Tarzans Magic Fountain 1950 – Lex Barker

Mainly for the reason that I like the storyline, this must be my favourite Tarzan film – and there are a lot of them. In this one Lex Barker takes over the main role from Johnny Weissmuller who retired after 16 years.  Lex went on to  make  five Tarzan films  before he too moved on.    This role however is the one for which Lex Barker is best known – even though it only accounted for about 4 years of his film acting career.

Lex Barker and Cheetah in Tarzans Magic Fountain – above

Tarzan’s Magic Fountain was Lex Barker’s first Tarzan film — producer Sol Lesser interviewed more than 1,000 actors to replace Johnny Weissmuller in the role of Tarzan. 

 Lex Barker turned out to be one of the better film Tarzans, even though Johnny Weissmuller was obviously a hard act to follow.

 The film is about a tribe of people hidden deep in the jungle. In their secret valley is a fountain of youth, which keeps a woman who crash landed in the jungle decades ago looking as young as she was when her plane went down. After she had returned to the outside world, word of the fountain leaked out and unscrupulous hunters try to find and exploit it. Tarzan tries to keep the hunters from finding the hidden valley of the fountain.   The flyer ages as the effects of the fountain wear off — a theme originally used in James Hilton’s wonderful film Lost Horizon years earlier. 

 Elmo Lincoln, the original Tarzan from 1918′s Tarzan of the Apes  has a cameo role as a fisherman in this film.

Brenda Joyce plays Jane in the film and became the only actress to play the part with two different Tarzans – she had made 4 films with Johnny Weissmuller – although after a reasonably long career in films , she packed it in after Tarzans Magic Fountain with Lex Barker and left acting for good.

Brenda Joyce swoons in Weissmuller’s arms

Away from the jungle sets at MGM  Brenda Joyce admitted that she did not like playing Jane and  she was upset by Johnny Weissmuller’s persistent sexual harassment.

She once told one of  her friends   “How Johnny holds all that manhood tamed under his loincloths defies the laws of nature.”   . She was once certified as having the longest hair in Hollywood – 39 inches – outranking Katharine Hepburn and Veronica Lake.

Born Betty Graffina Leabo at Excelsior Springs, Missouri in 1912, she was educated at San Bernardino and Los Angeles High Schools and much later 20th Century Fox spotted her in a fashion magazine layout.

She was signed to a two-picture contract. but first 20th Century Fox changed her name to Brenda Joyce.

She made her screen debut as Fern Simon, the second lead in the Oscar-winning earthquake epic The Rains Came (1939) with Tyrone Power and Myrna Loy. The role won her good reviews and after Here I Am a Stranger (also 1939), about a young Englishman (Richard Greene) in search of his alcoholic father (Richard Dix), Brenda Joyce was signed indefinitely.

Her off-screen interests included gardening (she was one of Hollywood’s best horticulturists) and art.

She later  married Owen Ward, an Army officer. For this the studio punished her by relegating her to a string of B-pictures.

Following this and a bit of  cooling off time ahe came back  as a second-feature star at Universal and RKO and later more notable roles saw her star opposite Lon Chaney Jr and Gale Sondergaard in such B-chillers as Pillow of Death (1945) and The Spider Woman Strikes Back (1946Co-starring with Brenda Joyce is  Rondo Hatton (April 22, 1894 – February 2, 1946) – he was an actor who had a brief, but prolific career playing thuggish bit parts in many Hollywood  B-movies.  He was known for his brutish facial features which were the result of acromegaly  a disorder of the pituitary gland.

Acromegaly distorted the shape of Hatton’s head, face, and extremities in a gradual but consistent process.   Hatton apparently in his younger days had been voted the handsomest boy in his class at High School  but he eventually became severely disfigured by the disease.      Because the symptoms developed in adulthood,  the disfigurement was incorrectly attributed later by film studio publicity departments to his exposure to a German mustard gas attack during service in World War I.

Universal Studioss attempted to exploit Hatton’s unusual features to promote him as a horror star after he played the part of the Hoxton Creeper alongside Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes  in  The Pearl of Death (1944).  He made a half dozen minor films playing variations of the Creeper character, including The Brute Man (1946). Hatton died of a  heart attack  in 1946.

I always felt so sorry for Rondo Hatton who was billed as The Screens Ugliest Man and yet off screen known by his family as one of the nicest kindest men you could hope to meet.

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Back to Brenda Joyce :-

Two children later, Brenda Joyce seemed to have lost interest in her film career, but was coaxed back to the film set by the producer Sol Lesser after  Maureen O’Sullivan had  left the Tarzan series and Weissmuller approved  the athletic beauty as his new blonde jungle  mate.

Tarzan and the Amazons was followed by Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946), Tarzan and the Huntress (1947) and Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948).  After Weissmuller hung up his loin cloth, she played Jane for one last time, opposite Lex Barker in Tarzan’s Magic Fountain (1949) – making her the only Jane to co-star with two different Tarzans – before quitting show business forever.

Between the Tarzan movies, Joyce made several B films for Universal, two with Lon Chaney Jr, Strange Confession and Pillow of Death (both 1945),  The Spider Woman Strikes Back (1946), pitted against Gale Sondergaard in the title role; and Little Giant (1946), with Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, playing it straighter than usual as a foil to the comedians.

After a painful divorce in 1949, she retired into obscurity, working for a decade (under her real name) in Washington for the department of immigration. She also kept her famous past in films from staff at the nursing home in Santa Monica where she spent her final years.  However she was visited there by actor Johnny Sheffield who played Boy alongside her in the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films.   She is survived by her three children.

Lex Barker.

Lex Barker collapsed and died whilst walking along the street in New  York in May 1973 at the age of 54.

Lex Barker was a direct descendant of the founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams, and of Sir ‘William Henry Crichlow’, historical governor-general of Barbados. He excelled in football and track at Fessenden School and Phillips-Exeter Academy.

He went to Princeton but left to become an actor. A year later he was spotted in summer stock and received a contract offer from 20th Century-Fox.  Then came World War II and he enlisted as an Infantry Private and rose to the rank of Major.     Signed initially by Fox  and then Warner, he was too tall for supporting parts and too unknown for leads.      Tarzan’s Magic Fountain (1949) (RKO) provided his first starring role.      After five Tarzans he went into other adventure films.    After 16 non-Tarzan films, mostly westerns, he went to Europe in 1957 .  He went on to make more than 50  films all over the world.

Must admit that I think Tarzans Magic Fountain was released in 1949 so technically doesn’t qualify as a ‘films of the fifties’ but maybe it came to England in 1950 – I will pretend it did !!!

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