" Jane says to her father: "From now on I'm through with civilisation. I am
going to be a savage just like you". He looks her up and down, approvingly:
"Attractive. Mighty attractive." The oedipal connotations of the scene are most
clearly stated when Jane undresses in front of her father while he sniffs at the scent of
her clothes. This scene is echoed later in the sequence where Tarzan also 'investigates'
her appearance, scent, hair, clothing etc. When Jane's father realises his daughter is
clad only in a scanty negligee, he becomes embarrassed and moves away. Jane says:
"Darling, don't be silly. You're not embarrassed by me! Why you bathed me sometimes
and very nearly spanked me too." Thus, father-daughter desire is represented but
quickly repressed and displaced onto a scene in which the representation of the African as
'other' is constructed as the major signifier of taboo desires. In this way, the proper
father-daughter relationship is also re-instated." - Barbara Creed, "Me Jane,
You Tarzan: A Case of Mistaken Identity in Paradise"
"Jane has been around the block a few times"
What? Could this be our Jane, the love of Tarzan's life, the babe who breathed a breath
of fresh if very sultry air into the African bush? She's got the hots for Pops? And
vice-versa? Clearly, this ain't the Disney version we're dealing with here.
In the 82 year history of Tarzan movies, Jane has been around the block a few times,
and when it comes to her role as a sex symbol, she's been both as hot as fire and as cold
We've come a long way since Tarzan, the Ape Man (1932) brought a talking Tarzan, in the
form of Johnny Weismuller, and Jane, in the form of Maureen O'Sullivan, to the screen.
Disney's Jane in the new, animated Tarzan is cloaked in the high collar and ankle-length
dress of turn-of-the-century England, a costume that remains on her and intact in every scene. There is a kiss or
two in the course of the new film, but even then, "chaste" is the byword here.
Could it be, perhaps, that we've come a bit too far?
"her saucy attitude and increasingly exposed body"
Were she alive today, O'Sullivan would probably respond with an unqualified
"yes." After her rather disconcerting entrance, described above, O'Sullivan's
Jane proceeded to titillate early audiences with her saucy attitude and increasingly
exposed body. She effortlessly captures Tarzan's attention, then teaches him to talk, an
almost revolutionary act given that the reins of language have traditionally been in the
hands of men. Eventually, she teaches him to kiss. After one particularly passionate kiss,
Jane and Tarzan embrace while gazing dreamily upwards at Tarzan's treehouse.
Fade out. Fade in to Jane reclining languorously on a thick branch, eyelids heavy and
half-closed over glassy, satisfied eyes; all she needs is a cigarette.
In Tarzan and His Mate (1934), Jane just gets sexier. Now, she wears a leather,
bikini-like top and two small squares of leather hang from her waist, one in front and one
in back, while her thighs are completely exposed. Her scanty costume set off warning
lights at the sex-hating Hays Office, the newly formed keeper of Hollywood's censorship
"It was a lovely and innocent concept, and yet very sexy," O'Sullivan once
told an interviewer. "They tried different things to make Jane look sexy. We made a
costume and it wasn't that bad at all, there was a little leather bra and the thongs on
the side It started such a furor. Letters started coming in. It added up to thousands of
women objecting to my costumes. In those days, they took those things seriously."
"the joys of making jungle whoopee."
But it was not only the costume that attracted attention. At one point, soon after
awakening in the couple's tree house, Tarzan suggests an early morning swim in their
favorite lagoon. When Jane later exits the tree house dressed in a formal white gown that
two jungle visitors have given her, Tarzan's puzzled expression suggests more than any
grunt or mangled sentence ever could.
"But darling," Jane tries to explain, "I have to put on clothes. There
are other people here and they'd think I was immodest."
The concept of modesty is pretty much lost on a man raised by apes. He gives Jane a
push, stepping on the hem of her dress as she tumbles from the tree branch into the
lagoon. Jane hits the water totally nude and Tarzan - who can blame him? - dives in after
her. The underwater pas de deux - replete with a bare-skinned Jane - is both erotically
innocent and innocently erotic, highlighting what Salon, the online magazine, once called
the true theme of the early Tarzan flicks: "the joys of making jungle whoopee."
"Kind of looks like Tarzan's been playing the jungle a
O'Sullivan stuck with Tarzan for six movies even as her character was reduced to little
more than a plot point. A liberated, sensual and sexually charged Jane was more than the
Hays Office - and, apparently, much of America - could bear. After O'Sullivan's exit,
there were two Jane-less Tarzan movies before producers decided to re-introduce the
character in the form of blonde bombshell Brenda Joyce. "I don't know what the kids
are going to think when they see me with a blonde Jane," Weismuller reportedly said.
"Kind of looks like Tarzan's been playing the jungle a bit."
Given that, beyond an action scene or two in each of her five films as Jane, Joyce did
little more than cook, clean and take care of Boy (their "adopted" son because
an unmarried couple could never have a child of their own), there was not much danger that
"the kids" were interested in anything other than Tarzan's adventures. Starting
in 1950, producers did their best to recreate the chemistry that made Weismuller and
O'Sullivan so unforgettable as jungle lovers. Vanessa Brown, Virginia Huston, Dorothy Hart
and Joyce Mackenzie were all given a chance opposite new Tarzan Lex Barker. But nothing
gelled, and, ultimately, producers reasoned that audiences would find a single Tarzan a
whole lot sexier than a committed one. After all, wives and mothers were rarely sex
symbols in the Hollywood of the 1950s. The Hays Office absurdly dictated that even married
couples could not be shown sleeping in the same bed, so a potential love affair with
jungle visitors would serve to keep sexual tension alive and audiences, both male and
female, awake. Jane caught the next vine to civilization.
But after two more Jane-less films, Jane was back, this time in the form of Eve Brent,
whose character looks like a cross between a 1950s American housewife and a mini-skirted
Venusian from the Zsa Zsa Gabor starrer, Queen of Outer Space. She spent most of her time
teaching Boy to read, chopping coconuts and sewing - just your typical housewife and
"there has been no shortage of Tarzan"
Over the past forty years, there has been no shortage of Tarzan films and TV serials,
just a shortage of Jane. But in 1980, John Derek decided that wife Bo epitomized Jane of
the movies. As clunky and incomprehensible as Tarzan the Ape Man proved to be, it
represents one of modern mainstream cinema's few overt nods to the jungle genre's true
source of heat. Bo Derek as Jane is not only sexually aware but sexually-driven as well.
She went into the jungle all but wearing her primitive nature on her sleeve well, on her
arm, anyway, as there is a paucity of scenes in which Derek wears much of anything, let
alone a sleeve.
It is little wonder that Derek as Jane was featured in a Playboy pictorial. This film
itself is little more than a Playboy photo spread wrapped around an all but incoherent
Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984) remained largely faithful to
Burroughs' original vision of Tarzan, which relegates Jane to something of a minor
character in the unfolding drama. In this version of the legend, Andie MacDowell as Jane
(oddly enough, Glenn Close's voice was dubbed for MacDowell's before the film was
released, and Close provides the voice for Kara, Tarzan's ape-mother, in the Disney
version, as well) does not even set foot in the jungle. Instead, cloaked in the asexual
layers of Victorian clothing, she meets Tarzan within the confines of London society.
Although the two fall in love, MacDowell's Jane is not about to follow her man back to the
jungle. Nor will he forgo a return to his birthplace for his love of Jane. The lovers wave
goodbye at the jungle's edge, each in his or her rightful place. A few sparks in a dimly
lit boudoir in the English countryside were not enough to change their minds.
"As for Disney's Jane, we may have come
Jane March (The Lover [L'Amant], Color of Night) was next to play Jane in 1998's
abysmal Tarzan and the Lost City which featured Casper van Diem (Starship Troopers) in the
title role. Set in 1913, this film gives Jane a 90s style feminist attitude that
dissipates once she is in the jungle and finds herself in need of Tarzan's rescue.
Whatever the subtext in the early Weismuller/O'Sullivan team-ups, it was the principals'
innocence that makes them so charming. A loss of innocence, at least, in Tarzan and the
Lost City, translates to an off-putting lack of charm. In her previous two films, March
took her clothes off. A shame she doesn't in this one. It would not have helped the charm
quotient, but, at least it would have given audiences something interesting to look at.
As for Disney's Jane, we may have come full-circle, the beginning of the circle
actually resting 14 years before O'Sullivan's first turn in the role. In 1918, Enid Markey
played the role opposite the barrel-chested Elmo Leonard in the silent Tarzan of the Apes.
Despite the sweltering heat of deepest, darkest Africa, Markey remains in her calf-length,
plaid skirt, ankle-high, white boots, and long-sleeve, high-collared blouse - not so
unlike our animated Jane. Markey's silent successors -- Karla Schramm, Louise Lorraine,
Edna Murphy and Natalie Kingston - discarded the matronly attire for gowns that were
eventually shredded and ripped by all the jungle action. An ever-so-slight nod to
verisimilitude and the power of an exposed calf.
"All About Jane"
Disney's Jane may be more like those silent heroines than the overtly sensual
O'Sullivan, and it is tempting to dismiss any attempt to point out Freudian undertones as
academic bombast. But think about it. O'Sullivan's Jane was unable to make a total
commitment to her Tarzan because of her father's presence in the jungle. Once he dies,
however, Jane is free to complete the transference of her fatherly love to the new man in
her life. Most little girls, one of Disney's target audiences, are not able to imagine
their father's death, so when Disney's Jane makes her decision to jump ship and return to
her Tarzan, her father follows. It's all safe, clean and - who knows? - the perfect
situation for a sequel.
Maybe they could call it All About Jane.