This week we have a double treat for all Edgar Rice Burroughs and Tarzan fans. From December 26, 1932 we have episode 46 of the very first major syndicated radio serial, Tarzan of the Apes, with "Escape." And from January 4, 1951 the very first episode of radio's new incarnation of Tarzan, "The Decoy." A bit of backstory is in order.
From 1932-36 Tarzan on radio consisted of three long-running serials: Tarzan of the Apes, Tarzan and the Diamond of Asher, and The Fires of Toth. Tarzan was played by silent film actor James H. Pierce and Jane was played by Burroughs's daughter Joan. Pierce had attended a party held by Burroughs where he met Joan. ERB asked Pierce if would appear as Tarzan in ERB's next silent Tarzan picture. Pierce replied that he was to appear in another film titled Wings. ERB nevertheless convinced Pierce to become Tarzan and he gave up his role in Wings. Pierce's role in Wings was then filled by a relative newcomer named Gary Cooper, and Wings would walk away with the first Oscar for what is now known as Best Picture in 1929. Such blow the fickle winds of Fate. On the up side, James Pierce would wed Joan Burroughs in 1928 and they would remain together until their deaths (Joan in 1972 and James in 1983).
It is impractical to run lengthy serials here. Each of the 1930s Tarzan serials ran to approximately 40 episodes, give or take, and timed out from 8-12 minutes each. There would be a new Tarzan episode in the much longer story arc every two or three days throughout the week. That said, the first of this week's double dip of Tarzan on radio offers up an episode we couldn't resist. "Escape" features James Pierce as Tarzan and Joan Burroughs-Pierce as Jane (see photo upper left). Seems like everyone is being captured by nasty gibbering cannibals and Tarzan must find a way to rescue them. The audio effects sound as if they were taken directly from an old Tarzan film and have an earthy realism to them that can't be beat.
After the trio of initial serials in the 1930s, the Golden Age of radio would produce no further Tarzan adventures until 1951, at which time his new exploits would run until 1953, when many radio shows were gradually being phased out in favor of television. Lamont Johnson now played the Lord of the Jungle, and in contrast to the earlier 1930s serials (and the famous Johnny Weismuller Tarzan pictures), Tarzan would speak intelligent English rather than the "Me Tarzan, you Jane" dialogue many have come to think of when the subject comes up.
So the pair of episodes below provide ample contrast in styles, actors, production values and format, for the 1950s episodes are self-contained half-hour stories, the serial format a thing of the past. And while they are separated by almost two decades and a World War, each holds a charm of its own and further continues the legacy of one of the most renowned and beloved fictional characters in all literature.
"Escape" -- December 26, 1932
Play Time: 11:34
"The Decoy" -- January 4, 1951
Play Time: 27:34
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