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Topics9.7.1922: "Tarzan" breaks a world record in swimming
He was the original Tarzan. Johnny Weissmüller will be remembered as the jungle man with the famous call. Yet the man who was born in Siebenbürg, Saxony, whose parents emigrated to the United States shortly after his birth, was already a world-famous swimmer before his cinema career took off.
Weissmüller broke the 100-meters freestyle world record on July 9, 1922 at the Alameda pool in California, with a time under the magic minute mark. The clock stopped at 58.6 seconds, a sensational record time and personal best. At the Olympic Games in 1924, Weissmüller again swam the distance in less than one minute.
As the holder of three gold medals, he was the second most successful athlete behind the legendary track star, Paavo Nurmi from Finland. Four years later in Amsterdam, Weissmüller won two further gold medals. For ten years, until his amateur career ended in 1929, the U.S. citizen remained unbeatable in the freestyle distances of between 50 yards and half a mile. He put his name to no less than 67 world records.
But from 1932 onwards, Johnny Weissmüller was Tarzan. It is said that the scriptwriter at the powerful MGM entertainment company saw the almost two-meters tall and 100-kilograms heavy athlete swimming in a hotel pool and immediately cast him in the role.
Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane and Weissmüller as Tarzan are the classic jungle couple. MGM paid the ex-swimmer?s wife $10,000 to divorce him because Weismüller could be more effectively marketed as a single man. Johnny?s Tarzan call echoed around the globe.
Weissmüller later said that his call was inspired by yodelling. And his Tarzan call was supposed to have even saved his life once. In 1959, during the Cuban revolution -- so legend has it -- Weissmüller and a few golfing friends were surrounded by armed followers of Castro. He quickly let off one of his famous calls. Then, the revolutionaries immediately recognized him and escorted the group to safety.
Weismüller starred in a total of 12 Tarzan films, followed by 16 Jungle Jim episodes, in which he played a similar role. His film career ended in 1955.
Weissmüller?s private life was less successful than his film career: a succession of failed marriages, lawsuits due to his failure to pay maintenance, business flops and, as a result, financial problems. His health also failed. After several strokes in the final years of his life, Weissmüller?s mental capacity started to deteriorate. When in this reduced state, he would cry out his Tarzan call almost without cease.
On January 20, 1984, he died at the age of 79. There are only three words on his gravestone in Acapulco, Mexico: Johnny Weissmüller, Tarzan.
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09.07.2008, 10:22 UTC © 2008 Deutsche Welle
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aah words to live by. "A side note, vigilante behaviour will be squelched!"