to Variety Magazine's
original 1932 review of "Tarzan the Ape Man."
Tarzan at Sandy Beach
In June 1931 Johnny Weissmuller visited the Wyoming Valley for swimming exhibitions in Wilkes-Barre and at Sandy Beach at Harvey’s Lake.
Although not yet a movie star in his famous role as Tarzan, Weissmuller already has earned a household name as the world’s most famous swimmer. He had won 3 gold metals in swimming and a bronze with the men’s water polo team in the 1924 Paris Olympics. In the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics he won 2 more gold metals. He eventually was credited with 52 US National Championship titles and 67 world records.
The Wilkes-Barre department store, Simon Long’s Sons, exclusive distributors of BVD swim suits, sponsored Weissmuller’s local exhibitions, which featured BVD’s newest line of swimwear. Weissmuller signed on as a commercial model and spokesman for BVD in 1929, a national leader in swimwear. He also completed movie shorts - including appearances in “Crystal Champions” featuring himself and other Olympic swimmers in water shows from Silver Springs, Florida.
Arriving on Tuesday, June 30, 1931, Weismuller visited Long’s store in the morning and at 1:00 p.m. gave a demonstration of his swimming techniques near the Market Street Bridge in the Susquehanna River. The river at that time was an open cesspool dumped with both residential sewage and mine waste. Weissmuller was best known for his freestyle, swimming rather high in the water with deep kicks. Coached by William Bachrack at the Illinois Athletic Club for the Olympics, Weissmuller broke the 100 meter freestyle record in 1921 at 58.6 seconds.
In the afternoon Weissmuller, accompanied by another Olympic swim champion, Harold “Stubby” Kreuger (1897-1965), swam at Sandy Beach. An Olympic swimmer from Hawaii, Kreuger was a swimming competitor of Weissmuller. He held many world titles in the backstroke event and he became a master comedy diver. Kreuger appeared with the future Tarzan in an early short comedy file “The Human Fish.” Kreuger developed an aquatic comedy persona and appeared in regular film features beginning in 1932. While never a major comedy star he continued in films through the 1950's.
Weissmuller (1904 - 1984), the most famous of the Tarzan actors, was born in Fridorf, Hungary (now part of Romania). In 1905 his family immigrated to the US where, for a time, the father, Peter, worked has a coal miner in Windber, Pennsylvania. But the family later moved to Chicago where Weissmuller was raised and went to school and Wiessmuller learned to swim at the beaches of Lake Michigan. A phenomenal swimmer Weissmuller by age 12 was a junior swim champion and joined the local YMCA. Holding 49 world record swim titles at the time, the 6 foot, 2 inch, 190 pound Weissmuller had married the musical star “Bobby” Arnst 4 months earlier.
In 1932 Weissmuller began his Tarzan career, filming 6 movies for MGM with actress Maureen O’ Sullivan as Jane. The Tarzan character was created by the author Edgar Rice Burroughs. While there were earlier Tarzan movies (the earliest was actor Elmo Lincoln), Weissmuller became the ultimate Tarzan figure. In 1924, Weissmuller filmed 6 more Tarzan movies for RKO with actress Brenda Joyce as Jane and Johnny Sheffield (b.1931) as Boy (Sheffield later made a series of eight “Bomba” movies). In 1948 Weissmuller began a series of 16 Jungle Jim movies which ended in 1955 followed by a TV season of 26 Jungle Jim shows. Married three (perhaps four) times he had three children by his third wife, Beryl, including Johnny Weissmuller, Jr., who died in 1966.
In later life Weissmuller was in the swimming pool business. An iconic figure, he was on the original cover of the Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Arts Club Band. In 1970 he was the founding chairman of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which holds Weissmuller’s Olympic medals and Stubby Kreuger’s clown diving costume.
Another famous swimmer/actor Buster Crabbe (1908-1983) is also honored there. (Crabbe also played “Tarzan,” but was best known as serial star Flash Gordon and he once visited Wilkes-Barre late in life for a pool company). Weissmuller had brief appearances in non-Tarzan movies in 1970 and 1976. He moved to Las Vegas and later Acapulco, Mexico, the location of his last Tarzan movie, “Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948),” where he died on January 20, 1984, and where he is buried in the Valley of the Light Cemetery.
An account of Weissmuller and Kreuger’s local exhibition appeared in the Wilkes-Barre Record on July 1, 1931:
Johnny Weissmuller, the world’s fastest swimmer, delighted thousands of persons who witnessed two dem
Not only did Johnnie demonstrate that he is the world’s champion swimmer, but he also gave exhibitions of plain and fancy diving and stunt swimming that added to the enthusiasm his local admirers have for his all-around aquatic ability.
After Weismuller had displayed his bag of swimming and diving tricks, Stubby Kreuger, nationally known water comedian drew gales of laughter with his original antics of buffoonery, in, on and under the water. Kreuger, who is making a tour of the country with Weissmuller, his pal, recently finished a series of sound pictures that were directed by Grantland Rice, syndicate sports writer.
Kreuger is a former world’s swimming record champion. With Weissmuller he captured most of the swimming honors in the 1924 and 1928 Olympic meets. When Kreuger saw his records being shattered by Weissmuller he decided to become to the swimming pools of the country what Charlie Chaplin is to the screen and Nick Altrock and Al Shact are to the baseball diamond. His local comedy swimming exhibitions added emphasis to the belief that he has been preeminently successful.
Assisting Weissmuller and Kreuger in their exhibitions was a group of local acquatic stars. They were Slatz Obits, Miss Ruth Rittenmeyer, Miss Ruth Brown and Miss Ruth Harrison. John Noble, city councilman, introduced the swimming champions to the crowds at Sandy Beach and in this city.
Weissmuller’s wife, the former Bobby Arnst of musical comedy and vaudeville fame, was scheduled to accompany him to this city, but on Monday she left the party at Harrisburg to return to New York to discuss her next season’s theatrical contract.
Visit of Weissmuller and Kreuger was sponsored by Simon Long’s Sons clothing store, local dealer for B.V.D. swimming suits that are indorsed and used by them.
Weissmuller and Kreuger were guests of Clinton Long, Cosmar P. Long and Isaac Long at dinner at Irem Temple Country Club.
Weissmuller and Kreuger left about midnight for Buffalo, where today they will give three exhibitions.
Copyright 2007 F. Charles Petrillo
Copyright 2006-2008 F. Charles Petrillo