Not all movie stars drove Cadillacs and Lincolns, Packards and Jaguars. Some stars drove the simple cars of everyday folk, Fords and Plymouths, and Chevys.
Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, noting that in today’s photo swimming-champ-turned-movie star Johnny Weissmuller is seen in all his glory, posing next to his glorious-looking 1932 Chevrolet (GM doesn’t make ’em like than anymore.)
It may surprise you to discover that MGM’s prototypical Tarzan was born in 1904 in Europe, specifically in the part of the Austria-Hungary that is now part of Romania. Weissmuller supposedly fibbed about his birthplace (he said he was a Pennsylvanian) so he could swim on the U.S. Olympic team.
Anyway, he was discovered by MGM brass as an underwear model who could really get around the hotel swimming pool. Weissmuller was signed to star as Edgar Rice Burrough’s durable jungle character opposite Maureen O’Sullivan as Jane in W.S. Van Dyke’s Tarzan The Ape Man.
That was about the same time as this above publicity photo was taken. At this early stage of Weissmuller’s career, a Chevy was much more appropriate than, say, a Dusenberg. It was also a year before the actor commenced his five-year marriage to “the Mexican spitfire” Lupe Velez.
By the late 1940’s, Weissmuller had starred in a dozen Tarzan movies. He made 33 movie and tv titles (notable in the Jungle Jim series in the Fifties) in all, but always remained the definitive Tarzan. The character has been played onscreen by some 20 actors beginning with Elmo Lincoln in the 1918 silent version of Tarzan of the Apes. Other familiar Tarzans are Buster Crabbe, Bruce Bennett (then billed Herman Brix), Lex Barker, Gordon Scott, Jock Mahoney, Ron Ely and French actor Christophe Lambert.
Weissmuller had an active love life; he married six times before his death in 1984. His Tarzan fame provided many off screen swimming showcases including the 1940 San Francisco Acquacade, where his partner was a young unknown by the name of Esther Williams.
In her autobiography, Esther noted that Mr. Tarzan had “remarkable genitalia that he loved to exhibit.” After their swimming act at the Acquacade was completed, he’d “whip off his trunks” and go after Esther. “I would swim for (the exit) as though I was swimming for my life.”