Saturday, April 16, 2016

REVIEW: Tarzan, My Father

Tarzan, My Father
Author: Johnny Weissmuller, JR (with William Reed and W. Craig Reed)

When I was a kid, every Sunday afternoon the local independent television station played old Tarzan movies. I loved watching Johnny Weissmuller wrestle lions, crocodiles and whatever other beasties or evildoers were after Jane or Boy. I knew Weissmuller was an Olympic swimmer before he became an actor, but other than that, I didn't know much about his personal life before I read this book.

Johnny Weissmuller, Jr wrote this book to honor his father and to clear up a lot of incorrect information reported about his dad over the years.  Apparently, Weissmuller's last wife was bankrupt towards the end of her life, and according to the author would make up dramatic stories to get tabloids and writers to pay her money. Those incorrect tales have caused many biographies of Weissmuller to be filled with inaccurate information.

His son tells a lot of anecdotes he remembers from conversations with his father, and his own personal experiences with his dad. He talks about Weissmuller's Hollywood friends, and what his life was like before and after the Olympics and his film career.

As with many classic era Hollywood actors, Weissmuller made bad decisions and married the wrong women for much of his life. Sadly enough, as he aged, his health deteriorated, leading to several strokes in the early 80's. In the book, his son relates the days leading up to his father's death in Acapulco, and his unceremonious burial there. So many Hollywood icons have self-destructed due to bad people in their lives....and so many of their life stories end similarly.  It made me sad. But I would rather remember Weissmuller as one of the best male swimmers who ever competed at the Olympic level, and as one of the most reconizable actors of the 1930's and 40's. Who hasn't heard Weissmuller's Tarzan call?? I think everyone has.

Overall the book was a great read. I learned a lot about Weissmuller that I never knew. For example, he was friends with the chimp who first played Cheeta. He saved the chimp from drowning once when it fell out of a boat and sank in the water. After that, the chimp was fast friends with the actor. After that chimp retired from playing Cheeta, he was sent to the Los Angeles Zoo to live out the rest of his life. Weissmuller mourned when the chimp died, saying that the loss was like losing a son.  Johnny Weissmuller was also one of the first athletes to be featured on a Wheaties cereal box.

There are many more interesting anecdotes about Weissmuller in the pages of his son's book. It's a great read for any Olympic fan, or Tarzan fan!

Here is a scene from Weissmuller's first Tarzan film:  Tarzan the Ape Man, filmed in 1932.

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