Girish Mahajan (Editor)

Tarzan yell

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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."


History and origin

Although the RKO Picture version of the Tarzan yell was putatively that of Weissmuller, different stories exist as to how the Tarzan Yell was created. Many speculate that a man named Lloyd Thomas Leech was the original voice behind the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Tarzan Yell. He was an opera singer from the 1940s into the '60s, winning the Chicagoland Music Festival on August 17, 1946, and going on to sing throughout the U.S., touring with several opera companies. There are recordings of his recollections of creating the Tarzan yell, a story supported by his children and grandchildren. 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. 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.

In the 1999 Disney animated film based on the Tarzan franchise, the character lets out an updated version of this yell at various moments.

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. Comedian 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 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.


The sound itself is a registered trademark and service mark, owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.

Registration Numbers: 2210506; 3841800; 4462890.
Registration Dates: December 15, 1998; August 31, 2010; January 7, 2014.
Description of Mark: 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.

Recognition of the trademark's registration within the European Union is uncertain. In late 2007, the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM) determined that attempts by ERB, Inc. 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 ... The examiner was therefore correct to refuse the attribution of a filing date." Regardless, the trademark registration was updated in 2010 (to include slot machines) and 2014 (to include online use).

Other Tarzan yells

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.

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".

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.

In the 1935 Mickey Mouse cartoon, Mickey's Garden, a beetle (voiced by Pinto Colvig) with an almost gorilla-like voice lets out a Tarzan yell and chases after Mickey Mouse and Pluto two times. This Tarzan yell sounds almost gorilla-like as well. It is later reused in the 1939 Silly Symphony cartoon, the 1941 Disney animated feature Dumbo, the 1941 Goofy cartoon The Art of Self Defense, the 1954 Disney cartoon short that is similar to Social Lion involving a gorilla in the lion's role that looked a lot like the gorilla from Dumbo, and the 1971 Disney live action/animated feature Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

Elmo Lincoln recreated his victory cry in a 1952 episode of You Asked for It.

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.

Tarzan's yell is used as a melodic refrain in the Baltimora single "Tarzan Boy". This refrain ironically plays in place of an ordinary Tarzan yell when Haru climbs and struggles to keep his balance on the top of a palm tree in Beverly Hills Ninja. The refrain was also used in a 1993 jungle-themed advert for Listerine's Cool Mint mouthwash.

In the 1999 animated film, the Tarzan yell is dubbed by Brian Blessed, who voiced the villain Clayton. This was done after Tony Goldwyn, who voiced the title character, blew his vocals.

Jane (as portrayed by Maureen O'Sullivan) used a variation of the Tarzan Yell.


Tarzan yell Wikipedia