Johnny Weissmuller - Biography - IMDb
Johnny Weissmuller Poster


Jump to: Overview (5)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Family (2)  | Trade Mark (3)  | Trivia (28)  | Personal Quotes (9)  | Salary (1)

Overview (5)

Born in Freidorf, Hungary, Austria-Hungary [now Timisoara, Timis County, Romania]
Died in Acapulco, Mexico  (pulmonary edema following a series of strokes)
Birth NamePeter Johann Weissmüller
Nickname Big John
Height 6' 3" (1.91 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Johnny Weissmuller was born as Peter Johann Weißmüller in Freidorf, today a district of the city of Timisoara in Romania, then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Weissmuller would later claim to have been born in Windber, Pennsylvania, probably to ensure his eligibility to compete as part of the US Olympic team. Weissmüller was one of two boys born to Petrus Weissmuller, a miner, and his wife Elisabeth Kersch, who were both Banat Swabians, an ethnic German population in Southeast Europe. A sickly child, he took up swimming on the advice of a doctor. He grew to be a 6' 3", 190-pound champion athlete - undefeated winner of five Olympic gold medals, 67 world and 52 national titles, holder of every freestyle record from 100 yards to the half-mile. In his first picture, Glorifying the American Girl (1929), he appeared as an Adonis clad only in a fig leaf. After great success with a jungle movie, MGM head Louis B. Mayer, via Irving Thalberg, optioned two of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan stories. Cyril Hume, working on the adaptation of Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), noticed Weissmuller swimming in the pool at his hotel and suggested him for the part of Tarzan. Weissmuller was under contract to BVD to model underwear and swimsuits; MGM got him released by agreeing to pose many of its female stars in BVD swimsuits. The studio billed him as "the only man in Hollywood who's natural in the flesh and can act without clothes". The film was an immediate box-office and critical hit. Seeing that he was wildly popular with girls, the studio told him to divorce his wife and paid her $10,000 to agree to it. After 1942, however, MGM had used up its options; it dropped the Tarzan series and Weissmuller, too. He then moved to RKO and made six more Tarzans. After that he made 13 Jungle Jim (1948) programmers for Columbia. He retired from movies to run a private business in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Ed Stephan <>

Family (2)

Spouse Maria Bauman (23 April 1963 - 20 January 1984)  (his death)
Allene Gates (29 January 1948 - 1963)  (divorced)
Beryl Scott (20 August 1939 - 29 January 1948)  (divorced)  (3 children)
Lupe Velez (8 October 1933 - 16 August 1939)  (divorced)
Bobbe Arnst (28 February 1931 - 6 October 1933)  (divorced)
Parents Petrus Weißmüller
Elisabeth Kersch

Trade Mark (3)

muscular pectorals
Best known as one of the most popular on screen Tarzan and for inventing his trademark roar.
Showing his swimming skills in Tarzan films.

Trivia (28)

Born at 6:30pm-LMT
Swimmer/actor, won five Olympic gold medals
He was born in Freidorf (a district of Timisoara, Romania since 1950). His parents, Elisabetha (Kersch) and Petrus Weißmüller, were Banat Swabians (ethnic Germans), and citizens of Austria-Hungary. The family arrived in the United States on January 26, 1905 when Johnny was 7 months old.
Won 5 Olympic Gold Medals 1924-1928 for swimming. Broke the record in each race. From 1921-1929 he won every free style race he entered.
Had three children: Johnny Weissmuller Jr., Wendy Anne (b. June 1, 1942), and Heidi Elizabeth "Lisa" (July 30, 1943 - November 19, 1962).
Weissmuller had a close call in Cuba during the time of the Cuban Revolution. While playing golf, he and his friends found themselves suddenly surrounded by a group of Fidel Castro's soldiers intent on kidnapping them, or worse. Thinking fast, Weissmuller immediately gave his trademark Tarzan yell. The soldiers immediately recognized it and were so delighted to meet Tarzan that they began to clap and escorted the group back to a safe area, where Weissmuller was presented a $100 bill.
When Weissmuller was introduced to the first Cheetah in his Tarzan films in 1931 (he worked with 8 chimpanzees altogether), the chimp's trainer told him to show no fear or the animal would attack him. As Weissmuller, dressed in his Tarzan loincloth and hunting knife, walked up to the animal, it bared its teeth, growled at him and lunged as if to attack him. Weissmuller took the knife out of the sheath and held it in front of the chimp's nose, to make sure he saw and smelled it. He then slammed the animal on the side of the head with the knife handle. He put the knife back in its sheath and held out his hand to the chimp. It glared at him, bared his teeth again, then changed its mind, grinned at Weissmuller and jumped up and hugged him. Weissmuller never had any further problems with the chimp--although other cast and crew members did--and it followed him around like a puppy dog during all the pictures they worked together.
At his request, a recording of his trademark Tarzan yell which he invented was played as his coffin was lowered into the ground.
Appears on sleeve of The Beatles' "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band".
Inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, 1983 (charter member).
During his appearance on German television show "Das aktuelle Sportstudio", a monkey removed his wife Maria's wig and threw it on the floor (1971).
He was the first speaking Tarzan and he died in January 1984, the month after the last surviving silent Tarzan, James Pierce, died.
Was the first man in the world to swim 100 m. freestyle in less than a minute.
During the making of the "Jungle Jim" movies, he was fined $5000 for every pound he was overweight.
In 1970, he attended the British Commonwealth Games in Jamaica where he was presented to Queen Elizabeth.
Inducted into the Body Building Guild Hall of Fame in 1976.
His stormy marriage to Lupe Velez received much coverage in the Hollywood scandal sheets. The makeup man on the "Tarzan" set reportedly had quite a time of it concealing bruises and bite and scratch marks on Weissmuller due to the pair's many fights. Johnny told his son he finally left Lupe after an argument in which she admitted to killing his dog; he killed her parrot in retaliation. The parrot, which Lupe acquired during her relationship with Gary Cooper, would call Weissmuller "Gary".
Moved to Las Vegas from Florida in 1973 where he was a greeter at the MGM Grand Hotel for a time.
In 1974, he broke a hip and leg. While hospitalized he learned that, in spite of his strength and lifelong daily regimen of swimming and exercise, he had a serious heart condition.
Made a cameo appearance with former "Tarzan" co-star Maureen O'Sullivan in The Phynx (1970). It was the only film in which he actually said, "Me Tarzan; You Jane.".
In the late 1950s after retiring from acting, Weissmuller moved back to Chicago and started a swimming pool company. He also lent his name to other business ventures, but did not have a great deal of success. He retired in 1965 and moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he was Founding Chairman of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
After school, he worked as a bellhop and elevator operator at the Plaza Hotel in Chicago and trained for the Olympics with a swim coach at the Illinois Athletic Club, where he developed his revolutionary high-riding front crawl. He made his amateur debut on August 6, 1921, winning his first AAU race in the 50-yard freestyle.
Brother of Pete Weissmuller. According to Johnny's son, Johnny (who was born in modern-day Romania) and Pete (who was born in Pennsylvania 8 months after Johnny and their parents immigrated to the United States) switched identities so that Johnny could compete at the U.S. Olympic trials, a plan hatched by their mother. For the rest of his life, Johnny feared that the Amateur Athletic Union, the governing body for competitive swimming at the time, would learn of the deception and strip him of his records and medals.
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume One, 1981-1985, pages 858-859. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1998.
Natives of the village Zitiste near the town of Zrenjanin, Banat region in Serbia (near border with Romania) started a campaign to build a monument in honor of him, claiming that he was born there.(spring 2007).
Johnny Weissmuller has one of the best competitive swimming records of the 20th century: He was one of the world's fastest swimmers in the 1920s, winning five Olympic gold medals for swimming and one bronze medal for water polo at the Olympic Games in 1924 (Paris) and 1928 (Amsterdam). He won fifty-two U.S. National Championships, set more than fifty world records, both in freestyle and backstroke, and was purportedly undefeated in official competition for the entirety of his competitive career.
His daughter, Heidi, died in a car crash on November 19, 1962. She had been driving south along the Pacific Coast Highway, on the way to return her husband and a friend to the naval base in San Diego where they were stationed. A few miles north of Laguna Beach, she fell asleep at the wheel and crashed. Heidi and her unborn child died. Her husband and his friend survived. According to his son, Weissmuller never got over the loss of his daughter and unborn grandchild.
His famous Tarzan call was an extended yodel perfected by him as a child.

Personal Quotes (9)

[on playing Tarzan in 12 films between 1932-1948] How can a guy climb trees, say "Me, Tarzan, you, Jane", and make a million? The public forgives my acting because they know I was an athlete. They know I wasn't make-believe.
I have always been vitally interested in physical conditioning. I have long believed that athletic competition among people and nations should replace violence and wars.
I started out as a scrawny kid in Chicago, and even that was lucky. It got me to swimming. Then all the good breaks in the world happened-and kept on happening.
I'd like to move into the Douglas Fairbanks type of action pictures. I'm no great actor, but my fans like me, so why shouldn't I give it a whirl?
I've had about as perfect a 55 years as any human could have.
Tarzan films are decent films, designed for family viewing. It's an idealistic, down-to-earth story about a man's love for animals and the care of his family.
[on playing Tarzan] It was like stealing. There was swimming and I didn't have to say much. How can a guy climb trees, say "Me Tarzan, you Jane" and make a million?
If only we'd had the benefit of Ralph Helfer's affection-trained animals in the old days our films would have been a lot better, safer, and a hell of a lot more fun!
[on always being passed over for an Academy Award] Me sit in tree seventeen years. Me watch 'em come and go.

Salary (1)

Swamp Fire (1946) $75,000

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