Johnny Weissmuller

Johnny Weissmuller
Russell Ball / MGM


Johnny Weissmuller
TV: North side of the 6500 block of Hollywood Boulevard
Actor | Athlete
Born Peter Johann Weissmuller on June 2, 1904 in Freidorf, Romania
Died Jan. 20, 1984 of pulmonary edema in Acapulco, Mexico

Johnny Weissmuller was a gold medal-winning Olympic athlete and star of Tarzan movies.

Six feet, three inches tall with a deep chest and classic profile, Weissmuller became in the 1920s a symbol of all that was best in American athletics. He dominated the aquatics of his heyday, winning five Olympic gold medals and establishing 67 world records.

He went on to become a movie star. His first role was a non-speaking part in a forgettable epic called "Glorifying the American Girl." He had appeared as Adam, wearing only a fig leaf and holding actress Mary Eaton on his shoulders. Much of his footage was dropped, but it came to the attention of a writer named Cyril Hume who was working on a script called "Tarzan the Ape Man."

Hume brought him in front of the director and producer, who asked him to take off his clothes. "I didn't realize what was going on," Weissmuller said. "They asked me if I could climb a tree and I said yes, and they asked me could I pick up a girl and walk away with her and I said yes ... and that's all there was to the test. I had the part."

For Jane, MGM selected Irish-born Maureen O'Sullivan.

The film may have changed novelist Edgar Rice Burroughs' hero from an intelligent and well-spoken English lord into an inarticulate semi-baboon, but it was a huge box-office success and led to a sequel, and then to another and another.

Weissmuller went on to play "Jungle Jim" roles, then later retire from movie-making.

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