Johnny Weissmuller earned five Olympic gold medals in swimming—and set 51 world records. After retiring from competition, he became Hollywood’s most famous noble savage.
It’s hard to decide what’s a more impressive feat: those 51 world records or that Weissmuller did not lose a single race in his 10 years of amateur competition. The guy could swim. He quit the sport after the 1928 Olympics and toured the country as a model and spokesman for a swimwear company (for which he was paid a then-lavish sum of $500 a week).
When MGM decided to make a “talkie” based on the first Tarzan book, Weissmuller was cast as the tree-dwelling hero. (Incredibly, the producer who offered Weissmuller his contract had no idea that his leading man was also an Olympic hero.) Released in 1932, Tarzan the Ape Man was a hit—Weissmuller’s laconic brawn thrilled audiences. He went on to star in 11 more Tarzan movies—in which he never once uttered the line: “Me Tarzan, you Jane.”
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