LOS ANGELES — It wasn’t the screech of chimpanzees that lured famed researcher Jane Goodall to dream of the wilds of Tanzania.
It was Tarzan of the Apes, Lord of the Jungle.
“The more I read, the more passionately I fell in love with Tarzan,” said Goodall, recalling her preteen crush in an email to the Los Angeles Daily News. “I took whichever book I was reading at the time up to the top of my favourite tree in the garden — a beech tree.
“There, I imagined myself living in the forest, living with and helping Tarzan.”
As the burly ape-man turns 100, Goodall will join hundreds of fans in Woodland Hills, Calif., this week for a Tarzan/John Carter Centennial Celebration.
They’ll yodel the famous Tarzan yell. They’ll go ape during Tarzan “dum-dum” dancing. And they’ll swap every kind of Tarzan book, knife and loincloth.
The four-day junglethon will celebrate the life and work of San Fernando Valley author-cum-marketing genius Edgar Rice Burroughs, father of Tarzana and a pioneer of serial fantasy and science fiction.
In a separate ceremony Friday, the U.S. Postal Service will unveil a Burroughs-Tarzan stamp.“I feel awestruck by it. I feel humbled,” said John Burroughs, 70, of Malibu, grandson of the late author. “I feel my grandfather would feel the same.”
A jack-of-all-trades from Chicago, the young Burroughs had become a self-described flop at nearly everything — cowboy, gold miner, shopkeeper, railroad cop, Sears & Roebuck manager.
He’d even joined the U.S. Cavalry in Arizona to chase Apaches, “but fortunately for me,” he once said, “I never caught up with any of them.”
But at 37 Burroughs was broke, with a wife and two children and a third on the way. So he took a job managing sales of pencil sharpeners. In desperation between slack sales, he tried his hand at pulp fiction, scribbling on office scraps.
His first story, “Under the Moons of Mars,” sold in 1911 and was serialized to July 1912.
But it was his second, “Tarzan of the Apes: A Romance of the Jungle,” published in the 15-cent “The All-Story” magazine of October 1912, that would launch the Burroughs’ Tarzan business empire.
Its lurid cover depicted the ape-man about to plunge his dagger into a roaring lion.
And its 131 pages told of an Africa still wild, undiscovered and mysterious. And of Tarzan its true noble savage — born of a marooned British lord and lady and raised by a new tribe of apes.
The brawny ape king falls in love with a castaway, Jane. And over the next 26 Tarzan books, he leaps across the jungle canopy, and battles natives, jungle crocodiles and even center-of-the-Earth dinosaurs.
All the while, Tarzan manages to perform his heroic exploits while managing to speak Mangali ape, grammatically perfect English, and a host of other languages from French to Dutch, German, Swahili, Arabic, ancient Greek, ancient Latin, Mayan and more.
The buff polymath returns to jolly England, becomes disenchanted with civilization, then whisks Jane back to his beloved jungle.
And he would became protector — over the next 100 years — of everything that was good.
“We need heroes,” said Bill Hillman, founder of ERBzine.com, an unofficial fanzine with more than 10,000 Burroughs and Tarzan pages.
Hillman fell in love with Tarzan as a farm kid on the prairie of Manitoba, Canada, where he became hooked on actor Lex Barker’s movie screen ape-man. Then he discovered color Tarzan comics and Tarzan radio adventures. And became an expert on everything Tarzan.
“He was one of the first greenies,” said Hillman, 69, a musician and retired professor. “The bad guys were mostly white guys trying to destroy the jungle.
“My god, he was ahead of his time — with environmentalists, women’s rights and being a hero with high morals.”
In 1918, “Tarzan the Apes” starring Elmo Lincoln became the first film to gross $1 million. Five years later, Burroughs became one of the first authors to incorporate and be a pioneer for marketing books, films, radio segments, comics and merchandise.
Since then, 50 Tarzan movies have captivated the big screen, and 65 Tarzan episodes and 32 cartoons have regaled TV watchers.
Three Tarzan books are in the works, including a new novel by Robin Maxwell as told by Jane. A Tarzan video slot machine released two years ago with $5 million payouts is one of the most popular in Las Vegas.
And a new 3-D Tarzan animation movie by the German Constantin Films is in the works for possible release next year.
“Tarzan lives,” said Jim Sullos, president of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., now controlled by his heirs at his original 1927 office-studio in Tarzana.
“Why? Because he represents someone who couldn’t be corrupted. He learned self-preservation as a baby. He learned not to be dependent on anyone except his ape family. All he needed was his knife.”
All Burroughs needed was his pen. In 1919, he bought the San Fernando Valley estate of Gen. Harrison Gray Otis and renamed it Tarzana Ranch.
An advocate for wildlife, he became a game warden to ward off hunters. Then rode his horse down to his Ventura Boulevard office to spin tales of adventure.
In 1927, his partially developed estate was renamed the community of Tarzana, where residents remained thrilled by the Tarzan centennial.
“I think it’s really exciting,” said Jon Tsuchiyama, owner of West Valley Nursery in Tarzana. who sits on the cultural center board. “It was years in the making. It puts (us) on the map.”