Yell - When
Tarzan, the Lord of the Jungle needed to communicate, he used a unique
yell that became a standard gimmick used by actor Johnny
Weissmuller and others in TV and movies like Tarzan the Ape
Man (1932), Tarzan and His Mates (1934) Tarzan and
the Leopard Woman (1946), TARZAN/NBC/1966-69 and the
animated TARZAN, LORD OF THE JUNGLE/CBS/1976.
There are multiple stories behind the origins of the Tarzan
sound effect used in the Tarzan movies. One story from Tom Held,
an MGM film editor, states the sound was achieved by combining
the sounds from a Violin G-string, a hyena howl, a dog's growl,
and a camel's bleat. Another source reports that the yell is a
recording made by opera star Lloyd Thomas Leech (1914-2003).
Reportedly, the film studio asked Leech to record the yell
because actor Johnny Weissmuller refused to do it.
In his book, "Mayer and Thalberg: The Make-Believe Saints" (1975),
author Samuel Marx wrote that the Tarzan cry was contrived by a
man named Douglas Shearer, who recorded a shout that was
electronically enhanced and run backwards. A computer analysis
of the sound proved that the yell is "palindromic" and seems to
support the electronically enhanced story. However, Weissmuller
did perform his own Tarzan yells when he moved from MGM to RKO
studios. Listen and compare for yourself:
Through the years other stories have surfaced in the popular
culture. But in a October 18, 1971
Stars & Stripes interview at the hotel
in Wiesbaden, Germany, retired actor Johnny Weissmuller
explained the origins of his famous Tarzan yell. Simply stated:
"My parents came from Vienna...I learned to yodel at German
Johnny Weissmuller died in Acapulco, Mexico on January 20, 1984
after a series of strokes (pulmonary edema). At Weissmuller's
grave site funeral at the Valley of The Light Cemetery, a
recording of his trademark Tarzan yell was played as his coffin
was lowered into the ground. This was Johnny's last request.
Prior to Weissmuller's Tarzan yell, actor Frank Merrill, a
36-year-old gymnastics champion was the first to voice a crude
Tarzan yell in the adventure film "Tarzan the Tiger" (1929). The
music and sound effects for the film were placed on a record and
played in sync with "silent" film images. One
source described Merrill's yell as if an
"elephant had stepped on his toes."
The Tarzan yell later became a running gag on the comedy variety
show THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW/CBS/1967-78 when audience members
week after week asked Carol to do
of Tarzan's noisy cry. She learned the yell as a child while
play acting the role of Sheena of the Jungle.
TRIVIA NOTE: Tarzan's yell is a
registered trademark owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Inc..
Versions of the trademark Tarzan yell can be heard as wookies
swing in on ropes in the sci-fi films Star Wars Episode VI:
Return of the Sith (2005); and Star Wars Episode III: Return of
the Jedi (1983). Chewbacca (a wookie) does the Tarzan yell in
1983, while a generic wookie does the same thing in the 2005
finale of the franchise.
One story I "heard" floating about the rumor mill of celebrity
gossip years ago was that during one of Johnny Weissmuller's
hospital stays, he supposedly went goofy and began to yelp his
Tarzan yell as he ran uncontrollably about the place - much to
the chagrin of his keepers. At best, it's an interesting urban
legend, at worst, it soils the legend of a man whom many have
For a great biography on Johnny Weissmuller read:
My Father" written by his only son and co-author W.
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