"Come on, eat something! Here, have some soup.
It's good; here, have some.
Now, how are you going to be strong? Come on, huh?
Strong like me!
Look, strong like Tarzan!
Do you know who Tarzan is?"
It's customary for Toobworld Central to accept references to other fictional characters as being an acknowledgement that they actually exist. This is no different, but Kelly's verb tense makes it seem that Kelly considers Tarzan as still being alive.
For the purposes of the Toobworld Dynamic, I am currently inclined to consider Ron Ely's portrayal of the Ape-Man in the 1960s TV series as being THE Tarzan. It doesn't have much of a connection to the world and the time period in which Edgar Rice Burroughs set as the backdrop for the two dozen or so novels he wrote about one of the most famous characters in literature.
And it's to one of those novels that I have turned in order to make my argument that the Tarzan played by Ely is the official one for Earth Prime-Time.
If - as we usually do with contemporary TV characters - we consider Tarzan to be the same age as the actor who played him, then John Clayton was born around the late 1930s. However, the main thrust of the action in the novels takes place around the same time as the first publication in All-Story Magazine in 1912, with Tarzan being born a little over two decades before. Luckily, the 1935/36 publication of "Tarzan's Quest" in Blue Book Magazine provided a way to resolve this timeline discrepancy.
Here's a summary of "Tarzan's Quest" from Wikipedia:
Toobworld Central doesn't always accept details to be found in the original sources outside of television; what matters more is what was depicted on the small screen. As an example, even though the details of Batman's back-story - in which he saw his parents gunned down in an alley by a low-life criminal - were not explicitly spelled out in the 1966 'Batman' (the official portrayal of the Caped Crusader in the main Toobworld), we accept that as being the true story. However, when it comes to the true identity of who the Riddler is, that never came up in the TV series and therefore we have no compunction about refusing to accept "Edward Nigma" as his real identity. (To better serve the cohesiveness of the TV mosaic, the Riddler was actually two men, as it's a job title, not a name - Lew Rydell from the "Second Verdict" episode of 'The Alfred Hitchcock Hour', and Gomez Addams of 'The Addams Family'.)
And so it is with Tarzan. Even though the stories from the TV series have no connection to the Burroughs' novels, he is still the real Tarzan for the main Toobworld. But at the same time we accept the events depicted in "Tarzan's Quest" as having happened. Therefore, Ron Ely's Tarzan was born in the 19th Century. (According to Win Scott Eckert's excellent chronology for all of Burroughs' major characters, John Clayton was born November 22, 1888.) He later received that immortality drug although we never saw any of that depicted on TV. (Just so there is no confusion, Toobworld is NOT part of the Wold Newton Universe, which I admire very much. Philip Jose Farmer was one of several influences on the Toobworld Dynamic and Win Scott Eckert has done an excellent job in carrying on his work.)
The Toobworld Dynamic is a fluid concept, always changing and adapting due to new stories written for television. The day may come when a Tarzan truly faithful to the Burroughs mythos comes along on TV and we'll have to rethink our position on Ron Ely's character. Accepting the events from the novel "Tarzan's Quest" shows that we already have revised our position on the Lord of the Apes. If that day comes, we do have a splainin in mind: that Ely's Tarzan is only using the name of his father; that in fact he is Jack Clayton AKA Korak.
We shall see what we shall view.
Getting back to the 'Combat!' quote that launched this post......
So Private Kelly was referring to Ron Ely as Tarzan, even though his televised exploits would not be happening for another twenty years at least. Although unseen by the audience viewing at home in the Trueniverse, Tarzan was very much active during the war years and his exploits must have been chronicled by some intrepid reporter in dispatches from Africa. (I'm sure with a little research we could find such a fictional reporter in yet another TV show.)
Kelly must have read about those adventures of Tarzan and that's why he spoke of the Ape-Man as being alive.
So anyhoo... that's my annual contribution to Wold Newton Day as it applies to the Television Universe.