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Elmo Lincoln

1889 - 1952

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03 Life Stories

Elmo Lincoln
1889 - 1952

The silver screen's first Tarzan was born Otto Elmo Linkenhelt, in Rochester, Indiana, on February 6, 1889. Burly and sturdy in build, at over 200 pounds, Lincoln started his screen career under the sure guidance of D.W. Griffith at Biograph. While under Griffith's tutelege, Lincoln appeared in some of the silent era's most important films: Judith of Bethulia (1914), Birth of a Nation (1915), and Intolerance (1916).

His big career break came in 1918, when Lincoln nabbed the plum title role in Tarzan of the Apes, adapted from the literary work of Edgar Rice Burroughs. As the first portrayer of the King of the jungle, Lincoln would eventually find himself haunted by role stereotyping (much like Bela Lugosi and his role as Dracula). Lincoln reprised his trademark screen alter ego in The Romance of Tarzan (1918), The Return of Tarzan (1920), and the serialized The Adventures of Tarzan (1921).

Owing to his sturdy frame, Lincoln was a natural for starring strongman roles in two silent-era serials, Elmo the Mighty (1919), and Elmo the Fearless (1920). He balanced his career with occasional leading and supporting parts, but found steady work scarce after his initial Tarzan success. He retired from film in 1923, returning to the screen in the late 1930s. Again, finding roles hard to obtain, he played minor supporting and bit parts in such films as Union Pacific (1939), The Man Who Walked Alone (1945), and (in two ironic film choices) Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942), and Tarzan's Magic Fountain (1949). He also played himself in a cameo role in Hollywood Story (1951).

Lincoln has a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, located at 7044 Hollywood Boulevard, between Orange Drive and Sycamore Avenue. He died on June 27, 1952, at age 63, in Los Angeles, of heart failure. Elmo Lincoln, the first film portrayer of Tarzan, and a beloved and well-remembered figure in cinema history, rests in the Colonnade in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.