30 April 2017

Exported to the USA: Johnny Weissmuller

Hungarian-born American competition swimmer and actor Johnny Weissmuller (1904-1984) is best known for playing Tarzan in films of the 1930s and 1940s. Weissmuller was one of the world's fastest swimmers in the 1920s, winning five Olympic gold medals for swimming and one bronze medal for water polo. After his swimming career, he became the sixth actor to portray Edgar Rice Burroughs's ape man, Tarzan, a role he played in twelve films. The first was Tarzan the Apeman (W. S. Van Dyke, 1932) with Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane. Dozens of other actors have also played Tarzan, but Weissmuller is forever the best known. His character's distinctive Tarzan yell is still often used in films. But who did that yell actually?

Johnny Weismuller and Maureen O'Sullivan in Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, no. 680. Photo: M.G.M. Publicity still for Tarzan the Ape Man (W. S. Van Dyke, 1932) with Maureen O'Sullivan, Cheeta and Johnny Weissmuller.

Johnny Weismuller
British postcard in the Picturegoer series, London, no. W 370. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Johnny Weissmuller
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. 864. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Publicity still for Tarzan and his Mate (W. S. Van Dyke, 1934).

Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan in Tarzan Finds A Son! (1939)
British postcard by Real Photograph, London, no. FS 208. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). Publicity still for Tarzan Finds A Son (Richard Thorpe, 1939) with Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan.

An Adonis clad only in a fig leaf

In 1904, Johnny Weissmuller was born as Peter Johann Weißmüller in Freidorf, today Szabadfalva, in the 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. The family arrived in the United States in 1905 when Johnny was 7 months old.

At age nine, young John Weissmüller contracted polio. He took up swimming on the advice of a doctor. After school, he worked as a bellhop and elevator operator at the Plaza Hotel in Chicago and trained for the Olympics with a swim coach at the Illinois Athletic Club. There he developed his revolutionary high-riding front crawl. He made his amateur debut in 1921, winning his first AAU race in the 50-yard freestyle.

From 1921 till 1929 Weismuller won every free style race he entered, from 100 yards to the half-mile. He won 67 world and 52 national titles. At the Olympic Games of 1924 and 1928, he won 5 Gold Medals and broke the record in each race. In 1929, Weissmuller signed a contract with BVD to be a model and representative. He travelled throughout the country doing swim shows, handing out leaflets promoting that brand of swimwear, signing autographs and going on radio. That year he made his film debut in Glorifying the American Girl (John W. Harkrider, Millard Webb, 1929), appearing as an Adonis clad only in a fig leaf in the segment Loveland.

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 (W.S. Van Dyke, 1932), noticed Johnny Weissmuller swimming in the pool at his hotel and suggested him for the part of Tarzan. MGM got him released from his BVD contract by agreeing to pose many of its female stars in BVD swimsuits. Weissmuller signed a seven-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

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. And Weissmuller became an overnight international sensation. 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. Weissmuller starred in six Tarzan movies for MGM with actress Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane and Cheeta the Chimpanzee. The last three also included Johnny Sheffield as Boy.

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 with markedly reduced production values. Sheffield also appeared as Boy in the first five features for RKO. Brenda Joyce took over the role of Jane in Weissmuller's last four Tarzan movies (the first two RKO films had not featured Jane). Unlike MGM, RKO allowed Weissmuller to play other roles, though a three-picture contract with Pine-Thomas Productions led to only one film, Swamp Fire (William H. Pine, 1946), co-starring Virginia Grey and Buster Crabbe.

Johnny Weismuller
French postcard by Editions en Publications Cinematographiques, no. 88. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Johnny Weismuller
British postcard in the Picturegoer series, London, no. 668b. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Johnny Weismuller
French postcard, no. 261. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (M.G.M).

Johnny Weismuller
French postcard by Ed. Chantal, Paris no. 501. Photo: M.G.M.

International Swimming Hall of Fame

After his Tarzan career was over, Johnny Weissmuller traded his loincloth costume for a slouch hat and safari suit for the role of Jungle Jim (William Berke, 1948), set in Africa. He made sixteen Jungle Jim films for Columbia between 1948 and 1954.  Devil Goddess (Spencer G. Bennet, 1955) was the last entry in the series, as well as being Weissmuller's last feature film.[

In 1955, he began production of the Jungle Jim television adventure series for Screen Gems, a film subsidiary of Columbia. The show produced only twenty-six episodes, which were subsequently played repeatedly on network and syndicated television. Aside from his first screen appearance as Adonis in Glorifying the American Girl (1929) and the role of Johnny Duval in Swamp Fire (1946), Weissmuller played only three roles in films during the heyday of his Hollywood career: Tarzan, Jungle Jim, and himself.

In the late 1950s after retiring from acting, Weissmuller moved back to Chicago and started a swimming pool company. He also lent his name to other business ventures, but did not have a great deal of success. He retired in 1965 and moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he was Founding Chairman of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

In 1970, he made a cameo appearance with his former Tarzan co-star Maureen O'Sullivan in the obscure comedy The Phynx (Lee H. Katzin, 1970). In 1973, he moved from Florida to Las Vegas where he was a greeter at the MGM Grand Hotel for a time. In 1974, he broke a hip and leg. While hospitalised he learned that, in spite of his strength and lifelong daily regimen of swimming and exercise, he had a serious heart condition.

In 1976, he appeared for the last time in a film as a crewman who is fired by a movie mogul (Art Carney) in Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (Michael Winner, 1976), and he also made his final public appearance in that year when he was inducted into the Body Building Guild Hall of Fame. In 1984, 'Big John' Weissmuller died in Acapulco, Mexico of pulmonary oedema after a series of strokes. At his request, a recording of his trademark Tarzan yell which he invented was played as his coffin was lowered into the ground.

He married five times and divorced four times. His wives were band and club singer Bobbe Arnst (1931-1933), Mexican film star Lupe Velez (1933-1939), Beryl Scott (1939-1948), Ailene Gates (1948-1962) and Maria Bauman (1963-1984; his death). He had three children with Beryl Scott: actor Johnny Weissmuller Jr. (1940-2006), Wendy Anne (1942), and Heidi Elizabeth (1943-1962).

His daughter Heidi died in a car crash. She had been driving south along the Pacific Coast Highway, on the way to return her husband, and a friend to the naval base in San Diego where they were stationed. A few miles north of Laguna Beach, she fell asleep at the wheel and crashed. Heidi and her unborn child died. Her husband and his friend survived. According to his son, Weissmuller never got over the loss of his daughter and unborn grandchild.

Johnny Weismuller and Maureen O'Sullivan
Belgian postcard. Photo: M.G.M. Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan.

Johnny Weismuller
Vintage postcard.

Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan in Tarzan Finds a Son! (1939)
Vintage card. Photo: M.G.M. Publicity still for Tarzan Finds a Son! (Richard Thorpe, 1939) with Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan.

Johnny Weismuller
Dutch postcard, no. 751. Photo: M.G.M.

Who did the yell in the Tarzan films?

According to Johnny Weissmuller he did the yell himself and he was inspired by the yodelling of his German neighbours, along with his own success in a yodelling contest he’d won as a boy.

However, MGM claimed to have enhanced the yell in post-production. Reportedly, they added and mixed the following:

1. A second track of Weismuller’s voice, amplified
2. A track of a hyena howl, played backwards
3. A note sung by a female opera soprano, with the speed varied to produce a fluttery sound
4. The growl of a dog
5. The bleat of a camel
6. The raspy note of a violin’s G-string being bowed.

And there are more stories...

Trailer for Tarzan The Ape Man Trailer (1932) - with the yell. Source: Movieclips Trailer Vault (YouTube).

Sources: Ed Stephan (IMDb), Mental Floss, Wikipedia and IMDb.

29 April 2017

Marcel Cerdan

World boxing champion Marcel Cerdan (1916–1949) was France's greatest boxer with the nickname ‘The Casablanca Clouter’. His life was marked by his sporting achievements, his passionate love affair with Édith Piaf and his tragical death. He appeared in two films and was portrayed in two films.

Marcel Cerdan
French postcard by Edition O.P., Paris, no. 23. Photo: Studio Harcourt.

World Champion

Marcellin ‘Marcel’ Cerdan was born in Sidi Bel Abbès in what was then French Algeria in 1916.

He began boxing professionally in 1934 in Meknes, Morocco, beating Marcel Bucchianeri by a decision in six rounds. Cerdan then ran a streak of 47 wins in a row between that first bout and 1939, when he lost for the first time, to Harry Craster by a disqualification in five rounds in London.

Cerdan campaigned heavily in the French territories of Algeria and Morocco during that part of his career, as well as in metropolitan France, his parents' place of birth. In 1938, he beat Omar Kouidri in a 12-round decision at Casablanca to claim the French welterweight title.

After his first loss, Cerdan recorded five consecutive wins, which led him to challenge Saviello Turiello for Europe's welterweight title in Milan, Italy. He won the European title by a decision in 15 rounds to continue his ascent towards the championship. Cerdan's winning streak eventually reached 23 bouts before he suffered a defeat to Victor Buttin by disqualification in eight rounds in Algiers.

In 1944 he joined the American allies in World War II, and he won the Inter-Allied Championship. He also went up in weight to the Middleweight division, and won the French title by beating Assane Douf by a knockout in three rounds. He later claimed the vacant European title by beating Léon Foquet by a knockout in one round. He retained that title a couple of times before losing it to Cyrille Delannoit by a decision in 15 at Brussels, Belgium.

Soon, he went back to Belgium and re-took the title by beating Delannoit, also by decision. Finally, after the rematch with Delannoit, Cerdan was given a world title opportunity and he travelled to the United States, where he beat world Middleweight champion Tony Zale. Cerdan became a world champion by knocking Zale out in the 12th round in Roosevelt Stadium, New Jersey in 1948.

Edith Piaf and Marcel Cerdan, 1948
French postcard by Editions Gendre, Paris, no. 27. Photo: Keystone. Caption: Edith Piaf, Marcel Cerdan, March 1948.

Marcel Cerdan
American postcard. Photo: Boxing News, no. 38.


During his short period as a world champion, Marcel Cerdan became a popular figure of the Paris scene. Although married with three children, he had an affair with the famous singer Édith Piaf. The affair lasted from summer 1948 until his death in autumn 1949. They were very devoted to each other and Piaf wrote one of her most famous songs, Hymne à l'amour, for Cerdan.

He also appeared in two films. He was himself in the French film L'homme aux mains d'argile/The man with the hands of clay (Léon Mathot, 1949) with Blanchette Brunoy, and he played a boxer in the Italian comedy Al diavolo la celebrità/A Night of Fame (Mario Monicelli, Steno, 1951) with Mischa Auer.

For his first defense Cerdan returned to the United States, where he fought Jake LaMotta in Detroit. Cerdan was knocked down in round one, his shoulder was dislocated, and he had to give up after the tenth round. It would be the last fight of Cerdan's life.

A contract was signed for a rematch and Cerdan went to training camp for it, but before camp began he boarded an Air France flight to visit Piaf in New York, where she was singing. The Lockheed L-749 Constellation crashed into Pico da Vara (São Miguel Island, Azores), killing all 11 crew members and 37 passengers on board, including Cerdan and the famous French violinist Ginette Neveu, while approaching the intermediate stop airport at Santa Maria. Cerdan was only 33.

Marcel Cerdan's record was 113 wins and 4 losses, with 66 wins by knockout. In 1983, Cerdan and Piaf had their lives turned into a big screen biography. The film, Édith et Marcel (Claude Lelouch, 1983), starred Marcel Cerdan, Jr. in the role of his father and Évelyne Bouix as Piaf. In 2007 he was portrayed by Jean-Pierre Martins in La Môme/La Vie en Rose (Olivier Dahan, 2007).

Marcel Cerdan
French promotion card for La lunette Marcel Cerdan. Caption: La lunette Marcel Cerdan, la lunette qui ná pas peur des coups. (The Marcel Cerdan bezel, the bezel who is not afraid of blows).

Sources: Wikipedia and IMDb.

28 April 2017

Horst Frank

German film actor Horst Frank (1929–1999) appeared in more than 100 films between 1955 and 1999. During the 1960s he was the blond, steely-eyed bad guy of of countless Spaghetti Westerns and Eurospy films.

Horst Frank in Der Greifer (1958)
German postcard by Kolibri-Verlag G.m.b.H., Minden/Westf., no. 192. Photo: DFH. Publicity still for Der Greifer/The Copper (Eugen York, 1958).

Horst Frank in Der Greifer (1958)
German postcard by IRMA-Verlag, Stuttgart-W, no. 1523. Photo; Kurt Ulrich Film / DFH / Wesel. Publicity still for Der Greifer/The Copper (Eugen York, 1958).

Horst Frank
German postcard by Ufa, Berlin-Tempelhof, no. FK 3991. Photo: Wesel / Kurt Ulrich Film / DFH. Publicity still for Der Greifer/The Copper (Eugen York, 1958).

Horst Frank in Der Greifer (1958)
German postcard by Kolibri-Verlag, Minden/Westf., no. 135. Photo: Kurt Ulrich Film / DFH / Wesel. Publicity still for Der Greifer/The Copper (Eugen York, 1958).

Horst Frank
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 192/71. Photo: Steffen.

A somewhat cold, hypnotic gaze

Horst Bernhard Wilhelm Frank was born in 1929 in Lübeck, Germany, the son of a porcelain painter. After graduation, he completed an apprenticeship as a trader. He then enrolled in the acting class at the Musikhochschule Hamburg (Music Academy Hamburg) but failed his final exams. Nonetheless he managed to secure an acting position in his hometown. For some time after, his work was primarily confined to small parts on stage and in radio.

In Baden-Baden, he became a member of the Südwestfunk ensemble and started working for television. He made his film debut as a cynical, cowardly pilot in the West-German war film Der Stern von Afrika/The Star of Africa (Alfred Weidenmann, 1957), portraying the combat career of a World War II Luftwaffe fighter pilot Hans-Joachim Marseille (Joachim Hansen). The film was successful at the German box office.

Frank then won a critic's award for his next role as member of a U-Boat crew in the war drama Haie und kleine Fische/Sharks and Little Fish (Frank Wisbar, 1957). Next he played supporting parts in such West-German productions as the crime film Der Greifer/The Copper (Eugen York, 1958) starring Hans Albers, Das Mädchen Rosemarie/Rosemary (Rolf Thiele, 1958) featuring Nadja Tiller, and the war film Hunde, wollt ihr ewig leben/Dogs, Do You Want to Live Forever (Frank Wisbar, 1959).

I.S. Mowis at IMDb: “Of athletic, lithe build and owner of a somewhat cold, hypnotic gaze (with a voice to match), Frank soon found himself typecast to disturbingly good effect as psychotic murderers in German and international productions”. In Italy, he appeared with Massimo Girotti in the drama Lupi nell'abisso/Wolves of the Deep (Silvio Amadio, 1959), and in France with Françoise Arnoul in the war drama La chatte sort ses griffes/The Cat Shows Her Claws (Henri Decoin, 1960) and with Laurent Terzieff in Tu ne tueras point/Thou Shalt Not Kill (Claude Autant-Lara, 1961).

From 1961 to 1963 he lived in Tanganyika on his own farm and raised coffee and vegetables. Political turmoil forced him to return to Germany. Frank appeared in several pan-European productions, such as the French-Italian-German crime comedy Les Tontons flingueurs/Crooks in Clover (Georges Lautner, 1963) with Lino Ventura, and the German-French-Italian Eurowestern Die Flußpiraten vom Mississippi/The Pirates of the Mississippi (Jürgen Roland, 1963) starring Hansjörg Felmy and Brad Harris.

He was also in the German-French-Italian spy film Die Diamantenholle am Mekong/Mission to Hell (Gianfranco Parolini, 1964) starring Paul Hubschmid. It was one of the first Eurospy productions and a box office hit. In Italy, he proved to be an ideal henchman in the Spaghetti Western Le pistole non discutono/Bullets Don't Argue (Mario Caiano, 1964). The film was produced by Jolly Film back to back with Sergio Leone's Per un pugno di dollari/A Fistful of Dollars (1964), but with a more expensive budget. The producer expected a greater success than Leone's film, especially because at the time lead actor Rod Cameron was better known than Clint Eastwood.

Frank appeared in several other Eurowesterns and Eurospy films. Most of them are mediocre, but interesting is the Spaghetti Western Preparati la bara!/Django, Prepare a Coffin (Ferdinando Baldi, 1968) with Terence Hill in the title role. Django was previously played by Franco Nero in Sergio Corbucci's original Django (1966). Django, Prepare a Coffin is unique among the plethora of films which capitalised on Corbucci's hit in that it is not only a semi-official, legitimate follow-up, but was also originally meant to star Franco Nero. Curious is also Quella sporca storia nel West/Johnny Hamlet (Enzo G. Castellari, 1968), a Spaghetti Western version of William Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Horst Frank
German postcard by WS-Druck, Wanne-Eickel, no. 372.

Horst Frank
German postcard by Ufa, Berlin-Tempelhof, no. FK 3781. Photo: Lilo / Zeyn Produktion / DFH. Publicity still for Haie und kleine Fische/Sharks and Little Fish (Frank Wisbar, 1957).

Horst Frank in Das Mädchen vom Moorhof (1958)
German postcard by Kolibri-Verlag G.m.b.H., Minden/Westf., no. 346. Photo: Real / DFH / Lilo. Publicity still for Das Mädchen vom Moorhof (Gustav Ucicky, 1958).

Horst Frank in Abschied von den Wolken (1959)
German postcard by Rüdel-Verlag, Hamburg-Bergedorff, no. 2866. Photo: CCC / Deutsche Film Hansa / Grimm. Publicity still for Abschied von den Wolken/Rebel Flight to Cuba (Gottfried Reinhardt, 1959).

Horst Frank in Bumerang (1960)
Austrian postcard by HDH-Verlag (Hubmann), Wien, no. 346. Photo: Weisse-Publicity / Roxy / Ufa. Publicity still for Bumerang/Cry Double Cross (Alfred Weidenmann, 1960).

Ruthless killers and impassive assassins

During the 1970s, Horst Frank often played of ruthless killers and impassive assassins in Italian genre films, including the Giallo Il gatto a nove ode/The Cat o' Nine Tails (Dario Argento, 1971). This is the middle entry in Argento's so-called Animal Trilogy along with L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo/The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) and 4 mosche di velluto grigio/Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1972).

Frank also worked regularly in Germany. An example is the television film Carlos (1971) for which director Hans W. Geissendorfer transplanted the story of Friedrich Schiller's play Don Carlos from 16th century Spain to a 1915 American Western style environment.

From 1973 on, Frank frequently worked in the theatre, touring with his own productions of plays by Noel Coward and Peter Ustinov, and often worked for German television. He guest-starred in several episodes of the popular Krimi series Der Kommissar, Tatort and Derrick, and also starred in the miniseries Timm Thaler/The Legend of Tim Tyler: The Boy Who Lost His Laugh (Sigi Rothemund, 1979).

Incidentally he appeared in interesting films such as the Science-Fiction film Operation Ganymed (Rainer Erler, 1977) about a spaceship which returns to Earth after several years of space exploration and finds it desolate. Another highlight was the TV film Wege in der Nacht/Ways in the Night (Krzysztof Zanussi, 1979) with Mathieu Carrière.

In addition to his screen acting, Frank lent his voice to dubbing work for fellow tough guys like Jack Palance, Ernest Borgnine and Chuck Connors. On the radio, he voiced Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Mysterious Island. I.S. Mowis: “Behind the menacing heavy, there was a family man and author of poems and chansons. (…) Likely because of his lack of work in major American or British productions, Frank never quite achieved the international recognition he undoubtedly deserved.”

Among his last screen credits were the romanticised TV biography Catherine the Great (Marvin J. Chomsky, John Goldsmith, 1996) with Catherine Zeta-Jones as Empress Catherine II, and Die Menschen sind kalt/People are cold (Andreas Dorau, 1998). In 1999, Horst Frank quite suddenly died of a brain hemorrhage, just short of his 70th birthday. He had a son from his first marriage and a daughter named Désirée from his second marriage to actress Chariklia Baxevanos. From 1979 till his death, he was married to actress Brigitte Kollecker.

Horst Frank in Fluchtweg St. Pauli (1971)
German postcard by Rüdel-Verlag, Hamburg. Photo: Constantin / Allianz / Vogelmann. Publicity still for Fluchtweg St. Pauli - Großalarm für die Davidswache/Hot Traces of St. Pauli (Wolfgang Staudte, 1971).

Horst Frank
German postcard by Franz Josef Rüdel, Filmpostkartenverlag, Hamburg. Photo: Sessner, Dachau.

Horst Frank
German autograph card by Büro für promotion, Bielefeld.

German trailer for Preparati la bara!/Django, Prepare a Coffin (1968). Source: Spaghetti Western Database (YouTube).

German trailer for Fluchtweg St. Pauli - Großalarm für die Davidswache/Hot Traces of St. Pauli (1971). Source: Italo-Cinema Trailer (YouTube).

Sources: I.S. Mowis (IMDb),, Wikipedia (German and English) and IMDb.