Tarzan’s Secret Treasure

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!

Members of the cast at Wakulla Springs (1941). L to R: Johnny Sheffield, a stand-in for Sheffield, Jean Knapp (a stand-in for Maureen O'Sullivan), Johnny Weissmuller, and another Sheffield stand-in.

Members of the cast at Wakulla Springs (1941). L to R: Johnny Sheffield, a stand-in for Sheffield, Jean Knapp (a stand-in for Maureen O’Sullivan), Johnny Weissmuller, and another Sheffield stand-in.

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.

Tarzan, Jane, and Boy make their way up an oak log during filming at Wakulla Springs (1941).

Tarzan, Jane, and Boy make their way up an oak log during filming at Wakulla Springs (1941).

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.

An elephant exits the water at Wakulla Springs as park manager Newt Perry looks on. The cameramen's

An elephant exits the water at Wakulla Springs as park manager Newt Perry looks on. The cameramen’s “island” is visible in the background (1941).

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.

Manager Newt Perry with actors portraying Bantu warriors (1941).

Manager Newt Perry with actors portraying Bantu warriors (1941).

Newt Perry propels the underwater diving bell, along with cameraman Russ Erving (1941).

Newt Perry propels the underwater diving bell, along with cameraman Russ Erving (1941).

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.

Visitors look through the glass bottom of a tour boat at Wakulla Springs (circa 1980).

Visitors look through the glass bottom of a tour boat at Wakulla Springs (circa 1980).

Find more images of Wakulla Springs and Florida’s many other natural wonders by searching the Florida Photographic Collection!

Creature from the Black Lagoon Released (March 5, 1954)

On March 5, 1954, Universal International Pictures released Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Still from Creature from the Black Lagoon, Wakulla Springs, ca. 1953

The creature emerges from Wakulla Springs, ca. 1953

The film’s plot centered around an Amazonian expedition gone awry when a scientific team encountered the mysterious “Gill Man.” The creature became enamored with a member of the team, played by Julie Adams, and kidnapped her after escaping from the scientists’ grasp.

Film crew at Wakulla Springs, October 18, 1953

Film crew with 3-D camera at Wakulla Springs, October 18, 1953

The filmmakers visited Wakulla Springs, south of Tallahassee, while scouting locations for the film. They were introduced to a young FSU student and part-time lifeguard at the springs named Ricou Browning. Director Jack Arnold eventually cast Browning to play the part of the creature during underwater scenes. Browning parlayed this experience into a subsequent career in film and television.

Ricou Browning becoming the Creature, Wakulla Springs, ca. 1953

Ricou Browning becoming the creature, Wakulla Springs, ca. 1953

The filmmakers used Florida’s natural beauty again as a backdrop while filming the sequel, Revenge of the Creature (1955). Revenge featured footage shot at Silver Springs, Marineland, and along the St. Johns River. Scenes from the third and final installment in the series, The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), were also filmed in the Sunshine State.

Ginger Stanley in the grip of the creature, Silver Springs, ca. 1955

Ginger Stanley in the grip of the creature, Silver Springs, ca. 1955

Wakulla Springs Boat Tours Podcast

“Wakulla Springs Boat Tours Podcast”
[audio:http://fpc.dos.state.fl.us/memory/collections/folklife/mp3/podcasts/wakulla.mp3|titles=Wakulla Springs Boat Tours Podcast|artists=State Archives of Florida]
Download: MP3
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Tour boat guide Wilbert Gavin: Wakulla Springs, Florida

Tour boat guide Wilbert Gavin: Wakulla Springs, Florida

Alligators, snakes, rare birds and Native exoticism are all pinnacles of Florida’s tourism industry. Wakulla Springs State Park offers visitors the chance to experience all of these things and more under the guidance of clever and knowledgeable guides. In this month’s podcast we’ll examine the oral traditions of the Wakulla Springs boat drivers.

Sandgren family enjoys a glass bottom boats: Wakulla Springs, Florida (1946)

Sandgren family enjoys a glass bottom boats: Wakulla Springs, Florida (1946)

Glass-bottom boat tours are certainly not exclusive to Wakulla Springs. They have been a long-standing attraction in Silver Springs, Homosassa Springs and Rainbow Springs, among others. Boat tours in Wakulla Springs date back to the late 1800s. Right up through recent history, descendents of the first boatmen of the Springs have followed in the footsteps of their forefathers, and their chants, jokes and stories have been passed down through the generations.

Henry the pole-vaulting fish at Wakulla Springs: Wakulla Springs, Florida

Henry the pole-vaulting fish at Wakulla Springs: Wakulla Springs, Florida

Now keep your hands and arms inside the boat, and enjoy the mysterious waters of Wakulla Springs!