Thursday, February 6, 2020

Born Today February 6: Elmo Lincoln


The man known as "The First Tarzan"--Elmo Lincoln--was born Otto Elmo Linkenhelt on this date in Rochester, Indiana. Elmo was known to be a train hopper as a teen, and he claimed that when he turned 18, he hopped a train for California--but the facts of his life before entering film don't seem to bear this out as 100%  true.  He may have in fact hopped a train to California, but he certainly didn't stay there.  His grandfather is known to history to have been the town marshal in Rochester, and at some point Elmo definitely entered the law enforcement profession himself--though he seems to have worked mostly in the state or Arkansas in the field.  He most certainly did make his way out to California at some point--probably long before the famous director that first noticed him made the move himself. Reportedly Linkenhelt was working as a long shore man--being an impressively strong and muscular man (even though his height was evidently not quite 6 feet), D. W. Griffith was said to have seen him at work and hired him as an extra not long after making his own move west from Fort Lee, NJ.  Though The Battle of Elderbush Gulch (1913) is often listed as Lincoln's first film, he was apparently cast as an extra in two Griffith shorts before this:  The Reformers; or, The Lost Art of Minding One's Business was the first and The Suffragette Minstrels was the second--both date from 1913.  In his earliest credited film roles, he went by a number a variations of his birth name, including:  Lincoln Helt (John Barleycorn [1914]), Oscar Linkenhelt (Buckshot John [1915]), Otto Lincoln (The Double Crossing of Slim [1915]) and his actual name of Elmo Linkenhelt (The Absentee [1915]) before settling into the name of Elmo Lincoln (and who knows if the story of Griffith suggesting the last name to Elmo is even true or simply just another early Hollywood myth--really doesn't matter in the end). As a regular extra for Griffith, he appeared in Griffth's two biggest films: The Birth of a Nation in 1915 and Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages in 1916.  Also in 1916, Lincoln had a named credit in one of Tod Browning's early efforts:  The Fatal Glass of Beer, and was also the "Magic Genie" in the 1917 feature length Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp. But it was his appearance in Tarzan of the Apes in 1918 as Tarzan that made him a household name--and thereafter known as "The First Tarzan" (although technically young actor Gordon Griffith--no relation to D.W.--who played the part of "Tarzan-Younger" was actually the very first Tarzan on film).  In all, Lincoln only made three films as Tarzan, which is surprising given his fame for assaying the role. After Tarzan of the Apes, he made The Romance of Tarzan later in 1918, a testament to the popularity of the first film; and Adventures of Tarzan in 1921. Though a couple of serials capitalized on Elmo's fame as Tarzan, casting him in roles of strong adventurous men named...well, "Elmo."  In 1919, he starred in Elmo, The Mighty and the serial Elmo the Fearless began it's rolling release in February of 1920.  Another adventure serial dating from 1920 starring Lincoln was the popular The Flaming Disc in which one of the two characters that he played was also named Elmo. All of these serials were produced by the Great Western Producing Co., at which Lincoln also made feature b-grade films.  In fact, Great Western was one of the production companies involved with his last Tarzan film in 1921, after which he appeared, along with Laura La Plante, in three western shorts for Universal. He then appeared in a dramedy with the Man of a Thousand Faces himself, Lon Chaney, Quincey Adams Sawyer in 1922 (and speaking of Lon Chaney, Lincoln also had a tiny part in The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1923). After 1923, he only had one relatively large role in a silent film with any sort of large budget; in 1925 he appeared as "Foreman Slade" in the western All Around Frying Pan.  His last silent film came with a starring role in the action adventure set in Africa The King of the Jungle in 1927. Lincoln was fairly good friends with British born co-star Gordon Standing, who was mauled by a lion on the set and died the following day. Lincoln left the film business promptly after this--he had himself handled (and was in some cases asked to basically abuse) dangerous animals on the set of movies since his debut as Tarzan. He had had enough. He then moved on to a venture in mining, which pardon the expression, didn't pan out. This saw his return to the movie business in 1939. He had a long career as a player until 1952, mostly in small uncredited roles--as so many silent stars had  been relegated to in the talking era. A good 1/2 of his 80 film credits came during this phase of his career.  His "comeback film" was as an uncredited card player in the Barbara Stanwyck western Union Pacific; and he did appear in two more Tarzan films, but not as Tarzan or a Tarzan family member (as a "circus roustabout" in MGM's Tarzan's New York Adventure [1942] starring Johnny Weissmuller, and a "fisherman" in the RKO distributed Tarzan's Magic Fountain [1949] starring Lex Barker).  He also had an uncredited role in the 1939 RKO production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame starring Charles Laughton. His last role in a film came in a tiny uncredited appearance in the romance drama Carrie in 1952; a Billy Wilder film starring Jennifer Jones and Sir Lawrence Olivier--a strange note on which to end such career indeed.  Lincoln died on the 27th of June of that same year as the result of sudden heart attack--he was 63 years old. His cremated remains are interred in a niche in the mausoleum what is now called The Hollywood Forever Cemetery.  

[Photo: Find A Grave]

Lincoln as Tarzan