The Ultimate Family: Tarzan, Jane, Boy, and Cheeta
I grew up watching television when it was only on in black and white and there were just four channels, ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS. Hard to imagine that today, when there are hundreds of stations and still, there is never anything good to watch. But, back in those days, there always seemed to be great TV on, perhaps we just weren’t picky then. Each Saturday morning, after cartoons, there would be a Tarzan movie that starred the Olympic medal winner, swimmer Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan, more famous today for being Mia Farrow’s mother. To be sure, there were lots of other actors that played Tarzan besides Weissmuller and there were other Janes than O’Sullivan, but to me and most of the other children of the 50s, this duo was only one that mattered.
Watching those Tarzan movies, over and over again, romanticized Africa for me – although they weren’t even filmed there. Instead, the Tarzan movies were shot on the back lots of Hollywood, with some additional stock footage of African jungles thrown in. Most absurd was the fact that the movies were even set in the jungle, because, in reality, Africa’s exotic animals that Tarzan interacted with lived mostly on the plains and not in the woods. Regardless of the location, the Weissmuller/O’Sullivan Tarzan movies were beyond wonderful. They were romantic and mysterious: the handsome, simple Tarzan and his beautiful, cultured Jane frolicking in the wild and living in their tree house along with their adopted son, Boy, and their pet chimpanzee - almost like a regular all-American family. The earliest Tarzan movies, pre Hollywood censorship, were steamy, to say the least. Jane’s loin cloth was very scant and an infamous sequence of a nude Jane, swimming with Tarzan, was edited out of the movie because it was deemed obscene. Thanks to You-Tube, and Ted Turner who reinserted the scene in the move, one can see that original swimming scene, here, which begs the question: why did this lusty couple even have to adopt a son???? And despite the fact that O’Sullivan was half dressed throughout the movie, the nude Jane is played a female Olympic swimmer who, it was claimed, was more adept and graceful in the water.
Pre censorship, Jane’s costume was almost lewd. The exotically beautiful couple, Weissmuller and O’Sullivan, are pictured here in their first Tarzan movie, Tarzan the Ape Man. Weissmuller was the sixth person to play Tarzan, aka Lord Greystoke, a character taken from the series of books written by Edgar Rice Burroughs. But for most people, Weissmuller was the only true Tarzan.
Treetop living for the jungle family.
For me, much of the appeal of the Tarzan movies wasn’t about the undercurrents of their adult relationship, but their lifestyle itself. I was fascinated with their home, the tree house where they lived and I loved those domesticated scenes the most. Their house, all woven rattan and bamboo, was hopelessly romantic to a little girl and helped fuel a lifetime fascination with Africa and tents and safaris.
Born Free – the story of Elsa, the lion.
The blockbuster movie Born Free released in 1966 brought safaris and African bush living to the forefront. The adorable story of the the cub Elsa raised in Kenya by Joy Adamson and her husband George melted the hearts of everyone who saw it. I probably watched the movie 10 times and cried at each viewing. A major tear-jerker, the stirring sound tract helped to turn on the waterworks. I even learned to play “Born Free” on the piano – oy! Hold your ears! As a 12 year old, Born Free made an impact on me in the same way the Tarzan movies had - the exotic beauty and mystery of Africa stayed with me, long after the movie was forgotten.
The actors with the actress Elsa. The Adamsons had their jeep’s top reinforced in order to support the grown Elsa who liked to ride there.
Born Free’s impact on the world was enormous. Even President Obama, who said it was the first movie he ever saw, claims it had a lasting impact on his life. Several worldwide foundations and trusts for wildlife preservation were started after the movie and many are still active today. The area in Kenya were the Adamsons lived is a tourist attraction and several safari camps with ties to the Adamsons are available to stay at.
Meryl Streep, playing author Karen Blixen, stands with her soon to be divorced husband.
Another movie that instilled a yearning in many to go on safari, is the love story, Out of Africa, starring Meryl Strep and Robert Redford. Based on the true story of author Karen Blixen and her romance with big game-hunter Denys Finch-Hatton, the movie won an Oscar for Best Film in 1985. Like Born Free, Out of Africa was filmed where it took place, in Kenya and thus, unlike the Tarzan movies, it accurately depicts the terrain of the grassy plains and distant hills. Set in approximately the same time period as the Tarzan movies, the proper, upper crust Colonial era adds to the romance – the period costumes and the lavish sets are as beautiful as the magnificent scenery. The movie spawned a sudden interest in everything Blixen and African for scores of romance-seeking movie goers, myself included.
The outfits alone are enough to spark a desire to go on safari: look at that gorgeous linen!
Considered one of the most romantic male gestures on film, Denis washes Blixen’s hair. Uh……I’ll stick with the hair salon, thank you very much!
Blixen’s house in Kenya is now a museum. The entire Nairobi neighborhood is called Karen, after Blixen. You can go on tours of the house, though many are disappointed because this is not the house where the movie was filmed.
The interiors are filled with Blixen’s original furniture and some things that actually were used in the movie. Look at that skin!
Nearby on the Masai Mara Game Reserve, is a safari camp called the Karen Blixen Camp, where you can stay in tents. There is also a swimming pool, restaurant and bar at the camp. In Nairobi, you will find the Karen Camp, a Karen Coffeehouse, a Karen Golf Course, and more lodges and inns with “Karen” in the name.
The Karen Blixen Camp, decidedly more romantic looking at night!
The interior of the tent. Information on the Karen Blixen Camp (not to be confused with the less posh Karen Camp) is here. While going on safari is nothing new, Out of Africa helped make it even more popular. Safari’s can be taken at every price point, but it’s the more expensive camps that cause the most daydreaming. Who can resist a vacation where a lifetime of fantasies come true?
Here are a few safari camps that can make you feel like Jane, Blixen, and Ralph Lauren – all rolled into one:
Sabi Sabi is a private game preserve located within the wildlife oasis of Kruger Park, South Africa. Within Sabi Sabi are four distinct camps, each are rated 5-Star. The camps are the height of luxury and today’s version of the English Gentleman’s safari.
The Bush Lodge is the most well known of the four Sabi Sabi camps and features 25 thatched air conditioned cabins. Meals are taken outside, weather permitting.
The main lobby at Bush Lodge is located next to the swimming pool, and has an elevated viewing deck to watch the animals from.
The Presidential Suite has it’s own private pool.
The view from a Bush Lodge room. Since the reserve is unfenced, the animals roam close by.
The bathrooms are all luxurious, and most include outdoor showers.
The standard Bush Lodge room.
The pool and deck at Bush Lodge.
The Selati Camp is fashioned in Colonial style, or, as advertised an “Out of Africa” safari camp. The experience at this camp is that of a safari from long ago. Here, dinner is set at the Selati Camp.
At the Selati Camp, the rooms have a more Colonial style atmosphere.
There are just 8 cabins in the Selati Camp which provides an intimate safari experience.
The historical indoor kitchen at the Selati Camp.
Eating on the lunch deck at Selati Camp.
The Little Bush Camp is the newest camp on the Sabi Sabi property. With just six rooms, it is very intimate and is considered the most luxurious of the four camps.
Dinner at Little Bush Camp.
The thatched roof cabins are furnished with ethnic African textiles and mosquito netting canopies. All rooms are air conditioned.
The main lodge at Little Bush Camp.
All rooms have outdoor showers at Little Bush Camp.
Lions at the Sabi Sabi Game Reserve. I love how the lion on the left is casually grooming himself while the people are just sitting nearby. The lions must not be too hungry.
Gorgeous zebras at Sabi Sabi. Makes me feel so guilty about my rug!
Elephants at Sabi Sabi. This terrain is nothing like the jungles of the Tarzan movies where elephants were supposedly plentiful.
Singita, a Relais and Chateaux awarded company, has safari camps in South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Any Relais and Chateaux hotel is considered the best in the world and Singita is no exception. At the Sabi Sand Reserve in South Africa, Ebony Lodge has 12 suites overlooking the Sand river.
Outdoor dining at Ebony Lodge. The deck is perched high above the river for the best animal watching.
The decor at Ebony Lodge is wonderful: I love the plaid fabric, the leather wing chairs, the caned furniture, the zebra rugs and the oversized brass chandelier.
The rooms at Ebony Lodge are first class – though they need to iron their sheets!!!! I love the flowered fabric mixed with the mosquito netting and rattan furniture.
The rooms’ swimming pool overlooks the river below – a better and safer way to view the unfenced animals.
The Singita - Boulders Lodge is the sister lodge to Ebony, also overlooking the Sand River. Here, the bathroom is open to the private pool. The vanities have trendy vessel sinks and plumbing fixtures.
Another Singita lodge, the Lebombo Lodge is located in the Kruger National Park in South Africa, bordering on Mozambique. The suites are all raised on stilts allowing for safe viewing of the unfenced nearby lions.
Just 15 suites, Lebombo is more contemporary than typical safari camps.
The Lebombo suites are all open concept – areas are closed off with linen curtains. The ceilings are reeded, yet the design is quite contemporary.
White slipped banquettes and modern chairs and tables are a wonderful mix in the Lebombo suites.
This Singita property, the Sweni Lodge is also located in the Kruger National Park. Only six suites, it is secluded and contemporary in design.
The rooms at the Sweni Lodge are large with reeded ceilings and lime green accents and contemporary styled mosquito curtains.
The bathtubs, inset in wood, overlook the river.
The viewing deck at Sweni Lodge. The tree appears to be growing right up through the wood floors.
Sasakwa Lodge, located in Tanzania, is one of only three Singita lodges in its privately owned reserve of 340,000 acres. This reserve, the Grumeti, is in the famed Serengeti, where over a million wildebeest migrate annually. The lodge is fashioned in pure Ralph Lauren safari style with its linen covered Knole sofa, campaign chests, leather wing chairs, zebra accents, seagrass matting, and white slipcovers – just gorgeous!!!
The main indoor dining room at Sasakwa Lodge is set for a formal dinner. With only six suites and one villa at the Lodge – the maximum capacity is just 28 guests. Each room has its own infinity pool, fireplace, and telescope.
This picnic looks like it was styled for a Polo advertisement.
The bedrooms are impeccably designed with large, white curtained canopies, carpets, grasscloth walls, gallery lights, and skirted night table.
At Sasakwa Lodge, the bathrooms have claw foot tubs and overlook the famous Serengeti.
Lunch overlooking the Serengeti Plains where millions of wildebeest migrate yearly.
In the same Grumeti reserve, the second Singita camp, the Sabora Tented Camp, is comprised of six tents – each complete with antique mahogany travel chests, Persian rugs and silk curtains. Could it get any more romantic than this? I think this is my favorite of all the camps!
Inside another tent at Sabora. The height of safari tent living – it doesn’t get any better!!!
A clay tennis court - shades of Wimbledon and English high society.
Front row viewing of the wildlife outside the tents at the Sabora camp.
A famous safari “sundowner” set up under the stars at Sabora Tented Camp.
Zebras gather outside the Sabora Tented Camp on the Serengeti plains.
The Faru Faru Lodge in Tanzania – the third Singita camp located in the private Grumeti Reserve- is more contemporary in design than the other two camps. Six tents make up this camp.
Each tent has either an outdoor shower or bath.
Dinner at Faru Faru Lodge with classic safari chairs and white tablecloths.
The two infinity edged pools at Faru Faru Lodge overlook the watering hole just below.
Located in the Glen Rose valley in Africa – actually no, this is really Texas! Fossil Rim is a Texas safari camp and species conservation organization, it is perfect for people who want to go on safari but don’t want to leave the United States. An esteemed facility for the breeding of wild animals, visitors can come for the day, the night, or longer.
Fossil Rim in the fall.
There is a lodge on the property and safari tents. Fossil Rim is definitely NOT a 5-Star resort, but it’s as close to an Africa safari as it comes in the United States.
One of my daughter’s earliest memories is of a huge ostrich that poked it’s head into our car as we drove along the safari route at Fossil Rim. The ostrich scared me to death and I screamed bloody murder, which is probably why she still remembers it!
The natural swimming pool at Fossil Rim - typical of the Texas Hill Country where swimming pools are made by damning a stream.
A Fossil Rim zebra and giraffe. Why do I see fabric when I look at this picture?
Wonder why it’s called Fossil Rim? Glen Rose, Texas, where the safari camp is located, has the most and best preserved dinosaur fossil tracts found in the world. The Dinosaur Valley State Park, in Glen Rose, has life sized models of the animals (above) that left their tracts in the Paluxy River. There is also a Creation Museum where creationists try to explain their biblical theories versus the 113 million old tracts. The creationist claim there is evidence of humans coexisting with these dinosaurs, all those years ago.
Actual dinosaur tracts embedded in the Paluxy river at Glen Rose, Texas.
The closest I’ll ever get to Africa! My niece’s grandmother is a veteran Safari goer, and after many, many trips to Africa with her husband and children, she now takes her grandchildren. This trip my nephew Philip (on the far left) got to go, along with his wife’s two cousins (on the far right.) The trip lasted two weeks and they stayed at four different camps throughout Africa. “Nonnie” celebrated her 81st birthday in Africa!!!! I hope I have her stamina at that age. What am I saying - I hope I live that long!
They stayed at Joy’s Camp, where Joy Adamson and Elsa from the movie Born Free once lived!
And they stayed at this camp.
One night, they came home to this hot bubble bath waiting for them after a long drive.
They ate breakfast outside by the river.
And had fancy dinners on Fortuny-covered chairs at this camp.
They had sundowners in the plains.
And the Masai honored Nonnie for her love of Africa. Isn’t she the coolest woman in the world?
They saw lots of animals – including this flock of real pink flamingos!
And they went to a party with giraffes, zebras, wildebeests and crocodiles.
They were just in time to see the magnificent wildebeests migrate across the Serengeti.
And they saw a mamma and her cute baby Dumbo.
They caught this pair trying to make a baby.
And lastly, they saw this one, for once, NOT trying to make one!!!!
While I will have to live vicariously through my nephew’s trip, I hope this post has inspired you to think about a taking a safari to Africa,or Texas one day!
A note to Texans: The Urban Market will held this Sunday, February 8. For information on where, what, when, and how, please read here.