Cast and Credits
Note. Aside from George Lees and George Emerson, who are already mentioned in the production credits listing, the following worked on the film in Florida : Eileen Price, Sam Polo, W. W. Beattie, Charles Salerno, Merritt J. Sibbald, Stanley Briggs, Jay Marchant. Doyle M. Jimmey, Leonard Smith, Hank Foster, Art Brown, Vince Reusch, Bill "Ace" Riley, and Al Schering. (Apologies if any of these names has been misspelled.)
Running time: 82 minutes
Working title: Tarzan in Exile
Shooting begins: January 9, 1939
Copyright Date: June 8, 1939; Renewed June 8, 1966
Release Date: June 16, 1939
First showing in Canada: July 13, 1939
Tarzan trouve un fils [Fr]
Tarzan und sein Sohn [Gr]
Il figlio di Tarzan [It]
O filho de Tarzan [Pg]
El Hijo de Tarzán [Sp]
An infant survivor of a plane crash is adopted by Tarzan and Jane, and named simply Boy. Five years later, relatives of the child appear and on learning that he is still alive, they want to take him away. Tarzan refuses, but Jane, anxious about the boy’s future and safety, agrees to trick Tarzan and help them depart with the child.
Unfortunately, Sir Thomas, the only sincere member of the party, tries to alert Jane to the error she has made, and is killed by his nephew. Then disbelieving Jane’s advice concerning the safest route to follow, the party is captured by the savage Zambeles.
Boy, with Jane’s help, escapes to seek out Tarzan, and the two return with trusty elephants and apes to teach the tribe a lesson. It is too late for the porters and Sir Thomas’s nephew, but the remaining two white people are given an elephant to escort them off the escarpment.
Tarzan seems reluctant to forgive Jane until he sees that she has been wounded by a Zambele spear.
Finally all is forgiven, and the Tarzan family can return to their idyllic life in the jungle until the next batch of no-good-niks arrive to upset their paradise.
Some two years had passed since the release of the costly Tarzan Escapes. Irving Thalberg, the prime mover of the Tarzan series, was gone, and Weissmuller, who was under exclusive contract to MGM remained inactive, but on salary. And the latest holder of the Tarzan film rights was independent producer Sol Lesser, who had produced the bottom-of-the-barrel Tarzan flick Tarzan’s Revenge, starring former Decathlon champ, Glen Morris.
Someone at MGM must have felt that the time had come to make another film or give up Weissmuller, since the Olympic champ was deemed unsuitable for other roles.
Whatever the scenario, in July 1938, Hume wrote an outline for a new Tarzan film in which a son would be born to Jane, the family would return to Greystoke’s Estate in England, but Tarzan, unable to adapt, would return to the jungle with his family.
Since the Hays Office was unlikely to tolerate Jane’s bearing a child out of wedlock, a month later, Hume revised his idea. The boy would be the lone survivor of a plane crash, and Tarzan and Jane adopted him.
In November, Maureen O’Sullivan was still begging to be released from the Tarzan series, and MGM arranged to kill off Jane with a Zambele spear. The working title of the film Tarzan in Exile was to be a reference to the jungle king’s self-imposed exile as he burns down the tree-house and takes Boy to Jane’s gravesite next to his real mother’s, before leaving the escarpment forever.
In January 1939, Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote MGM, informing the studio that it would be an error to remove Jane from the story as the public identified her with Tarzan, and would not brook such a conclusion to a Tarzan film. A preview audience supported Burroughs’ contention, and an alternative ending was filmed in which Jane recovered from the wound, and the title was changed to Tarzan Finds a Son!
In this entry, more footage than usual was filmed at the studio. In fact, almost all the location footage was lifted from other films, such as Baboona (35), Trader Horn (31), Tarzan the Ape Man (32), and Tarzan and His Mate (34).
However, director Richard Thorpe wanted some underwater action, and a camera crew was sent with Weissmuller and Sheffield to Silver Springs and Wakulla Springs, Florida, along with Baby Bea, the elephant, and its trainer, George Emerson. The crystal clear waters were ideal for underwater photography. And some unexpected footage was achieved of Baby Bea. And a sea turtle with its mouth taped provided some interesting shots as well. At the conclusion of the shooting, Johnny Weissmuller presented his loin cloth , signed by cast and crew, to Silver Springs co-owner "Shorty" Davidson.
Big John and Little John
Photo: Courtesy Ray Greene
A pregnant Maureen O’Sullivan stayed in Hollywood, and a Florida resident was hired to do her swimming scenes.
Among the supporting cast were a number of well-known character actors, some of whom belonged to the self-styled Hollywood British colony, such as Henry Stephenson and Frieda Inescort, whom Johnny Sheffield recalls as fine family friends. (Johnny's own father was British actor Reginald Sheffield.).
Stephenson was born Henry S. Garroway in Granada, British West Indies in April 1871. Educated in England, he began his career on the stage in London, then in New York. He made a few silent films before the sound era, but then became firmly established as one of Hollywood’s finest character actors in films like Little Lord Fauntleroy (36), The Prince and the Pauper (37), The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (39), The Return of Monte Cristo (46), Oliver Twist (51), and of course Tarzan Finds a Son! Five years later, he would join Weissmuller for another Tarzan film, Tarzan and the Amazons. Stephenson made very few television appearances, but did manage to appear twice on Studio One. He passed away in 1956 in San Francisco.
Frieda Inescort was born Frieda Wrightman in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1901. Her father was a journalist and her mother a wannabe stage actress named Elaine Inescort. Frieda’s parents separated when Frieda was still very young, and despite a brief reconciliation, divorced because of Elaine’s affair with another man.
After being ferreted off to a variety of boarding schools, Frieda eventually graduated from a London convent school. She returned to her mother, but for reasons of vanity, was using her mother’s maiden name because Elaine had decided to have it believed that she and Frieda were sisters.
On a trip to New York, Frieda learned through a childhood friend that British actors were in demand and that she should try to enter that field. By this time, she was working at Putnam’s Publishing House. Her initial attempts proved successful and before long Frieda was acting in several successful Broadway plays. This alienated Elaine, who was jealous of her daughter’s apparent easy success . The estrangement lasted virtually until the end of Elaine’s life.
In 1926, Frieda married Ben Ray Redman, who had also worked at Putnam’s. While his career blossomed as a critic for The New York Herald, Frieda won coveted roles in Escape, The Merchant of Venice (as Portia), Pygmalion, Major Barbara, and Springtime for Henry.
When Redman was offered a job at Universal Pictures, the couple moved to Los Angeles and Frieda immediately got work in a play titled Merrily We Roll Along. A talent scout for Sam Goldwyn saw her performance and signed her to a film contract. Her first film was The Dark Angel (35), a Frederic March vehicle. Despite her credentials, Frieda never became a film star. She was loaned out or hired to help keep temperamental actresses in line, and appeared in mostly average films. One exception was the wonderful 1940 film Pride and Prejudice starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier. She played the snobbish Miss Bingley to perfection, belying the warm and witty person she was off screen.
After appearing in a minor Bela Lugosi vampire film, Frieda decided it was time to get back to Broadway. She appeared in several plays there before returning to Hollywood and the screen. She got some better roles and by 1950 even embraced television. One of her last roles was in the cult classic The Alligator People (59).
On television she appeared in shows like Perry Mason, Bourbon Street Beat, Wagon Train and The Rebel.
In 1960, Frieda was diagnosed with multiplesclerosis and by 1961 she was already using a cane. She accepted no further film or television offers. This year also witnessed the suicide of her husband, who had been suffering from depression for some time.
In 1973, Frieda entered the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills and three years later died from the debilitating disease.
Ian Hunter was born in Capetown, South Africa in 1900 and died in London, England in 1975. (More to come)
Henry Wilcoxon was another of the expatriated Brits who earned fame as an excellent character actor in Hollywood.
Born in Dominica, West Indies in 1905, Harry Wilcoxon was raised and educated there before moving to England. While acting in the play The Barretts of Wimpole Street, he was seen by a Paramount talent scout who whisked him back to Hollywood to appear in the Cecil B. DeMille production of Cleopatra as Marc Antony. By 1948, he was DeMille’s associate producer, although he continued to act. One of his last minor roles was as a golf-playing bishop in the Chevy Chase comedy Caddyshack (80).
On television, Wilcoxon appeared in Gunsmoke, Cagney and Lacey, Marcus Welby, M.D., The Wild Wild West, It Takes a Thief and The F.B.I.
Wilcoxon died in 1981 from cancer. His autobiography Lionheart in Hollywood was published a decade later.
Gavin Muir had a long career. Despite his good looks, he was more believable in villainous roles in which guise he appeared more often than not. He was born in Chicago in 1900 and passed away in 1972.
Laraine Day was born in Utah to a prominent Mormon family in 1917. Moving to California, she quickly came to the attention of movie moguls during a stint with The Long Beach Players. Her first film The Law Commands was in 1937, and not long after she was signed with MGM, where she made a name for herself in the Dr. Kildare movies with Lew Ayres. She later married Leo Durocher and became known as the First Lady of Baseball.
In 1951 she hosted a television show called The Laraine Day Show, in which she interviewed celebrities, provided Hollywood and New York gossip, and plugged records. She appeared on other shows from 1955 through 1984.
Just prior to her fame in the celebrated Dr. Kildare films, she was put into Tarzan Finds a Son! to portray the brief role as Johnny Sheffield’s real mother. Her screen time was scarcely more than a minute. Yet, when AMC aired its marathon of Tarzan films in June 1997, she was cited as one of the films stars with Sheffield’s name not even mentioned. Go figure!
One of Weissmuller’s stand-ins in Florida was Colonel Larry Teztlaff, showman, animal trainer, TV star, author, lecturer, motion picture producer. herpetologist, president and owner of Jungle Larry's African Safari Parks in Sandusky, Ohio (since closed) and Naples, Florida, expedition leader to Australia, Africa and South America. He developed a crossbreed of Tiglons, supplied exotic animals to parks and zoos, and was a conservationist and zoologist.
At 19, Larry was hired as a stand-in for Johnny Weissmuller, and he came to admire the Olympic athlete very much. He remembered especially a tree dive he was to set up for Weissmuller. There were two boats below with cameras. Larry was afraid of hitting the boats. Weissmuller told him to come down and he set up his own dive.
Later a group of people swam down the river, but could not return the same way because of the current — all except Weissmuller.
David, Larry’s son, has continued the family business with his mother, Nancy, in Naples, Florida.
One scene that proved very scary to young Sheffield was being caught in the spider web. The hairy little critters were rigged to descend towards the spider web from all directions. Despite being told that they were not real and that there was nothing to worry about, he was glad when the scene was over. Four years later, Sheffield would encounter a giant arachnid in a cave in Tarzan's Desert Mystery, but by then Sheffield had lost his arachnophobia.
And Sheffield is filled with pride when he recalls the Zambele village scene in which Jane tells him to go and find Tarzan. He felt like a junior hero.
To get some more feedback on this film, check out the Sheffield interview on Matt Winans’ jungle site.
The New York Times
In the escapist heaven of the cinema, there is only one Tarzan, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's is the profit. For this Tarzan, time does not exist: Johnny Weissmuller is merely his current incarnation. But the question of issue was bound to arise sooner or later, and Metro seems to have answered it in the handsomest and most hygienic fashion with the chapter self-explanatorily entitled "Tarzan Finds a Son," at the Capitol. The child, and a darned convenient brat he is for plot purposes, is dropped from the African skies not by the stork, but buy an Imperial Airways liner which crashes in the jungle not far from the arboreal penthouse of the Tarzans, with its elephant-operated lift, its chimpanzee house maid, its one ape-power revolving fan, its couches upholstered in Zebra-hide, like El Morocco.
To get milk for that first bottle, Tarzan, the fleet-footed, runs down and catches a she-antelope; the poor thing, not unnaturally amazed by such phenomenal track prowess, finally just gives in quietly. In no time at all, a cunning rattle and a swinging cradle have been devised by the doting foster-parent, and before you can say "Boy" (which is the name Tarzan paternally bestows upon him) the lad is swinging expertly about on the jungle creepers, like a chimp off the old block. And that's when the safari five years later, that is with Ian Hunter and all those people with Mayfair accents, shows up looking for news of the passengers on that ill-fated plane. Need we add that "Boy" is the heir to a title and vast estates back home? Of course we needn't.
Nor need we bore you with our feeble efforts to depict how complete a cad Ian Hunter turns out to be; you know how disagreeable people can become when they see any prospect of losing an inheritance. Enough to report that the rest of the picture is a circus, a water (and an underwater) carnival, a rodeo, with Tarzan in a big rhino bustin' scene, a teeming jungle film, perfectly silly, of course, but for the purposes of the young and of the obstinately unadult, as much fun as a barrel of monkeys.
It seems almost priggish to
breathe a word of criticism against so disarming a production, yet
Metro might be gently chided for such monstrosities as a lion in a
tree, apes riding elephants to the rescue. Also, you would think
Tarzan's language might have improved a bit after all these years of
exposure to Maureen O'Sullivan's impeccable diction, but it hasn't.
He still grunts like a Creek Indian, and articulates in a minimum of
words, without conjunctions.
"Tarzan Finds a Son" carries more credulity and believable jungle adventure than the long list of preceding Tarzan features unwound at intervals during the past 20 years. Ape-man's chummy attitude with the wild beasts of the jungle, and his tree-swinging acrobatics elaborated on previously, have been minimized here.
Picture is a cinch setup for the kids and may catch on for nominal bids in the action houses. It's under a handicap due to absurdities and wildly impossible situations identified with Tarzan and spread pretty thick in the several preceding Tarzan features and serials turned out in sound film.
Tarzan and the missus save a baby in a wrecked plane that crashes in the jungle. At age of five, Tarzan is proudly teaching his accepted son the jungle lore, when a searching party arrives to establish death of the baby, who has come into heavy inheritance in England. Ian Hunter and Frieda Inescort are out to grab the inheritance for themselves, and start plotting death of Tarzan and snatch of the youngster. But while they are at cross-purposes with Tarzan, the Missus consents to trip of the kid to the outside and accompanies the party through a savage tribe domain. Natives capture the safari and start a wild celebration of death in their village. Boy escapes through stockade to bring Tarzan and herd of elephants to completely wreck the village in a wild stampede that routs the savages.
There are animal thrills and stunts aplenty throughout the picture. Stock shots of wild life have been neatly intercut; while a fight between hyenas and leopards in the jungle is a thriller. Naturally youngster's wanderings from the jungle home provide opportunity for the kid to be chased and he is on several occasions by rhinos, alligators, lions and hyenas. Youngster also goes perilously near the falls for a rescue by Tarzan; and at another point is saved in the nick of time from the web of a tarantula tribe.
Underwater episodes in which Tarzan and Boy play for long periods is exceptional and highly interesting. For added interest, baby elephant pal of the boy is along for some splashing, and this episode is a top spot in the picture.
Johnny Weissmuller has made three previous Tarzan features, and athletically runs and swims through as the ape-man in okay fashion. Miss O'Sullivan is the jungle wife, and gets in some good dramatic work in battling against herself to give up the youngster to the outsiders. Tarzan's boy, little John Sheffield, does nicely and performs his chores athletically. Kid takes direction easily, and might get over in other pictures aside from the Tarzan group. Balance of cast is nicely set up for what they have to do.
Productionally, picture is top grade in all technical departments. African jungle locale is one of the best jobs of its kind turned out in Hollywood for some time. Camera work throughout is excellent same goes for the sound department, which blended the jungle sounds for background effects on the sound track. The underwater shots, taken in Florida, will merit attention from technical standpoint.
With a minimum of dialog, and script concentrating on action and animal antics, picture is a likely setup for good biz in the foreign field; requiring minimum of voice dubbing..
Richard Thorpe's direction moves along at a speedy pace, and he takes fullest advantage of cute antics of the ape Cheta, and the baby elephant for some elemental comedy.