Me, Tarzan — You, Naked
I finished a bunch of lawn and garden chores last Friday evening, and by 8:30 or so, had settled down into my living room ... although “living” sure is not easy when there are 85 degrees worth of hot, humid air hanging around.
I generally walk into my backyard to escape the hot box and listen to the New York Yankees for a while. For a change, I turned on the television and thought I’d see what Robert Osborne and his colleagues from Turner Classic Movies were up to.
A Tarzan movie was the main event, Johnny Weissmuller, Maureen O’Sullivan and Cheeta the chimp were all getting their close-ups for “Tarzan and His Mate,” the second entry of the long-running jungle man series, from 1934.
I was never a big fan of Tarzan as a kid. Yeah, he could strangle lions, swim like a madman and swing from tree to tree on the always available bunch of vines. He had that nutty yell, too. But his best friend was a chimpanzee, and an annoying chimp at that. Really, the only simian actors who deserved screen time were King Kong and Mighty Joe Young.
Never trust a man whose only friend is a chimpanzee. The stupid monkey was one thing. When that annoying kid showed up — the creatively named and creatively conceived “Boy” — the Tarzan movies lost me for good. Although I did like the one where the Ape Man showed up in New York City and wrecked everything.
I stuck with “Tarzan and His Mate” for a few minutes, because I knew the Yankees were rolling. Tarzan was in bad company, at odds with a sleazy hunter who planned to loot ivory from the elephants’ graveyard. Before the real carnage started, courtesy of the Lion Men and their crew of man-eating lions, Tarzan and Jane got to swing a little bit.
Actually, they got to swing a lot. In one scene, the two jungle lovers land on a large tree branch, and the gallant lout throws Jane into the river below. Jane’s dress snags on a tree branch, and all of a sudden she’s in the drink without a stitch of clothing. Tarzan, just about naked himself, dives in after her.
The next few minutes surprised me. There’s Jane — not Maureen O’Sullivan but stunt double and former Olympic swimmer Josephine McKim — cavorting underwater in her birthday outfit. I almost spit out my barbecue chips. I said to myself, “Naw, man, she’s got to be wearing some kind of body stocking.” But I’ve got one of those damn big screen TVs, and as the show continued, you could tell that was all-natural Josephine in the all-together making underwater flips and feints with old Johnny.
This was 1934, and enforcement of the sort-of-prudish Motion Picture Production Code, hadn’t really kicked in. So actors and actresses often were shown in sexually suggestive or provocative situations. Film historians say three versions of the scene were filmed — one with Jane in her skimpy loin cloth outfit, one with her topless, and one with her in the nude. That way, theater owners in different states — each state with different obscenity laws — could choose the version that would get them into the least amount of hot water.
It didn’t matter. According to the all-powerful, all-knowing Internet Movie Data Base, all three versions were eventually removed from the film due to protests from conservative religious groups.
Still, a four-minute nude sequence was pretty bold for 1934. I remember when Ursula Andress caused a sensation when she walked out of ocean waters in a white bikini during the first James Bond movie, “Dr. No.” And that was 1962, almost 30 years after Josephine and her skinny-dip scene.
I wonder how many young kids, anxious to see Tarzan wrestle an alligator, were instead treated to the slinky Josephine. My father would have been 13 at the time, and I’ll bet if he had gone home and said to Grandma Wilkin, “Hey Ma, I saw a movie today with a naked lady in it!” Grandma would have washed Dad’s mouth out with soap. Probably his eyes, too.
You can find the scene on YouTube, it’s not hard to type in “Tarzan and His Mate.” I’d put the link in here someplace, but I suppose I could get into a jam for promoting something “unsavory.” Even if the scene was really just artistic and athletic. Y’all can look for it yourself.
The scene does end with good old Maureen. She wades out of the river, conveniently obscured by trees and other brush, and the dopey monkey grabs the snagged dress from the tree branch. The still-naked Jane begs Cheeta to give her the garment. But the chimp, the great actor that he was, dangles the dress just out of Jane’s reach. And squeals like a maniac.
Maybe that monkey wasn’t as dumb as he looked.