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1930s & Earlier / Gordon Griffith - First Movie Tarzan
Most film history sources will list Elmo Lincoln as the first actor to play Tarzan on screen (in the 1918 silent film Tarzan of the Apes). That's not entirely true. In that same silent film, a 10-year-old boy named Gordon Griffith played the young Tarzan well before Lincoln appeared on the screen. It was a challenging role for the boy actor. Griffith was required to do his own climbing and acrobatic stunts and interact with live chimpanzees--which he did excellently. True to the Edgar Rice Burroughs book, Tarzan wore no clothes as a youth, so most of Griffith's scenes were shot with him totally nude. There was no national film code in 1918, but some scenes that showed too much of Griffith from the front were cut by local censors, including those in Chicago. Thus the public domain prints of the movie vary in length and in the amount of time Griffith was on the screen. Griffith, who like Tarzan lost both his parents at a young age, spent most of his life in the movie industry. He died in 1958 of a heart attack at the age of 51.