Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tarzan at the Olympics

With the Olympic Games starting tomorrow in London, we turn our attention to a couple of teammates from the 1928 Amsterdam Games who made it big in the movies -- Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe.

It is perhaps no coincidence that since swimmers have the best bodies, these two fellows being swimmers would both end up playing Tarzan.

Weissmuller had the greater record both as an Olympic swimmer and as Tarzan. He competed in the 1924 Paris Games and the 1928 Amsterdam Games. In Paris he won 3 gold medals, and a bronze in water polo. In Amsterdam he won two more gold. He set several world records and never lost a race. In 1932, after creating a splash as a spokesman/model for BVD swimwear, he was beckoned to Hollywood and the back lot jungle to play Tarzan in “Tarzan the Ape Man.” He played him in 12 movies, and then went on to the “Jungle Jim” series.

Weissmuller's teammate in the 1928 Amsterdam Games was Buster Crabbe.  Crabbe won the bronze medal for the 1500 metres freestyle swimming event. A two-time Olympian like Weissmuller, Buster Crabbe then went to the 1932 Los Angeles Games and won the gold for the 400 metres freestyle. Like Weissmuller, it was only a short hop for Crabbe from the bathing suit with US team emblem to the loin cloth, and Buster became Tarzan in “Tarzan the Fearless” (1933).

It was Mr. Crabbe’s only stint as the ape man, however. He went on to a number of other jungle movies and then famously to his series as Flash Gordon.

Have a look here at this link for a photo of the two teammates and the two Tarzans together in the pool. No crocodiles appear to be lurking about for them to battle.


Kevin Deany said...

Jacqueline, it's so funny you wrote this. The other day there was some footage of the Olympic swimmers competing this year and I thought to myself that at one time, the winner of the gold medals in swimming would be considered for the next Tarzan movie.

Another link between Tarzan and the Olympics is the independently-produced "Tarzan's Revenge" (1938). Playing Tarzan was Glenn Morris, who won a gold medal in the decathlon at the 1936 Olympics.

His leading lady was Eleanor Holm, who won the gold medal in swimming, the 100-meter backstroke at the 1932 Olympics.

Alas, not a very good movie and the reviews of both stars were pretty blistering. Neither of them ever appeared in another movie.

readerman said...

I used to love those old Tarzan movies and watched them in the 60s after school. I still remember one that had a giant spidar in it and wonder if that was the inspiration for J. K. Rowling's big arachnid.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Kevin, thanks so much for the info on Morris and Holm. I didn't know about his Tarzan stint, but I was thinking of Eleanor Holm recently. I wish I'd dug deeper. I'm glad you picked up the baton I dropped.

Readerman, I used to watch Tarzan as a kid, too. I seem to remember Saturday afternoons as being a regular Tarzan feature on TV.

Kevin Deany said...

Readerman, Tarzan fought the giant spider in one of his RKO offerings, "Tarzan's Desert Mystery" (1943). It's a fun entry in the series.

There's also a terrific giant spider sequence in Korda's "The Thief of Bagdad" (1940).

Caftan Woman said...

A great post to start off Olympics mania.

Weissmuller is my favourite Tarzan. "Nazis take boy. Tarzan get mad." Don't mess with the lord of the jungle.

Buster Crabbe is one of my favourites. He projected such a "good guy" persona on screen. Very likeable.

It was wise of producers to look to the Olympics for their Tarzans. Herman Brix/Bruce Bennett won a silver medal for the shot put in 1928 and had his shot at Greystoke.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

CW, your Tarzan quote cracked me up. Don't mess with is right.

I was recently reading about Bruce Bennett for the "Mildred Pierce" post and forgot about his Tarzan connection. I'm glad I've got you and Kevin, a couple of Tarzan experts, to help out.

I think when watching the swimmers at the Games this year, instead of the usual nationalist cheering, we should all just give the Tarzan yell in support.

Rick29 said...

I love this post! Another Tarzan-Olympics connection: Olympic decathlon champ Rafer Johnson appeared several 1960s Tarzan films...but not as the Ape Man.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Wow, Rick, I had no idea the Tarzan-Olympics connection went on so long. Rafer Johnson! I love these comments.

Yvette said...

Herman Brix aka Bruce Bennett had a gorgeous body. I liked him second best as Tarzan after Johnny Weissmuller. Actually, Brix was a bit closer to the original version of Tarzan. Somehow he projected a more sophisticated air. He was also damn good looking.

Well, so was Johnny....sigh.

I can't even begin to tell you how many times I've seen the Tarzan films over the years. It's embarrassing.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

I don't think I've seen the Bruce Bennett version, that I can remember. I used to watch all those Weissmuller movies, but I think it's been years and years since I've seen a Tarzan film.

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