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The Disputed History of the Tarzan Yell

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Johnny Weissmuller made it famous. Carol Burnett made it funny. But the origin of Hollywood’s iconic jungle cry is shrouded in mystery.

Back in 1932, in movie theaters across the country, the actor Johnny Weissmuller stood high on a cliff and let fly with a savage cry, roughly translated as “Aah-eeh-ah-eeh-aaaaaah-eeh-ah-eeh-aaaaah!”

The Tarzan yell has long been one of Hollywood’s most recognizable and iconic sound bites, right up there with Rhett Butler’s “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” and Captain Kirk’s “Khaaaaaaannnnnn!”

But exactly how that jungle cry was produced remains a mystery. Was it really Weissmuller’s voice? Or was it something more complex?

The yell was first introduced in the pages of Tarzan of the Apes, the 1912 novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, where he described it as sounding like “the victory cry of the bull ape.” Over the next fifteen years, Tarzan swung unto the silver screen several times. But those silent films left audiences to imagine the majestic sound of the yell.

Then in 1929, an early talkie called Tarzan the Tiger featured actor Frank Merrill making the first recorded attempt at the yell. Sadly, it sounded like the wailing of a drunken sports fan:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvEPfFnp0Wo

Three years later, Johnny Weissmuller, an Olympic swimmer with no acting experience, stepped into the loincloth and defined the role – and the yell - for decades to come. Weismuller later said his famous version of the Tarzan yell was inspired by the yodeling of his German neighbors, along with his own success in a yodeling contest he’d won as a boy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwHWbsvgQUE

But MGM, the studio that made the first Tarzan movies with Weissmuller, claimed to have enhanced the yell in post-production. Reportedly, they added and mixed the following:

1. A second track of Weismuller’s voice, amplified
2. A track of a hyena howl, played backwards
3. A note sung by a female opera soprano, with the speed varied to produce a fluttery sound
4. The growl of a dog
5. The bleat of a camel
6. The raspy note of a violin’s G-string being bowed

Another story claims that a famous operatic tenor was hired to record the yell, and the tape was then manipulated and run backwards, so that the second half of the yell was the first half in reverse.

Weissmuller denied that there was ever any sonic trickery, and in the many public appearances he did until his death in 1984, he always honored requests to perform the signature yell. If it lacked cinematic reverberation and hi-fidelity, it still sounded pretty much like what you heard on screen.

However the Tarzan yell was achieved, it was so pitch perfect in those early Weissmuller movies that the sound bite was re-used for decades. No matter which actor was playing Tarzan, when it came to the yell, they cued up Weissmuller’s original “Ah-eeh-ah . . .” As an example, here’s a scene from the 1981 Tarzan remake with Bo Derek:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvZMXZ2s07Q

Later, of course, comedienne Carol Burnett revived the yell for comic effect on her TV variety show (fast forward to 4:46).

Today, there are many YouTubers who’ve taken a crack at the yell. Here are three of the more entertaining Tarzan wannabes:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKzsDAwJQ6c

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfUJCkgIY6Y

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3a68fahcMy8

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Scott Jarvie
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Design
Optical Illusion Rug Creates a Bottomless Void in Your Floor
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Scott Jarvie

Artist Scott Jarvie doesn’t believe home goods need to be warm and inviting to earn a spot in the house. That’s certainly the case with his mind-bending void rug: When viewed from a certain perspective, the interior design piece inspires feelings of dread rather than comfort.

According to designboom, Jarvie achieved the rug’s bottomless black hole illusion using clever, two-dimensional design elements. To people standing directly over it, the item resembles a shaded crescent moon cupping a flat black circle. But adjust your position, and the simple rug morphs into a stomach-turning void in the middle of your living room floor.

If the circular rug isn’t trippy enough, Jarvie also made a rectangular runner that can turn an entire hallway into an empty pit. Neither rug is something you’d want to forget you own on a midnight trip to the bathroom.

Void rug optical illusion.

Jarvie’s art isn’t limited to floor rugs that trick the eye. The Scotland-based artist’s creative furniture and home decor includes laundry balls, a cling wrap dispenser, and a chair made from 10,000 plastic drinking straws.

Void rug optical illusion.

Void rug optical illusion.

[h/t designboom]

All images courtesy of Scott Jarvie.

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Amazon
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This Week's Best Amazon Deals You Can Still Get
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Amazon

As a recurring feature, we share some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. These items were the ones that were the most popular with our readers this week, and they’re still available.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers (including Amazon) and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

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