This is the 900 th article I have written on this films of the fifties site, so I have chosen someone extremely well known and popular as the subject – and someone who requires no introduction to film fans the World over

It would have been Johnny’s Birthday a few days ago on June 2 nd

Here he is Rumanian-born American Olympic gold medallist, competition swimmer, water polo player and actor Johnny Weissmuller on his birthday (June 2, 1904 – January 20, 1984),

Much better known for his roles as Tarzan (1932-1948) and Jungle Jim (1948-1958).

ABOVE – In his most famous role

What a life he had – a swimming World Champion who made the transition to films very successfully indeed with the big budget Tarzan films for MGM – and they were big budget and very well made.

Johnny with Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs

The next step was when RKO Radio released the next tranche but these, although very good and very watchable were nowhere near as good.

ABOVE – A lovely colour picture of Johnny with a new – and very good Jane – Brenda Joyce

When Johnny got too old he simply got dressed but didn’t retire from the jungle escapades – instead he became Jungle Jim in a series of cinema release films before playing the same role on Television for quite a few years. These were shown in England in the 50s and were very popular.

In his spare time, apart from getting married quite a few times, he played a lot of golf.

A Biography of Johnny – I must try to acquire this book

In 1954, MGM re-released his first two films to great success; a whole new generation now saw him in his prime on the big screen. In fact, most of the 12 Weissmuller Tarzan movies were re-released in theaters worldwide over the years.

And then the television era ushered in five more decades of widespread international viewing of those Weissmuller films, which are among the most broadcasted movies of all time.

By 1957, Weissmuller had retired from acting and went on to partner in various business ventures. In great shape in midlife, Johnny also continued to bring his popularity directly to his fans via water shows throughout the 1950’s.

ABOVE with a young lady and another former Tarzan Buster Crabbe

He also travelled the world doing charity work throughout his life, always willing to lend his fame for a good cause when asked. He helped to open and fundraise for children’s hospitals in places like Istanbul and Madrid. One of his pet charities was the Special Olympics, and to that end in 1976 he donated all of his Olympic medals and many trophies to the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation for disabled children, to be used in fundraising exhibitions. (They are now housed at the International Swimming Hall of Fame museum.)

Johnny Weissmuller meets The Queen at the 1966 Commonwealth Games

He is so obviously impressed and overawed – and maybe The Queen really enjoyed meeting Tarzan – Johnny Weissmuller

When he died, Johnny Weissmuller was one of the very few non-heads of state ever to be afforded a 21-gun salute, at his memorial service at Good Shepherd church in Beverly Hills. Arranged by Senator Kennedy and President Reagan, it was a singular honour for a man who was a true American icon. Concurrent memorial masses were also held at St Michael’s in Chicago (where he had been an altar boy), St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC, and the Vatican in Rome.

Though he had endured many trials and tribulations in his life – growing up in a poor immigrant family with an abusive father, the untimely death of his teenage daughter Heidi and suicide of his beloved Lupe, financial ruin caused by his unscrupulous business manager of 25 years and his own debilitating series of strokes that rendered him so physically disabled the last few years of his life – Johnny was always happy-go- lucky, down to earth and considerate with everyone who crossed his path. And his legendary sense of humor, generosity and accessibility to his fans made him all the more beloved.

As good friend and former TV Tarzan Ron Ely said recently in a filmed interview:

“If you talk about Johnny Weissmuller, you can only say positive things. He was a positive person, and didn’t show his troubles on the outside. He had a lot of friends; everyone loved him. I didn’t know anyone to ever make the tiniest negative comment about Johnny..

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