biography

Born in Freidorf, Austro-Hungary on June 2, 1904 (he often claimed to have been born in Windber, Pennsylvania), Johnny Weissmuller emigrated with his parents to the U.S. as an infant. The family eventually wound up in Pennsylvania, where his father Peter Weissmuller worked as coal miner, but the family moved again to Chicago. A sickly youth, Johnny Weissmuller took up swimming in Lake Michigan to build strength. By the time he entered the University of Chicago in 1922, the 6'3" young man had become an excellent swimmer, ultimately leading him to the Olympic Games in 1924 and 1928. He won five gold medals and set numerous world records.

Johnny WeissmullerJohnny Weissmuller

LEFT: Weissmuller at the 1924 Paris Olympics, where he won three gold medals. RIGHT: In his most famous role as Tarzan. You'll find even more photos of Johnny Weissmuller in the Johnny Weissmuller Gallery

After appearing in a couple of small film roles, Weissmuller signed with BVD and worked as a print model for swimsuits and underwear, instantly becoming a hit with admiring female fans. Louis B. Mayer of MGM Studios signed Weissmuller to a long-term contract in 1932, but in doing so Mayer forced Weissmuller to divorce his second wife, Bobbe Arnst. (Mayer feared that female audiences wouldn't swoon over Weissmuller were it known he was a married man.) Mayer sweetened the deal by paying off Arnst to dissolve the year-old marriage. The next year Weissmuller married fellow MGM contract player Lupe Velez. The union was always fodder for gossip columns, and they divorced in 1938. Weissmuller remarried in 1939 to Beryl Scott, and the couple had a son and two daughters before the marriage ended in 1945.

Lupe Velez and Johnny WeissmullerJohnny WeissmullerJohnny WeissmullerJohnny Weissmuller

LEFT: With third wife Lupe Velez. CENTER A and B: Early 1930s MGM stills. RIGHT: Weissmuller with western actor George O'Brien

In 1942, MGM's option with Edgar Rice Burroughs expired, so Weissmuller and the series headed over to RKO Studios, where he made six more Tarzan films before retiring from the role in 1948 when Lex Barker replaced him in the role of Tarzan. Weissmuller then fielded an offer from Columbia Studios, where he starred in fifteen low-budget Jungle Jim films between 1948 and 1954 and a short-lived syndicated TV series from 1955 to 1956. Columbia's Jungle Jim series was based on the popular comic strip by Alex Raymond.

the films of johnny weissmuller

Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)

C. Aubrey Smith, Maureen O'Sullivan, Neil Hamilton, and Johnny WeissmullerJohnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan, Neil Hamilton, and Johnny Weissmuller

From Weissmuller's first Tarzan film, MGM's Tarzan the Ape Man. The film was an immediate smash hit with filmgoers and critics alike, and Weissmuller forever was identified with the role of Tarzan. LEFT: With C. Aubrey Smith, Maureen O'Sullivan, and Neil Hamilton. CENTER: With Maureen O'Sullivan. RIGHT: With Maureen O'Sullivan and Neil Hamilton

Tarzan and His Mate (1934)

Maureen O'Sullivan and Johnny Weissmuller

From Tarzan and His Mate with Maureen O'Sullivan. Note the then-daring costumes

Tarzan Escapes (1936)

Maureen O'Sullivan and Johnny WeissmullerHerbert Mundin and Johnny Weissmuller

From Tarzan Escapes, the third entry in the series with Johnny Weissmuller. LEFT: With Maureen O'Sullivan. RIGHT: With Herbert Mundin

Tarzan Finds a Son! (1939)

Maureen O'Sullivan and Johnny Weissmuller

From Tarzan Finds a Son! with Maureen O'Sullivan. This film marks the first appearance of Johnny Sheffield in the role of Boy

Tarzan's Secret Treasure (1941)

Johnny Weissmuller, Johnny Sheffield, and Maureen O'Sullivan

Still from Tarzan's Secret Treasure with Johnny Sheffield and Maureen O'Sullivan

Tarzan's Desert Mystery (1943)

Johnny Sheffield

With Johnny Sheffield in RKO's Tarzan's Desert Mystery

Tarzan Triumphs (1943)

Johnny Weissmuller and Frances Gifford

From RKO's Tarzan Triumphs with Frances Gifford

Tarzan and the Amazons (1945)

Johnny Weissmuller

From Tarzan and the Amazons; this was Brenda Joyce's first outing as Jane

Tarzan and the Huntress (1947)

Johnny Sheffield with Johnny Weissmuller and Brenda Joyce

With Johnny Sheffield and Brenda Joyce in Tarzan and the Huntress

Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948)

Johnny Weissmuller

Tarzan and the Mermaids was Weissmuller's swansong as Tarzan

Jungle Jim (1948)

Johnny WeissmullerLita Baron, Johnny Weissmuller, and Virginia Grey

LEFT: Weissmuller as the title character in Columbia's Jungle Jim. RIGHT: With Lita Baron and Virginia Grey

Jungle Jim In the Forbidden Land (1952)

Johnny Weissmuller and Sheila Ryan

With Angela Greene in Jungle Jim In the Forbidden Land

Voodoo Tiger (1952)

Johnny Weissmuller

From Columbia's Jungle Jim adventure Voodoo Tiger

Valley of Head Hunters (1953)

Johnny Weissmuller

Jungle Jim wrestles with a paunchy headhunter in Valley of Head Hunters

Devil Goddess (1955)

Johnny Weissmuller, Angela Stevens, and Selmer Jackson

With Angela Stevens and Selmer Jackson in Columbia's Devil Goddess, the final Jungle Jim feature

later years

Weissmuller's syndicated TV series Jungle Jim did not ignite audiences and was canceled after 26 episodes. Now more than 50 years old, he grew weary of acting and returned to the Chicago area to start a swimming pool business in 1956. He made only a handful of film and TV appearances in the ensuing years. In the mid 1960s, he moved to Florida to tend to some business interests that eventually soured. Weissmuller then left Florida for Las Vegas in the early 1970s where he worked as a greeter in a casino. Weissmuller's health began to decline in the mid 1970s, and in 1977 he suffered a series of strokes and spent about 18 months convalescing in the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital. His wife, Maria, moved him to Acapulco in 1979, where he passed away on January 20, 1984, at the age of 79. He was survived by his fifth wife, son Johnny Weissmuller, Jr. (1940-2006), and daughter Wendy. Weissmuller's daughter Heidi died in a car crash in 1962 at the age of 18.

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filmography

FILM
Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976)
The Phynx (1970) with Clint Walker, Michael Ansara, George Tobias, Joan Blondell, Martha Raye, Ultra Violet, and Pat McCormick
Devil Goddess (1955) with Angela Stevens
Jungle Moon Men (1955) with Jean Byron and Myron Healey
Cannibal Attack (1954) with David Bruce
Jungle Man-Eaters (1954) with Karin Booth, Richard Wyler, and Bernie Hamilton
Savage Mutiny (1953) with Angela Stevens
Killer Ape (1953) with Carol Thurston, Nestor Paiva, and Ray "Crash" Corrigan
Valley of Head Hunters (1953) with Christine Larsen and Don Blackman
Jungle Jim In the Forbidden Land (1952) with Angela Greene
Voodoo Tiger (1952) with Charles Horvath, Jean Byron, and Robert Bray
Fury of the Congo (1951) with Lyle Talbot and Sherry Moreland
Jungle Manhunt (1951) with Lyle Talbot and Sheila Ryan
Mark of the Gorilla (1950) with Trudy Marshall
Captive Girl (1950) with Buster Crabbe
Pygmy Island (1950) with Ann Savage, David Bruce, and Steven Geray
The Lost Tribe (1949) with Myrna Dell and Elena Verdugo
Jungle Jim (1948) with George Reeves, Virginia Grey, and Lita Baron
Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948) with Brenda Joyce, George Zucco, and Linda Christian
Tarzan and the Huntress (1947) with Brenda Joyce and Johnny Sheffield
Swamp Fire (1946) with Buster Crabbe and Virginia Grey
Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946) with Brenda Joyce, Johnny Sheffield, and Acquanetta
Tarzan and the Amazons (1945) with Johnny Sheffield and Brenda Joyce
Stage Door Canteen (1943)
Tarzan Triumphs (1943) with Johnny Sheffield and Frances Gifford
Tarzan's Desert Mystery (1943) with Johnny Sheffield, Nancy Kelly, Otto Kruger, Lloyd Corrigan, and Robert Lowery
Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942) with Maureen O'Sullivan, Elmo Lincoln, Johnny Sheffield, Virginia Grey, Charles Bickford, Paul Kelly, and Chill Wills
Tarzan's Secret Treasure (1941) with Johnny Sheffield, Maureen O'Sullivan, Reginald Owen, Barry Fitzgerald, and Tom Conway
Rodeo Dough (1940) with Gene Autry, Tom Neal, and Roy Rogers
Tarzan Finds a Son! (1939) with Johnny Sheffield, Maureen O'Sullivan, Henry Wilcoxon, and Laraine Day
Tarzan Escapes (1936) with Maureen O'Sullivan and Benita Hume
Tarzan and His Mate (1934) with Maureen O'Sullivan, Neil Hamilton, and Paul Cavanagh
Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) with Neil Hamilton, Maureen O'Sullivan, and C. Aubrey Smith
Glorifying the American Girl (1929) with Eddie Cantor, Helen Morgan, and Rudy Vallee

TELEVISION SERIES
Jungle Jim, 1955-1956 syndicated TV series. About 26 episodes were produced

johnny weissmuller links

The Johnny Weissmuller Gallery at Brian's Drive-In Theater
You'll find more Tarzan-era photos of Johnny Weissmuller here.

Geoff's Johnny Weissmuller Web Site
A terrifically comprehensive site devoted to Johnny Weissmuller, Geoff's pages are chock-full of biographical information, filmography, history, and more. The extensive biographical section on Weissmuller is particularly impressive and well researched.

Matt's Tarzan Movies Guide
Another site for Tarzan fans which includes pages devoted to Johnny Sheffield's Bomba series and Johnny Weissmuller's Jungle Jim series.

johnny weissmuller film now showing

Watch Johnny Weissmuller's 1946 film Swamp Fire
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This page premiered December 12, 1999.