06/02/2004: Great days in history:
Today is the birthday of athlete/actor Johnny Weissmueller, who is best known in American popular culture as the classic "Tarzan" of the movies of the 1930's and 40's; when he got to be too old to be credible as the King of the Apes (which he did for 12 movies for both MGM and RKO), he turned to portraying a "great white hunter" type, and donned safari togs to portray "Jungle Jim" in a further 16 movies and a TV series.
Some interesting trivia about Weismueller:
- Weissmueller was, of course, a champion swimmer in college (the University of Chicago), Olympic competition and general amateur competition. In his career as a swimmer he eventually won 5 Olympic gold medals, 67 world titles, 52 national titles, and managed to set records in every freestyle swimming event from 100 yards to the half-mile. Back when I was an undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis, Weissmueller was still the holder of the record time in one swimming event at the swimming pool in the Francis Fieldhouse (because the event was some odd distance that I don't think is used in competitive swimming anymore, I have no doubt that Weissmueller's record still stands).
- Weissmueller was "discovered" by Cyril Hume (scriptwriter for the first Tarzan movie, Tarzan the Ape Man) while Weissmueller was swimming in a Hollywood hotel swimming pool. At the time, Weissmueller was a male model under contract to BVD to model BVD underwear and swimsuits; in order to secure Weissmueller's services for Tarzan the Ape Man MGM cut a deal with BVD to have many of MGM's female stars model BVD swimsuits.
- Weissmueller proved so popular with female moviegoers that MGM supposedly ordered him to divorce his wife, paying her $10,000 to go along with that.
- Weissmueller was vacationing in Cuba when Castro revolted against Batista to begin the Cuban revolution. According to the story, some of Castro's troops came onto a golf course and was going to take Weissmueller and his party hostage, whereupon Weissmueller secured his safety by letting loose with his trademark "Tarzan yell". Supposedly, the revolutionaries were so thrilled to be in the presence of the Tarzan that they escorted Weissmueller and his party to safety.
- Had he not been an athlete and actor, Weissmueller may have had the talent to make his career as an animal trainer. According to the IMDB biographical trivia for Weissmueller:
When Weissmuller was introduced to the first Cheetah in his Tarzan films in 1931 (he worked with 8 chimpanzees altogether), the chimp's trainer told him to show no fear or the animal would attack him. As Weissmuller, dressed in his Tarzan loincloth and hunting knife, walked up to the animal, it bared its teeth, growled at him and lunged as if to attack him. Weissmuller took the knife out of the sheath and held it in front of the chimp's nose, to make sure he saw and smelled it. He then slammed the animal on the side of the head with the knife handle. He put the knife back in its sheath and held out his hand to the chimp. It glared at him, bared his teeth again, then changed its mind, grinned at Weissmuller and jumped up and hugged him. Weissmuller never had any further problems with the chimp--although other cast and crew members did--and it followed him around like a puppy dog during all the pictures they worked together.
Len on 06.02.04 @ 07:58 AM CST