On March 25, 1932, the classic film Tarzan the Ape Man, starring former Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan, premiered in New York City.
The famous movie misquote associated with this movie is “Me Tarzan, you Jane.”
It’s a misquote because Weissmuller didn’t actually say the line in that film or any of the other Tarzan movies he starred in between 1932 and 1948.
Nor does the line “Me Tarzan, you Jane” appear in any of the original Tarzan stories or books written by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
But Weissmuller did say it, jokingly, in an interview published in the June 1932 issue of Photoplay magazine.
He told the Photoplay reporter:
“I didn’t have to act in Tarzan, the Ape Man — just said, ‘Me Tarzan, you Jane.’”
After that, his quip became an oft-used comic catchphrase that many people mistakenly assume came from one of Weissmuller’s Tarzan movies.
Lupe Velez, the “Mexican Spitfire.”
Velez was married to Weissmuller for five tempestuous years in the 1930s, at the height of his fame and hers. Their fights were legendary.
After their divorce, Velez joked that she spoke English poorly because “I was married to a guy who can only say, ‘Me Tarzan, you Jane.’”
When Weissmuller died in 1984, the Associated Press obituary for him noted that a reporter once asked him to explain his movie success, given his lack of acting skills.
Weissmuller responded, this time seriously: “How can a guy climb trees, say ‘Me, Tarzan, you, Jane,’ and make a million? The public forgives my acting because they know I was an athlete. They know I wasn’t make-believe.”
Of course, if you’re a true Tarzan fan, you probably know that Weissmuller’s “Me Tarzan, you Jane” quip is a take-off on a humorous scene in his 1932 film Tarzan the Ape Man.
In that scene, Tarzan learns the words me, you, Jane and Tarzan, though he doesn’t put them together in the famous formulation.
After Tarzan saves Jane (actress Maureen O’Sullivan) from a leopard, she tries to communicate with him.
The resulting conversation is almost like an Abbott and Costello comedy routine.
JANE: “Thank you for protecting me.”
JANE: “I said, thank you for protecting me.”
JANE: “No. I’m only ‘Me’ for me.”
TARZAN: (Pointing at Jane again.) “Me.”
JANE: “No. To you, I’m ‘You.’”
TARZAN: (Pointing at himself.) “You.”
JANE: “No. I’m Jane Parker. Understand? Jane. Jane.”
TARZAN: (Pointing at her.) “Jane. Jane. Jane.”
JANE: “Yes, Jane! (She points at him.) And, you? (She points at herself again.) Jane.”
TARZAN: (Pointing at her) “Jane.”
JANE: “And you? (Pointing at him.) You?”
TARZAN: (Jabbing himself in the chest.) “Tarzan! Tarzan!”
TARZAN: (Pointing at her and them himself.) “Jane. Tarzan.”
At this point, Weissmuller begins repeatedly poking her chest, then his own, saying “Jane. Tarzan. Jane. Tarzan.” — faster and faster — until O’Sullivan finally begs him to stop.
Of course, in the original Tarzan stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan spoke a number of languages fluently — including grammatically correct English.
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