James Pierce

James Hubert Pierce (August 8, 1900 – December 11, 1983) was the fourth actor to portray Tarzan on film. He appeared in films from 1924 to 1951.[1]


Pierce was born in Freedom, Indiana. He was an All-American center on the Indiana Hoosiers football team. Following his graduation in 1921, he coached high school football in Arizona, and began acting in his spare time.[2] After he was cast in the 1923 production of The Deerslayer, he remained in California and coached football at Glendale High School (one of his players was John Wayne).

Portrayal of Tarzan

Pierce's life changed when he attended a party given by Edgar Rice Burroughs and his daughter Joan. Burroughs, the creator and author of the Tarzan books, immediately wanted Pierce to star in the next Tarzan movie. Pierce gave up a role in the film Wings to accept the Tarzan role. His part in Wings was given to a newcomer named Gary Cooper. The silent Tarzan film Burroughs talked him into accepting was released in 1927 by RKO Radio Pictures, and entitled Tarzan and the Golden Lion.[3]

Marriage/radio career/later life

Pierce wed Joan Burroughs on August 8, 1928, his 28th birthday.[4] From 1932 to 1936, James and Joan Pierce were the voices of Tarzan and Jane on national radio in Tarzan. They remained married until Joan's death in 1972. Both are buried in Shelbyville, Indiana, and their tombstones bear the inscriptions Tarzan and Jane. They had a daughter Joanne II Anselmo, née Pierce (1930–2005), and a son James Michael Pierce (1935–1984).

Pierce is also remembered for playing Prince Thun of the Lion Men in the 1936 serial film Flash Gordon. He acted in small roles in several films, mostly westerns, through 1951, and worked in a lucrative real estate agency in the San Fernando Valley. He was an accomplished pilot, active during World War II with the National Airmen's Reserve, the forerunner of today's Air National Guard.

For many years, near the end of his life, Pierce attempted, to no avail, to find a print of Tarzan and the Golden Lion, which was thought lost. After his death, a copy was found in a foreign archive.

Selected filmography


  1. Wonning, P.R. A Year of Indiana History – Book 1: 366 Indiana History Stories. 366 Days in Indiana History Volume 1. Mossy Feet Books. p. 365. Retrieved 2019-03-29.
  2. Hammel, B.; Klingelhoffer, K. (1999). Glory of Old IU, Indiana University. Sports Pub. p. 44. ISBN 978-1-58261-068-9. Retrieved 2019-03-29. After graduation from IU in 1921, he coached high school football in Arizona and tried amateur acting.
  3. Fenton, R.W. (2015). Edgar Rice Burroughs and Tarzan: A Biography of the Author and His Creation. McFarland, Incorporated, Publishers. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-7864-8504-8. Retrieved 2019-03-29. ERB remarked at this time: “If you would like to see the personification of Tarzan of the Apes as I visualize him, see the film Tarzan and the Golden Lion with Mr. James Pierce as Tarzan.
  4. Lemmo, D. (2017). Tarzan, Jungle King of Popular Culture. McFarland, Incorporated, Publishers. p. 58. ISBN 978-1-4766-2622-2. Retrieved 2019-03-29.
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