HomeChévere reportsJohnny Weissmüller inherited his face from Tarzan

Johnny Weissmüller inherited his face from Tarzan

He only starred in 12 of the more than 70 films dedicated to Tarzan, considered the first superhero in audiovisual fiction, but they were enough for Johnny Weissmüller to go down in history as the most iconic interpreter of “the king of the monkeys.”

Chosen for his imposing physique of 1,98 tall, more than for his histrionic qualities, he came to the character at the height of his sporting career. He had five Olympic gold medals and 67 world swimming championships to his credit when he received the offer to become the face of BVD swimsuits. The payment of $550 per week determined the positive response. It was a lot of money for someone who knew about economic hardships.

The advertising projection of his image led to the invitation to participate in a casting called by Metro Goldwyn Mayer, which was attended by 150 applicants. He was successful when he was chosen by the producers as the protagonist of the first sound film dedicated to Tarzan. In addition, they decided to incorporate an adventure companion into the plot, in order to avoid unhealthy speculations. This is how the couple came together with Maureen O'Sullivan.

In 1932, the film directed by Van Dyke was highly received by audiences of different ages, which gave rise to one filming after another. Success transformed him into an international idol and one of the most sought-after stars in Hollywood. His future, however, was full of shadows.

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Johnny Weissmüller was born on June 2, 1904, in Chicago. His parents, Austrian emigrants, died when he was very young. At the age of 12 he started in the swimming by medical prescription, to combat the effects of rickets that he suffered as a child. He immersed himself in a world to which he dedicated eight hours a day.

He stood out at the 1924 Paris Olympic Games by winning three gold medals. Four years later, he added two more in Amsterdam. He was preparing to participate in Los Angeles, when Tarzan came into his life. An incipient belly took him away from the character in 1948.

From then on, everything went downhill, despite some attempts to stay on television.

The commitments to his four ex-wives reduced his assets. He worked as a pool salesman and as a hotel receptionist in Las Vegas until health problems appeared. In 1973, a heart attack. Six years later, a cerebral thrombosis that minimized his physical and cognitive abilities. In search of a better climate, he moved to Florida and then to Acapulco, where he died on January 21, 1984. Of the 90 kilograms that he sported in his best days, only 50 remained.


“Tarzan, the Ape Man” first appeared in 1912, signed by the American writer Edgar Rice Burroughs, in All-Story magazine. His film debut was on January 27, 1918, played by Elmo Lincoln. The scream was incorporated by Frank Merill.

Over time, more than 25 actors have given him life, although the most emblematic is Johnny Weissmüller, who, according to accounts from the time, was never able to shake off the character. He would hit his chest and make the famous sound for no apparent reason.

Neither he nor the writer knew Africa, although in his residence he had stuffed crocodiles, lion heads and elephant tusks along with a replica of the Cheetah monkey.

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