It was December 1, 1941. In less than a week, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor would bring the United States fully into World War II, but for the moment American involvement was limited. Even as war preparations ramped up across the country, Americans attempted to remain calm and preserve a sense of normalcy. Curtains still rose on Broadway, radio stations played popular music between war-related bulletins, and projectors still rolled at the movie theaters.
On this particular night, Tarzan’s Secret Treasure hit the silver screen for the first time. The film was set in the heart of Africa, where legend claimed an enormous cliff “rises from the plains to support the stars.” The scenery was indeed legendary, but many scenes were actually shot in Florida!
Tarzan’s Secret Treasure was directed by Richard Thorpe, and starred Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan, with Maureen O’Sullivan as Jane and Johnny Sheffield as Boy. The story begins when Boy’s life is saved by a safari party that encounters Tarzan’s territory while searching for a lost city and its riches. A grateful Tarzan offers to lead the group to the lost city, but when Boy lets it slip that Tarzan knows a great deal about the location of the missing riches, some members of the party get a bit greedy. We won’t spoil the rest of the plot for you, but suffice it to say that the rest of the film becomes a classic case of good versus evil, with a lush and dangerous jungle as the backdrop.
Much of the underwater filming took place at Wakulla Springs, located about 14 miles south of Tallahassee. Some of the scenes included Tarzan, Jane, and Boy playing underwater with an elephant, Tarzan’s rescue of Jane and Boy during the film’s finale, and a battle between Tarzan and a small army of angry alligators. Some of the footage actually ended up in another Tarzan movie, Tarzan’s New York Adventure, which premiered the next year in 1942.
Wakulla Springs’ manager, Newt Perry, was instrumental in selling the springs as a filming location to the brass at Metro-Goldwn-Mayer Pictures. He had worked at Silver Springs as a promoter and performer before arriving at Wakulla Springs in 1939 to manage the lodge for owner Edward Ball. Perry, a world-renowned swimmer, wore many hats during the filming at Wakulla. Besides running the lodge and promoting the springs for use by the film industry, he also helped with a number of logistical details. In many of the production photos available on Florida Memory, Perry can be seen working with the actors and moving equipment into place.
The Tarzan films helped popularize Wakulla Springs and draw in additional visitors. More films were shot here as well, including The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Night Moves (1975), and Airport ’77 (1977). The State of Florida purchased the springs in the 1980s and converted the area into the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park. Thousands of visitors come each year to view the magnificent springs. Boat tours are popular, especially those using glass-bottom boats, which are just right for viewing the vibrant habitat beneath the water’s surface.
Find more images of Wakulla Springs and Florida’s many other natural wonders by searching the Florida Photographic Collection!