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5 Classic Pop Culture Moments (Actors Made Up on the Fly)

#2. Tarzan's Original Battle Yell Sounded Pathetic

20th Century Fox

Like Fonzie, Tarzan exists in pop culture almost completely detached from the medium where he appeared. You'll be hard-pressed to find anyone these days who has seen an actual Tarzan movie, even the Brendan Fraser one, but everybody still knows two things about the character: He swings from vines, and he does that elaborate yell.

The yell is something that everybody recognizes, and that everybody has tried to do at least once, almost certainly to disastrous effect.

Dan Brandenburg / Photos.com
You just tried it, didn't you? Of course you did.

The yell itself was made famous by actor Johnny Weissmuller, who portrayed Tarzan for 16 years. It's a good thing he came along, because everyone before him had nearly run the yell into the ground through sheer awfulness. As you hopefully know, Tarzan first appeared in a book series, and his yell was described as "the victory cry of the bull ape" (whatever the fuck that is). In 1918, Elmo Lincoln became the first actor to vocalize said cry, albeit in a silent film. Years later, he appeared on TV to show us what he sounded like. He really shouldn't have.

What the shit was that? Who greenlit the mighty Tarzan yowling like a giant baby throwing a temper tantrum? It would somehow get worse going forward, as 1929's Tarzan the Tiger starred Frank Merrill as the ape man, giving us his version of the yell:

So we're no longer crying like a baby who wants his ba-ba, but now we've become a clumsy oaf who just had his foot crushed by a brick. That's ... progress? OK, how about the 1932 radio serial, with James Pierce as Tarzan? Anything better?

Not really, no. Unless you consider groaning about a horrible stomachache, followed by some high-pitched wailing straight out of Deliverance, to be an improvement. So when Weissmuller showed up to film 1932's Tarzan the Ape Man, he could have completely mailed a yell in, and it would still have been an improvement. Instead, he drew from his yodeling past, took a deep breath, and gave us this:

And there you have it. Because one actor finally realized that Tarzan shouldn't sound like he was in constant pain, the character's popularity exploded, Weissmuller earned himself a lucrative (albeit woefully typecast) career, and his yell immediately became the gold standard. Even Disney knew better than to screw with the yell, and they screw with everything.

#1. Full Metal Jacket's Drill Instructor Was Originally the World's Worst

Warner Bros.

Full Metal Jacket is technically a film about Vietnam, although it's mainly famous for its first half, perhaps the most harrowing depiction of boot camp ever filmed. This series of scenes featuring bald recruits scrubbing toilets while drill instructor Hartman screams at them was a huge success. Not only that, but it propelled R. Lee Ermey, the guy behind the yelling, to a legitimate film career where he ... yelled at people more. Hey, if you're good at something, you're good at something.

Warner Bros.
"THANK YOU FOR ASSISTING WITH MY VOICE COACHING, MAGGOT!"

Ermey was actually a former Marine drill instructor, which helped with his character's authenticity. This was needed, because Hartman was originally an utter disaster. According to Ermey, Hartman had "no rhyme or reason" behind what he was doing, and was a sadist who made a hobby out of torturing recruits. In Ermey's mind, Hartman shouldn't treat recruits like worthless fucks because he gets off on it. He should treat them like worthless fucks because he cares.

Unfortunately, a guy named Tim Colceri already had the role, and Ermey was merely a technical advisor. He found a solution, though, utilizing his two favorite weapons: volume and profanity. Ermey lined up a bunch of extras and recorded himself spewing insult after vile insult at them, not missing a beat or repeating himself once, for over 15 minutes. He then played the tape for Kubrick, who immediately demoted Colceri to Helicopter Door-Gunner Guy #1, hiring Ermey on the spot.

Warner Bros.
"Texas? Only two things come from Texas -- steers and also a goodly portion of America's milk supply. And you ... um, actually, I forgot my point."

But there was still the matter of the script being dogshit. So Ermey, who was either unaware of Kubrick's hatred of improv or simply uninterested in giving a shit, ripped up at least half of Hartman's dialogue, replacing it with selections from 150 pages of insults and threats that he had written himself (OK, he might be a bit crazy). This dialogue was not only funnier and more biting than before, but also more in tune with how Ermey felt the character should act.

Clearly, the former military man had a point. He wrote some of the best lines in a film that received an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Oh, and he earned himself a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor as well. The moral: If a Marine wants to play a Marine in a movie about the Marines, you let him play the Marine. It really is better than faking it.


Follow Jacopo on Twitter. Also, please check out this Kickstarter for "Ain't It Cool with Harry Knowles." It's for a good cause: love of movies.


For more brilliant changes to scripts, check out 5 Insane Early Drafts of Famous Movie Characters and 7 Terrible Early Versions of Great Movies.

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Extra Credit: Your favorite pop culture moments involved way less forethought than you suspected. Even The X-Files was pretty much improvised from the get-go. And the infamous Vulcan salute? Also made up on the fly. And did you know the Joker almost ended up cut from Batman altogether? It's true!

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