Janos (Johann) Peter Weissmuller (June 2, 1904 – January 20, 1984) was an American competitive swimmer, Olympian, and actor. He was known for playing Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan in Tarzan the Ape Man (1932 version), five sequels produced by MGM, and six additional films by RKO. Weissmuller was also known for having one of the best competitive swimming records of the 20th century. Weissmuller set numerous world records alongside winning five gold medals in the Olympics. He won the 100m freestyle and the 4 × 200 m relay team event in 1924 at the Paris Games and again in 1928 at the Amsterdam Games. Gold was also brought home by Weissmuller in the 400m freestyle, as well as a bronze medal in the water polo competition in Paris.
Johann Peter Weißmüller was born on June 2, 1904, in Freidorf, in the Hungarian part of Austria-Hungary (now part of Romania). Three days later he was baptized into the Catholic faith by the Hungarian version of his German name, as János. Early the next year on January 26, 1905, he embarked on a twelve-day trip on the S.S. Rotterdam to Ellis Island alongside his father, Peter Weissmuller, and mother, Elizabeth. Soon they arrived in Windber, Pennsylvania, to live with family. Johnny's brother Peter was born the following September.
Three years later they relocated to Chicago to be with his mother's parents. His parents rented a single level in a shared house where he lived during his childhood. Fullerton Beach on Lake Michigan is where Johnny's love for swimming took off, having his first swimming lessons there. He excelled immediately and began entering and winning every race he could. Johnny's father deserted the family when Johnny was in the eighth grade. He left school to begin working in order to support his mother and younger brother.
When Weissmuller was 11 he lied to join the YMCA, which had a 12 year old minimum rule to join. He won every swimming race he entered and also excelled at running and high jumping. Before long he was on one of the best swim teams in the country, the Illinois Athletic Club.
Sixteen children, ten women, and one man drowned on July 28, 1927, when the Favorite, a small excursion boat cruising from Lincoln Park to Municipal Pier (Navy Pier), capsized half a mile off North Avenue in a sudden, heavy squall. Seventy-five women and children and a half dozen men sank with the boat when it tipped over, but rescuers saved over fifty of them. Weissmueller was one of the Chicago lifeguards who saved many.
|Height||6 ft 3 in (191 cm)|
|Weight||190 lb (86 kg)|
|Sport||Swimming, water polo|
|Club||Illinois Athletic Club|
Johnny had an opportunity to tryout for the famous swimming coach Bill Bachrach. Impressed with what he saw, he took Weissmuller under his wing. He also was a strong father figure and mentor for Johnny. On August 6, 1921, Weissmuller began his competitive swimming career. He entered four Amateur Athletic Union races and won them all. Johnny set his first 2 world records at the A.A.U. Nationals on September 27, 1921, in the 100m and 150yd events.
On July 9, 1922, Weissmuller broke Duke Kahanamoku's world record in the 100-meter freestyle, swimming it in 58.6 seconds. He won the title for that distance at the 1924 Summer Olympics, beating Kahanamoku for the gold medal. He also won the 400-meter freestyle and was a member of the winning U.S. team in the 4×200-meter relay.
Four years later, at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, he won another two gold medals. It was during this period that Weissmuller became an enthusiast for John Harvey Kellogg's holistic lifestyle views on nutrition, enemas and exercise. He came to Kellogg's Battle Creek, Michigan sanatorium to dedicate its new 120-foot swimming pool, and break one of his own previous swimming records after adopting the vegetarian diet prescribed by Kellogg.
In 1927, Weissmuller set a new world record of 51.0 seconds in the 100-yard freestyle, which stood for 17 years. He improved it to 48.5 seconds at Billy Rose World's Fair Aquacade in 1940, aged 36, but this result was discounted, as he was competing as a professional.
In all, Weissmuller won five Olympic gold medals and one bronze medal, 52 United States national championships, and set 67 world records. He was the first man to swim the 100-meter freestyle under one minute and the 440-yard freestyle under five minutes. He never lost a race and retired with an unbeaten amateur record. In 1950, he was selected by the Associated Press as the greatest swimmer of the first half of the 20th century.
Weissmuller's first film was the non-speaking role of Adam in the movie Glorifying the American Girl. He appeared wearing only a fig leaf while hoisting actress Mary Eaton on his shoulders. He was noticed by the writer Cyril Hume, which led to his big break playing Tarzan in Tarzan the Ape Man in 1932.
When asked to play Tarzan, Weissmuller was already under contract to model BVD underwear. MGM agreed to have actresses such as Greta Garbo and Marie Dressler featured in BVD ads so that he could be released from his BVD contract. The author of Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs, was pleased with Weissmuller, although he so hated the studio's depiction of Tarzan as an individual who barely spoke English that he created his own concurrent Tarzan series starring Herman Brix as a suitably articulate version of the character (as is true to the original books).
Weissmuller is considered the definitive Tarzan. He originated the famous Tarzan yell, which was created by sound recordist Douglas Shearer. Shearer recorded Weissmuller's normal yell, but manipulated it and played it in reverse.
Weissmuller retired from acting in 1957.
Weissmuller was married five times: band and club singer Bobbe Arnst (married 1931, divorced 1933); actress Lupe Vélez (married 1933, divorced 1939); Beryl Scott (married 1939, divorced 1948); Allene Gates (married 1948, divorced 1962); and Maria Baumann (from 1963 until his death in 1984).
Johnny was sent thousands of letters every week from fans around the world.
With his third wife, Beryl, he had three children, Johnny Weissmuller, Jr. (1940–2006), Wendy Anne Weissmuller (born 1942), and Heidi Elizabeth Weissmuller (1944–1962), who was killed in a car crash. He also had a stepdaughter with Baumann, Lisa Weissmuller-Gallagher.
Weissmuller saved many peoples' lives throughout his own life. One very notable instance was in 1927 whilst training for the Chicago Marathon, Johnny saved 11 people from drowning after a boat accident.
In 1974, Weissmuller broke both his hip and leg, marking the beginning of years of declining health. While hospitalized he learned that in spite of his strength and lifelong daily regimen of swimming and exercise, he had a serious heart condition. In 1977, Weissmuller suffered a series of strokes. In 1979, he entered the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California, for several weeks before moving with his last wife, Maria, to Acapulco, Mexico, the location of his last Tarzan movie.
On January 20, 1984, Weissmuller died from pulmonary edema at the age of 79. He was buried just outside Acapulco, Valle de La Luz at the Valley of the Light Cemetery. As his coffin was lowered into the ground, a recording of the Tarzan yell he invented was played three times, at his request. He was honored with a 21-gun salute, befitting a head of state, which was arranged by Senator Ted Kennedy and President Ronald Reagan.
His former co-star and movie son Johnny Sheffield wrote of him, "I can only say that working with Big John was one of the highlights of my life. He was a Star (with a capital "S") and he gave off a special light and some of that light got into me. Knowing and being with Johnny Weissmuller during my formative years had a lasting influence on my life." In 1973, Weissmuller was awarded the George Eastman Award, given by George Eastman House for distinguished contribution to the art of film.
Edgar Rice Burroughs himself paid oblique tribute to Weissmuller's powerful screen persona in the last Tarzan novel that he completed, albeit with a misspelling of the actor's name.
|Johnny Weissmuller in Film|
|1929||Glorifying the American Girl||Adonis||Cameo appearance in the segment 'Loveland'|
|1931||Swim or Sink||Himself||Short subject|
|Water Bugs||Himself||Short subject|
|1932||Tarzan the Ape Man||Tarzan|
|The Human Fish||Himself||Short subject|
|1934||Tarzan and His Mate||Tarzan|
|1939||Tarzan Finds a Son!||Tarzan|
|1941||Tarzan's Secret Treasure||Tarzan|
|1942||Tarzan's New York Adventure||Tarzan|
|1943||Tarzan Triumphs||Tarzan||Complete title: Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan Triumphs|
|Stage Door Canteen||Himself||Cameo role washing dishes.|
|Tarzan's Desert Mystery||Tarzan||Complete title: Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan's Desert Mystery|
|1945||Tarzan and the Amazons||Tarzan||Complete title: Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan and the Amazons|
|1946||Tarzan and the Leopard Woman||Tarzan||Complete title: Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan and the Leopard Woman|
|Swamp Fire||Johnny Duval|
|1947||Tarzan and the Huntress||Tarzan||Complete title: Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan and the Huntress|
|1948||Tarzan and the Mermaids||Tarzan||Complete title: Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan and the Mermaids|
|Jungle Jim||Jungle Jim|
|1949||The Lost Tribe||Jungle Jim|
|1950||Mark of the Gorilla||Jungle Jim|
|Captive Girl||Jungle Jim||Alternative title: Jungle Jim and the Captive Girl|
|Pygmy Island||Jungle Jim||Alternative title: Pygmy Island|
|1951||Fury of the Congo||Jungle Jim|
|Jungle Manhunt||Jungle Jim|
|1952||Jungle Jim in the Forbidden Land||Jungle Jim|
|Voodoo Tiger||Jungle Jim|
|1953||Savage Mutiny||Jungle Jim|
|Valley of Head Hunters||Jungle Jim|
|Killer Ape||Jungle Jim|
|1954||Jungle Man-Eaters||Jungle Jim|
|Cannibal Attack||Johnny Weissmuller|
|1955||Jungle Moon Men||Johnny Weissmuller|
|Devil Goddess||Johnny Weissmuller|
|1974||The Great Masquerade||Sepy Debronvi|
|1976||Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood||Stagehand No. 2||(final film role)|
|1956–1958||Jungle Jim||Jungle Jim||26 episodes|
|1958||You Bet Your Life||Guest Contestant||1|
- List of athletes with Olympic medals in different disciplines
- List of multiple Olympic gold medalists
- List of multiple Olympic gold medalists at a single Games
- List of Olympic medalists in swimming (men)
- List of Olympic medalists in water polo (men)
- List of multi-sport athletes
- World record progression 4 × 200 metres freestyle relay
- World record progression 100 metres freestyle
- World record progression 200 metres freestyle
- World record progression 400 metres freestyle
- World record progression 800 metres freestyle
- List of members of the International Swimming Hall of Fame
- "Johnny Weissmuller - Olympic Swimming, Water Polo | USA". International Olympic Committee. March 9, 2021. Retrieved March 11, 2021.
- "ISHOF.org | JOHNNY WEISSMULLER (USA)". ishof.org. Retrieved March 11, 2021.
- "Biography - The Official Licensing Website of Johnny Weissmuller". Johnny Weissmuller. Retrieved March 11, 2021.
- Johnny Weissmuller. espn.com
- Johnny Weissmuller profile Archived December 29, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, sports-reference.com; accessed November 12, 2015.
- Safire, William (2007). The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge: A Desk Reference for the Curious Mind. Macmillan. p. 943. ISBN 978-0-312-37659-8.
- Christopher, Paul J.; Smith, Alicia Marie (2006). Greatest Sports Heroes of All Times: North American Edition. Encouragement Press. p. 204. ISBN 978-1-933766-09-6.
- "Johnny Weissmuller". Olympic.org. Retrieved February 23, 2019.
- Kirsch, George B.; Othello, Harris; Nolte, Claire Elaine (2000). Encyclopedia of Ethnicity and Sports in the United States. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 488. ISBN 978-0-313-29911-7.
- Schaefer, Richard A (2005). "Chapter Thirteen THE FIVE-HUNDRED-DOLLAR SEED". LEGACY: Daring to Care: the heritage of Loma Linda. Retrieved November 12, 2015.
- International Swimming Hall of Fame, Honorees, Johnny Weissmuller (USA). Retrieved March 13, 2015.
- Simonton, Dean Keith (1994). Greatness: Who Makes History and Why. Guilford Press. p. 156. ISBN 978-0-89862-201-0.
- "Johnny Weissmuller". latimes.com. Retrieved March 11, 2021.
- "Tarzan, the Ape Man". www.tcm.com. Retrieved March 11, 2021.
- "Wayback Machine: Herman Brix, Tacoma Tarzan". Sportspress Northwest. Retrieved March 11, 2021.
- "Lisa Weissmuller, Daughter Of Johnny, Dies In Los Angeles At 66" (PDF). March 10, 2021.
- Fury, David (1994). Kings of the Jungle: An Illustrated Reference to "Tarzan" on Screen and Television. McFarland & Company. p. 57. ISBN 978-0-89950-771-2.
- Sisson, Richard; Zacher, Christian; Cayton, Andrew Robert Lee (2007). The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia. Indiana University Press. p. 902. ISBN 978-0-253-34886-9.
- Weissmuller, Johnny, Jr.; Weissmuller, Johnny; Reed, William (2002). Tarzan, My Father. Burroughs, Danton. ECW Press. p. 83. ISBN 978-1-55022-522-8.
- "Eastman House award recipients · George Eastman House". April 15, 2012. Archived from the original on April 15, 2012. Retrieved March 11, 2021.
- "MAMBO: TRIBUTE TO JOHNNY WEISSMULLER" (Video). January 8, 2012. Retrieved April 4, 2017 – via YouTube.
- Burroughs, Edgar Rice. Tarzan and "the Foreign Legion", Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., 1947.
- Johnny Weissmuller at Olympic.org (archived)
- Johnny Weissmuller at OlympicChannel.com (archived)
- Johnny Weissmuller at Olympics.com
- Johnny Weissmuller at Olympedia
- Johnny Weissmuller at International Swimming Hall of Fame
- Johnny Weissmuller at Munzinger Sports Archives (in German)
- Johnny Weissmuller at Olympics at Sports-Reference.com (archived)
- Johnny Weissmuller at IMDb
- Louis S. Nixdorff, 1928 Olympic games collection, 1926–1978, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.
- The passenger list of the ship that brought the Weissmullers to Ellis Island Archived September 27, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
- "Serbia: Monument to Tarzan", The New York Times, February 17, 2007. The article states that Johnny Weissmuller was born in Serbia.
- Johnny Weissmuller at Find a Grave
- Johnny Weissmuller Official Website