Go Ape

Everyone knows what the “Tarzan yell” sounds like in the version popularised by Johnny Weissmuller (and unlike most of his successors he actually makes it sound scary, especially if you’re not expecting it):

But what did Edgar Rice Burroughs intend it to sound like? That’s much harder to say.

Burroughs simply described it as the supposedly terrifying “victory cry of the bull ape.” Unfortunately, there is no particular sound in real life that this description picks out: when apes are fighting, they mainly grunt or screech – not in an especially terrifying way (and once a fight is over they’re usually quiet):

There’s one particular sound – the word mangani or tarmangani (in Burroughs’ fictional language, meaning “ape” and “white ape/white man” respectively) yelled with a rising pitch – that was used in the 1932 Tarzan radio serial and the 1935 movie New Adventures of Tarzan. Burroughs himself was heavily involved in both productions, leading some to speculate that this is Burroughs’ intended sound; you can hear it at 14:14 here:

But it’s not especially prepossessing.

If one wants a sound that seems like it might actually involve an ape, I’d suggest something like this:

That one sounds like a cross between a lion’s roar and a gorilla’s grunt, which might be about right. But who knows?

7 Responses to Go Ape

  1. Roderick July 19, 2009 at 1:06 am #

    I say “popularised by Johnny Weissmuller,” but I should note that there’s dispute about how much is Weissmuller and how much is sound effects.

    • Richard Garner July 19, 2009 at 7:12 am #

      I was going to ask how Weismuller could have made those shifts in tone, that yodelling sound!

      I wonder about Christopher Lambert’s Tarzan in [i]Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan[/i], that, if not apelike, definitely seems more bestial. (clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBRhpFnnxcE).

      • Roderick July 19, 2009 at 10:48 am #

        Link doesn’t work. 🙁

        • Richard Garner July 19, 2009 at 3:20 pm #

          Rats! It should be this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBRhpFnnxcE But when I click on it it says that it has been removed. Cutting and pasting the url into the url bar seems to work.

        • Robert Hutchinson July 19, 2009 at 4:34 pm #

          I think the ). at the end is being hauled unwillingly into the link.

  2. Bill Hillman July 19, 2009 at 10:36 am #



    Bill Hillman
    Editor and Webmaster for the
    Edgar Rice Burroughs Tribute Websites and Webzines

  3. Roderick July 20, 2009 at 8:25 pm #

    Someone should do a movie in which, when Tarzan opens his mouth to yell, what comes out is that yodel-y thing from the soundtrack of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

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