Tarzan yell

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The Tarzan yell is the distinctive, ululating yell of the character Tarzan, as portrayed by actor Johnny Weissmuller in the films based on the character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, starting with Tarzan the Ape Man (1932). The yell was a creation of the movies, based on what Burroughs described in his books as simply "the victory cry of the bull ape."

audio sequence extracted from one of Weissmuller's Tarzan movies

Problems playing this file? See media help.

History and origin of the yell[edit]

Weissmuller's yell, notated.

Although the RKO Picture version of the Tarzan yell ostensibly was that of Weissmuller, different stories exist as to how the Tarzan Yell was created. Many speculate that a man by the name of Lloyd Thomas Leech was the original voice behind the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Tarzan Yell. He was an opera singer during the 40's and 50's and into the 60's. He won the Chicagoland Music Festival on August 17, 1946. He went on to sing throughout the U.S. touring with several opera companies. There are recordings of him recalling his account of how the Tarzan yell was created. His story is supported by his children and grandchildren.[1] According to the newspaper columnist L. M. Boyd (circa 1970), "Blended in with that voice are the growl of a dog, a trill sung by a soprano, a note played on a violin's G string and the howl of a hyena recorded backward." According to Bill Moyers, it was created by combining the recordings of three men: one baritone, one tenor, and one hog caller from Arkansas.[2] Another widely published notion concerns the use of an Austrian yodel played backwards at abnormally fast speed. But Weissmuller claimed that the yell was actually his own voice. His version is supported by his son and by his Tarzan co-star, Maureen O'Sullivan.[citation needed]

The actual sound used in the MGM films from 1932 onward is a palindrome, i.e. if it is played in reverse, it sounds identical.[citation needed] It is, therefore, a manipulated recording of a human voice.[original research?] As it reaches its centre point, it is reversed and played until the end. Exactly whose voice it was is open to argument[by whom?] but it is clearly not a clean, unedited recording, which dilutes most stories of people claiming it was entirely their vocal talents - it's a creation of the dubbing studio. When the films moved to RKO Studios, a new - slightly different, non-manipulated - call was recorded which was used until the mid-60s.[citation needed]

The sound itself has received a trademark registration, owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. The official description of the yell is:

The mark consists of the sound of the famous Tarzan yell. The mark is a yell consisting of a series of approximately ten sounds, alternating between the chest and falsetto registers of the voice, as follow -

  1. a semi-long sound in the chest register,
  2. a short sound up an interval of one octave plus a fifth from the preceding sound,
  3. a short sound down a Major 3rd from the preceding sound,
  4. a short sound up a Major 3rd from the preceding sound,
  5. a long sound down one octave plus a Major 3rd from the preceding sound,
  6. a short sound up one octave from the preceding sound,
  7. a short sound up a Major 3rd from the preceding sound,
  8. a short sound down a Major 3rd from the preceding sound,
  9. a short sound up a Major 3rd from the preceding sound,
  10. a long sound down an octave plus a fifth from the preceding sound.[3]

Despite these efforts, the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM) in late 2007 determined that such attempts by the estate of Burroughs to maintain such trademark must fail legally, reasoning that "[w]hat has been filed as a graphic representation is from the outset not capable of serving as a graphic representation of the applied-for sound," said the OHIM ruling. "The examiner was therefore correct to refuse the attribution of a filing date."

In the 1999 Disney animated film based on the Tarzan franchise, the lead lets out an updated version of this yell to close out the film.

The Tarzan yell is often used for comic effect in later, unrelated movies, particularly when a character is swinging on vines or doing other "Tarzanesque" things. The sound clip used in the Weissmuller films has also been exclusively used for animated series appearances of Tarzan, and in the Tarzan television series (1966 - 1968), which starred Ron Ely, rather than having the actor providing Tarzan's voice for the series attempt to imitate the trademark yell. A comical version of this yell was performed by Ray Stevens in his 1969 novelty hit "Gitarzan". It was even used in the 1981 film Tarzan, the Ape Man. The yell is heard at Carolina Hurricanes home games. Comedienne Carol Burnett would do the yell on request during a question and answer weekly session on her comedy sketch series. A version of the yell even appeared in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi as the character of Chewbacca swings on a vine towards an Imperial Scout Walker on the forest planet of Endor. The yell is also heard in the third prequel Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith in a similar scene of a wookiee swinging onto an attacking droid tank. It was also used to dubious comic effect in the James Bond film Octopussy in 1983.

Other Tarzan yells[edit]

The first ever version of the yell can be found in the part-sound serial Tarzan the Tiger (1929). This version is described as a "Nee-Yah!" noise.[4]

In the 1932 Tarzan radio serial with James Pierce, the yell sounds like "Taaar-maan-ganiii". In the ape language mentioned in the Tarzan novels, "Tarmangani" means "White Ape".[5]

A very similar cry was used for Burroughs' own Tarzan film, The New Adventures of Tarzan (1935), shot concurrently with the MGM Weismuller movies in Central America with Herman Brix as a cultured Tarzan. The yell can best be described as a "Mmmmm-ann-gann-niii" sound that gradually rises ever higher in pitch.[6]

Donkey Kong has also been known to use the Tarzan yell (although it sounds like "Ooo-wa-ooo-aaooaaooaa-ooo!") His Tarzan yell is first heard in Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat and later was used in DK Jungle Climber, Donkey Kong Country Returns and later in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]