The Tarzan Yell-The Life of Johnny Weissmuller

Did you realize that 23 actors have played the part of Tarzan from 1918-2003?

Growing up, I recall that my dad was a huge fan of Johnny Weissmuller and he always maintained that Weissmuller was the only Tarzan in his book. I remember watching the black and white episodes of Weissmuller playing Tarzan while I was sitting next to my dad. It was really a magical time for me.

I always marveled at how effortlessly he would glide through the water. I didn't find him to be an exceptionally good-looking man, but he had so much grace and style and a swimmer's body. It was hard not to fall in love with that. In later years, Ron Ely made a more chiseled Tarzan in my opinion.

The Distinctive Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan Yell

Tarzan-Johnny Weissmuller
Tarzan-Johnny Weissmuller

Basic Stats

Born: Johann Weissmuller in Austria-Hungary on June 2, 1904

Married: 5 or 6 times although no one seems to have info about the first wife other than her name.

  • Camilla Louiee (Unknown)
  • Bobbe Arnst (2/28/31-10/33) Band & Club singer
  • Lupe Velez (10/8/33-1939) Actress
  • Beryl Scott (8/20/39-1/29/48) and had three kids with her
  • Alleen Gates (1948-1962) young golfer
  • Maria Brock Mandell Bauman (1963-1984 when he died)

Died: January 20, 1984 at the age of 79 in Acapulco, Mexico. Died of pulmonary edema.

A Quote from the Man Himself

"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."

There have been 23 actors who have played Tarzan from 1918 to 2003.

They are:

Gordon Griffith 1918 (young Tarzan)

Elmo Lincoln 1918-1921

Gene Pollar 1920

P. Dempsey Tabler 1920

James Pierce 1927

Frank Merrill 1928-1929

Johnny Weismuller 1932-1948

Buster Crabbe 1933

Herman Brix (later known as Bruce Bennett)1935-1938

Glen Morris 1938

Lex Barker 1949-1953

Clint Walker 1954

Gordon Scott 1955-1960

Denny Miller 1959

Jock Mahoney 1962-1963

Ron Ely 1966-1970

Mike Henry 1966-1968

Miles O'Keefe 1981

Christopher Lambert 1984

Joe Lara 1989

Wolf Larsen 1991

Casper Van Dien 1998

Travis Fimmel 2003

Trivia about Weissmuller

  • Even though Weissmuller was born in Hungary, he and his family immigrated to the United States in 1905 when he was only 7 months old. They travelled by ship as steerage passengers and arrived at Ellis Island in New York. Weismuller grew up in Pennsylvania and later Chicago. There was a bit of controversary over his birthplace. It was reported that he lied about his birthplace to ensure being able to join the US Olympic team
  • He contracted polio when he was 9 yrs old and a doctor suggested he take up swimming
  • As a teen, he dropped out of high school
  • He was a member of the YMCA swim team in Chicago
  • His parents owned a bar and later his mother was the head cook at a famed restaurant
  • He was a lifeguard at a beach on Lake Michigan
  • He was discovered while working as a bellboy and elevator operator at the Illinois Athletic Club
  • He was 6 foot 3 inches and weighed 190 pounds
  • He broke a world record on 7/9/22 in the 100 meter freestyle previously held by Duke Kahanamoku
  • He won 5 gold medals, 52 US National Championships, set 67 world records, never lost a race and retired undefeated
  • He was a model for BVD promoting swimwear
  • In 1927, he and his brother were credited with saving the lives of several occupants of a boat that capsized
  • Appearing in twelve Tarzan films he was paid approximately $2 Million.
  • He was the first speaking Tarzan
  • Created the distinctive ululating yodel of a yell that is synonymous with Tarzan.
  • Reportedy, MGM paid one of his wives $10,000 to divorce him because he was incredibly popular with the women and being married wasn't good for his image
  • A makeup artist on the movie set claims to have had to cover a lot of bruises and scratches during Weissmuller's marriage to Lupe Velez
  • He appeared in 13 Jungle Jim films and 26 TV episodes in an adventure series by the same name.
  • Worked with 8 different chimpanzees. The first chimp attacked him in spite of the trainer assuring him it would not. He put his knife to the chimp's nose and then struck him with it. They were friends after that.
  • Reportedly had a run-in in Cuba where he and some golfing buddies were about to be kidnapped by some Fidel Castro soldiers. He shocked them with his distinctive Tarzan yell and being star-struck they were more impressed with meeting him
  • American military G.I.s requested his Tarzan yell to be broadcast on the battlefront.
  • He spent a few years teaching Navy recruits how to swim out from under water that was covered with flaming petroleum. This earned him a special citation by the US War Finance Program in 1945.
  • He started a swimming pool company
  • He built a tourist attraction in Florida known as Tropical Wonderland or Tarzan's Jungleland in Titusville, Florida. For more info on it, click here.
  • He briefly worked as a greeter at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas in 1973
  • In 1974, he broke his hip and leg and discovered he had a serious heart condition
  • The last movie he appeared in was Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood in 1976
  • In 1977, he suffered from a series of strokes
  • In 1979, he was hospitalized in California before moving to Acapulco which was the location of his last Tarzan movie
  • At his request, a recording of his famous Tarzan yell was played at his funeral as they lowered his coffin into the ground

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Comments 27 comments

kristinemac profile image

kristinemac 7 years ago from Michigan

This was incredibly interesting. I never knew any of this. Thanks for sharing this great hub.


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas Author

I'm so very glad you enjoyd it Kristinemac! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!


Elena. profile image

Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

I'm with your dad, Karen, Johnny is the only Tarzan in my book, too!  And you've got to be kidding about the studio paying a wife to divorce the man on account of his popularity with the ladies!!  I didn't know about the yell at the funeral either, that sounds deliriously appropriate! 

Kudos to you for a fun and informative hub!


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas Author

Thank you so much Elena! I didn't know those two tidbits either until I began doing the research for this hub. I'm going to do a bit more digging about the wife thing. I'm curious about which wife it was. I'll report back.


Proud Mom profile image

Proud Mom 7 years ago from USA

He busted my computer speakers.....

Paid to divorce him, huh? I was wondering if it was the same wife that caused the bruises...What was that about, anyway?

You research fast, KCC. You a professional?


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas Author

According to one of the source links I have above, MGM reportedly paid his wife Bobbe to divorce him. He then was frollicking around with "Mexican spitfire" Lupe who had evidently just broken up with Gary Cooper. Interesting.


C. C. Riter 7 years ago

I think it was the 1932 movie that caused an uproar because Maureen Osullivan exposed it all in the raw and that helped bring in Censoreship. We never saw that on TV. I have seen it since and she is nude.

Great hub, thanks


Elena. profile image

Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

So it's not only the rumor mill! Man, that sounds so very Hollywood! Don't tell me life isn't weirder than fiction! Laugh!


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas Author

The nude video is on YouTube. I saw it today. I didn't include it here.

I just read that Lupe was a night owl, smoke and drank and with Johnny doing none of those, they fought a lot. It said they both had a short temper. They not only fought privately, but publicly. One of the sources talks about them running around fighting in a hotel. It also mentioned them being egged on by the Queen of Holland...WTF? LOL

Thanks for stopping by CC Riter and adding your comments.


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas Author

Evidently, Lupe never remarried after she and Johnny broke up although it says she ended up pregnant by an actor who wouldn't marry her. She ended up committing suicide. Here's what my 3rd source link above has to say about it.

"According to one source, the actress carefully set the stage for her own demise, decorating her home with flowers and leaving behind suicide notes. Taking an overdose of Seconal, she waited for the end but became ill from the pills. She tried to reach her bathroom to expel the Seconal, but apparently fell and broke her neck. It should be stated, however, that this latter point was not in the coroner's report.

The actor's name was Harald Ramond. Following this scandal, his career was ended, as the public blamed him for Lupe's death."


Proud Mom profile image

Proud Mom 7 years ago from USA

To quote one of my favorite movies, "Drama. Drama. Drama."


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas Author

I didn't dig into his 3 children. But I did notice that two of the three were dead. I just discovered that his daughter Heidi died in a car accident while pregnant.


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas Author

There is so much more to that man than I realized. I'm telling you, that 3rd source I have in my links above has so much more that I didn't touch on here. He was such a fascinating guy.


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas Author

Thanks PM......regarding your question about my research abilities......I love to read more than I love to write, I think. I just make notes after researching a number of reputable sources and then sit down to write my hub. Nothing professional about that. This one was fun to write.


Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor

I had no idea there was so much drama in his life -- moreso than on screen, apparently!


Proud Mom profile image

Proud Mom 7 years ago from USA

You sound like Elena--and me. I could give up most anything for the opportunity to read.


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas Author

I agree Teresa! He certainly seemed to have a tough time keeping a wife.

I sometimes spend too much time reading and not enough time writing! But....I think both go hand in hand. You become a better reader by being a writer and you become a better writer by reading.

Thanks to both of you for stopping by.


goldentoad profile image

goldentoad 7 years ago from Free and running....

How come tarzan always has his chest shaved?


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas Author

Is this a trick question, GT? I didn't come across anything in my reading about that....but if I had to guess, it's because many swimmers remove all their bodily hair.


Proud Mom profile image

Proud Mom 7 years ago from USA

Actually, GT, my guess would be they are usually WAXED! Takes a brave man to do that.


Cris A profile image

Cris A 7 years ago from Manila, Philippines

I remember watching the reruns of this series. Always loved it when he had to fight with animals rathen than hunters and tribes. Btw, did you know that Maureen O'Sullivan, his Jane, was Mia Farrow's mom? :D


Proud Mom profile image

Proud Mom 7 years ago from USA

So, how is she connected to the Baldwins?


sheenarobins profile image

sheenarobins 7 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

I loved Tarzan. and I didn't know that he did all this. thanks for the hub. Quite interesting.


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas Author

I didn't know that Cris!...Thanks for the tidbit on Maureen! Thanks for stopping by Cris and Sheena! I learned some things today too!


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 7 years ago from St. Louis

Someones in the kitchen with...DI - NAH...


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas Author

Hi Christoph!! Thanks for stopping by!


ruffridyer 5 years ago from Dayton, ohio

What a facinating man. What a facinating life. This puts Charley Sheen to shame.

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