March 25, 2016

The story behind the famous movie misquote: “Me Tarzan, you Jane.”

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.

Another Hollywood star who used the line for humorous effect was Weissmuller’s second wife, the exotic Mexican dancer and actress 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.”

TARZAN: (Pointing at her.) “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!”

JANE: “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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March 21, 2016

“Life is unfair,” as President John F. Kennedy famously observed on this date…

Many people are familiar with the famous quotation by President John F. Kennedy, “Life is unfair.”

But few people today remember or know the context of this quote.

It was something he said, in part, with respect to what would become the Vietnam War.

In 1961, the newly-elected president decided to send more than a thousand American “military advisors” to South Vietnam, where the pro-Western regime of President Ngo Dinh Diem faced mounting threats from Communist insurgents and the North Vietnamese army.

In 1962, Kennedy increased the American presence in Vietnam to nearly 10,000 troops.

When Army reservists began being called up to serve there, after recently being stationed on another Cold War front in West Berlin, some complained that they had “done their time” and expressed their resentment by holding public demonstrations. One reservist even began a hunger strike.

President Kennedy was asked about this opposition during a press conference held on March 21, 1962.

He responded by saying that calling up the reservists “strengthened the foreign policy of the United States.”

After making this political point, Kennedy waxed philosophical.

“There is always inequity in life,” he said. “Some men are killed in a war and some men are wounded, and some men never leave the country, and some men are stationed in the Antarctic and some are stationed in San Francisco. It’s very hard in military or in personal life to assure complete equality. Life is unfair.”

Since then, those last three words have often been quoted, generally without any context.

When put into the original context, this quote might not fit the liberal image of JFK that many people have.

In fact, Kennedy was a committed Cold Warrior. He essentially accepted the “Domino theory” articulated by his predecessor, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and believed the spread of Communism needed to be stopped—by military means if necessary.

Thus, Kennedy shared Eisenhower’s concern that a potential takeover of South Vietnam by Communists could cause more “falling dominos” in Southeast Asia.

Eisenhower was the first president to send American servicemen to Vietnam. In the early 1950s, he sent a handful of U.S. “military advisors” there to aid France in its unsuccessful effort to keep Vietnam as a colony.

After the French were ousted and Vietnam was split into South and North Vietnam in 1954, Eisenhower sent more “military advisors” to help support Ngo Dinh Diem’s fledgling government in South Vietnam. But the numbers were still relatively small; from 750 to 1,500 U.S. servicemen between 1955 and 1960.

When Kennedy became president, he took more significant steps toward getting the U.S. entangled in what we now call the Vietnam War.

In 1961, he sent 3,200 American “military advisors” to South Vietnam. He increased that number in 1962. By the time of his assassination on November 22, 1963, Kennedy had sent a total of more than 16,000 U.S. servicemen to Vietnam and more than 100 had been killed.

Kennedy’s successor Lyndon Baines Johnson dramatically escalated U.S. involvement in Vietnam. By 1968, LBJ had committed more than half a million US troops to the war.

When Richard M. Nixon became president in 1969, he began to withdraw American troops, pushed the South Vietnamese government to increasingly fight the war on its own and entered fruitless peace negotiations with the North Vietnamese.

Nixon resigned in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate scandal and Gerald Ford became president. By that time there were only a small number of American troops left in Vietnam. Most were there primarily to guard the U.S. embassy in Saigon.

Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese on April 30, 1975, bringing the Vietnam War to an ignominious end.

More than 58,000 American servicemen and women were killed during the course of the war.

Somewhere between 1 and 3 million North and South Vietnamese men, women and children were killed.

Ultimately, all of those deaths did not prevent Communists from controlling South Vietnam. Today, nobody in the U.S. seems to care that Vietnam is a Communist state.

Life, as President Kennedy noted, is unfair.

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March 15, 2016

“I'll make him an offer he can't refuse.”

I am big fan of the Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel The Godfather and the movie that was made from it in 1972.

I am also a big fan of vintage men’s adventure magazines. In fact, I write a blog about them (

I have also edited and written introductions to four anthologies of classic men’s adventure magazine stories for the Men’s Adventure Library series published by New Texture Books.

If you’re not a fan of those venerable periodicals from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, you may not know that Mario Puzo made his living writing wild action and adventure stories for them before The Godfather made him famous.

Puzo wrote some of his men’s adventure yarns under his own name. But the majority were written under the pseudonym “Mario Cleri.”

And he wrote a lot of them. I’d guesstimate around 200. (An example of a men’s adventure yarn Puzo wrote under the pen name Mario Cleri, featuring artwork by Gil Cohen, is shown below.)

Most of those stories appeared in men’s adventure magazines published by subsidiaries of Magazine Management, the publishing company owned by Martin Goodman.

Magazine Management put out some of the best men’s adventure mags, such as Action for Men, For Men Only, Male, Man’s World, Men and Stag. (It also launched Marvel Comics.)

Puzo was hired as a Magazine Management writer around 1959 by Bruce Jay Friedman, another talented writer who worked for the company before he became a world famous novelist (and playwright and scriptwriter). At the time, Friedman was the editor of several of the company’s men’s adventure magazines and its Playboy competitor, Swank

Mario Puzo Godfather in MALE, August 1969Puzo had written one novel before joining the Magazine Management staff. He wrote several others in his spare time while working for the company in the 1960s.

But he didn’t become successful as a novelist until 1969, when his fifth novel, The Godfather, was published on March 10 of that year by Putnam’s.

The iconic cover of the novel with the hand holding the marionette control bar (later used for the movie posters) was designed by S. Neil Fujita.

Not long after The Godfather was published, Puzo stopped writing for men’s adventure magazines. But he maintained warm relations with Magazine Management.

In August 1969 an abridged version of The Godfather was featured in the August 1969 issue of Male, along with an outstanding Godfather-themed cover painting by Mort Kunstler (shown at right) and equally cool interior illustrations by Earl Norem (shown below).

Puzo didn’t reach the height of his fame until a few years later, after the movie became a critical smash and box office blockbuster.

Although the movie is a fairly faithful adaptation of the novel by Hollywood standards, largely because Puzo co-wrote the script with director Francis Ford Coppola, there are some differences. One is related to the movie’s best known line.

Early in the novel, the Italian singer and actor Johnny Fontane tells Mafia “Godfather” Don Vito Corleone that a Hollywood movie executive had refused to give him a role he wanted in an upcoming film.

Don Corleone tells Johnny he’ll convince the studio executive to change his mind. When Johnny seems skeptical, Corleone gives a simple explanation of why he’s confident:

“He’s a businessman,” the Don said blandly. “I’ll make him an offer he can't refuse.”

Corleone sends his consigliere, Tom Hagen, to visit the studio exec and make a seemingly polite request to have Johnny reconsidered for the movie role.

The studio exec refuses, haughtily and hotly.

Soon after that, he finds the severed head of his prized stud racehorse in his bed—and quickly decides to give Johnny the role.

Mario Puzo story as Mario Cleri, MALE, Feb 1967Mario Puzo's The Godfather in MALE August 1969

Later in the novel, after Vito’s son Michael Corleone takes over the family business, Michael predicts that another mobster who had declined the family’s offer to buy his casino will change his mind.

Echoing his father, Michael says simply: “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

Soon, that mobster is dead and Michael’s family owns the casino.

As you probably know, these same events are played out in the movie version of The Godfather, which was released in the USA on March 15, 1972.

In the movie, the famous “offer” line used by Marlon Brando, as Don Vito Corleone, is not quite the same as in the book.

Brando says: “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

Later in the film, Al Pacino, as Michael, says the same line that Vito and Michael say in Puzo’s novel: “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

When The Godfather debuted in movie theaters, it was an immediate hit. It was soon a huge one that broke multiple box office records.

Almost overnight, “an offer he can’t refuse” became a national catchphrase.

Of course, in the novel and film the “offer” is a veiled threat used with chilling effect.

As part of our language, mentions of offers that can’t be refused are now typically used more for humorous effect.

One mob-related example is in HBO’s mob family series The Sopranos.

In Episode 4, the character Uncle Junior (played by Dominic Chianese) tells what he views as a funny joke:

“You hear about the Chinese Godfather? He made them an offer they couldn’t understand.”

If any members of a Chinese Tong are reading this, please don’t send me any offers.

I admit Junior’s quip did make me chuckle a little when I watched that episode. But I know it’s not funny at all and I promise never repeat it again. I swear.

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March 11, 2016

On this date, “A Raisin in the Sun” exploded on Broadway

On March 11, 1959, the play A Raisin in the Sun, written by Lorraine Hansberry, premiered at the Ethel Barrymore Theater in New York City.

It was the first Broadway play written by a black woman.

It was the first Broadway play directed by a black director, Lloyd Richards.

And, rather unexpectedly, Hansberry’s intimate story about hopes and troubles of “one Negro family” in segregated Southside Chicago was a critical and popular success.

The play significantly boosted the acting careers of cast members Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Ivan Dixon and Louis Gossett, Jr. — who went on to star in the highly-praised film version.

It also made the phrase “a raisin in the sun” familiar to millions of people.

Hansberry didn’t coin the title of her play. She took it from a famous poem by a groundbreaking “Harlem Renaissance” poet and novelist she admired, Langston Hughes.

The poem was originally titled “Harlem.” But it’s sometimes referred to as “A Dream Deferred” — partly because one of the lines in it includes that memorable phrase and partly because it first appeared in 1951 in a collection of Hughes’ poetry titled Montage of a Dream Deferred.

Race relations in America have obviously improved since 1951. But “Harlem” still packs a wallop.

It’s short and full of potent imagery.
Here’s the complete poem:

          What happens to a dream deferred?

          Does it dry up
          like a raisin in the sun?
          Or fester like a sore —
          And then run?
          Does it stink like rotten meat?
          Or crust and sugar over —
          like a syrupy sweet?

          Maybe it just sags
          like a heavy load.

          Or does it explode?

Although Lorraine Hansberry didn’t coin the phrase “a raisin in the sun,” she did create an equally famous one before her untimely death from pancreatic cancer in 1965.

The year before she died, Hansberry was invited to be a speaker at a ceremony honoring a group of bright, young African-Americans who had won a creative writing contest sponsored by the United Negro College Fund and Readers Digest.

Hansberry gave a brief, moving speech at that ceremony on May 1, 1964. In it, she coined the phrase “to be young, gifted, and black.”

“Apart from anything else,” Hansberry told the young writers, “I wanted to be able to come here and speak with you on this occasion because you are young, gifted, and black. In the month of May in the year 1964, I, for one, can think of no more dynamic combination that a person might be…The Negro writer stands surrounded by the whirling elements of this world. He stands neither on a fringe nor utterly involved: the prime observer waiting poised for inclusion…And that is why I say to you that, though it be a thrilling and marvelous thing to be merely young and gifted in such times, it is doubly so, doubly dynamic — to be young, gifted, and black. Look at the work that awaits you! Write if you will: but write about the world as it is and as you think it ought to be and must be — if there is to be a world. Write about all the things that men have written about since the beginning of writing and talking — but write to a point. Work hard at it, care about it. Write about our people: tell their story. You have something glorious to draw on begging for attention. Don't pass it up. Use it. Good luck to you. This Nation needs your gifts. Perfect them!”

In 1969, Hansberry’s ex-husband Robert Nemiroff used parts of her plays, speeches, essays, letters and unpublished works to create a play dramatizing her life. He titled it To Be Young, Gifted and Black and later published it as a book.

That year, Hansberry’s friend Nina Simone also released a stirring song that used the same title, which she wrote with musician and lyricist Weldon Irvine as a tribute to Hansberry.

“To Be Young, Gifted and Black” became Simone’s signature song and has been covered by many other great music artists, including Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway and Dionne Warwick.

In 2008, an African-American was elected President of the United States. In 2012, President Barack Obama was reelected for a second term.

Some of the credit for that highly visible sign of change surely goes to writers like Lorraine Hansberry and Langston Hughes, whose eloquent works helped raise awareness of and inspire the struggle for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s.

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March 06, 2016

“No rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

On March 6, 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court issued it’s controversial decision on Scott v. Sandford — generally referred to as “the Dred Scott case.”

The plaintiff, Dred Scott, was a slave purchased from the Blow family of St. Louis in 1831 by U.S. Army surgeon John Emerson.

Over the next 12 years, Emerson took Scott with him to various places where he was assigned. When Emerson died in 1843, Scott tried to purchase his freedom from the doctor’s widow, Irene. She denied his request.

So, in 1846, Scott sued for his freedom on the grounds that Dr. Emerson had previously taken him to Illinois, where slavery was prohibited by state law, and to the Wisconsin Territory, where federal law prohibited slavery as part of the “Missouri Compromise” in 1820.

Scott lost in his first trial, then won in a second — only to have that decision overturned by the Missouri State Supreme Court. In 1854, with the help of local abolitionists, Scott filed suit in Federal Court against John Sanford, Mrs. Emerson's brother and executor of the Emerson estate.

When that case was decided in favor of Sanford, Scott and his allies appealed it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The infamous, oft-quoted conclusion of the Supreme Court’s decision, written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, was that current or former slaves and their descendants had “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

Taney wrote in the majority decision:

“In the opinion of the court, the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show, that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves, nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument...They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit."

The Supreme Court’s decision in the Dred Scott case was among the most consequential in American history and key aspects of it are ironic in hindsight.

One irony is that the decision was not just a blow against the rights of blacks. It was also a blow to states rights, a principle often espoused by Southern states to justify slavery and oppose federal civil rights laws.

In the Dred Scott decision, the Supreme Court concluded that, under the U.S. Constitution, states had no right prohibit slavery. Many people on both sides of the slavery debate had hoped the Court’s decision would resolve the issue. Instead, it had the opposite effect. It made that issue hotter than ever and helped propel the country into a civil war that turned the temporary legal win of slaveholders into a final defeat.

The grave implications of the Dred Scott decision were clear to Abraham Lincoln. They were the main focus of his famous “House Divided” speech on June 16, 1858, at the Illinois Republican convention in Springfield, Illinois.

In that speech, Lincoln warned that the Court’s decision took away the rights of states to make their own decisions and would eventually force the legalization of slavery throughout the country.

“What Dred Scott's master might lawfully do with Dred Scott, in the free State of Illinois,” Lincoln said, “every other master may lawfully do with any other one, or one thousand slaves, in Illinois, or in any other free State.”

Using a quote from the Bible, Lincoln also made a famous, correct prediction:

‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved; I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction, or its advocates will push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in all the states, old as well as new, North as well as South.”

After the South lost the Civil War, the Dred Scott decision was nullified by the Thirteenth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which officially prohibited slavery nationwide and granted citizenship to former slaves. Dred Scott didn’t live to see those great legal victories. However, he did enjoy a brief period of freedom.

Shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision in 1857, Irene Emerson’s second husband convinced her to return ownership of Scott to the Blow family in St. Louis.

The head of the family at that time was Missouri Congressman Henry Taylor Blow, a strong opponent of slavery.

On May 26, 1857, Blow gave Scott his freedom — which was allowed under Missouri law despite the Supreme Court’s ruling that states could not prohibit slavery.

Once freed, Scott got a job working as a hotel porter in St. Louis.

A little over a year later, on September 17, 1858, he died from tuberculosis.

Today, his body lies in a grave in the Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis. For many years, it has been a local tradition to place Lincoln pennies on his headstone. Often, the pennies overflow and fall next to the commemorative marker on the ground, which says:


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March 01, 2016

The 1941 New Yorker cartoon that created the expression “Back to the old drawing board!”

Drawing boards have been used by engineers and architects for more than two centuries.

But the saying “back to the old drawing board” is more recent and can actually be traced to a specific source and date.

It was coined by the American artist Peter Arno in a cartoon first published in the March 1, 1941 issue of New Yorker magazine.

Arno created hundreds of classic cover and interior cartoons for the New Yorker from 1925 until his death in 1968. Many were compiled in a series of popular books.

The caption of one of those cartoons, first published in 1932, popularized the saying “This is a hell of a way to run a railroad!” 

Arno’s phrase-making 1941 cartoon shows a crashed military plane, with the pilot coming down by parachute in the background.

Uniformed military personnel are running toward the plane.

But a nerdy-looking guy in a suit, carrying a roll of papers under his arm, is walking away, saying (in the caption): “Well, back to the old drawing board.”

The nerd is presumably one of the engineers who designed the plane. He seems almost cheerful that he has more design work to do.

The rolled up papers he’s carrying are the engineering drawings for the plane, soon to be put back on his drawing board for modifications.

During World War II, Arno’s caption was picked up and transformed into an idiomatic expression.

The phrase “back to the old drawing board” (or just “back to the drawing board”) became a humorous way of saying that something didn’t work or isn’t working as planned, so a different option or plan is needed.

The expression is still in common use today, though few people know that it comes from a Peter Arno cartoon published on today’s date in 1941.

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Further reading: books featuring NEW YORKER cartoons...

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