Ron Ely



Who played the first Tarzan?

Jungle fever: Tarzan swinger Ely

Question: Who played the first Tarzan?

Answer: Assuming you mean the first TV Tarzan — this column has a strong small-screen bias, after all — that'd be actor Ron Ely, who was actually the 15th actor to go ape-man. (Elmo Lincoln was the first to discover jungle love in the 1918 big-screen feature Tarzan of the Apes.)

If there's one thing I can say about Ely, he earned his paycheck on the NBC series, which debuted in September 1966 and left the air three years later. The athletic 6-foot-4-inch actor refused to let a stuntman handle the risky shots, so all that beast battling, vine swinging and waterfall diving took a terrible toll on his body. Yet he worked through the pain like a man possessed, which he may well have been. "This Tarzan, it's the part I've been waiting for all my life," director James Komack quoted the actor as saying in a 1967 TV Guide story K read more

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