Weissmuller, Johnny (1904-1984), was a United States swimmer who won five Olympic gold medals at the 1924 and 1928 Summer Olympic Games and set 28 freestyle world records. He went on to play the jungle hero Tarzan in a series of 12 motion pictures.
A complete biography can be found at:
The Hollywood Walk of Fame bears his star on the north side of Hollywood Blvd., between Whitely and Hudson Avenues, next to Maureen O' Sullivan’s (1911-1998), and a few scant feet from that of famed “B” movie producer, Sol Lesser (1890-1980). During his lifetime he won five Olympic gold medals for swimming in the 1924 and 1928 games, in addition to 52 national championships. In 1950, the sportswriters and sportscasters of America voted him by an overwhelming margin the greatest swimmer of the half century. And on ending his amateur status, he went on to become the best known and best loved of all the cine Tarzans. He was Johnny Weissmuller.
Born Peter Jonas (John) Weissmuller in Freidorf, in the Banat region in what was then part of Hungary, on June 2, 1904 (note) , Johnny was first introduced to swimming when the Weissmullers were living in Chicago, and Johnny, along with his younger brother Peter, was paying regular visits to Fullerton Beach. And in 1916, Johnny made the YMCA swim team, lying about his age.
Following World War I, Weissmuller, Sr. died of tuberculosis or brown lung, presumably contracted as a result of his excessive exposure to the coal mines of Windber, where he had had to toil long hours to pay off debts incurred by the arrival of his second son. Johnny quit school and got a job, first as a bellhop, later as an elevator operator.(note)
Many versions exist as to how Johnny got a chance to audition for William Bachrach, the legendary swimming coach of the Illinois Athletic Club. The following account, reported in The New York Times, one year after it happened, is probably as accurate as any.
"A little more than a year ago, a member entered the Michigan Avenue home of the Illinois Athletic Club with a slender 16 year old youth who had ambitions to become affiliated with the Chicago Organization which was famous for its record-breaking swimming teams. The boy knew that he could swim. He had read about the tricolor swimmers, Perry McGillivray, Norman Ross, Hebner, Vosburgh and others and he wanted to cast his lot with them. The member, however, was skeptical of the youngster's chances of gaining a place against the galaxy of stars already in the I.A.C. fold. But after listening to the boy's appeal for more than a month, he finally promised to introduce him to coach Bachrach, the tricolor trainer of watermen.
Finally, one day, the boy's persistence was rewarded and he was taken over to the I.A.C. pool and brought before coach Bachrach. `Here's a fellow who thinks he can swim,' was the member's half-hearted explanation for taking up the coach's valuable time with an unknown youngster.
Slipping into the pool, the boy traveled through the water with a crude stroke but one that showed unusual power. Immediately Bachrach knew that he had what is known in the sporting parlance as a `find.' "
Bachrach agreed to train him to be a sprinter, and under the great coach's tutelage, Johnny developed his famous “six-beat-double-Trudgen crawl stroke,” which Bill Libby described in an article written for SAGA Magazine (January 1965).
"He swam with his back arched and his head, shoulders and chest thrust out of the water. He shook his head loosely from side to side, inhaling and exhaling on both sides. He cocked his elbows high, drove his arms down into the water hard and behind him hard. While he kicked six beats to every cycle of his arms, he considered kicking of consequence only to maintain balance, stay high in the water and reduce drag."
Training officially began in October 1920, when Johnny was sixteen, and he learned from the experts. From Duke Kahanamoku he learned to kick; he learned Norman Ross’s rolling relaxed arm-and-body stroke, as well as his starting technique. He copied Harry Hebner’s expert turns.
Armed with these skills, Johnny went to a tryout for the junior men’s 100-yard event in 1921. Despite everything he had learned, the lad had bathing cap troubles and lost the race. It is reputedly the only “official” race he ever lost.(note)
Johnny's official competitive debut took place on August 6, 1921 at the Duluth Boat Club. It was the National AAU 50-yard championship, and he won it in just under the world record. In September of that year, he set his first world record swimming against Stubby Kruger in the 100-yard race at Brighton Beach, New York. Before long, sports columnists were calling him by such epithets as “Prince of the Waves,” “the Human Hydroplane” and the “Chicago Whirlwind.”
A complete biography can be found at: