Johnny Weissmuller

Johnny Weissmuller

American swimmer, five-time Olympic champion, author of 67 world records, the first to swim 100 meters faster than a minute, performer of the role of Tarzan in the films "Tarzan the Ape Man"
Date of Birth: 02.06.1904
Country: USA

Content:
  1. Biography of Johnny Weissmuller
  2. Early Swimming Career
  3. Acting Career
  4. Later Life

Biography of Johnny Weissmuller

American swimmer, five-time Olympic champion, and actor, best known for his role as Tarzan. His real name was Peter Johann Weissmuller. Johnny Weissmuller was born into a German family. His parents, Peter Weissmuller and Elizabeth Kersh, lived in Austro-Hungary, in present-day Romania. According to documents filed by his family upon arrival in the United States, Johnny was born in a suburb of modern-day Timisoara, although he was actually born in a small village located in present-day Serbia near the Romanian border. It was claimed that he was named Peter at birth, but his American name, Johnny, was used upon entering the United States as it was considered more American. However, according to church records in his hometown, Johnny Weissmuller was baptized on May 4, 1904, as Janos (the Hungarian equivalent of Johann) Weissmuller, the son of Peter Weissmuller and Elizabeth Kersh. The passenger manifest of the steamship "Rotterdam," which arrived in New York on January 26, 1905, contains information about Peter Weissmuller, a 29-year-old worker, his wife Elizabeth Kersh, 24 years old, and their seven-month-old son Johann. They were recorded as German-Hungarians, living near Timisoara before moving to the United States. They were heading to Johan Ott, a relative, in Windber, Pennsylvania. Johann Ott, a brewer like Peter Weissmuller, immigrated to the United States in 1902. After the move, Peter Weissmuller worked as a miner in Windber. On November 5, 1905, Peter Johann Weissmuller was baptized at the church in Windber. According to the 1910 U.S. Census, Peter Weissmuller and Elizabeth Kersh lived in Chicago at the same address as Johann and Eva Ott, with their sons John, 6 years old, born outside of the United States, and Peter (Pete) Jr., born in Illinois. However, most biographies of Johnny Weissmuller stated that he was born in Pennsylvania. It appears that he claimed to have been born in the United States to avoid issues with his inclusion on the Olympic team.

Johnny Weissmuller

Early Swimming Career

At the age of nine, Johnny contracted polio. Upon the doctor's advice to speed up his recovery, he took up swimming. After his family moved to Chicago, he continued his training and earned a place on the YMCA swim team. In Chicago, Johnny's father briefly owned a bar, and his mother became a chef at a famous restaurant. After his father's business failed, he turned to drinking and terrorizing his wife and children, which eventually led to divorce. Some sources mistakenly stated that Peter Weissmuller died of tuberculosis, but according to Johnny Weissmuller's son, while there were rumors that his grandfather remarried and lived to old age, nobody in the family knew what happened to him after the divorce. As a teenager, Johnny dropped out of school and worked various jobs, including being a beach lifeguard on Lake Michigan. While working as an elevator operator and messenger at an Illinois sports club, he caught the eye of swimming coach William Bachrach. Bachrach took him under his wing, and in August 1921, Johnny won the national championship in the 50 and 220-yard freestyle events. As Johnny was born in Europe, he used his younger brother's birthdate information in his documents. This allowed him to obtain an American passport and compete in the Olympics as part of the American team. On July 9, 1922, Weissmuller broke Duke Kahanamoku's world record in the 100-meter freestyle, swimming it in 58.6 seconds. On February 24, 1924, in Paris, he won the Olympic competition in the same discipline, defeating Kahanamoku. At the same Olympics, he also won the 400-meter freestyle and the 4x200-meter freestyle relay. He was also a member of the U.S. water polo team, which won a bronze medal at the Olympics. Four years later, at the Amsterdam Olympics, Johnny Weissmuller won two more gold medals, bringing his total to five gold and one bronze Olympic medal. Additionally, he won fifty-two U.S. championships and set sixty-seven world records. Johnny Weissmuller ended his amateur swimming career undefeated.

Johnny Weissmuller

Acting Career

In 1929, Weissmuller signed a contract with BVD, a clothing company. He traveled around the country as a model and representative for the company, promoting their swimwear, giving autographs, and participating in talk shows. That same year, he made his debut in the film industry. He appeared as Adonis, wearing only a fig leaf, in the film "Glorifying the American Girl." He also starred in a documentary film about American Olympic champions. Weissmuller's true acting career began in 1932 when he signed a seven-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and portrayed Tarzan in the film "Tarzan the Ape Man." The film was a huge success, and Weissmuller became instantly famous. He also won over the author of the Tarzan books, Edgar Rice Burroughs, although Burroughs initially opposed the studio's interpretation of Tarzan as a man who spoke very little human language. For MGM, Weissmuller starred in six Tarzan films alongside Maureen O'Sullivan and the chimpanzee named Cheetah. He then moved to RKO Pictures in 1942 and appeared in six more films, which were comparatively low-budget. Unlike MGM, RKO Pictures allowed Weissmuller to take on other roles, and he signed a contract with another company for three more films, but only one was made, "Swamp Fire." In his last four Tarzan films, Brenda Joyce portrayed Jane. Weissmuller's earnings for the Tarzan films totaled around two million dollars. Although he was not the first actor to portray Tarzan, it was his portrayal that became synonymous with the character. Additionally, it was in his films that Tarzan's distinctive yell was first heard. After leaving the role of Tarzan, Weissmuller appeared in a series of Columbia Pictures films as another character, Jungle Jim. A total of thirteen films were made from 1948 to 1954. He also starred in a television series about Jungle Jim from 1956 to 1958. Thus, apart from his initial appearance as Adonis and his only film as Johnny Duval, "Swamp Fire," Weissmuller played only three roles: Tarzan, Jungle Jim, and himself.

Johnny Weissmuller

Later Life

Weissmuller was married five times: to singer Bobbe Arnst (from 1931 to 1933), actress Lupe Velez (1933-1939), Beryl Scott, with whom he had a son, John Weissmuller Jr., and two daughters (from 1939 to 1948), Allene Gates (1948-1962), and Maria Bauman (from 1963 until his death). In the late 1950s, Weissmuller returned to Chicago, where he founded a company that owned swimming pools. He lent his name to other commercial projects but did not achieve success in business. In 1965, he left the business and moved to Florida, where he became the chairman of the International Swimming Hall of Fame. In September 1966, Weissmuller, along with two other actors who portrayed Tarzan, participated in a presentation to the audience for the release of the Tarzan television series. It was suggested that he might appear in the series as Tarzan's father, but it did not happen. In 1970, he attended the Commonwealth Games and was presented to the Queen. In the same year, he made a cameo appearance with his former co-star, Maureen O'Sullivan, in the film "The Phynx." Weissmuller lived in Florida until the end of 1973, after which he moved to Las Vegas, where he occasionally worked at an MGM hotel, welcoming guests. In 1976, he made his final film appearance, playing a fired crew member. In the same year, he made his final public appearance when he was inducted into the bodybuilding hall of fame. In 1974, Weissmuller broke his leg, after which his health deteriorated. While undergoing treatment, he learned that despite his daily training, he had heart problems. In 1977, he suffered a series of strokes. In 1979, he spent several weeks in the hospital, after which he and his wife moved to Acapulco, where his last Tarzan film was shot. Johnny Weissmuller passed away on January 20, 1984, due to pulmonary edema. At his request, he was buried in Acapulco.

Johnny Weissmuller

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