John Boston | When Newhall Censored the Lord of the Apes

John Boston

Back in the dinosaur days, the only library in the Santa Clarita Valley was on 9th Street in Newhall. Had there been a Way Station then, with a good wind, it was within spitting distance of the cowboy coffee shop on the corner.

Where they no longer serve beef stew.

Damn them.

It was there, in the early 1960s, where I had my first brush with Useless Grown-Up Middle Management Bureaucracy. It scarred me for life.

A plucky lad was I and a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs. The famed author of “Tarzan” had a local connection. Back in the 1920s, Burroughs built his own semi-pro baseball team and they’d motor up here and play our three, count them, three squads — one from Newhall, one from Saugus and an all-black Val Verde team called the Wildcats. Burroughs’ team was appropriately called The Apemen and how I’d kill for a way-back machine to see if they actually were giant apes in jungle camo baseball unis.

Burroughs wrote 24 Tarzan novels. I owned every one of them. The sad thing is, the Tarzan of my generation and my parents’ was based on the Johnny Weissmuller movie character. Mr. Weissmuller was an Olympic swimming champion (five gold medals), an affable man and could not correctly place the words, “Well” and “duh” in a sentence. So, producers gave JW a curious Frankenstein’s monster dialogue, ala, “Me Tarzan, you Professor Moriarty.” They also implied that the live-in O-Don’t-Chase-Me-Tahzahn-My-Skimpy-Leather-Jungle-Doily-Might-Just-Fall-Off babe, Jane, was not formally married to the Lord of the Jungle.

Dratted liberal Hollywood lie.

You see, in the books, Tarzan is more like James Bond. He fluently speaks dozens of languages, including ancient Greek and Latin, is suave and as comfortable in a tux as a loin cloth.

In these icky politically correct climes, just try going into a Joann Fabric Store outlet and ordering “Six yards of loin cloth and a banana, please.”

Anyway. So back in the early ’60s, some jackass local spinster librarian at our local branch yanked ALL the Tarzan books off the shelves. Why? Because she felt Mr. & Mrs. T were, in pre-hippie parlance, “shacking up.” Plus, they had a child (“Boy,” in the movies, “Jack” in the novels). You know me, tyranny and injustice. The three of us simply do not get along. I pedaled my bike 12 miles to the Newhall Branch, politely spoke with the head librarian and read, aloud, a few lines from Burroughs’ 1913 sequel: “The Return of Tarzan.” It was the part where Jane Porter and Lord John Greystoke (Tarzan’s civilian title and name) get married.

In Wisconsin.

Everyone in the wedding party was wearing CLOTHES, including the Christian minister.

That so-&-so book-stamper in the brain-constricting hairbun read the passage herself, then, in perfect BureaucratSpeak, pronounced: “That — doesn’t matter.” She handed the book back and walked away.

I almost had a stroke. Often, for the government and half the population, facts don’t matter.

I was thinking of this the other day. In the books, Tarzan and Jane never grow old. Yup. You guessed it. Magic pills. “Tarzan’s Quest.” They retain the vitality of their 20’s, forever.

Can you imagine though, if Tarzan and Jane grew old?

An entire new reality. Poor Tarzan. Snapping at Jane at dinner: “You KNOW I can’t eat wildebeest with these partials!”

Or asking a chimp to test the temperature of a jungle pond before he gingerly dips in an arthritic toe. 

Simba, the African lion, is his arch enemy. Simba carefully stalks the Master of the Rainforest. The big cat inches cautiously closer, and closer. A few feet away, the 600-pound predator’s roar startles the jungle. And, Tarzan.

He turns on the great feline, feebly whacks it across the nose with his crossword, puts hands to knees to catch his breath then asks his old companion, “What the HELL is wrong with you!”

Edgar Rice Burroughs wasn’t a gifted novelist. But he was a genius story teller. Tarzan is still renowned today as the most famous character in all of literature. Without X-ray vision, atomic suits or a cape (unless it’s for a London opera), John Greystoke was the last of the essential heroes, facing tests with his wits, intelligence, strength, ethical fiber and a can-do attitude.

Strange. Qualities like that in a man today are scoffed at.

I’m glad that the Essential Tarzan will, in books at least, live forever.

I just can’t abide picturing Tarzan at 80, in a baggy fig leaf, peering from behind a jungle shrub and yelling: “You damn chimpanzees get off my lawn!”

John Boston is a local writer. And, had we a jungle in Santa Clarita, he’d like to be lord of it. He has 119 loincloths, 118 more than Signal Editor Tim Whyte.

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