Teresa Devlin, The Historic New Orleans Collection
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Sarah Chambless Federer, Gambel Communications
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September 2014 | New Orleans, Louisiana - Since opening the exhibition "From Cameo to Close-up: Louisiana in Film" in April, The Historic New Orleans Collection has acquired a rare promotional poster for "Tarzan of the Apes" (1918), the first feature-length production filmed in Louisiana.
The poster has been added to the exhibition, and to celebrate this acquisition, THNOC will offer a free screening of the film Wednesday, Oct. 1, at 6 p.m. in the institution's Williams Research Center, 410 Chartres St. The exhibition will also be open for extended viewing hours.
In addition to marking a milestone for the state's film industry, the 1918 silent movie marks the first adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs's novel of the same name, which had been published six years earlier in 1912.
"The film was a cultural sensation triggering countless other adaptations of the story," said Mark Cave, senior curator and oral historian at THNOC and co-curator of "From Cameo to Close-up." This particular production earned more than $1 million-a blockbuster of its day- and new interpretations of Tarzan continue. (Another adaptation is scheduled to be released in July 2016.)
Cave explained that director Scott Sidney chose to shoot the film in Louisiana in part because the swamps provided a jungle-like backdrop. Scenes were shot in Morgan City, Avoca Island and Lake End Park, with aerial footage of the Atchafalaya Basin.
The film incorporated several local actors as well as many black actors, who were rarely seen on camera in the early 1900s. At that time, black characters were usually portrayed by white actors in blackface. "Tarzan of the Apes" featured an African American actress in the role of Jane's maid, along with hundreds portraying African natives. The film also features the talents of local circus performers and about 20 gymnasts from the New Orleans Athletic Club, who dressed in ape costumes to complement the animal cast of the film.
The promotional poster is described as a "half-sheet" by industry standards, measuring 22-by-28 inches. It captures the film's stars Elmo Lincoln (Tarzan) and Enid Markey (Jane) in an embrace amid a lush Louisiana landscape.
According to Cave, the acquisition is a rare find-posters like this one often traveled with the film, putting them at great risk for damage. Although the piece THNOC acquired shows slight wear on the edges, the artwork is in fine condition, and it further enhances the institution's documentation of early filmmaking in Louisiana.
"This poster is an important artifact illustrating the history and the development of the state's film industry," he said. "So little original material related to the film is around today."
Visitors can view the original poster in the exhibition "From Cameo to Close-up: Louisiana in Film," on view now through Nov. 26 at THNOC's Williams Research Center, 410 Chartres St. Gallery hours are 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday. Admission is free.
The screening of the film "Tarzan of the Apes" will take place Wednesday, Oct. 1, at 6 p.m. at the same location. Reservations are not needed, and admission is free.