Tarzan and His Mate is a 1934 American Pre-Code action adventure film based on characters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It was the second in the Tarzan film series to star Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan.
The film’s cult status is largely due to O’Sullivan wearing one of the most revealing costumes in screen history at that time; a halter-top and a loincloth that leave her thighs and hips exposed. In this Pre-Code film Jane sleeps in the nude, swims nude with Tarzan, is constantly touched by Tarzan, has a scene in which she’s stranded in the jungle without clothes on, and is seen nude in silhouette when dressing in a well lit tent. The scene that caused the most commotion was the ‘underwater ballet’ sequence. Tarzan and Jane (O’Sullivan’s swimming double, Josephine McKim, who competed in the 1928 games with Johnny Weissmuller), dance a graceful underwater ballet with a completely nude Jane. When she rises out of the water, Jane (now Maureen O’Sullivan) flashes a bare breast. Such big-screen impropriety was rare at the time, and if seen at all was usually done by dancing girl extras, or non-white actresses due to the time’s double-standards.
In 2003, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.
Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875 – 1950) was an American writer best known for his creations of the jungle hero Tarzan and the heroic Mars adventurer John Carter, although he produced works in many genres.
Tarzan was a cultural sensation when introduced. Burroughs was determined to capitalize on Tarzan’s popularity through several different media including a syndicated Tarzan comic strip, movies and merchandise. Experts in the field advised against this course of action, stating that the different media would just end up competing against each other. Burroughs went ahead, however, and proved the experts wrong – the public wanted Tarzan in whatever fashion he was offered. Tarzan remains one of the most successful fictional characters to this day and is a cultural icon.
Johnny Weissmuller (1904 –1984) was an American competition swimmer and actor. He was one of the world’s fastest swimmers in the 1920s, winning five Olympic gold medals for swimming and one bronze medal, fifty-two United States national championships and set sixty-seven world records.
His acting career began when he signed a seven-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and played the role of Tarzan in Tarzan the Ape Man (1932). The movie was a huge success and Weissmuller became an overnight international sensation. Weissmuller starred in six Tarzan movies for MGM with Maureen O’Sullivan as Jane and Cheeta the Chimpanzee. Then, in 1942, Weissmuller went to RKO and starred in six more Tarzan movies with markedly reduced production values. In 1976, he appeared for the last time in a motion picture and he also made his final public appearance in that year when he was inducted into the Body Building Guild Hall of Fame.
On January 20, 1984, Weissmuller died from pulmonary edema at the age of 79. He was buried just outside Acapulco. As his coffin was lowered into the ground, a recording of the Tarzan yell he invented was played three times, at his request.
Maureen O’Sullivan (1911 – 1998) was an Irish actress, one of the more popular ingenues at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer throughout the 1930s. In 1932, she signed a contract with MGM and after several roles she was chosen to appear in Tarzan the Ape Man, opposite co-star Johnny Weissmuller. She played Jane in six features between 1932 and 1942.
After appearing in Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942), O’Sullivan asked MGM to release her from her contract so she could care for her husband who had just left the Navy with typhoid. She retreated from show business, devoting her time to her family. O’Sullivan’s first husband was Australian-born writer, award-winning director John Farrow, from 1936 until his death in 1963. Mia Farrow is one of their seven children.
In 1948, she re-appeared on the screen in The Big Clock, directed by her husband. She continued to appear occasionally in her husband’s movies and on television. However, by 1960 she believed she had permanently retired.
Maureen O’Sullivan died in Arizona in 1998. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood, facing the star of Johnny Weissmuller.
Sources / More to read:
Wikipedia: Tarzan and His Mate
IMDb: Tarzan and His Mate
Wikipedia: Edgar Rice Burroughs
Wikipedia: Johnny Weissmuller
Wikipedia: Maureen O’Sullivan
Wikipedia: Motion Picture Production Code
Tarzan and His Mate – The ‘underwater ballet’ sequence