Non-Bond: TARZAN ON LOCATION

  • By Martijn Mulder
  • 01 Sep, 2016

An amazing story about the discovery of unique video footage

Although I love lots of movies and genres, there are some series that I do not know much about. 'Tarzan' is one of them. I can tell you Johnny Weissmüller played the role ages ago, but that's about it. Still, this story is so special that it just has to be shared. So even if you're totally not into Tarzan, like me, just sit back, relax and read this story. It's a good one..

A few years ago, an older friend of mine gave me a VHS cassette and asked me if I could make a digital copy and duplicate it for a few of his friends. They are all into old British cars, Austins to be exact, and my friend owns and restored a couple of them and happily takes the oldtimers on holiday to Scotland and Scandinavia, year after year. I agreed to help him out and took the cassette home where I put it in my VCR, curious to see what was on it.
Muddy roads greet this Austin on its way through Uganda
Muddy roads greet this Austin on its way through Uganda
The film itself was fascinating! It was made in the 1950s by a friend of my friend, who was working at the Austin factory in Kampala, Uganda, at the time. This man and his father (who came to visit him) took two 8mm cameras and two Austin A30s, and went on a road trip through Africa. They filmed the whole journey and since they both had cameras, they could film eachother drive by (as the photo above shows), making it quite a professional looking film. Especially for that time!
Driving an Austin A30 through Africa is not something I would do these days..
Driving an Austin A30 through Africa is not something I would do these days..
It was a lengthy film, showing lots of wildlife, elephants, crocodiles, hippos.. But it never got boring, simply because it is mind boggling to think about doing a road trip through Africa in the 50s. What an unbelievable adventure this must have been! At that time there was of course not much to worry about, making the contrast with today's situation even bigger. Anyway, the trip went through Uganda and before going through Kenia and Tanzania, the father and son would make a stop at Murchison Falls, which had already been a National Park since 1952.
This looks like a safe position to film the African wildlife..
This looks like a safe position to film the African wildlife..
So they got there and watched the gorge where the White Nile is being squeezed through, relaxed a bit and waited for other visitors to leave. They then set up their tents and had the whole place to themselves. At that point in the film, my jaw dropped..
The next chapter in the home video, textually inserted in post-production, was called "A film company is making a Tarzan film" and the camera panned to a group of people carrying equipment down to the river. The voice-over (my friend's friend) explained that RKO Pictures from Hollywood had arrived to shoot scenes for a Tarzan movie, starring Gordon Scott as Tarzan. And for the next five minutes, the home movie showed unique behind-the- scenes footage of the crew preparing and shooting scenes for this film. Gordon Scott walked by combing his hair and doing push-ups in front of the camera, all incredible stuff! It doesn't require much explanation that behind-the-scenes footage of 50s movies, shot on location, is extremely rare. And what are the odds that you run into a working Hollywood film crew, while on a road trip  through Uganda??

At first, according to the voice-over, the RKO crew objected against the father and son filming them at work, but in the end they accepted their presence without much trouble.
Gordon Scott combing his hair, while the crew prepares a scene on a bridge
Gordon Scott combing his hair, while the crew prepares a scene on a bridge
RKO Radio Pictures was an American film production company established in 1928. They distributed the early Disney feature films ( Fantasia , Bambi ) and had success with the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musicals and King Kong (1933), making them one of the five most important studios in Hollywood for a while. Just before the Second World War they signed Orson Welles, producing his classic Citizen Kane (1941), and Alfred Hithcock.

So what film where they making? The final Tarzan film made by RKO was brought out in 1955 and was called Tarzan's Hidden Jungle , so that's what was being filmed in Uganda in 1954.  It's a classic tale about the Lord of the Jungle fighting hunters and poachers. Tarzan saves a doctor and his beautiful assistant from a local tribe and they all live happily ever after.

Tarzan's Hidden Jungle  was in fact the last Tarzan film to be shot in B/W, which is funny, because  the home video footage is in colour!  Apart from Scott, the film also featured Vera Miles, whom he would later marry. The couple divorced four years later, when Miles found out she wasn't in fact Scott's first wife, as she had always thought.
The producer, present on location in Uganda, was Sol Lesser, who had acquired the rights to make Tarzan movies back in 1933. After MGM had them for a while, Lesser got them back in 1943, after which he made the last six Tarzan films with Johnny Weissmüller for RKO. When Weissmüller retired from the part, Lesser found Lex Barker after an extensive nation-wide search for the new Tarzan. But when Barker quit after playing the role five times between 1949 and 1953, the search was on again.

Gordon Scott (born Gordon Werschkul) was discovered while working as a lifeguard at the pool of the Sahara Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Werschkul, who was tall and muscular, was introduced to Sol Lesser, who instantly offered him a 7 year contract to play Tarzan. Because Werschkul sounded a bit similar to Weissmüller, Lesser advised the new Tarzan to change his name, and so he became Gordon Scott.
Gordon Scott behind the scenes as Tarzan
Gordon Scott behind the scenes as Tarzan
Scott would make a total of five Tarzan films, of which the final two are among the best of the series, according to fans. With a new producer, Sy Weintraub, the role was reinvented. Tarzan would no longer live in a tree house with Jane, but be more like his creatorEdgar Rice Burroughs had originally written it: An intelligent and nice man, who carried himself well.

Scott would make Tarzan's Greatest Adventure (1959 - with Sean Connery as villain) and Tarzan the Magnificent (1960). When his contract expired, Scott feared he would be typecast, so he went to Italy where he made a small fortune in various gladiator films.
But does the story about the coicidental find end here? No.. there's an encore !

When I had copied the film and returned it to my friend (I had obviously kept a copy for myself), I wondered what to do with it. I figured any Tarzan - or more specifically any Gordon Scott - fan could go nuts about this footage, so I searched the Internet and found a Gordon Scott fan page. There weren't very many, but this guy - Roger Thomas from Baltimore, Maryland - was a HUGE fan. I decided to write him an e-mail.

After a few days he replied and what he wrote me was even more jaw dropping. 
Gordon Scott is regarded a very good Tarzan by fans and his final two films are real fan favorites.
Gordon Scott is regarded a very good Tarzan by fans and his final two films are real fan favorites.
It turned out that I had certainly written the right guy, because Thomas and Scott knew eachother pretty well. After befriending the by now retired actor at conventions, Thomas and his wife had looked him up in Hollywood and at some point invited him for a visit to their home in Baltimore. To their big surprise, in 2002 Gordon Scott, who at that point was estranged from almost everyone, showed up at their home and never left. The couple gave Scott a spare room in their rowhouse, where he spend the last five years of his life, almost like a recluse.

So you can imagine Roger Thomas  was hugely excited that I contacted him and was amazed by the footage I sent him. Unfortunately, Gordon Scott himself had passed away, just a few months before I sent my e-mail. "Oh, he would have loved to see this!", Thomas wrote to me.

It wasn't to be. In 2007, at the age of 80, Gordon Scott had moved out of Thomas' house into a nursing home, where he died of complications from multiple heart surgeries which he had earlier that year.
So, if you're still here: Here's the footage, with the original Dutch voice-over. I did add English subtitles, so it all makes a bit more sense.

On the tracks of 007

By Martijn Mulder 01 Sep, 2016
Although I love lots of movies and genres, there are some series that I do not know much about. 'Tarzan' is one of them. I can tell you Johnny Weissmüller played the role ages ago, but that's about it. Still, this story is so special that it just has to be shared. So even if you're totally not into Tarzan, like me, just sit back, relax and read this story. It's a good one..

A few years ago, an older friend of mine gave me a VHS cassette and asked me if I could make a digital copy and duplicate it for a few of his friends. They are all into old British cars, Austins to be exact, and my friend owns and restored a couple of them and happily takes the oldtimers on holiday to Scotland and Scandinavia, year after year. I agreed to help him out and took the cassette home where I put it in my VCR, curious to see what was on it.
By Martijn Mulder 07 Jun, 2016
One of the locations that had always puzzled us, is the gas station location, where 007 drives his Acrostar BedeJet to and quips "Fill 'er up, please". We posted the above photo on our website's WANTED page , hoping some fellow location hunter would be able to solve this puzzle. And this is exactly what happened..
By Martijn Mulder 02 Apr, 2016

The island of Hong Kong was occupied by the British Empire in 1842. In 1856 Britain acquired the Kowloon peninsula on the Chinese mainland. The Crown Colony of Hong Kong was completed by the lease of the New Territories from China in 1898. This lease was supposed to last for 99 years. In 1984 the governments of Great Britain and the People’s Republic of China made an agreement that the British rule over Hong Kong would expire on June 30, 1997. Since July 1, 1997 it has been a ‘Special Administrative Region of China’. For the normal visitor and tourist very little, if anything at all, has 'really' changed since then. The British Governor was replaced by a Chinese appointed head of administration, but capitalism still rules and the cars still drive on the left hand side of the street. Only you will get some different stamps in your passport.  The urban beehive of Hong Kong is a bonanza of fascinating sights and experiences and only few destinations yield their treasures so readily like this unique place at the verge of the Middle Kingdom.

Highlights of a visit to Hong Kong would be for example an ascent of Victoria Peak (by funicular railway) from where you have a spectacular view of the whole area, or a meal in the ‘Floating Restaurants’ at Aberdeen (Pierce Brosnan in the TV-series ‘Noble House’) or a trip to the outlying island of Lantau with the world’s largest outdoor Buddha-statue. The most popular novel dealing with Hong Kong is definitely ‘The World of Suzie Wong’ by Richard Mason. Although the action takes place in the Wanchai District, most parts of the film (1960), starring William Holden and Nancy Kwan, were shot in the area around the Man Mo Temple at the crossing of Ladder Street and Hollywood Road in the Sheung Wan District. 
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