Zerbini Family History
Early Zerbini Family History
The earliest recorded circus performers in the Zerbini family tree hailed from Italy in the year 1763.
Few details are known about these early days, but the research continues.
Around the year 1900, Arturo Zerbini moved his family from Italy to North Africa. Born in North Africa
(a French colony at the time) his children were given French citizenship.
For the next 50 years, the Zerbini family circus traveled extensively throughout Algeria, Tunisia,
Morocco and Turkey.
In 1953, Charles Zerbini (Tarzan’s father), along with brothers Louie, Pierre and Antoine, became the
first and only family ever to cross the Sahara desert with a circus. The 21-day, 1,900kilometer trip was
long and hard. All necessary supplies and fuel had to be carried along with them. Especially
cumbersome was the feed and water for the animals. Amazingly, there were no casualties. There were
numerous mechanical breakdowns however. Broken parts had to be crafted with the materials at hand.
At the young age of 11, Tarzan (or Jean, his birth name) was already honing his mechanical skills at
the side of his elders. Three years later (1956), the Zerbini’s moved the family’s show to France.
Tarzan in America
1961 brought new and exciting events. Charles moved his family to the United States to join the Mills
Brothers Circus. The journey, aboard a freighter, took 11 days. Caring for their exotic cats in the cargo
hold of the ship was very difficult and quite aromatic as they recall.
The American circus was a new experience for the Zerbini’s. The Mills Brothers wanted Jean’s cat act to
be patterned after the likes of Clyde Beatty, Pat Anthony and Dave Hoover. But, the whip, chair and
gun routine seamed very uncomfortable to him. In France, the young Zerbini entered the ring in a
tuxedo, not a military uniform.
In 1962, Jean created a new act… calling himself Tarzan for the first time. He became the first trainer
in America to enter the ring with no whip, chair or gun. This charismatic young man learned to control
lion’s and tigers with voice commands and body movements only.
Also in 1962, Tarzan married a young French trapeze artist, Jacqueline Souren.
In 1964, Tarzan took this extraordinary new act to the Al Dobritch International Circus. Adding comedy
to the act caught the attention of the public and the circus community. Performing in this totally new
style, Tarzan became a star. Along with the new-found fame Tarzan also became the highest paid
animal act in the business.
As Johnny Weissmuller aged playing Tarzan on the silver screen, the industry began looking for a new
face to star as Tarzan on television. Who would make a better replacement than the REAL Tarzan, Jean
Zerbini? At this time, Tarzan was commanding a whopping $1,000 every day he entered the cage. The
TV executives could not even consider paying that kind of money, and the negotiations ended.
During the mid 60’s Jean Zerbini (now legally changed to Tarzan Zerbini) continued his climb to the
top, appearing on TV shows such as: To Tell the Truth, Those Amazing Animals, Coliseum, Hollywood
Palace and several episodes of the Ed Sullivan and Mike Douglas Show’s.
It was 1967, in Cleveland, OH; Tarzan was attacked in the ring by an 800-pound lion. Suffering from
wounds requiring over 500 stitches and a broken arm, Tarzan returned to the ring the very next day.
Every night he was required to return to the hospital for antibiotic treatment.
After recovering (1968), Tarzan designed and performed in the world’s first portable arena constructed
of cable that was not built into the ring curb.
1969 brought tragedy once again. Especially painful for Tarzan, his father Charles died of a heart
During the early and mid 70’s Tarzan began to work as a freelance performer. He performed
extensively with the Pollack Brothers Circus and later with Hubert Castle.
Mr. Castle and Tarzan hit it off extremely well… both loved to fish, drink fine wine and play poker.
Hubert could also see that Tarzan showed a special dedication to, and love for the circus. In 1979,
Hubert Castle offered to sell the circus to TZ. Tarzan’s lawyer issued a cashier’s check to Hubert Castle
Tarzan was now on top of the world… A star studded career, 2 Rolls Royces, a beautiful house, a yacht,
a beautiful and talented wife (Jacqueline), 3 young daughters (Patricia, Sylvia and Christine), and his
life long dream… his very own circus.
The all-new Tarzan Zerbini International 3-Ring Circus took to the road in 1980. TZ made his circus
bigger and better than any other of the time. With spectacular wardrobe, elaborate productions,
showgirls, a huge clown alley, and his famous circus band under the direction of Clem Toca, how could
Tragedy Strikes Again
Things are not always as they seem… TZ soon began to see that Hubert’s revenue claims were far from
accurate. Within 2 years, the new circus was over 1.5 million dollars in the hole.
Faced with pending financial ruin, a now broken marriage and a bruised ego, TZ decided to fight back.
Rejecting the advice of his accountants and lawyers to file for bankruptcy, Tarzan takes matters into his
own hands. Beaten down but still self confident, he negotiated with his creditors and they gave him
time. He sold everything that he had worked so hard for…the cars, the boat, the property, and within 2
years paid everyone back in full.
The Tarzan Zerbini Circus was still in his heart. Tarzan, Patricia and Sylvia (his 2 oldest daughters),
began to rebuild the circus. The legend continued…
1983 marked a turning point with the circus. Tarzan met with some young Canadian entrepreneurs
from a company called Great West Entertainment (GWE). Senior partners in Calgary, Jeff Pickering and
Ron Calhoun talked with TZ about producing a circus for Canada. Junior partner in Toronto, Michael
Platz was given the task of making it happen.
Later that year, a big top was rented from Harold Barns. The tent was moved from Miami, Florida to
Square One Shopping Mall in Mississauga, Ontario (a suburb of Toronto). This 10-day stand was a big
success. This began a great new era for the Tarzan Zerbini Circus.
A New Beginning
1984 was a huge year for Tarzan… TZ bought Circus Tivoli’s tent and equipment. He introduced the
European-style single ring circus to North America. TZ and Great West Entertainment began to build a
promising route in Canada. The circus moved to a new location, Joplin, MO. And the Lord of the Jungle
married Ringling Brothers’ Star Trapeze and Sway Pole artist Elizabeth (Lisi) Bauer.
Born of 2 other great circus families, the Fearless Bauers and the Nerveless Nocks, Lisi and her family
(the Bauers), were of great help to Tarzan. Soon, Lisi gave birth to a baby girl, Erika.
With new-found business associates, GWE, and a lovely new family, the success story continued.
Over the next decade the short 10-day spot in Toronto blossomed into a 15-week cross Canada tour.
That, combined with an already strong United States tour, was enough to put the Tarzan Zerbini Circus
back on top.
In 1997, Tarzan added a second winter quarters in Myakka City, Florida.
In 1998, Tarzan acquired another new tent (his 6th) from master Italian tent maker Canobbio. This tent
was the first one of it’s kind (round cupola) in North America. It’s a must see!!!
In 1998, Tarzan’s Canadian associate’s GWE went public, and with CEO, Michael Platz at the helm,
changed their name to Xentel DM.
In 1999, Xentel DM moved into the US market with a company simply named Xentel. In this new joint
effort, Xentel DM, Xentel and TZ Productions continued to expand. With over 3,000 employees between
the companies, we were able to provide the most comprehensive package of Production, Concessions &
Telemarketing available. We are the largest producers of Shrine Circuses in North America today. Our
performances reach approximately 1.3 million patrons in over 70 cities coast to coast.
In 2011, Xentel's operations were merged with iMark Solutions Group and from that, our new
marketing partner iMark Events was born. This new marriage added a depth of information
technologies that are helping further expand our combined offerings.
Our goal is to simply be the best… and offer an experience of a lifetime to children of all ages!