Al Bohl, who helped create the 2012 documentary, “Tarzan Lord of the Louisiana Jungle,” speaks Friday to Cathy Mann Wilbanks, vice president of operations for Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. during Edgar Rice Burroughs Dum-Dum Conference & Tarzan Celebration at Clarion Inn in Morgan City. The event celebrated the 100th anniversary of the release of the film, “Tarzan of the Apes,” which was mostly shot in Morgan City. (The Daily Review/Zachary Fitzgerald)

‘Tarzan of the Apes’ celebrates centennial in Morgan City

The first ever Tarzan movie featured the swampy forests of Morgan City as its backdrop a century ago.

Edgar Rice Burroughs Dum-Dum Conference & Tarzan Celebration started Thursday at Clarion Inn in Morgan City. The event, hosted by Cajun Coast Visitors & Convention Bureau and Burroughs Bibliophiles, ends Sunday.

The conference celebrated the 100th anniversary of the release of “Tarzan of the Apes,” a 1918 silent film that was the first Tarzan movie made and filmed mostly in the Morgan City area.

The film was based on the 1912 Edgar Rice Burroughs novel by the same name. Scott Sidney directed the film that starred Elmo Lincoln, Enid Markey, George B. French and Gordon Griffith.

Representatives with Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., based in Tarzana, California, were on hand for the conference. The company licenses Tarzan and the literary works of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

“‘Tarzan of the Apes’ has a tremendous film legacy, and it all began in Morgan City,” said Scott Tracy Griffin, director of special projects for Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc.

Fifty-two Tarzan movies and seven TV series have been made over the years, Griffin said.

Al Bohl of Bossier City helped create a documentary about the film in 2012 titled “Tarzan Lord of the Louisiana Jungle.” Bohl is also a talented arts teacher who teaches stop-motion animation in the Bossier Parish public school system.

Filming for “Tarzan of the Apes” took place in 1917 in Morgan City and was one the first films to be shot on location, Bohl said.

Filming took almost two months. But the film production staff was in Morgan City a lot longer to prepare for filming. They rented the Shannon Hardware building on Front Street along with a warehouse on the banks of the Atchafalaya River where they built sets and costumes, Bohl said.

Location scouts considered many different place places to film the movie and almost decided to film it in Florida.

But they decided to film in Morgan City because the area had a good railroad system, large population of African-Americans to play natives and a jungle that fit Burroughs’ description of Africa.

“Burroughs never went to Africa. So he just made up this place, and it was moss-laden trees and all that,” Bohl said.

“Tarzan of the Apes” became one of the first movies to make over $1 million in its initial release and is considered one of the top six silent films of that era, he said.

Part of the sequel, “The Romance of Tarzan” was also filmed in 1917 in Morgan City.

Bohl’s interest in “Tarzan of the Apes” began many years ago while he was having breakfast with someone from Morgan City and learned that the first Tarzan movie was made here.

Bohl learned that the filmmakers brought apes to put in the movie, and just left the apes in the forest when they finished filming.

“That just grabbed me and stayed with me,” Bohl said.

His daughter, Allison DeHart of Lafayette, later became a filmmaker, and the two began work in 2008 to produce a documentary on the 1918 film.

The documentary premier was held in Morgan City in 2012. That documentary led to the 2018 conference with representatives from Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc.

Conference organizers hosted a screening Thursday of “Tarzan of the Apes.”

“When we got the original film, it was all messed up. It had been edited so many times. So we took it, put it back in the right order. We added a whole new orchestral score. So now it’s very watchable and entertaining,” Bohl said.

Bohl hopes Morgan City’s connection to the film can help bring more tourists to the area.

“The film industry is gaining back ground in Louisiana,” Bohl said.

Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser has added Morgan City to his movie tour throughout the state where he will visit different places movies were filmed.

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