tarzan in his development into a man in the wild jungle -- the cabin the father built with his own hands, the latch on the cabin door that kept the cabin contents unmolested for so many years, the books that the father's foresight had furnished for his young son, the diary that was later to prove Tarzan's identity and claim to the Greystoke name, the hunting knife and the locket. 

There was something hauntingly fascinating in the original story about the three skeletons that remained locked in the little cabin for so many years -- the bones of the mother in the bed, the father on the floor were Kerchak had dropped him, and the little bones of the anthropoid ape in the crib -- all of which were to remain present during Tarzan's self-education, lying there beside him inside the cabin. These were the little bones of Kala's 1st born that Jane Porter's father and his friend Philander were later to study so closely and which near the end of the story Prof. Porter ws to assert were the bones of an anthropoid ape. 

Page 3: Speaking of Prof. Porter and his friend Philander, it is my belief that their characters in the original story, while perhaps a little too broadly sketched, furnished an important comic relief. This would also apply to another comic character, Esmeralda, Jane Porter's colored maid. 

The screenplay does not devote enough scenes or time to the development of the romantic interest between Jane Porter, the Baltimore belle, and the wild Tarzan of the Apes. There is now not ample reason for an educated intelligent young girl like Jane to leave the sanctuary of her civilized environment and swing away through the trees with her new-found jungle lover. This should be handled very carefully and made to appear plausible. 

The charm of Tarzan and his adventures as originally written was credibility -- while the story is evolving we feel it might really have happened. But in the screenplay there is reference to animals behaving more like they would in Walt Disney's "Bambi" than in the heart of Equatorial Africa. Fore example, in the jungle stampede in Scene No. 137 on Page 48 following the death of his foster mother, the whole jungle is suddenly caught up in a surrealist stampeding flight, all the animals streaming after Tarzan, joining the chase of Kala's killer. There are several other instances throughout the screenplay where our "suspension in incredulity" is threatened by the broadly drawn anthropomorphic actions by dumb animals. 

In conclusion, let us examine the basic theme of the proposed Tarzan screenplay: Tarzan, surfeited with observing man's cruelty to man, man's predilection to murdering members of his own species, as well as killing in general, decides to return to his jungle. This must be thought through more carefully if it is going to be used as a basic theme. On page 135, Scene No. 296, Jane says "No one seems to know why men kill each other." Tarzan says "It is not so in my jungle." To which Jane replies "Animals kill other 

Page 4: animals." Tarzan says "For food, yes; but the ape does not kill the ape; and the lion does not kill the lion." The characters mentioned say this, but we see throughout the screenplay happenings to the contrary; especially do we see the cruelty of Tarzan's tribe of apes toward each other. The cruelty of Tarzan's foster father toward his foster mother, the constant waiting of the young bull apes to kill and usurp the ruling powers of the tribe's leader. And even Tarzan joins in the mayhem by killing black men -- all in contradiction to his previous statement to Jane. 

I think that the original plot of the novel should be kept which would explain Jane Porter's presence in Africa along with her father; After finding a considerable sum of buried treasure, the crew of Prof. Porter's ship mutinies, steals the treasure and leaves the Professor and his daughter on the African coast. Tarzan subsequently finds the treasure and returns it to Jane's father, claiming none for himself.

  • Eliminate Canler -- Jane's delemma of the heart is between Clayton and Tarzan.
  • Page 27: Why not fight Bolgani the gorilla as originally written?
  • Page 41: Better reason for origin of Tarzan's name. How about having Tarzan phonetically construct the words "white-skin" of ape language by reading in his dictionary how to form with the tongue the "T" sound, etc., etc.
  • Page 111: Darnell, the educated man, would have heard of Charles Darwin.
John C. Burroughs

As dictated to and 
typed by HB

Manuscript Page 1
Manuscript Page 2
Manuscript Page 3
Manuscript Page 4


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