MGM Yell

RKO Yell

The question of the source for the cry used in Johnny's Tarzan films has been argued at length over the past several decades. Up until the mid-60s, Johnny claimed that it was his own, derived from a yodelling contest he had won as a boy. The cry had been recorded to save his voice. A reference by the American Film Institute states that a certain J. D. Jewkes was engaged to voice double the Tarzan cry for Weissmuller. Johnny Sheffield, who did not join the Tarzan family until 1939, does not recall Weissmuller's ever mentioning yodelling to him from his boyhood. What he does remember is being on a sound stage at Metro with Fritz Steinkamp from the sound department and a piano. A note was hit on the piano and Sheffield gave it. From the voice sampling, an enhanced yell was created. He believes that both Weissmuller and O'Sullivan went through the same process, but is not certain. Yet another source claims that the cry was a combination of the voices of studio technicians.

Tom Held, an MGM film editor, claimed that the cry was a combination of things: Johnny's voice, the bleat of a camel, the growl of a dog, the howl of a hyśna, and a pick of a violin G-string. They supposedly laid four or five different sound tracks the one over the other, using these different sounds and timing it so that each of them played a fraction of a second after the preceding one. The soundmen, from these reports, did not perfect the cry until 1934. Yet, there is no appreciable difference between the cry heard in Tarzan, the Ape Man and Tarzan and His Mate. Buster Crabbe, who married Held's daughter, always supported his father-in-law's story. Others, like Maureen O'Sullivan, sided with Johnny. Lately, Brendan Fraser, star of George of the Jungle, claims to have done his own “research.”

According to him, two singers voices were heard and interspersed with sundry other sounds.

Samuel Marx, in his book on Mayer and Thalberg, came closest to the truth when he wrote that the cry was contrived by Douglas Shearer, who recorded a shout that was electronically enhanced and run backwards. A little experimenting on the computer proves that the yell is palindromic, sounding identical whether played forwards or backwards, which means that the second half of the cry is the first half in reverse, thus supporting Marx's explanation.

One should also bear in mind that Johnny recorded a completely different version when he moved over to RKO, and Sheffield is certain that this yell was Weissmuller's.