The 100th birthday of the world's first real superhero.
ANOTHER 100th anniversary today but this time nothing to do with war or the birthday of our fabled Welsh word-spinner.
Instead, we celebrate the first true 100th birthday of the first superhero - Tarzan. The "true" hundredth because although the noblest savage of 'em all appeared earlier in an obscure pulp magazine, no-one took much notice until the book Tarzan of the Apes was published in 1914.
It was a sensation, selling a million copies in a year and it signalled the birth of an immortal. Now a century on, yet another Tarzan movie is in the works which means that Tarzan films have been with us almost as long as the 40-odd books written by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Here was a man who found it hard to separate fact from fiction and for proof, here's how he described his upbringing to his readers: "I was born in Peking at the time that my father was military advisor to the Empress of China and lived there in the Forbidden City until I was 10 years old." A tall tale to rank with Tarzan's upbringing by apes. Burroughs was born in Chicago in 1875, the fourth son of a wealthy businessman.
But he did serve for a year with the Seventh US Cavalry, Custer's outfit massacred 20 years later, and claimed to have "chased Apaches but never caught any" before being discharged through ill health, going on to work as gold miner, railway cop, caretaker and accountant. Then came his epiphany, his life-changer.
That's when he worked for Sears Roebuck, the famous mail order firm. Part of the job was checking the company's adverts in pulp magazines but he also read the stories and soon figured he could write fiction just as good. He could, and came up with A Princess of Mars, an atrocious adaptation filmed a couple of years ago, bombing at the box office.
It was the start, featuring John Carter, the sort of warrior-hero Burroughs dreamed of being, men of Herculean strength and unshakeable nobility, defending beauteous maidens on Mars and Venus, at the Earth's Core, the American West and Olde England. But Tarzan - ape-speak for White Skin - was supreme, his adventures often as surreal as anything in Wonderland or Oz.
He met descendants of Crusaders lost in Africa and the heirs to a Roman legion who believed Rome still ruled in the 20th century. A tribe of warriors just a foot high, the Ant Men, competed with lost men from Atlantis but the tale that had fans wondering whether ERB had gone over the top was Tarzan and the Lion Man.
In this way-out epic, Tarzan comes across a tribe of English-speaking gorillas who call their home London, their river the Thames. On top of this, they had names like Cardinal Wolsey, the Duke of Buckingham and Henry VIII. Perhaps to appease his fans, Burroughs claimed this was a satire on the way the movies treated his mighty hero. But it was the movies that made Tarzan truly immortal.
It began in 1918, the first loincloth sported by Elmos Lincoln, a barrelchested circus strongman a world away from Burroughs' vision of Tarzan as lithe, muscular gymnast. Elmo had to shave his legs and chest, maybe in case he was mistaken for one of the apes, extras running around in gorilla skins. No matter, this was one of the first films to earn a million dollars.
A stream of now forgotten Ape Men followed Elmo until 1932 brought the most memorable Tarzan of all. Astonishingly, Clark Gable was a Tarzan reject, considered "too weedy", so enter Johnny Weissmuller, spotted flexing his pecs at a Hollywood swimming pool. Winner of five Olympic swimming golds, he was a natural and something of a heartthrob, so much so that MGM paid his wife Bobbie $10,000 to leave the scene.
Tarzan the Ape Man introduced Weissmuller who went on to make 12 movies. That first outing saw Ivor Novello, our very own Dear Ivor, credited with the dialogue but Cardiff's purveyor of musical molasses to the nation never, as legend suggests, wrote the immortal "Me Tarzan. You Jane". To the fabulous Maureen O'Sullivan, he simply grunted: "Tarzan. Jane."
Meanwhile, Weissmuller complained "My lines read like a backward two-year-old talking to his nurse". Did the composer who dreamed of gathering lilacs in the spring again really commit the following atrocity? "Tarzan, Jane, hurt me, boy, love it Jane".
But it wasn't the fact that Tarzan talked that made the film a huge hit.
Weissmuller introduced the Ape Man's famous victory cry, a recorded blend of a soprano's high C, a hyena howl played backwards, a camel's bleat, the twang of a violin string and an Olympic hero bellowing at the top of his voice. It was echoed in neighbourhoods from Cardiff to California, followed by the sound of snapping arms and legs as kids toppled from trees, casualty departments packed with failed young ape men.
Weissmuller hung up his loincloth after Tarzan and the Mermaids in 1948 and died aged 79 in 1984, his victory bellow played at the funeral.
Successors included Lex Barker, for Burroughs, the closest to the Tarzan of his books.
Critics go for the French actor Christopher Lambert but really, no actor could ever match the Tarzan of the printed page.
We have to wait until 2016 to see whether Swedish "vampire actor" Alexander Skarsgard, next in line for the loincloth, can do it.
CARDIFF REMEMBERED WITH BRIAN LEE - EVERY FRIDAY IN THE ECHO
Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan in a publicity shot for the 1932 film Tarzan the Ape Man