Elmo Lincoln Poster


Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (2) | Spouse (2) | Trivia (2) | Salary (1)

Overview (4)

Date of Birth 6 February 1889Rochester, Indiana, USA
Date of Death 27 June 1952Los Angeles, California, USA  (heart attack)
Birth NameOtto Elmo Linkenhelt
Height 5' 11½" (1.82 m)

Mini Bio (2)

He was the first Tarzan. A former Arkansas peace officer, Elmo Linkenhelt worked in D.W. Griffith's "The Battle of Elderbush Gulch" (1912). In a fight scene his shirt was partially torn off, displaying his powerful chest. Griffith noticed, called him over, and told him "That's quite a chest you have there". Griffith changed the name to Elmo Lincoln and featured him in several of his films. He got the role in "Tarzan of the Apes" when, a few days after production began, World War I broke out an the man originally contracted to play Tarzan (Stellan Windrow), a Naval Reserve officer, was recalled to active duty. The film was a box office smash, one of the first to earn over a million dollars. It's sequel, "Romance of Tarzan" just broke even. He did three successful serials and a feature for Universal Film Manufacturing before returning in "The Adventures of Tarzan" in 1921, his last Apeman performance. His final silent performance was in a cheap Rayart serial "King of the Jungle" (1927) after which he moved to Mexico and invested in mining. He came back to play a number of bit parts and appeared briefly in the Seal Brothers Circus as "The Original Tarzan in Person". In 1949 he had a part as a fisherman in "Tarzan's Magic Fountain". Just before his death he had a bit part in "Carrie" which starred one of his heroes, Lawrence Olivier.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

Elmo Lincoln, the original "Tarzan" of the movies, was born Otto Elmo Linkenhelt in Rochester, Indiana on February 6, 1889, into a middle-class family of seven. The largest child in his class at Lincoln School, Elmo developed a reputation as a prankster, hopping trains as a teen. He headed to California after he turned 18.

Elmo's grandfather was the town's first marshal, and at one point of his life, Elmo himself served as a lawman in Arkansas. Returning to Calfornia, the muscular Elmo became a stevedore down on the waterfront. Reportedly, director D.W. Griffith first spotted him at work as a longshoreman and cast him in The Battle of Elderbush Gulch (1913). During a fight scene, Elmo's shirt was partially torn off, displaying his powerful 52-inch chest and giving the great director the idea to promote Elmo to bigger roles as befitting his manly physique. Griffith changed his name to Elmo Lincoln and used him as a bit player before featuring him in two of his greatest films, including the role of the blacksmith White Arm Joe in The Birth of a Nation (1915) and the Mighty Man of Valor in _Intolerance: Love's Struggle Through the Ages (1916)_ . He likely would have remained a supporting player if fate didn't intervene in the guise of World War I.

In 1916, Edgar Rice Burroughs decided to produce a movie adaptation of his 1914 novel "Tarzan of the Apes" himself after being turned down by other studios, who were afraid of what promised to be a very expensive production. He offered the rights to the novel to former Chicago life insurance salesman William Parsons, who had achieved renown outside of the insurance racket as the movie actor ''Smiling Billy' Parsons' . Parsons formed a production company, the National Film Corporation of America, and gave Burroughs $50,000 in NFC stock. Burroughs ceded control of the movie to Parsons, a decision he would later regret when Smiling Billy cast Elmo Lincoln as Tarzan over his objections.

Someone more to Burroughs liking, the New York-based Swedish-American actor Stellan Windrow (who went by the name Winslow Wilson), had been cast as the lead of NFC's Tarzan of the Apes (1918). In the spring of 1917, production began in Louisiana, which was standing in for Africa (stock footage of the Brazilian Amazon would be cut into the picture to provide authentic jungle scenes). After finishing five weeks of shooting in Louisiana, Windrow, an ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve, was called to active duty by the U.S. Navy. The producers sought a replacement, and a few weeks after production had been suspended, they brought Elmo Lincoln from Los Angeles to Louisiana to play Tarzan.

Lincoln was a stocky man, listed at 5'11" (1.82 meters) tall and weighing between 200 through 230 pounds in his career. Afraid of heights, Lincoln had trouble performing in the trees, and the arboreal shots in the final cut feature the more-athletically built Windrow (who was 6'4"/1.93 meters tall), while Elmo loped along on the ground and fought lions. Parsons decided not to re-shoot the tree sequences with the vertically timid Elmo, and kept the Windrow footage in the picture. The studio paid Windrow $1,000 for a release surrendering his right to be credited in the film.

Rumor has it that Elmo's first filmed scene in the picture had him actually killing an old, tame, toothless lion that served as a studio mascot, something he did warily as the pusillanimous uber-pussy was so inoffensive. Although any encounter with a wild animal, no matter how "tame," carries with it some hazards, it is unlikely that the story Parsons spread about the shooting of the scene was true. Parsons said that in the scene where Elmo's Tarzan fought the lion, the tranquilizer used to drug it seemed only to make the feline ferocious, and he attacked Elmo for real, as the cameras were rolling. According to this tale, Elmo battled the beast for his very life, finally killing it with his prop knife, all the while the impromptu battle taking place before the camera and crew remarkably remaining within focus. Elmo, with his experience with Griffith as a professional actor, allegedly did not ruin the shot but stayed in character, planting his foot on the dead lion and giving out a savage cry after he had slain the maddened beast. The scene is in the movie, and the story made good copy for the fan magazines. The unfortunate feline, which had given up one of its many lives for cinematic glory, was stuffed, mounted, and displayed at the movie's premiere at New York City's Broadway Theatre.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, who had envisioned his Tarzan as gracefully athletic, was appalled by the beefy, beastly looking actor who brought his character to life on the screen. But it was a presence that set early 20th Century hearts in the audience aflutter. An impressive hunk of beefcake for ladies still wearing skirts that came down to their ankles, Elmo's bare 52-inch barrel chest was thrown out in every scene, his sheer physical bulk creating the commanding presence of a noble if primitive savage. This is not a Tarzan who swings lithely from the trees (without his "double" Windrow/Wilson, anyway), but a primal force more akin to King Kong, a brute who would as soon as knock down a tree as swing from it.

Characteristically, like some strange apparition glimpsed by modern eyes or as in a dream regurgitated from the collective unconscious' memory of the Garden of Eden, Elmo's Tarzan lopes through the jungle before suddenly stopping, one leg forward of the other, caught in mid-stride. His shoulders thrown back, chest expanded, his chin titled upward, Tarzan slowly turns his head to survey the jungle of which he is lord and master. He dominates his physical surroundings through his sheer physical bulk and primitive force.

This statuesque Tarzan overpowers his antagonists and throws them around like the mannequins they not infrequently were. Elmo's Tarzan, he of the fear of heights, undertakes his arboreal constitutionals by walking on tree limbs, though occasionally, he swing does down to the ground on a vine or climbs a tree. This Tarzan carries a rope with him and tosses it around a branch in order to swing over an obstacle, leaving the jungle gymnastics to a later generation best exemplified by the authentically athletic Johnny Weismuller.

Released by First National, the eight-reel Tarzan of the Apes (1918) was a huge, big-chested hit, turning a profit of $1 million (approximately $14.4 million in 2005 dollars). Elmo became a heart-throb to the post-Victorian set still wearing petticoats along with their knickers. Someone less enamored of Elmo, Edgar Rice Burroughs, was also upset with his hand-picked producer, William Parsons. The script for the initial "Tarzan" movie had stuck to his original story, but during production, Smiling Billy rewrote it, taking the story far away from the original, and adding new characters and situations. Though Burroughs objected, Parsons reminded him that he had surrendered control over the production when he sold the rights.

Parsons immediately launched the production of a sequel over Burroughs' protests. Parsons claimed that he had acquired the rights to film the entire first "Tarzan" novel and was free to incorporate the bits of the novel that did not appear in the first movie into the sequel. The relationship between the producer and the writer would further erode when Burroughs was forced to sue Smiling Billy for unpaid royalties.

After appearing as a blacksmith in Universal's hit The Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin (1918), Elmo and his Jane, actress Enid Markey, were reunited in the sequel, the low-budget The Romance of Tarzan (1918). The script by screenwriter Bess Meredyth had little in common with Burroughs' novel. The first hit movie had been set in the jungle, but the sequel contained little jungle action and followed Tarzan as Jane takes him back to England. Tarzan becomes disillusioned with Western Civilization and returns to the jungle, along with Jane, who gives up a life of luxury to live with him without benefit of clergy.

Critics enjoyed the jungle scenes but were put off by scenes of Tarzan entering high society, clad in a tuxedo. Critics also complained about the lack of quality of this hastily shot, bargain basement quickie and gave it mixed reviews. The movie only broke even at the box office, but its success of sorts indicated that the franchise was still alive, and Burroughs intended to go on without Smiling Billy Parsons now that his option had expired.

Burroughs signed a deal with the Poverty Row studio Numa Pictures, an outfit specializing in low-budget quickies. He signed with Numa as the company promised to faithfully adapt his books, and also because it had a deal with the Goldwyn Distribution Co. Numa's script for "The Return of Tarzan" had little resemblance to Burroughs work, but although the writer objected, he was as ignored as he had been under Smiling Billy Parsons' production regime.

Numa tried to sign Elmo to reprise Tarzan, but the heavy-chested hunk was under contract to Universal and thus, unavailable. After conducting a talent search, the studio settled on Gene Pollar, who under his real name, Eugene Pohler, was a New York City fireman who had never acted before. He was chosen because of his 6'2" 215 lbs. physique and because he looked good in dress clothes, as Tarzan again would be transported back to "Civilization" in the second sequel. Unlike Elmo, however, Pollar would not be allowed to flounce upon the screen bare-chested; to obviate the male "nudity" in order to forestall censorship troubles, Pollar's Tarzan would wear an over-the-shoulder animal skin to cover up his torso, as well as leggings to cover his thighs.

Goldwyn Releasing did not like the title "The Return of Tarzan," thinking audiences would think it a re-release of one of the Elmo Lincoln pictures. Instead, the film was retitled and released as The Revenge of Tarzan (1920). Regardless of the title change, the critics savaged the film worse than they had the initial sequel, pining over the loss of Lincoln and scoring the producers for once again taking Tarzan out of the jungle. The film was a hit despite the bad reviews, and the prospects for the third sequel, which had begun filming even before the release of "Revenge," were good. The new "Tarzan" film would be unique as it did not focus on Tarzan but on his son.

Smiling Billy Parsons had died in 1919, and with that obstacle out of the way, the original "Tarzan" production company NFC signed a new deal with Burroughs for _Son of Tarzan (1920)_. Under the new NFC deal, Burroughs received $20,000, plus a profit participation in the picture. NFC wanted Elmo for the role, but his was still bound by contract to Universal. Numa would only surrender Elmo's successor Pollar for the then outlandish sum of $800 a week (approximately $8,600 in 2005 dollars), so they passed on him. A new talent search was conducted for yet a new Tarzan, and the opera singer Perce Dempsey Tabler (a.k.a. Percy Dempsey Tabler or P. Dempsey Tabler), a balding middle-aged actor with a nonathletic, let alone non-he-mannish build, was chosen. That his Lord of the Jungle had to wear a badly fitted toupee only compounded the insult and injury for the audience.

This Tarzan was but a supporting player in the production, which focused on his son being kidnapped from England and taken to Africa. "Son of Tarzan" was shot and released as a 15-chapter serial, and despite the downplaying of Tarzan/Lord Greystoke, it was another big hit. The serial also got good reviews, and both critics and fans approved of the marriage of Tarzan and Jane, who would no longer be portrayed as "swingers" living in sin. However, though the franchise now had new life in it, it had no Tarzan. Pollar had quit the thespian racket to return to fire-fighting, and Tabler was ill-suited to play the Lord of the Jungle

Like Sean Connery after George Lazenby failed to carry the franchise, Elmo was brought back for a swan-song after Pollar and Tabler failed to adequately fill his loin cloth. At this point in cinematic history, only one actor had proven himself a success as the apeman: Elmo Lincoln. Aside from his big screen apeman antics, Elmo was starring at Universal in action-oriented feature films and serials, including Elmo, the Mighty (1919) and _Elmo the Fearless (1921) . In order to get the great Elmo back into the jungle, the production company Great Western acquired Numa Pictures' rights to make an additional "Tarzan" movie. Great Western was linked to Universal, which released Elmo for the role.

Elmo's last swing around the jungle, The Adventures of Tarzan (1921), which would be released as a 15-part serial, was based on two of Burroughs' novels, the denouement of "Return of Tarzan" and parts of "Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar." It was to prove to be Elmo's last appearance in a Tarzan picture as a lead, though subsequently he appeared in two other "Tarzan" pictures in bit roles. The 30-something Tarzan, his paunch mercifully concealed by the full costume mandated by censorship concerns (these were the days when men did not expose their chests in bathing costumes while at the beach), was given a new 16-year-old Jane played by Louise Lorraine. The movie was shot in a "jungle" that was a set on a studio sound stage, though desert scenes were shot on location in Arizona. Elmo no longer was allowed to perform most of his own stunt work as the producer's insurance company refused to allow the star to be placed at risk. (Elmo's stunt double Frank Merrill would go on to star as the Lord of the Jungle himself, in the last silent and first sound "Tarzan" features at the end of the decade.)

"The Adventures of Tarzan" was a box office smash, ranking as the fourth biggest money-maker of 1921, out-grossing Rudolph Valentino's The Sheik (1921) and Dream Street (1921), the latest film from Elmo's mentor, D. W. Griffith. Tarzan, played by Elmo Lincoln, was at the very height of his popularity in the cinema, but another "Tarzan" movie would not be made for five years as Burroughs sought a new studio that would give him artistic control over his creation. It was a search he made in vain.

Elmo had very, very modest gifts as an actor, but his lack of sophistication gave his romantic scenes a certain guileless genuineness that was in character with the Lord of the Jungle, who after all, wasn't supposed to be used to spooning with dames, his swinging being limited to vine-work. A beefcake heart-throb inundated with fans letters from women who wrote him love poetry, the idol of a generation of movie-going boys, Elmo was able to make a good deal of money which he unwisely invested in a silver mine. Such was his fame, he had the gall to challenge the great heavy-weight champion Jack Dempsey to a bout of fisticuffs, but the Manassas Mauler ignored him.

Movie fame is fleeting, and when grasped in the hands it can prove to be a two-edged sword. Like Sean Connery and other actors closely linked to the character that made them a star, Elmo Lincoln was typecast; he was not permitted out of his gilded ghetto as an action hero. His fame began to wane, and just before the dawn of the sound era, Elmo's star went into eclipse. Having never proved his ability at anything other than star turns in the action genre, he was demoted to bit parts. In 1926, he retired from films and went into the salvage business in Salt Lake City, where he enjoyed a modest success.

Elmo eventually returned to Tinsel Town in 1939, and once again found work in bit parts, including the remake of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) (he had also appeared in the first 1923 version with Lon Chaney). He appeared in two "Tarzan" movies, in Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942) with Johnny Weissmuller, the greatest Tarzan of the talking pictures, and in Tarzan's Magic Fountain (1949) with `Lex Barker' as the apeman in the loincloth. Elmo Lincoln lobbied the movie industry to establish up a pension for silent screen actors, and proposed the creation of the Intermajor Studios Stock Co. to employ out-of- work silent screen actors, to be financed by the studios. Lacking any economic muscle, the studios brushed aside his proposals.

Elmo began appearing with the Seal Brothers Circus, billed as "The Original Tarzan," displaying his expanded 63-inch chest through the age of 60. His last work was playing tiny roles in Charles Starrett low budget westerns at Columbia Studios for the not insubstantial sum of 55 dollars a day (about $600 a day in 2005 dollars). He appeared billed as a detective in George Cukor's A Double Life (1947) and unbilled in William Wyler's Carrie (1952).

Elmo Lincoln died of a heart attack in the middle of a cough in 1952. He was sixty-three years old.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood

Spouse (2)

Ida Lee Tanchick (1935 - ?)
Sadie Whited (? - ?) (second wife)

Trivia (2)

burial: Hollywood Memorial Park
It is mistakenly thought that Lincoln's performance as Tarzan in Tarzan of the Apes (1918) was the first time the character ever appeared on screen. Technically, this is wrong. The first actor to play Tarzan in a movie was Gordon Griffith who appears in Tarzan of the Apes (1918), playing the character as a child before Lincoln appears on screen.

Salary (1)

Hollywood Story (1951) $15 /day

See also

Other Works | Publicity Listings | Official Sites | Contact Info

Contribute to This Page