Ron Ely, Doc Savage and Television’s Tarzan
The 15th screen Tarzan (if you don’t count Gordon Griffith) was to have played a Tarzan impersonator in a projected Mike Henry television show, which never materialized. He had been tested 14 months earlier when Henry got the part. Prior to Tarzan, he was seen sharing screen time with Clint Walker in The Night of the Grizzly (1966), Mitzi Gaynor in South Pacific (1958) and Clifton Webb in The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker (1959).
Ron Ely’s first big break was playing the recurring role of Mike Madison on the television series, The Acquanauts. Professional salvage divers Larry, Drake and Mike (played by Ron Ely), made their living braving the dangers of deep water, recovering sunken wrecks off the Southern California coast. Frequently, these assignments brought them into conflict with more human dangers from people who wanted to reach the wrecks first, or who had a vested interest in seeing that what had been sent to the bottom stayed there. Midway through the program’s run, the divers moved their shop to Malibu, and name of the show became Malibu Run.
In 1966, Ron Ely signed to play the lead role of Tarzan (a.k.a. Lord Greystoke), in a successful television series that ran two full seasons. Already well educated and fed up with civilization, Tarzan returned to the jungle and, more-or-less assisted by chimpanzee Cheetah and orphan boy Jai, waged war against poachers and other bad guys. Guest stars included Julie Harris, Jock Mahoney, James Earl Jones, Ethel Merman, Simon Oakland and Diana Ross, among others. The series was so successful he even starred in two movies made from that series in 1970. Ely claims that he refused to use a stunt double in his vine-swinging or animal fights, and as a result he was often injured on the set. It has been noted by Tarzan fans that Ely’s physical appearance and dialogue were much more like those of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ character than could be said for any other Tarzan.
In 1975, Ron Ely won the sought-after role of Doc Savage for George Pal’s 1975 motion-picture of the same name. While fans of the pulp magazines don’t feel the movie lives up to the expectations of the printed page, it’s still a fun film. During the late thirties, Doc Savage and his five Amazing Adventurers are sucked into the mystery of Doc’s father disappearing in the wilds of South America. The maniacal Captain Seas tries to thwart them at every turn as they travel to the country of Hidalgo to investigate Doc’s father’s death and uncover a vast horde of Incan gold. It was reported that a sequel had been filmed in the Lake Tahoe area simultaneously with the principal photography for the first Doc Savage movie, but the sequel was never completed because of the poor box office for that first film. George Pal, famous for The Time Machine (1960) and War of the Worlds (1953), passed away shortly after this movie was released in theaters, possibly another reason why a sequel was never completed.
Ron Ely was among the celebrity guests at the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, signing autographs for fans and posing for photos!
A Selection of Ron Ely’s Television Career
Father Knows Best, “Crisis Over A Kiss” (February 9, 1959)
Thriller, “Waxworks” (January 8, 1962, hosted by Boris Karloff)
Steve Canyon, “The Sergeant” (March 26, 1959)
The Adventures of Superboy, “The Road to Hell, Part Two” (May 25, 1991)
How to Marry a Millionaire, “The Method” (July 30, 1959, with Barbara Eden)
The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, “Pain” (October 22, 1969)
The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, “The Posse” (May 10, 1960)
Playhouse 90, “The Second Happiest Day” (June 25, 1959)
Ironside, “Killing at the Track” (February 4, 1971)
Marcus Welby, M.D., “To Father a Child” (October 1, 1974)
Wonder Woman, “The Deadly Sting” (October 6, 1978, with Lynda Carter)
A Selection of Ron Ely’s Movie Career
South Pacific (1958, with Mitzi Gaynor)
The Fiend Who Walked the West (1958, with Hugh O’Brian)
Once Before I Die (1966, with Ursula Andress and John Derek)
Slavers (1978, with Ray Milland and Trevor Howard)
The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker (1958, with Dorothy McGuire)
The Night of the Grizzly (1966, with Clint Walker)