Johnny Weissmuller was born as Peter Johann Weißmüller in Freidorf, today a district of the city of Timisoara in Romania, then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Weissmuller would later claim to have been born in Windber, Pennsylvania, probably to ensure his eligibility to compete as part of the US Olympic team. Weissmüller was one of two boys born to Petrus Weissmuller, a miner, and his wife Elisabeth Kersch, who were both Banat Swabians, an ethnic German population in Southeast Europe. A sickly child, he took up swimming on the advice of a doctor. He grew to be a 6′ 3″, 190-pound champion athlete – undefeated winner of five Olympic gold medals, 67 world and 52 national titles, holder of every freestyle record from 100 yards to the half-mile. In his first picture, Glorifying the American Girl (1929), he appeared as an Adonis clad only in a fig leaf. After great success with a jungle movie, MGM head Louis B. Mayer, via Irving Thalberg, optioned two of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan stories. Cyril Hume, working on the adaptation of Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), noticed Weissmuller swimming in the pool at his hotel and suggested him for the part of Tarzan. Weissmuller was under contract to BVD to model underwear and swimsuits; MGM got him released by agreeing to pose many of its female stars in BVD swimsuits. The studio billed him as “the only man in Hollywood who’s natural in the flesh and can act without clothes”. The film was an immediate box-office and critical hit. Seeing that he was wildly popular with girls, the studio told him to divorce his wife and paid her $10,000 to agree to it. After 1942, however, MGM had used up its options; it dropped the Tarzan series and Weissmuller, too. He then moved to RKO and made six more Tarzans. After that he made 16 Jungle Jim (1948) programmers for Columbia. He retired from movies to run a private business in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
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