By MICHAEL OLDHAM | Contributing Writer
It’s always interesting for me to research the actors or actresses who played the characters inside the television shows I watched as a kid. It’s fascinating to learn where these actors were in their adult lives, off the small screen.
Actor Ron Ely is a prime example.
The blue-eyed, handsomely fit Ely starred in the TV series “Tarzan,” which ran from 1966-1968 on NBC. The series appealed to Ely because, he said, it was “about an educated man who returns to the environment he knows best, the jungle. There he seeks truth, honor and man’s lost humanity to man. This Tarzan is the part I’ve been waiting for all my life.”
My research revealed that in 1968, the year the action-adventure series ended its run, Ely turned 30 years of age. And with the show behind him, he was an actor in transition.
In that year, Ely not only left the jungle-based filming locations behind, but he also found new digs in his non-fictional life. He took up residency in Pacific Palisades.
More specifically, the Texas-born actor purchased a Spanish-style home in the upper Riviera. The four-bedroom house was located on the narrow 1600 block of Casale Road, just north of where it intersects Capri Drive.
Built in 1933, the Casale home sits on one-third of an acre of land, which allowed plenty of room for the Tarzan star to roam about outside. And while roaming the property, the blondish-brown haired Ely, who began his film career with a bit part in the 1958 film classic, “South Pacific,” could take in the city view it offered.
If Ely’s landscaping resembled the home’s current look, then he would have enjoyed an expansive green lawn, plenty of green shrubbery and colorful flowers greeting his front yard visitors.
After researching Ron Ely’s house, I turned my studies to his “Tarzan” TV show. And despite being of a certain age, I barely remembered the show in which Ely barely wore any clothes. Indeed, for the part of Tarzan, Ely required no shoes or shirt. The 6-foot-4-inch actor roamed the jungle wearing nothing but an antelope-skin loin cloth.
For a refresher course on Ely’s “Tarzan” show, I jumped on YouTube. And with much anticipation, I found and clicked on a link that began a clip of the show’s now-retro looking original intro.
The show opens with the sounds of beating drums while the viewer is treated to a camera shot bearing down on the jungle from high above. Quickly the camera cuts to a lion chasing and viciously catching its small prey.
The following narration/voice-over runs while the various animal and Tarzan action scenes continue on the screen.
[Narrator] “The dark land of the jungle is the country of the unknown with savagery, terror and peril beyond the imagination of men. Here in the forbidden tangle of the jungle, a child was found and raised by the great apes. The boy took the name Tarzan and later was educated in civilization. But then, Tarzan returned to the deadly land he knew so well and everywhere in the jungle from the great falls, to the huge mountains, to the land of ghost men and the limitless rainforest, the cheetah has grown to know one who is swifter, the lion knows one who is braver. Deep in the jungle Tarzan continues to enforce his law, the law of right…The elephant comes to his friend, TARZAN OF THE APES.”
The show’s plots required Ely to perform a lot of dangerous stunt work. He’d often mix it up with big animals, both his character’s foes and friends. Stunts would also include swinging on ropes through the jungle, a classic Tarzan method of transportation.
The actor once told Los Angeles Times columnist Susan King about the kind of stunt work his Tarzan role required: “There was water work, there was high work, there was flying like trapeze work, swimming, just general fights. And there was animal work.”
By the time Ely landed on Casale Road, he admitted to interviewer Jonathan Ross that he “was completely worn out” from the series. Ely could not possibly have done another year. The series had beaten up the man who’d made the jump from a theater usher-bouncer as a kid to a television star.
ERBzine once listed some of the injuries Ely had experienced while acting out his Tarzan character. They included a lion bite to the head, broken nose, dislocated jaw, shoulder separation, broken ribs and wrenched neck and disc.
And though Ron Ely quickly learned that “Tarzan” had stereotyped him as an actor, he went on to more success in television and movies. For example, he starred in the film “Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze” in 1975, and he served as emcee for the Miss America Pageant in the early 1980s.
Ely enjoyed the Palisades for nearly two decades, eventually selling his Casale Road home in 1987. Before departing, the long-time bachelor married the 1981 Miss Florida USA winner Valerie Lundeen. The two have been married since 1984.
It should be noted that I made an exhaustive search to locate Ely for this piece, but alas, could not find him. Finishing up this article left me with a couple of thoughts: Where did the good old days of innocent fun action-adventure TV shows like “Tarzan” go? And Ron Ely, where are you?
Michael Oldham, co-author of Movie Star Homes: The Famous to the Forgotten and author of the novel The Valentino Formula and Flashback Los Angeles: Postcard Views, Then and Now can be reached at HollywoodLandings@sbcglobal.net.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.