Over the years, there has lived one such character that has assumed so many forms, yet his distinctive yell still symbolizes courage and hope for each one of us. Tarzan has been around for a century now, through different mediums. One such medium being the movies. Both evolved with each other and have been going strong. But what truly makes the character memorable is the human being wearing the character itself. Tarzan is one of the most played characters in films by numerous actors. This list that follows contains Tarzan actors (and a little something about them) who have portrayed Tarzan in numerous movies. The actors are listed according to their year of first occurrence in a Tarzan movie.
Died: June 27, 1952
He was the first actor to play Tarzan in a movie, which was a silent film. After the Tarzan movies, he was not very much active in films for about a decade. He returned to doing movies in the late 1930s after the silent film era, mostly working as an extra.
- Tarzan of the Apes (1918)
- The Romance of Tarzan (1918)
- The Adventures of Tarzan (1921)
Died: October 20, 1971
New York City firefighter Joseph Charles Pohler used the screen name Gene Pollar for the one Tarzan movie he acted in. This was his only film, after which, he switched back to being a firefighter with his original name.
- The Revenge of Tarzan (1920)
Died: December 11, 1983
James Pierce landed the role to play Tarzan because of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator and author of Tarzan books, who met Pierce at a party thrown by himself and his daughter. Prior to this, James Pierce used to coach high school football in Arizona, and pursue acting in his spare time. He later married Joan, the daughter of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
- Tarzan and the Golden Lion (1927)
Died: February 12, 1966
Frank Merrill was a body double for Elmo Lincoln in the Adventures Of Tarzan. He was a national-title winning gymnast, a stuntman, and an actor. He was the first actor to voice Tarzan’s famous ‘victory cry’ on film. Ironically, he was not called back to play Tarzan in further sound films because of his unsuitable voice. He spent his later life working for children and as a volunteer gymnast instructor.
- Tarzan the Mighty
Died: January 20, 1984
The best known actor to have played Tarzan by far, Johnny Weissmuller was also one of the fastest swimmers in the world in the 1920s. He won five Olympic gold medals in freestyle swimming and a bronze in water polo. He played the role of Tarzan in twelve motion pictures from 1932 to 1948. After representing a brand as a model and appearing in a couple of motion pictures, MGM signed a 7-year contract with him to play Tarzan. The movies were highly successful, spanning many more years than the contract, and he went on to become a mega star, gaining popularity, especially for his physique and his distinctive Tarzan yell.
- Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)
- Tarzan and His Mate (1934)
- Tarzan Escapes (1936)
- Tarzan Finds a Son! (1939)
- Tarzan’s Secret Treasure (1941)
- Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942)
- Tarzan Triumphs (1943)
- Tarzan’s Desert Mystery (1943)
- Tarzan and the Amazons (1945)
- Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946)
- Tarzan and the Huntress (1947)
- Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948)
Died: April 23, 1983
Buster Crabbe was an Olympic gold medal winning swimmer before getting into acting. His Tarzan film came out after the many by Johnny Weissmuller. Although Buster Crabbe starred only in one Tarzan film, he acted in several other popular movies in the 1930s and 1940s.
- Tarzan the Fearless (1933)
Died: February 24, 2007
Another Olympic medalist (though this time for shot put), Bruce Bennett was born Harold Herman Brix. He started his acting career with his only Tarzan film, and apparently moved on to other projects. He had changed his name to Bruce Bennett to avoid being typecast as Tarzan.
- The New Adventures of Tarzan (1935)
Died: January 31, 1974
Glenn Morris won a gold medal in the 1936 Olympics for decathlon. He was the fourth Olympic athlete to play Tarzan. Glenn Morris, who appeared in only one Tarzan film, and played a minor role in another film, left the movies after these two films.
- Tarzan’s Revenge (1938)
Died: May 11, 1973
Like many of the actors who played Tarzan, Lex Barker too rose to fame after starring in his first Tarzan movie. Subsequently, he went on play many heroic and important roles in various other films. His appearance, physique, and style gained him immense popularity as Tarzan.
- Tarzan’s Magic Fountain (1949)
- Tarzan and the Slave Girl (1950)
- Tarzan’s Peril (1951)
- Tarzan’s Savage Fury (1952)
Died: April 30, 2007
Gordon Scott was born Gordon Merrill Werschkul, but was made to change his name by the producer of his first Tarzan film. Scott played Tarzan on television as well as in movies. After his Tarzan films, he moved to Italy―the reason being his fear of getting typecast as Tarzan. He then went on to play characters in films on Greek and Roman mythology, and later moved on to other genres.
- Tarzan’s Hidden Jungle (1955)
- Tarzan and the Lost Safari (1957)
- Tarzan’s Fight for Life (1958)
- Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959)
- Tarzan the Magnificent (1960)
Denny Miller played Tarzan in one movie before moving on to roles in other films and television series. He is more known for his appearances on the television series Wagon Train.
- Tarzan, the Ape Man (1959)
Died: December 15, 1989
Jock Mahoney entered the movies as a stuntman. He had auditioned to play Tarzan in 1948, but the role apparently went to Lex Barker. He played the villain in the 1960 Tarzan film, Tarzan the Magnificent. The producer was impressed by his strong portrayal of the character, and decided to offer him the role of Tarzan.
- Tarzan Goes to India (1962)
- Tarzan’s Three Challenges (1963)
Mike Henry had a career in football before becoming an actor. He played Tarzan in three films that were filmed back-to-back in a year. After playing Tarzan, he went on to play other memorable characters in films and television.
- Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966)
- Tarzan and the Great River (1967)
- Tarzan and the Jungle Boy (1968)
Ron Ely has played Tarzan for the television series of the same name. Two 2-part episodes in this series, after re-editing, were later released as films. Ron Ely was known for performing his own stunts on set and experienced various injuries. Apart from acting, he also has had a successful writing career, after he penned two novels in 1994 and 1995.
- Tarzan’s Jungle Rebellion (1967)
- Tarzan’s Deadly Silence (1970)
Miles O’Keeffe came under the spotlight with his first and only Tarzan film. It was told from the point of view of Jane Parker. He has studied political science and psychology, and used to play rugby, before getting into Hollywood.
- Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981)
Christopher Lambert had played roles in several French films before he was cast as Tarzan in 1984. His only Tarzan film ‘Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of Apes’ received generous reviews and three Academy Award nominations. Christopher Lambert went on to play successful roles in other international films too.
- Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of Apes (1984)