Tarzan and the Great Loincloth Adventure

I saw Disney's Tarzan the other day, and found myself musing that he was pretty hot, as far as cartoon characters go. Small waist, nice sixpack, big biceps, flowing hair, loincloth…

Now, before you declare me to be a complete perv for becoming moist about a Disney cartoon, it's important to point out that it's Tarzan we're talking about here. And Tarzan, whether he's rendered in ink, appearing in black and white on Sunday afternoon TV, or splashed in living colour across the big screen, is hot.

He's always tall, always handsome, always beautifully sculpted, and always wearing little more than a scrap of leather about his nether regions.

I mean, what more can you want?

In fact, I don't doubt that he ranks very high on the list of leading men that often pop up in the average female sexual fantasy. A girl likes nothing better than to lie back and imagine herself in the arms of a good looking, scantily clad, wild man and showing him all the wonders of the dark continent that is woman. There's something magic about the idea of an uninhibited, animalistic male virgin who is enchanted by the first woman he sees (and naturally that first woman is always you), who is outrageously macho and yet strangely innocent and vulnerable at the same time.

And did I mention the loincloth?

For nearly forty years the muscular image of Tarzan was as close as women could ever get to seeing a naked male body on screen. In a world where women weren't supposed to be visually stimulated, Tarzan offered us a rare opportunity to feast our eyes. With the exception of Hercules-type sword and sandal epics, there were few other examples in the movies or on TV where so much male flesh was on display. Tarzan's traditional loincloth offered many opportunities for a good old fashioned perve.

The most famous Tarzan was Johnny Weissmuller, who was also an Olympic swimmer. He starred in no less than 12 Tarzan features in the thirties and forties, and was the voice behind the famous "Tarzan yell" (although some dispute this claim and say the cry was a mishmash of other sounds). Weissmuller's loincloth was fairly brief, with a string either side, so a fair bit of thigh can be seen - relatively shocking for the time.

Apparently co-star Maureen O'Sullivan had awful trouble keeping Weissmuller's wandering hands at bay, and felt somewhat intimidated by the fact that there was only a small scrap of leather between them. According to Esther Williams, one day he had Maureen cornered, so "she just pointed at his little loincloth and laughed at him. He was so red-faced embarrassed, he never bothered her again."

Weismuller's replacements were all well built and good looking, but unfortunately the loincloth got bigger as the years went on. Lex Barker's looked a bit like a miniskirt. Gordon Scott offered a cleaner-cut version of Tarzan to a sixties audience, but unfortunately his loincloth resembled a pair of high-cut jogging shorts at times. Ron Ely and Jock Mahoney offered older, leaner versions of the Tarzan myth, but the loincloth stayed the same.

Miles O'Keefe probably wins the award for the skimpiest loincloth in the generally awful Tarzan the Apeman in 1981, wearing what looks like a pair of Speedos with an extra bit of fabric at the front. A rangy Christopher Lambert wasn't far behind in the well-made Greystoke, The Legend of Tarzan in 1983, wearing a stringy, triangular number and very trendy headband.

Disney's Tarzan isn't exactly modestly attired either. There's not much to his loincloth at all, as it turns out, which is a little surprising given Disney's squeamishness when it comes to anything remotely sexual. They even defended the loincloth when Orthodox Jews complained about Tarzan's near-naked body appearing on posters in Israel.

Of course, the big difference here is that there can be no loincloth slips in an animated feature, something that did occasionally occur on celluloid. On one documented occasion, Mike Henry fell out of his loincloth while wrestling a villain in Tarzan and the Valley of Gold. He also popped out when swinging through the trees in Tarzan and the Great River.

Perhaps that's part of the thrill of Tarzan - what with all that leaping from vine to vine and wrestling crocodiles, it always seems as though an involuntary flash of the tackle is just seconds away. I think I'd be hard pressed to sit through a Tarzan movie and not hope for a brief glimpse under the leather.

The latest franchise, a TV series starring Australian model Travis Flimmel, seems to have forgotten the "loincloth factor". It placed Tarzan in a modern-day New York City and made him wear clothes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the series was axed after nine weeks. Who wants to look at Tarzan in jeans and a smart jacket?

There's a small group of guys out there who get their kicks from gadding about in a loincloth. They've even got their own Yahoo group, and various pages giving advice on how to make and wear these much-prized pieces of leather. In fact, loincloth-lover Karsten has begun a loincloth photo contest, complete with online voting and certifiably authentic loincloths as prizes. I'm looking forward to seeing the entries, wondering if I'll find a real-life Tarzan amongst the competitors.

Unfortunately, photos of guys falling out of their loincloths will be disallowed.

Ready to perve? Here's some Tarzan galleries.
Johnny Weissmuller
Gordon Scott
Miles O'Keefe
Christopher Lambert
Disney's Tarzan



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