Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Tom Tyler: Not the “ideal” Tarzan

One role that Tom Tyler was considered for his career, but did not quite make it, was as Tarzan. A number of actors have portrayed the Edgar Rice Burroughs character created back in 1912 onscreen (Tarzan made his debut in the pulp magazine, All-Story Magazine), which include Elmo Lincoln,  Herman Brix, and Johnny Weissmuller. One MGM film director by the name of W. S. Van Dyke thought about including Tom in the roster of stars who portrayed the famous jungle man, but changed his mind in favor of another popular actor at the time.

According to “The Tom Tyler Story” by Mike Chapman, Van Dyke was looking for the right actor to play Tarzan in the upcoming 1932 film “Tarzan the Ape Man”. Tom Tyler apparently tested for the role and was declined, due to his “not being muscular enough for the role” (p. 83). Van Dyke wanted Brix as Tarzan but apparently the actor was recovering from an on-set injury while filming “Touchdown!”(1931). Olympic swimming champion Johnny Weissmuller was selected instead, and made “Tarzan the Ape Man” a smash hit that year for MGM. Due to the film's popularity, Weissmuller appeared as Tarzan eleven more times on the silver screen.

Perhaps it is because both Brix and Weissmuller look similar facially, and have the sandy hair in addition to the tall, athletic physiques (both Brix and Weissmuller were 6'3”) that make them look suitable as Tarzan. To be fair, it might be worth comparing the role of Tarzan as a Tom Tyler possibility to that of the lead male star in Murnau's “Tabu” (1931). As with “Tabu”, Tom was also passed up in favor of Murnau's desire to go the purist route, employing Tahiti-born actors for this film. The main question is this: If Tom Tyler was originally selected to play a South Pacific Islander – and he was – but not Tarzan, then why?

In "Valley of the Sun"
On the surface, the reason of “not being muscular enough for the role” does not sound logical, at least by Hollywood standards, considering the fact Tom Tyler won the American Amateur Heavyweight Weightlifting Championship in 1928. That was only a few years before casting for “Tarzan the Ape Man” began. In photographs of Tom from that time period, he may have looked like an ideal Tarzan, but on film, it is possible that he did not look like an ape man of the jungle. That is not to say Brix, Weismuller, plus the other Tarzan actors looked like ape men; if anything, these two particular Tarzan actors of that time period were tall, muscular, attractive men. Tom Tyler probably could have pulled off the lead male role in “Tabu” had he been hired by Murnau at the time – he did after all make a great Native American in “Wagon Tracks West” (1943) and “Valley of the Sun” (1942). Had Tom been in “Tabu” he most likely would have had to wear a loincloth. So again – why not Tarzan?

In "Wagon Tracks West"
It is entirely possible that Tom, in looking at his film appearances between 1931 and 1932, which include three film serials (one which happened to be “Jungle Mystery” (1932)), plus twelve feature-length films, looked too “metrosexual” for a role like Tarzan. Granted, that term did not exist back then,   even though early marketing key words to describe Tom included “Adonis” - not just physically but facially. Unfortunately Tom Tyler never had the opportunity to portray the Grecian Adonis onscreen – or any other young male Greek figure from mythology even though he would have been the perfect choice, given the opportunity. So instead of Tarzan for Tom Tyler, a couple of Native American roles  are the next best thing we have on film to appreciate him by.

No comments:

Post a Comment