When The Legend of Tarzan opens in theaters this Friday, its differences from the many previous screen adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s novel series will be immediately clear. Alexander Skarsgård’s jungle king isn’t the campy vine-swinger of yesteryear, and that difference is no more obvious than in the updated version of the character’s primal yell. Gone is the high-pitched yodel that has become a hallmark of Tarzan, and in its place is a ferocious howl that combines Skarsgård’s voice with an opera singer’s, along with some guttural animal noises.
Listen to the classic Tarzan yodel:
That we know the underlying elements of the new Tarzan yell marks another change from years past. The origin of the iconic Tarzan yell, first heard in 1932’s Tarzan the Ape Man, has been the subject of much debate over the past 84 years, as it permeated pop culture, popping up in Return of the Jedi and Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some,” among other far-out places, along with dozens of Tarzan movies and TV shows. And yet no one could say for sure how the yell originated or who was responsible for it.
Burroughs, who created the feral loincloth model in 1912, could claim little responsibly for the yell. His descriptions were opaque, describing it vaguely as the “victory cry of the bull ape.” The first actor to put it on tape — Frank Merrill in 1921’s The Adventures of Tarzan — produced a hoarse bark that sounded more basset hound than king of the jungle.
Watch the new Legend of Tarzan trailer:
Then in 1932, former Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller came along in Tarzan the Ape Man and produced the battle cry we now know so well. At least, that’s how he explained it. The actor said when he read Tarzan books as a kid, he always imagined the yell sounding like a yodel, perhaps because he regularly belted out undulating falsettos of his own at German picnics in Chicago.
The studio told another story, concocted, according to Burroughs’s biographer John Taliaferro, after it realized the majesty of Weissmuller’s song. As MGM tells it, sound engineers created the battle cry by blending the actor’s voice with a “hyena’s howl played backward, a camel’s bleat, the pluck of a violin, and a soprano’s high C.” Other versions of the claim replace the hyena’s howl with a dog’s growl. All of them “fibs,” Taliaferro writes.
But Tom Held, a former MGM sound engineer, stood by this version of events. Weismuller’s yodel alone left something missing, he said, so the studio mixed in that cacophony of notes and played them at varying speeds, all in the attempt to give the shout “a more jungle-piercing, elephant-spooking, and blood-curdling effect.”
Other stories emerged over time, many of them breathlessly cataloged by ERB Zine, a website devoted to Tarzan’s creator. The opera singer Lloyd Thomas Leech said his yodel was recorded for the yell. Journalist Bill Moyers claimed it was “a recording of three men, one a baritone, one a tenor, and one a hog caller from Arkansas — all yelling at the top of their lungs.” Even Weissmuller’s story was known to shift from time to time. Though he most often insisted he was the yell’s originator, in 1939, he told the Hollywood Parade that it came from “three men with iron lungs.” Regardless of how it was created, there’s little dispute that Weissmuller eventually mastered the yell himself and often unleashed it at parties and premieres up until his death in 1984.
By that time, the Tarzan yell had cemented itself as a pop culture staple. Any movie that had a character swing on a vine had to include the yell. It became something of a stock sound effect, bellowed by Chewbacca in Return of the Jedi and James Bond in Octopussy. Neither use, it should be noted, is very well regarded. The yell is a disorienting reminder of the real world — should we be led to believe that Chewie was a fan of the Tarzan movies? — and a cornball joke better left to movies like Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.
Listen to Chewie’s Tarzan yell:
Or perhaps to a comedian like Carol Burnett, who’s second only to Weissmuller when it comes this particular ululation. (You can hear a compilation of her yells at the end of this video.) Of course, she modeled hers after his. As Burnett would explain to Larry King, she and her cousin went to a lot of movies as kids. When they got home they would role play. Burnett’s beautiful cousin got to be Jane, while she was Tarzan. “So I taught myself to do it,” she said.
When The Carol Burnett Show debuted in 1967, she borrowed an idea from former TV variety-show host Garry Moore and took questions from the audience. Inevitably, she’d get asked to perform her Tarzan yell, which became as much a trademark part of her persona as the famous ear tug. (She was once able to use it as official identification.) But unlike that sentimental gesture for her grandmother, there was something subversive about Burnett’s yodel. It was a way for her to thumb her nose at the conventions of femininity that she neither fit into nor embraced. She was Tarzan, not Jane, and she wasn’t afraid to yell about it.
More than eight decades after Weissmuller’s first Tarzan yell, there was never much chance of it fitting into the updated tale of the ape man that’s hitting theaters this week. The yodel is too famous. It’s now a reference to Tarzan the movie character, not the battle cry of an untamed man beast. That — at least according to the new movie — sounds something like this:
Distinctive, ululating yell of the character Tarzan as portrayed by actor Johnny Weissmuller in the films based on the character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs starting with Tarzan the Ape Man . Wikipedia
1946 action film based on the Tarzan character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs and portrayed by Johnny Weissmuller. Directed by Kurt Neumann, film sees Tarzan encounter a tribe of leopard-worshippers. Wikipedia
1936 Tarzan film based on the character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The third in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Tarzan series to feature Johnny Weissmuller as the "King of the Apes". Wikipedia
Tarzan, a fictional character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, first appeared in the 1912 novel Tarzan of the Apes, and then in twenty-four sequels by Burroughs and numerous more by other authors. The character proved immensely popular and quickly made the jump to other media, first and most notably to comics and film. Wikipedia
1934 American pre-Code action adventure film based on the Tarzan character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The second in the Tarzan film series and starred Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan. Wikipedia
1948 adventure film based on the Tarzan character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The last of twelve Tarzan films to star Johnny Weissmuller in the title role. Wikipedia
1939 Tarzan film based on the character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The fourth in the MGM Tarzan series to feature Johnny Weissmuller as the "King of the Apes" and the fourth of six films in which he stars with Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane; following this pairing was Tarzan's Secret Treasure and Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942). Wikipedia
You know what’s not fair at all? The fact that Tarzan doesn’t get anywhere near the hype and glamour that other heroes get. Could the Hulk swing from tree to tree on a vine? Could Superman control whole animal populations with his mind? Would Batman look good in nothing but a leather loin cloth? No, no, and no! So, here’s a game in honor of the hero who is the real king of the jungle.
Bring 2- 4 kids up front to the stage with you. Making sure the audience can hear you, ask the participants if they are familiar with Tarzan. They will probably say yes, but take a second to describe him anyway. Tell them what he looked like, what he wore, what he did, describe his powers, and then, mention the fact that he had a patented Tarzan yell. DON’T DO IT; just say that he had one. Ask them if they know how it went, but don’t let them practice it at all.
Next, explain that you will give each of them one shot to give their best Tarzan yell in front of the crowd. They only get one chance to yell the Tarzan yell, and then the crowd will pick the winner.
Put the mic in front of the first student’s face and let him/her belt it out. Then give the others a turn, one at a time. Before letting the crowd pick the winner, you may want to play the actual sound effect over the PA system. Make sure to have a “swinging” good prize for the winner.
The Tarzan Yell by Johnny Weissmuller.
- First Recorded: 1932
- Artist: History and Origin
Weissmuller’s jungle call, notated.
Although the RKO Picture version of the Tarzan yell was putatively that of Weissmuller, different stories exist as to how the Tarzan yell was created. Many speculate that a man named Lloyd Thomas Leech was the original voice behind the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Tarzan yell. He was an opera singer from the 1940s into the ’60s, winning the Chicagoland Music Festival on August 17, 1946, and going on to sing throughout the U.S., touring with several opera companies. There are recordings of his recollections of creating the Tarzan yell, a story supported by his children and grandchildren. According to the newspaper columnist L. M. Boyd (circa 1970), “Blended in with that voice are the growl of a dog, a trill sung by a soprano, a note played on a violin’s G string and the howl of a hyena recorded backward.” According to Bill Moyers, it was created by combining the recordings of three men: one baritone, one tenor, and one hog caller from Arkansas. Another widely published notion concerns the use of an Austrian yodel played backwards at abnormally fast speed. But Weissmuller claimed that the yell was actually his own voice. His version is supported by his son and by his Tarzan co-star, Maureen O’Sullivan.
This sound effect is often used for comic effect in later, unrelated movies, particularly when a character is swinging on vines or doing other “Tarzanesque” things. The sound clip used in the Weissmuller films has also been exclusively used for animated series appearances of Tarzan, and in the Tarzan television series (1966–1968), which starred Ron Ely, rather than having the actor providing Tarzan’s voice for the series attempt to imitate the trademark yell. A comical version of this yell was performed by Ray Stevens in his 1969 novelty hit “Gitarzan”. It was even used in the 1981 film Tarzan, the Ape Man. The yell is heard at Carolina Hurricanes home games. Comedian Carol Burnett would do the yell on request during a question and answer weekly session on her comedy sketch series. In the 1999 Disney animated film Tarzan based on the title character’s franchise, the character himself lets out an updated version of his jungle call at various moments. A version of the yell even appeared in Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi as Chewbacca swings on a vine towards an Imperial AT-ST walker on the forest moon of Endor. The yell is also heard in the third prequel Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith in the battle of Kashyyyk scene of the Wookiee warriors swinging on the a vine onto an attacking tank droid. It was also used in the James Bond film Octopussy in 1983.
The sound itself is a registered trademark and service mark, owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.
- a semi-long sound in the chest register,
- a short sound up an interval of one octave plus a fifth from the preceding sound,
- a short sound down a Major 3rd from the preceding sound,
- a short sound up a Major 3rd from the preceding sound,
- a long sound down one octave plus a Major 3rd from the preceding sound,
- a short sound up one octave from the preceding sound,
- a short sound up a Major 3rd from the preceding sound,
- a short sound down a Major 3rd from the preceding sound,
- a short sound up a Major 3rd from the preceding sound,
- a long sound down an octave plus a fifth from the preceding sound.
The sound itself is a registered trademark and service mark, owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. Recognition of the trademark’s registration within the European Union is uncertain. In late 2007, the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM) determined that attempts by ERB, Inc. to maintain such trademark must fail legally, reasoning that “[w]hat has been filed as a graphic representation is from the outset not capable of serving as a graphic representation of the applied-for sound . The examiner was therefore correct to refuse the attribution of a filing date.” Regardless, the trademark registration was updated in 2010 (to include slot machines) and 2014 (to include online use).
Other Tarzan Yells
The first ever version of the yell can be found in the part-sound serial Tarzan the Tiger (1929). This version is described as a “Nee-Yah!” noise.
In the 1932 Tarzan radio serial with James Pierce the yell sounds like “Taaar-maan-ganiii”. In the ape language mentioned in the Tarzan novels “Tarmangani” means “White Ape”.
A very similar cry was used for Burroughs’ own Tarzan film, The New Adventures of Tarzan (1935), shot concurrently with the MGM Weissmuller movies in Central America with Herman Brix as a cultured Tarzan. The yell can best be described as a “Mmmmm-ann-gann-niii” sound that gradually rises ever higher in pitch.
In the 1935 Mickey Mouse cartoon, Mickey’s Garden, a beetle (voiced by Pinto Colvig) lets out a Tarzan yell and chases after Mickey Mouse and Pluto two times. It is later reused in the 1941 Disney animated feature Dumbo and the 1941 Goofy cartoon The Art of Self Defense.
Elmo Lincoln recreated his victory cry in a 1952 episode of You Asked for It.
Donkey Kong has also been known to use the Tarzan yell (although it sounds like “Ooo-wa-ooo-aaooaaooaa-ooo!”). His Tarzan yell is first heard in Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat and later was used in DK Jungle Climber, Donkey Kong Country Returns and later in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.
Tarzan’s yell is used as a melodic refrain in the Baltimora single “Tarzan Boy”. This refrain plays in place of an ordinary Tarzan yell when Haru climbs and struggles to keep his balance on the top of a palm tree in Beverly Hills Ninja. The refrain was also used in a 1993 jungle-themed advert for Listerine’s Cool Mint mouthwash.
In the 1999 animated film, the Tarzan yell is dubbed by Brian Blessed, who voiced the villain Clayton. This was done after Tony Goldwyn, who voiced the title character, blew his vocals.
Jane (as portrayed by Maureen O’Sullivan ) used a variation of the Tarzan Yell.
Carol Burnett has been associated with the Tarzan yell ever since doing it on her TV show, The Carol Burnett Show, which started in 1967 and ran for 11 years. This link from the Larry King show describes how she came to do it.
For nearly 100 years, Tarzan of the Apes has entertained and captivated men in print, radio, and film. To men who feel locked in an iron cage of corporate and suburban life, Tarzan represents the possibility of harnessing their primal side and escaping into the wild to revitalize their man spirit. In fact, the character’s creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs, created the Tarzan character as an act of liberation from his disappointing and boring life. In an interview, Burroughs acknowledged this motivation:
“We wish to escape not alone the narrow confines of city streets for the freedom of the wilderness, but the restrictions of man-made laws, and the inhibitions that society has placed upon us. We like to picture ourselves as roaming free, the lords of ourselves and of our would; in other words, we would each like to be Tarzan. At least I would; I admit it.”
Tarzan represents the idealized “noble savage.” The son of British nobility, he is adopted and raised by a tribe of apes when his parents are marooned and die on the coast of West Africa. Tarzan later meets an American woman, Jane, whom he takes as his wife, and the two attempt to make a normal life for themselves in England. But the chafing constraints and galling hypocrisies of civilized society drive Tarzan back to the jungle. Virtuous, heroic, and athletic, only the wilderness offered the freedom and adventure that felt like home.
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When Burroughs introduced Tarzan in a pulp magazine in 1912, he created one of the first superheroes in America. Tarzan developed special talents and abilities that allowed him to survive and thrive in the jungle. He could climb trees and swing from branches in the jungle just as quickly and deftly as the apes who raised him. Unlike his monkey “family,” Tarzan was a skilled swimmer which turned him into an amphibious killer. He’d dive from staggering heights and swim great distances. In addition to his physical gifts, Tarzan developed several mental talents. He could learn new languages in days and could even speak with animals.
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Boys and men at the turn of the 20th century wanted to emulate Tarzan the Ape Man. Tarzan’s physical prowess has inspired men for nearly 100 years to get in shape and harness their inner wild man. Today, we’re giving a short primer on developing four of Tarzan’s key skills: swimming, diving, climbing, and swinging. While you may never need to swing from a vine to save your lady or climb a tree to save your own life, it’s good to know you could if you had to!
How to Swim Like Tarzan
In Tarzan movies, a frequent scene is that of the Ape Man diving into a river and swimming briskly to fight an alligator that’s circling Jane. Tarzan engages in an underwater battle with the giant reptile and defeats it by snapping its neck or stabbing it with a knife. But to get to the alligator before it eats his lady, Tarzan has to swim fast.
In the movies, Tarzan always uses the front crawl stroke (what we often call the freestyle). And with good reason. The front crawl (aka the forward, American or Australian crawl) is the fastest and most efficient of all the swim strokes. Swimming is such an essential Tarzan skill that the movie producers back in the 1930s brought in Johnny Weissmuller, a five-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming, to play the role of Tarzan.
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The technique for the Tarzan front crawl is pretty basic. Float face down in the water with both arms stretched out in front of you. This is the starting position. Flutter your legs alternately in short, up and down thrashes. The arms move in alternating sweeping strokes. The arm movement can be broken down into three parts: pull, push, and recovery.
Lower your hand into the water so that your thumb enters first. This is called “catching the water” and prepares you for the pull. The pull movement follows a semicircle pattern under the water. It ends at the front of the chest, as seen here:
The push begins when your hand reaches about where your ribcage is. You’ll feel your palm pushing the water behind you, instead of pulling it towards you. The push ends with your arm at the side of your body.
The recovery begins after the push. Bring your hand out of the water, bend your elbow, and circle your forearm outward until it points ahead. The arm glides out straight ahead to full reach in front.
While performing the front crawl keep your face in the water.
Breathing is done by twisting the head to one side, so that your face rises above the water surface. After taking in air, the face is submerged again and the swimmer exhales out his nose underwater. How often you breath depends on your personal preference. Some swimmers take in a breath every other arm stroke, while others will take in a breath every third arm stroke.
How to Dive Like Tarzan
Tarzan is constantly diving into rivers to save one of his monkey friends or his perennial damsel in distress, Jane. In Tarzan’s New York Adventure, he takes a death defying dive from the Brooklyn Bridge in order to escape the police, so he can save a jungle boy who was taken by the circus.
Diving headfirst into water allowed Tarzan to get to where he was going quickly. Plus it just looks cool to do a swan dive from a tree limb.
So seldom do things come on the radio that I think I genuinely have something to say about that today’s item on the Tarzan call on PRI’s “The World” interested me. The piece is here.
In the interest of putting my money where my mouth is, I’ve made an attempt at notating it:
Took about 5 minutes (which includes the time I had to spend figuring out how to make a fermata in Finale). I’m not super confident about the exact pitches of the yodeled bit, but with a little more time I’m sure I (or someone with bigger ears) could get closer to it. The point is, it’s not rocket science.
Oh, by the way, to the Burroughs Estate: if you’re still pursuing legal options, and are looking for someone to do some expert witnessing for you, I’m sure we can work out suitable terms….
Carol Burnett spoke out recently to reveal how her iconic “Tarzan” yell once saved her from getting mugged.
During her years hosting the legendary variety show “The Carol Burnett Show,” Carol Burnett became known for her “Tarzan” yell. What many fans don’t know, however, is that her yell once saved her from being mugged.
Burnett’s Iconic ‘Tarzan’ Yell
In an interview with Larry King, Burnett explained that she first started doing the “Tarzan” yell when she was around 9 years old, after she watched the Tarzan movies with her cousin. She made sure to clarify to King that it’s not actually a yell at all, but rather a “Tarzan” yodel.
‘Tarzan’ Yodel Saves Burnett From Being Mugged
In a 2014 interview on the “Today” show, Burnett revealed how this “Tarzan” yodel once saved her from being mugged.
“I was very young and I was walking down the street,” Burnett remembered. “It was late at night.”
At the time, the iconic comedian had been out getting a newspaper, and she found herself being approached from behind by a man.
“This guy came up behind me, like a mugger or something.”
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Burnett added that the man grabbed her by the shoulder and said, “OK, OK, miss.”
While most people would be terrified in this moment, Burnett was just fuming with rage.
“And I was so mad, I turned around,” she recounted. In the heat of the moment, Burnett did her famous “Tarzan” yell, right in the wannabe mugger’s face!
Sure enough, her strategy worked, and the suspected mugger was so thrown off by what she was doing that he bolted.
“That sucker ran!” Burnett said with a laugh. She went on to tell viewers that . “In case you’re ever” in that situation, “this could work.”
“He said, ‘I can’t deal with a crazy woman,’” host Kathie Lee Gifford joked.
“Exactly,” Burnett said in agreement. “It worked!”
Keep that in mind if you ever find yourself being mugged!
Burnett’s Difficult Family Situation
Recently, Carol Burnett obtained temporary legal guardianship of her 14-year-old grandson as her daughter Erin continues to battle drug addiction.
“Due to addiction issues and other circumstances that my daughter, Erin, has been struggling with impacting her immediate family dynamic, my husband and I have petitioned the court to be appointed legal guardian of my 14-year-old grandson,” Burnett, 87, told Fox News when petitioning for custody.
“Guardianship will be for oversight purposes concerning his health, education and welfare and not intended to deny him nor the parents proper visitation with one another,” Burnett added. “We look forward to recovery being the next stepping stone toward normalization and ask for privacy at this time to allow that process to occur.”
We will continue to keep Burnett and her family in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.
We are yelling like Tarzan because we have been in business for sixteen years! Click here to see how excited we really are. We’ve survived numerous recessions, Hurricane Katrina and the relocation it forced, a difficult divorce, and even the effects of the last space shuttle disaster. (While operating in New Orleans, we used to wash the tankers of a major supplier of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen used in the space shuttle program.)
We feel so grateful and blessed to have made it through all of this adversity and could not have done so without a commitment to hard work, excellence, perseverance, delivering great value, and great customer service. We thank God, our present, past, and future customers, our suppliers, and of course family and friends who have helped us achieve this accomplishment.
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