Almost 50 years after playing Tarzan, Ron Ely is still in the game

07/17/2014 6:03 PM

07/17/2014 6:03 PM

If you look at Ron Ely’s acting credits, there’s a gap between 2001 and 2014.

Ely was happy to take the long break from his career working in TV and films, which dates to 1958.

“I stepped out of acting to raise a family and be able to spend more time with them here in Santa Barbara,” Ely says. “Now, all the kids are through college with advance degrees. My family asked me ‘what are you hanging around for?’ I started looking around and this film came up. It felt so good making the movie, I wish I had never left.”

Ely plays an Amish elder in the Lifetime movie “Expecting Amish” (8 p.m. Saturday), which looks at how the community is rocked when Hannah, (AJ Michalka) on a rumspringa trip to Los Angeles, gets pregnant. Hannah knows that once the pregnancy is revealed she will be separated from her family. She is given a way to stay in the community, but it means she has to reject the young man (Jesse McCartney) she met in Los Angeles.

One of the things Ely liked about the role was that his character wasn’t the center of the story. That gave him a chance to get back to work without the pressure of carrying the film.

Ely carried plenty of projects in the 1960s and ’70s, including the “Tarzan” series on NBC. Playing Tarzan changed his life, and not just from the two dozen major injuries – including two broken shoulders and various lion bites – he got during filming.

“Tarzan” lasted two seasons – 1966-1968 – but that was enough to link Ely to the role.

“That character is such a trap, nobody gets out alive. … I became so associated with the role, I had to go to Europe to get work,” Ely says.

He started to land a few roles in the U.S., but Ely opted to take the acting hiatus. During that time he wrote five novels.

Ely has a theory as to why the Amish have become a popular subject for TV and big-screen movies.

“As we, as a society, grow further and further from our religious ties, we look back at the strongest of those communities. I would put Amish, Mormons, in that category. There’s something in us that seeks that out,” Ely says. “People look at Amish with their simpler life and strong values and wonder if their way of life would be better.”

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