Monday, August 22, 2016

Tarzan - Part 5 (The 1980s)

Character's first film appearance: Tarzan of the Apes (released January 27th, 1918)
Character description: Tarzan - aka John Clayton, Viscount Greystoke - is a fictional character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs in his novel Tarzan of the Apes in 1912. He was a feral child raised in the African jungles by the Mangani great apes after being separated from his parents when their ship was marooned off the African coast by mutineers. As an adult he experiences modern civilisation for the first time, largely rejecting it and choosing to remain in the wild as a heroic adventurer.

This is the fifth in a multi-part entry charting what happened to the various actors who have played Tarzan over the years. Click here for the silent era (1918-1929), click here for the 1930s and 1940s (1932-1948), click here for the 1950s, click here for 1962-72, or read on to find about the Tarzans from the 1980s...

Miles O'Keeffe (born Frank Miles O'Keeffe)
Played Tarzan: 1981
Birthdate: June 20th, 1954
Location: Ripley, Tennessee, USA

The running theme with Tarzan actors is that they started out as ace sportsmen, and occasionally soldiers, and the same is not different for the first Tarzan of the 1980s. Miles was a star football athlete who attended the United States Air Force Academy and played halfback on the freshman football team in 1972, when he was 18. After a transfer to Mississippi, he bulked up to 240lb (110kg). Miles later became a physical fitness instructor in the Tennessee penal system before getting cast as Tarzan.

Miles, aged 51, as Ed Janzer in 2005's
The Unknown (aka Clawed)
But Tarzan, the Ape Man (released in August 1981, when Miles was 27) was originally going to be a vehicle for Bo Derek, in a script conjured up by co-writer Gary Goddard based upon the Marvel Comics character Dazzler. This idea was dropped, and Bo was then cast in an attempt to foreground Tarzan's Girl Friday, Jane Porter, called Me, Jane. This project eventually became Tarzan, the Ape Man, but even that was not to have originally starred Miles, who was only upgraded to the title role when the actor originally cast was fired (or quit, depending on who you listen to). The 6ft 3in Miles had been the lead's stunt double, and benefitted from this misfortune.

The film was universally panned and received six nominations at the Golden Raspberry Awards (including one for Worst Actor for Miles, and another for Worst Actress for Bo Derek, which she won). Despite this, the film was a box office hit, costing $6.5m to make, and taking back $36.6m.

Miles, aged 56, in his most recent role
as Wild Bill in King of the Road (2010)
Tarzan typecast Miles as a "hunky action hero", and he became particularly associated with the character of Ator, very similar to Arnie's Conan the Barbarian, in a series of three Italian-made sword and sorcery films between 1982-87. Miles appeared in a great number of lower budget action films in the 1980s, including Hell's Heroes (1987) and Phantom Raiders (1988), and this continued throughout the 1990s in productions such as Murder, She Wrote (1993), Pocahontas: The Legend (1995), Escape to Grizzly Mountain (2000) and Fatal Conflict (2000).

However, Miles has not acted in a film at all since 2005's The Unknown (aka Clawed), a very low budget slasher-flick which also throws in the Bigfoot legend for good measure. Since then, Miles's only screen appearance has been in the 21-minute short film King of the Road (2010) in which he plays old school biker Wild Bill, who tries to win back his favourite bar, the last vestige of his faded glory.

Christopher Lambert (born Christophe Guy Denis Lambert)
Played Tarzan: 1984
Birthdate: March 29th, 1957
Location: New York, USA

Most people know that Christopher Lambert is an anglicised version of his very Gallic real name, Christophe Lamb-bare, but he was actually born in the USA, not France or French Canada as many might suspect (he was raised in Switzerland, however). He'd been acting in various French language productions since 1980, but landing the role of Tarzan was his first major English language gig.

Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes was released in March 1984 when Lambert was 27, after being filmed in far-flung places such as Scotland and Cameroon. Made with a $30m budget, it earned $45.9m at the box office and was nominated for three Oscars. Perhaps it was the Scottish location filming that foretold the next project that Lambert became internationally famous for, playing Connor MacLeod in the 1986 film Highlander.

Christopher Lambert today
After this he took roles in  a number of moderately successful action pictures, including The Sicilian (1987), Mortal Kombat (1995), Mean Guns (1997) and Beowulf (1999). He also appeared in three further Highlander films (1991-2000) and Fortress (1992) and its 2000 sequel. You'd be hard-pressed to find a film Lambert has appeared in this millennium that you've heard of - perhaps Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011) - but by and large he has remained in the medium to lower ranks of film stardom, one of those people you've heard of but find hard to name a picture he's been in recently. He did, however, play Marcel Janvier (aka The Chameleon) in six episodes of NCIS: Los Angeles in 2012 and 2013.

Now aged 59, Christopher is extremely myopic and has great difficulty seeing without his glasses - something that gets him into trouble when acting without spectacles!

Hemant Birje
Played Tarzan: 1985
Birthdate: August 19th, 1965
Location: Belgaum, Karnataka, India

Hemant played the Lord of the Apes in the Hindi-language Adventures of Tarzan, released in December 1985, and was quite the talking point at the time as it was not approved by the Burroughes estate, and also included some pretty racy scenes between Tarzan and Ruby (played by Kimi Katkar) and a 1980s disco soundtrack by Bappi Lahiri.

Hemant Birje in his 40s
It was the first film for the 20-year-old Hemant, who had been working as a security guard before being chosen to play Tarzan. The original choice was Mahesh Anand, but director Babbar Subhash wanted a new face for the role, and discovered Hemant in a wrestling ring during a visit to Pune. During film, Hemant was quite beaten up by the stunt director, but when he showed Subhash the scratches and bruises on his back, he was simply told that it would make the fact Tarzan is imprisoned in a circus all the more believable!

After Tarzan, Hemant's acting career took off, and he's been acting pretty solidly ever since in Bollywood films. His most recent role was aged 46 in 2011's Who's There?, but he has not appeared on screen since.

Hemant in 2013, aged 48
His absence from the screens may be explained by what has happened to him since 2011. In April 2012, Hemant's ex-wife Reshma, filed a complaint against him with Oshiwara police claiming he had beaten her. Hemant reportedly absconded when police visited his home to question him. Reshma claimed Hemant abused alcohol and drugs every day, and often beat her and their two daughters. Police did not act as it was deemed "domestic".

On October 30th, 2012, it seemed the roles were reversed when it was reported that Hemant was beaten up by two of his own friends in Andheri. The altercation was put down to alcohol. Hemant claimed he was attacked and hit on the head with bamboo sticks because he said he could not attend the wedding of his friend's niece. However, his "friends" Kishore Saproo and Phasi Rehman (who were arrested following the incident) said it was Hemant who punched them while demanding more alcohol! Hemant was hospitalised for treatment, and released soon after.

In April 2016, it was reported that Hemant had been thrown out of the Oshiwara house he had been illegally living in. His contract with the Castle Towers owner had expired, but he continued to live there despite being asked to leave. The owner filed a lawsuit against him and the police got involved to evict him.

Joe Lara (born William Joseph Lara)
Played Tarzan: 1989 & 1996-1997
Birthdate: October 2nd, 1962
Location: San Diego, California, USA

After debuting as a soldier in 1988's Night Wars, Joe got his big break as Tarzan in a CBS TV movie broadcast on April 15th, 1989, when he was 26. The movie sees Tarzan leave Africa and make for New York City to seek vengeance for the murder of his ape mother, and to rescue Cheeta, who was taken by hunters. The project co-starred Jan-Michael Vincent, Tony Curtis and Kim Crosby.

This one-off movie is unrelated to the subsequent TV series in which Joe played Tarzan, however. Tarzan: The Epic Adventures ran for one 22-episode season between August 1996 and May 1997, and took on the more fantastical theme which had worked well for Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. It saw Tarzan back in Africa fighting magical sorcerers and creatures alongside his old friend Timba, played by Aaron Seville.

Joe in more recent times
A second season was planned for 1997-98, but Joe would have been replaced by Xavier DeClie in the title role. However, the production company went bankrupt and the second run never happened.

Beyond Tarzan, 6ft 3in Joe has made appearances in TV shows including Sweating Bullets (1993), Baywatch (1993), Conan (1998) and The Magnificent Seven (2000), and films such as Sunset Heat (1992), American Cyborg: Steel Warrior (1993), Warhead (1996), Doomsdayer (2000) and most recently the straight-to-video Starfire Mutiny (2002).

After that, Joe quit acting to move into the world of music, and is now a country music singer, having had some success with the track The Cry of Freedom. You can see and hear it below:

To read the previous chapter about the silent era Tarzans, click here, and the previous chapter about the Tarzans 1932-48, click here. The previous chapter about Tarzans 1949-60 is here, and 1962-72 is here. The next and final chapter will be about more modern versions of Tarzan through to the present day, and will appear on this blog shortly.

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