Reviews of "Johnny Weissmuller: Twice the Hero"

—Booklist (American Library Association) Reviewed by Mike Tribby (June 2000)
Johnny Weissmuller was a bona fide big star in the era of big stars, and Fury's sympathetic biography treats him suitably, with a certain gush that evokes old-Hollywood glamour and grandeur. Meanwhile, the many illustrations display a beaming, tanned, frequently scantily clad man who was every inch the Olympic swimming champ as well as movie star. Weissmuller liked "good-looking women, flashy clothes and toys," says Johnny Sheffield, (who played Boy to the man's Tarzan), freeing Fury to attend to the lurid details so important in a Hollywood life. Fury's handling of Weissmuller's relationship with Lupe Velez is exemplary. Now a historical footnote, the liaison was then the stuff of scandal sheets. Fury mentions Velez's penchant for raising her skirts when in high reverie, which revealed her habitual innocence of lingerie, but discreetly turns from the Mexican Spitfire's spicy antics to Weissmuller s career for chapters at a time. So this is a traditional big starstruck bio that includes just enough dirt to spice the myth. Well worth the reading.

—Classic Images #303 Reviewed by Anthony Slide (September, 2000)
David Fury and his Artist's Press have already provided us with first-rate studies of Burt Lancaster and Chuck Connors. David Fury's latest effort is Johnny Weissmuller: Twice the Hero, an exhaustive biography of the five-time Olympic gold medal winner, who was not only the greatest swimmer of all time but also the screen's most enduring Tarzan.
A good third of the narrative is concerned with Weissmuller's pre-Hollywood career, his birth in what is now Romania, his upbringing in Chicago, his 1921 debut in competitive swimming, and his promotion of B.V.D. swimming attire. David Fury's research is exhaustive, and he corrects many errors in previous biographical studies. For example, he notes that Weissmuller claimed to be born in Pennsylvania because when he entered the 1924 Olympic Games, the swimmer was not technically an American citizen.
     Johnny Weissmuller began his film career in 1929 posed as Adonis in a tableau sequence from Glorifying the American Girl, wearing even less than the loincloth he was later to adopt. B.V.D. was not particularly happy with his initial film work. The company compromised with the swimmer and M-G-M in 1931, permitting him to sign a contract as the screen's new Tarzan.
The rest is history, as David Fury documents in detail Weissmuller's career not only as Tarzan but also, of course, as Jungle Jim. Nor does he neglect Weissmuller's somewhat dismal final films: The Phynx and Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood. There is also much here about Weissmuller's first marriage to showgirl Bobbe Arnst and to actress Lupe Velez. Weissmuller's daughter Lisa and last wife, Maria, are prominent in helping David Fury discuss the swimmer's later life.
Weissmuller's Jane, Maureen O'Sullivan, and Johnny Sheffield also contributed much to the book, which is enlivened by a lengthy foreword from Sheffield. A complete filmography rounds out the volume, together with a record of Weissmuller's swimming records and medals.
     Johnny Weissmuller: Twice the Hero is an impressive book, professionally researched and written. No fault is to be found, least of all in the volume's production values that are exceedingly high. It should find a wide audience not only among those interested in film history and the history of American swimming, but also with those who appreciate books that display a quality of style and production missing from most trade publications.

—Big Reel #315 "Matinee at the Bookshelf" Reviewed by Paul Holbrook (August 2000)
Johnny Weissmuller: Twice the Hero. One of the opportunities most coveted by film actors in the golden age of Hollywood was to be signed to an exclusive contract with MGM. It meant that the best roles in the business would be handed to them. But only one actor on the lot was prohibited from appearing in any role other than the one he was ideally suited to play. Johnny Weissmuller was so well known to moviegoers as the jungle lord Tarzan that any other role would have lessened his credibility. Few people will give Weissmuller much credit for his acting skills. Yet his portrayal of Tarzan remains one of the most memorable portrayals in movie history.
     Weissmuller's entire life (1904-1984) was just as unique. Despite some personal problems, he was easily on his way to becoming an American idol as soon as his athletic prowess brought him to the public's attention. In August 1921, he officially debuted in competitive swimming in the 50-yard freestyle and never lost a competition. He retired in 1929 after winning five Gold Medals in the Olympics (1924 and 1928). At 6' 3", his physique and super-human swimming skills made him a natural for the 12 Tarzan films (1932-1948) and the 16 Jungle Jim movies (1948-1955) and television series (1955-1956). Although the subtitle is Twice the Hero, he was actually [a hero] a third time. That happened in 1927 when he was credited with saving the lives of 11 people after a Lake Michigan excursion boat capsized.
     Along the way were several marriages, feuds with contemporaries, years of failing health and many private incidents no one has heard about until now. David Fury's book is the first full-length biography. He had unprecedented access to Weissmuller's personal records and the help of his survivors. The book reflects the author's love of his subject, yet he doesn't shy away from revealing the sad sides of Weissmuller's private life. The photos are a rich treasure of scenes from his private moments to behind-the-scenes shots of his films during production.
     The parts I enjoyed most were the stories behind the filming of all the Tarzan films. Johnny Sheffield's amusing foreword should be read for further insights into the making of these films. Fury seems to have found every incident that's ever been recorded. (That famous nude swim by Maureen O Sullivan in Tarzan and His Mate [1934]: It wasn't her. It was a petite Olympic swimmer named Josephine McKim who doubled for her.)

—Burroughs Bibliophiles Reviewed by David Adams (June 12, 2000)
Being in the generation of kids who grew up in the 1940's, Johnny Weissmuller was always the real Tarzan for me. We saw all of his movies at the Saturday matinees, then went home to practice our Tarzan yells and swing from ropes hung up in the neighborhood trees. It was a national phenomenon.
     Reading David Fury's excellent, definitive book on Johnny Weissmuller made another thing clear to me. More than anything else in our young lives, we wanted to swim, swim, swim.
Johnny Weissmuller was the Tarzan of the water. He seemed to always be dripping wet, a tall, bronzed god come up from some jungle pool bidding us to enter this aqueous, primordial womb, sealing all of our youthful desires in a Baptism that would make us one with him, our hero from the watery depths.
     David Fury's book has the power to awaken long-forgotten memories.
I can t stop talking about this book with everyone I meet. It seems I find a way of slipping it into the conversation because it is so much on my mind.
     Weissmuller s swimming records are impressive; more than this, they are simply astounding. I ve become convinced that he was the greatest swimmer who ever lived. Between 1921 and 1929—when he "retired" from competition at the age of 24—Weissmuller set some 67 world records. Yet, as imposing as this sounds, it does not tell half the story. Fury inundates us with the facts and figures, almost making us dizzy with the details, but his account is a human one, putting us in the stands at the many races, making us gasp for air with this unprecedented hero.
We cheer Johnny on to victory after victory. (He was an unbeaten athlete throughout his entire career.) We come to realize that this man came to the role of Tarzan in the movies to enlarge the legend of ERB's greatest creation in a way no other man could have possibly done.
     The reason Weissmuller s Tarzan was the quintessential Tarzan of course hinged upon his swimming ability. One of the the triumphs of Fury's book is the fact that we come to see clearly that his personal stature expanded a fictional legend into a real one. We cannot imagine Tarzan without Weissmuller. He truly set the mark by which all other Tarzans pale in the shadow of this great, heroic American.
     Fury's skill as a biographer improves with every book he writes. The depth of detail and understanding displayed in this Weissmuller book is overwhelming. Fury leaves no stone unturned. By the time you are finished reading "Twice a Hero" you feel you have lived next to this man from childhood to the grave, and that is the goal every biographer wishes to attain. Old fans of Big John come to love him more—new fans become impressed enough to become believers in the legend.
Johnny moved into his Tarzan role as smoothly as he cleaved the water. He hydroplaned over the critics despite his lack of training as an actor because he was a natural for the role. His cat-like grace of movement made everyone else seem stiff and formal, which acting still largely was in the 1930 s. He could stand almost naked with comfort amongst a group of people in clothing because as a swimmer he had done this most of his life. He had the relaxed attitude of a champion because he was an unbeaten champion in real life, and the look in his eyes (a thing that cannot be faked) was that of a man who was completely aware of his own powers.
     Many of us have been over this water before in Fury s "Kings of the Jungle," but this biography allows him the room for an expansion of details that makes each movie come alive again in a personal way. Now we can see Johnny s movie career with the added perspective of his many marriages and other triumphs and failures in his life.
For me, the swimming chapters were the real eye-openers, but as in Weissmuller's career they always serve to inform and explain his success as the greatest movie Tarzan. In a way, as a child of the 1940 s, I feel I am a part of that extended family of Weissmuller, O Sullivan, and Sheffield because I grew up with them picture by picture. (Johnny Sheffield wrote the Foreword to this book.) Due in part to this Tarzan family, I too can declare with Sheffield, "I was BLESSED with an extraordinary and wonderful childhood."
     Fury gives us an honest and balanced account of Johnny Weissmuller's life. He is not afraid to show us all the wrinkles and scars of his difficult marriages, especially the tumultuous five-year relationship with Lupe Velez, the "Mexican Spitfire." It gives us some idea of what a marriage between Tarzan and La might have been like.
     Fury approaches Weissmuller with great enthusiasm, yet his account does not slip into hagiography. The fact of the matter is, this man WAS larger than life. His heroic acts on-screen and off need not be exaggerated.
Reviews for Maureen O’Sullivan  “No Average Jane”

Leonard Maltin  —  “Leonard’s Picks”
     Maureen O’Sullivan “No Average Jane”  —  This is the latest handsome volume from author-publisher David Fury, whose previous books have focused on Burt Lancaster, Chuck Connors, and Johnny Weissmuller ...  I think it is best described as a love letter to Maureen O’Sullivan, the charming actress who captured our hearts as Tarzan’s mate, and never received the recognition she deserved for her other screen performances...
     Fury provides a warm and admiring retrospective of the actress’ life and career, stopping to describe each of her films in considerable detail. If you share his fondness for O’Sullivan, or if you’re curious to know more about the Irish colleen who was literally discovered and brought to Hollywood “overnight,” I definitely recommend this book.

David Adams  “”  Maureen O’Sullivan  “No Average Jane”  —  
     David Fury has written what must be considered the definitive biography of the actress who gained her widest fame in her role as Jane with Weissmuller’s immortal portrayal of Tarzan ... filled with a wonderful sense of nostalgia, Fury goes a long ways to show that it is truly America’s nostalgia as well.
     He presents an interesting story of Maureen’s somewhat stormy upbringing and childhood in Ireland that leaves one with the impression that her beauty, charm and inner strength came with some difficulty, which supported her well throughout a long career...
     It is this portrait of a staunch, strong-willed woman that informs this biography, and it leaves the reader with admiration for her many accomplishments.

Paul Holbrook  “The Big Reel”  —  Maureen O’Sullivan wrote the foreword to his Kings of the Jungle and provided access to her personal files for this book. She died in 1998. Her husband of 20 years, Jim Cushing, continued to supply the details that were incorporated into this hefty biography ... Edgar Rice Burroughs called her “my perfect Jane.”
     The book is as much about what life was like during the Golden Age of Hollywood as it is the life of an Irish lass who came to the U.S. and mastered her art.
Anthony Slide  “The Slide” —  David Fury has published a number of biographies over the past decade or so through his Artist’s Press, and I have been happy to endorse them through the years. His latest project is Maureen O’Sullivan  “No Average Jane”  ...  
     Complete with a detailed filmography and listings of radio and television appearances... this is an exhaustive biography.  Film buffs will, of course, love it ...  
     As with all David Fury’s efforts, the production is of the highest quality — and how nice to come across a volume that is stitch-bound rather than glued.

Francis H. Westwood   Edgar Rice Burroughs Society, London (December 2007)
     All the books written by David Fury have truly held my interest and have amazed me with his professionalism. The presentation of his latest biography has been thorough, in-depth, descriptive and informative. In the case of Maureen O’Sullivan where details of a personal nature have been revealed, Fury has dealt with these incidents with gentility, respect and certainly not compromising anyone’s integrity.
     David Fury’s work will stand anyone in good stead not only as a wonderful biography of a very lovely lady, but as a comprehensive reference work, listing all the pertinent details and information which a good reference book should contain. Maureen O’Sullivan’s film work, her co-stars, directors and any person connected with the production of films, plays and TV work are all in David Fury’s book. I warmly recommend this work to any library or literary institution.
     “No Average Jane” is a very enjoyable book, a good read and delightful gift for anyone.
Foreword to "Kings of the Jungle" by Maureen O'Sullivan

"I shall be ever grateful to Felix Feist, who directed the test that won me the role of Jane in the first of the MGM Tarzan series. I was nineteen at the time, alone in Hollywood. I had exactly two hundred and fifty dollars in the bank, and was a month behind in my rent at the Garden of Allah.
    I was to be the new Janet Gaynor, a threat to the rebellious Janet who was biding her time in Honolulu while the studio threatened not to meet the demands she was making, financial or otherwise. The trouble was that her fans resented this new Janet and when I was cast in a film that had been meant for her, they stayed away in droves. The studio became disgusted with me and dropped me as soon as my contract would allow, while Janet returned to the arms of her loving studio.
    This left me adrift--almost broke, no job and too proud to go home, a failure to Ireland. So I gambled, got an agent and spent my last money on some very un-Janet-like photographs. These photos led me to the test that I have just mentioned — which brings me to Felix Feist.
    ‘Take One.' A year at Fox had only taught me my Janet Gaynor act. I was wistful, nauseatingly sweet. ‘Cut!' called Felix. ‘Stop that! Be strong and straight-forward!' he demanded. (Could I do that? I could and did.) ‘It's a wrap!' said Felix, and I went home to wonder whether I had the part or not.
    The next day my agent, a dear Irishman named Tom Conlon, called to tell me I had the role even though the director, Woody Van Dyke, had wanted someone else. After the usual wardrobe and make-up meetings I was taken to the jungle set to meet Johnny Weissmuller, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Woody Van Dyke.
    Standing well behind the camera I saw a Tarzan that the author could only have dreamed him to be. A golden make-up covered a body that was perfect. The setting sun lit his hair that was touched with gold. One foot was on a (supposedly) wounded lion. His arm was raised and with the most graceful gesture I have ever seen, he drove a spear into the animal's body. I watched in silence.
    ‘Cut!' said Van Dyke, who seemed reconciled to the fact that I was to be Jane. ‘Come and meet Jane,' called the director to Johnny Weissmuller. ‘Hi Maggie!' said Johnny while extending that golden hand. (We had met once before and he thought Maureen too dignified a name.) Edgar Rice Burroughs wanted a picture of us together. ‘My perfect Tarzan' he announced, ‘and my perfect Jane!' He sent me all of his Tarzan books and in the last book he wrote, ‘By now you should know everything there is to know about Tarzan.'
    I did get to know Johnny well, of course. It was not difficult; he was a big, over-grown kid. I never saw him be less than happy. He had three wives that came and went during our jungle years. Johnny seemed the same happy-go-lucky person when they left as when they arrived. Of his love life he said, ‘Tarzan has a G-string and women like to hang on.' He never spoke of his Olympic triumphs or of the medals he had won. Nor did he speak of the countries that had honored him. I think he lived completely for the moment — happy with our make-believe life, with the crew and with all the animals. Perhaps because he was a simple soul, they all adored him.
    I had trouble with Cheetah, every Cheetah. Naturally, there was more than one during those nine years. They were jealous of me and if I stood near Johnny they tried to bite me. When you see photographs of Johnny and me with "Boy" (John Sheffield) and Cheetah, you will always see the chimp next to Johnny and far from me. Often a wire was attached to the monkey's leg to keep her from me and still in the picture. Johnny liked practical jokes such as giving me a birthday cake that blew up when I tried to cut it! Stage chemistry is an interesting thing. Johnny and I were very different, but on camera something must have been right.
    So our lives and lives of other Tarzans and Janes are documented in David Fury's lovely book. It is a knowledgeable book and you will enjoy it as much as I do. I congratulate him and thank him for allowing me to be so much a part of our jungle magic."
                                                                                                                   A Foreword to "Twice the Hero" by Johnny Sheffield
                                                                                                                                                         “Not Good for Man to Look at Sun”

FIRST THINGS FIRST... Before telling you about Johnny Weissmuller, my Tarzan father, and my “Jungle Family,” I want you to know a little about my real family. I was BLESSED with an extraordinary and wonderful childhood with caring, loving, teaching parents who were probably the most popular mother/father combo among all the children in the neighborhood. Quite aside from being GREAT parents, my father, Reginald, was a successful English stage and screen actor, director, and producer whose work you may have seen and my mother, Louise Van Loon, was a “Vassar Girl” with a liberal arts education who LOVED books and lectured.
     Mother was my data bank and father taught me his profession. He had me “On the Boards” early and on Broadway in the starring role of “Pud” in On Borrowed Time at six-and-a-half years. I had a beautiful and charming older sister, Mary Alice, and still have my younger brother, William. They gave me some great nieces and nephews and we all are connected through the Internet. Patty, my cherished wife, and I have three treasured children, Patrick, Stewart, and Regina. No grandchildren, yet. So as a child growing up, I enjoyed the best of TWO family lives; one real and one fantasy. BOTH were, and still are, very near and dear to me.
       NOW A REQUEST... I have wondered whether “Twice the Hero,” the title of this new book, is HERO enough when it comes to the GREATNESS of Johnny Weissmuller. TWICE may be a little conservative. Perhaps it should be THRICE or MORE. It’s MORE for me; I truly believe it’s a LOT MORE! You be the judge. After reading this biography, as carefully written by David Fury, please let me know how many heroes Johnny Weissmuller is for you.       
     DAVID FURY — movie fan, collector, author, biographer, and publisher... Over the years I came to recognize David Fury as a fan/collector. He made his written requests on his personal letterhead which featured a rather distinctive profile of the bearded author wearing what I would describe as a Van Gogh hat. This pleasing profile caught my eye, so one day I gave David my Internet address. Through e-mail I came to know more about Dave and recognized him as a serious movie fan, historian, author, and publisher. Our friendship grew until 05:55:01 on January 8, 1999, when I received the following request via “Electronic Drums.”
     “Would you consider writing a Foreword for Twice the Hero? I’d be greatly honored if you would; I think it would be appreciated by everyone who reads the book. I think you could say some things to honor Johnny that no one else on this planet could...”
     I knew David was working on this biography and have encouraged him along the way. I wanted to read it. So, when David dropped it on me to write the Foreword for Twice the Hero I was flattered! This request came as a surprise. I thought for a moment and wondered what Big John would want me to do. The answer came fast: “Umgawa, Boy, Umgawa!” I quickly answered: “I would be honored to write the Foreword.” I always read the entire foreword in any book I start, but if you, the reader, feel I am “Padding the Part” too much, the option is wide open to skip on ahead and read this later.
     I am not a biographer nor a literary critic. Many biographers fail to research thoroughly their subject and fail to separate fact from fiction. They perpetuate stories and events that are untrue or just never happened. There are some “Tall Tales” included in this volume which are entertaining and to be expected in material dealing with “Show Business.” Enjoy them; we won’t blame you if you are suspicious. I know first hand only the small portion of Big John’s life covering the times we were together making Tarzan films. This is a faithful and accurate work with respect to our shared experience. The book speaks for itself. I am hopeful you will appreciate the thoroughness and skill that went into its making. The enlightening quotes and graphics that warm these pages remind me of the time I was an INSIDER, when I was actually involved in the Life Story of Johnny Weissmuller. Personally, I have learned from this biography much about Big John’s life I didn’t know before. I think you will too.
     I was seven-years-old when I first met Johnny Weissmuller and in the next nine years we made eight Tarzan pictures together. We were CLOSE. I knew he was an Olympic champion and ALL that, but I didn’t know a great deal about his life history as revealed in this wonderful book. It has taken 50+ years to fully understand how spending my formative years (seven years to l6 years) under the wing of a world champion has affected my life. I would like to share some of that with you here.  
     FOR OPENERS... It’s always the same when I am interviewed about Tarzan. Since I was seven-years-old to the present, my answers have changed, but the questions remain the same. It didn’t matter where I was in the world or where I am today the FIRST question is: “Are you REALLY the Johnny Sheffield who played ‘Boy’ on TARZAN with Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan?” And the SECOND question is ALWAYS: “What was it like working with Johnny Weissmuller?”
     My answer is YES to the first question. After having had 61 years to think about it, I want to share with you my current response to Question #2.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE working with Johnny Weissmuller? I knew one day I would become the last living member of my “Jungle Family” and I could then say anything I wished about those times without fear of contradiction. Yes, Big John had a BAD SIDE! You never saw it, but it was there. Johnny Weissmuller was a Superstar whether he was performing on the “Silver Screen,” in the water “Swimming for Gold,” or just walking around. Wherever he went Big John gave off a special light and it shown for all of us to see. Fortunately, some of that light got into me.
    I first met Big John 62 years ago at M.G.M. He has been with me ever since, creating a lasting influence on my life. I didn’t know it then, but as time passed I could see very clearly how Big John was different from most and how being around him started a clock ticking in my head a lot like the one in his. Here, right in my life, was a champion, an UNDEFEATED Olympic world champion. There are a lot of us who feel he is UNBEATABLE as the character of Tarzan as well. The most important thing for me about Johnny Weissmuller is he always had time for Boy/me. This man might well have been aloof with no time for me other than what was called for in the script. This was not the case. Johnny Weissmuller loved me and I knew it and I loved him. When I was near, he always had a kind word for me when I might easily have passed by unnoticed.
     FUN & GAMES WITH TARZAN... Big John loved to PLAY. He liked good-looking women, flashy clothes and toys. He owned a Lincoln with the “Continental Pack” on the back; he loved that Lincoln. He drove it on the studio lot and to and from location. In the trunk he kept his golf clubs and practice balls as well as some swimming gear (i.e., trunks, face plate, and swim fins). Behind the scenes Big John would play with me. On location, when I wasn’t in school, he would call me and we would go over to that Continental trunk for some golf gear and would “hit a few balls” together. Tarzan loved golf. We played “Hollywood frisbee.” We used the lid from a 35mm film can as that was before there were commercial frisbees on the market. Big John loved to WIN and he gave me HIS WINNING ATTITUDE. He said to think of it this way: “When they step up look down the line and SEE that there are two kinds there (swimmers, golfers, card players, etc.)—the ones who are going to LOSE and ME!” Hey, it worked for Big John. On the set, Big John taught me how to play gin rummy. He always wanted to WIN and usually did. He got a special TWINKLE in his eye when he got a FAST GO DOWN hand and stuck me with a lot of cards. He loved to lean forward a bit and get in my face and say: “GIN! Count ‘em up, Boy!” Sometimes I caught him with a fist full of cards and I KNEW what to DO, FEEL, and SAY! Big John gave me his love for winning.
    I am often asked, “What was it like swimming with Tarzan?” Well, Big John was NEVER DEFEATED in his swimming career. I know I never beat him! He was like a motorboat in the water. Carl Curtis at his Beverly Hills Swimming School taught me how to keep from DROWNING and TARZAN taught me how to SWIM. The thing I remember most about swimming with Johnny Weissmuller was that he was always playing around in and with the water. He would come up close to you, put his face down in the water, and start turning his head from side to side blowing bubbles and making very loud incomprehensible sounds. Suddenly, he would sweep his head up in your face with an EXPLOSIVE shout ASKING: “How old are you!?” This startled me and we would laugh. In the water together we always made “Oink Oink, Ahhnnk Ahhnnk” and other seal-like noises antiphonally to each other. That was a GIVEN among “water men.”
    Big John would cup his two hands together underwater and pull water into his palms. Then he would lift them above water and, through an orifice made where his little fingers lapped, he would SQUIRT a steady stream of water right in your eyes. He would repeat that a couple of times and then as if by mistake, he would let the water come out backwards through his thumbs and squirt HIMSELF right in the face! Then we really laughed! It makes me feel good all over just thinking about it. This little SQUIRT business was always good for a belly laugh between us and from the spectators and crew.
    When we swam together Big John would instruct me in ways to improve my stroke. He had other swimming tips for me. He showed me how to swim in the Chicago river. That was really funny and informative. Because of the debris and fecal matter, he instructed me to do a sort of breast/splash stroke using my cupped palms to splash water away from my head when reaching out for the power stroke.
    As yet I have not swum in the Chicago river, but armed with this Weissmuller technique I have swum safely in other waters. So have many of our fighting men who were taught, by Big John, the same technique to swim safely in Flaming Waters during the 2nd World War. He showed me where to hold the water on my forehead for racing and how to hold my head out of the water while swimming for the camera. That was difficult, but Big John showed me a little trick when he instructed me to “slip on these Owen Churchill swim fins for the camera.” You couldn’t see them and it made me feel as powerful as a crocodile! Some of the swimming we did for the camera was difficult and scary; Big John coached me through it all and I improved over the years. Imagine what it was like as a BOY to have Johnny Weissmuller as my personal Swimming Pal! Swimming was PLAY with Tarzan and Boy. When Big John gave me instruction, he swam or stood close to me. He held my hand or shoulder and engaged my eyes with his, smiled and spoke to me softly. He encouraged me always. He instructed me and said, “You can do it, Johnny; go ahead and try.” It was good for me being with and doing things with this champion. Whether on location or at the studio cafeteria, Big John had a place for me at his table. We didn’t always eat together, but there was a place for me. My real father saw the importance of this relationship and would allow me to go places alone with Big John. Big John took me to swimming and diving competitions, to the beach for a rough water swim; they would be having a diving contest off a pier somewhere and we would go. When we went off together, Big John was accompanied by his friends. They were all champions. Imagine being at a diving or swimming event and being introduced right along with Johnny Weissmuller, Stubby Kruger and Sammy Lee. You hang around champions like that and it rubs off — especially if you are young. You start to think you are a Champion, too! Sometimes we went out to lunch together. Sammy liked “Stink Fish” and Big John would take us all to lunch at an old oriental cafe in downtown Los Angeles to try the Stink Fish; Stubby and I liked the Duck!
     The point is Johnny Weissmuller was happy, buoyant, generous, playful, unassuming, loved people and sports, and most of all he had a positive winning attitude ticking away in his inner self that made him a champion. That clock never lost a beat no matter what was going on around him. By working, playing and being with Johnny Weissmuller I was able to see and understand that and start a little clock of my own ticking away in me. You can start one too. Fun and Games with Big John for me was an opportunity of a lifetime. He was Tarzan, I was Boy, he was my coach, and most important, Big John was my friend. To this day, wherever I go, he goes with me!
     JANE... I think in a Johnny Weissmuller Foreword it is fitting that I add a word about Big John’s first Jane, Maureen O’Sullivan. She was my first Jungle mother and Tarzan and I loved her a lot. Maureen was the Jane of the much quoted “Me Tarzan, you Jane” scene and without her in Tarzan Finds a Son, Tarzan might have named me “Elephant”! Jane prevailed and I was named Boy and the movie days of my Tarzan, Jane, Boy, and Cheetah family began. There was Tarzan with “Jungle Wisdom” and the physique of a world champion and Jane with a calming voice and a “figure” that could stop an elephant! Imagine growing up with such parents! You may have noticed we all had a pretty good (GREAT) time together in our Edgar Rice Burroughs’ escarpment hangout. Maureen and Big John shared a common desire to do other films and not be forever typed as Tarzan and Jane. At that time, Maureen O’Sullivan wanted to be remembered for her acting abilities which she felt were limited by the role as Jane, so she left my Tarzan family for bigger and better roles.
    The last time I saw Maureen personally was February 15, 1993, while attending the annual American Cinema Awards charity banquette in Hollywood. I was talking to Uncle Milty (Milton Berle), who was seated across from me, when I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard a voice say, “Hello, Boy, how are you?” That voice, Maureen’s voice, took me back 51 years. Before I turned around to look, I could see all of my jungle family in my mind. Tarzan, Jane, Cheetah, Bulie, Leo, and myself all together in our escarpment paradise. What a moment. In the course of that evening, Maureen confided in me that in spite of all the roles she had played in her life, she now felt fortunate to have played Jane with Johnny Weissmuller in the Tarzan series and fortunate the Weissmuller Tarzan series became a Classic and that she was reconciled to that fact. Maureen was a working actress all her life and played many other roles, but she will be remembered for “All Time” for her role of Jane in the Weissmuller Tarzan adventures. I love and remember her as my Jungle mother and all that that means to me.
     SEX & THE JUNGLE... My sexual education was not lacking as Boy. As a lad, when my father, Reginald, was teaching me about the “Birds and the Bees,” Tarzan was teaching me about the “Crocodiles and the Flamingos.” So, by the time I reached adolescence I was pretty well informed on the subject. I remember one day while rehearsing a scene Big John caught me STARING at Jane’s curves. I came out of it when he nudged me on the shoulder. I looked up at Big John and he was smiling. He said quietly to me: “Pretty nice, Boy, huh?” I had to agree, but boy was I embarrassed. Tarzan then said for ALL to hear: “Boy growing up, now!” I guess it was pretty obvious to the whole crew the discovery I had made. After that my education grew.
    That one was on me and this one is on Big John. There was a time when we had a CALL other than the Tarzan yell on the set. “Brenda Swims Tonight” echoed around the sound stage. Perhaps it is time that you be let in on it. Big John was training a young woman swimmer, Brenda, for a series of races. (Please understand this “Brenda” was not Brenda Joyce, my second Jane.) She was under his care and in STRICT TRAINING. The idea was to reserve all her strength for the competition and that meant NO SEX just before a race. This approach was not working as Brenda was not winning. Big John told me he was going to try something new. So when Tarzan told me, “Brenda Swims Tonight,” I knew what that meant. She WON! Soon the crew caught on and were delighted when Big John came on the set and announced: “Brenda Swims Tonight.” My jungle schooling has stood me well. Patty, my beautiful wife, and I just celebrated 41 years of marriage. On the escarpment or anywhere else, Big John taught me a healthy attitude about SEX. He had a little trouble with the marriage thing at first; I have not, so far, thank God!
   BEST SIDE FORWARD... Remember I said Big John had a “Bad Side”? Well, it’s true; at least he thought so. He told me that in his youth he was struck in the throat by a blow dart which left a very visible scar on the side of his neck. Big John thought it was UGLY and would not permit himself to be filmed close-up from that angle as he preferred to put his “Best Side” toward the camera. Well, I can tell you he looked GREAT from any angle. You always got the best side from Big John. Do you remember the side from which Big John was never shot close up?
    BIG JOHN was a Superstar with a capital “S”... he was a world champion Olympic swimmer, a champion Tarzan among some great Tarzans, and he NEVER endorsed cigarettes or whiskey. These endorsements were there for him and would have brought him $$$$ BIG BUCKS $$$$ when he needed money, but he refused to take them. Now that’s a genuine HERO for you. When Big John died I called a news conference which was picked up by most of the news services. You may have read about it. I wanted the world to know how I loved him and that he was a great father for “Boy” and me.
     The last time I saw Big John alive I was hitting six-irons on the practice fairway at the Riviera, my home golf club in Los Angeles. The word came down that my Jungle father, TARZAN, was getting ready to tee off on #1 above me. When I saw Big John’s foursome crossing the Barranca coming down the fairway toward me to make their second shots on #2, I cut loose with Boy’s Tarzan yell and Big John answered with his famous Tarzan yell. The golf course stopped. He left his group and came over to me and we talked. Big John watched me hit a couple and encouraged me and hit a couple himself. It was like old times by that Continental trunk. I looked at him and he looked at me. We both looked down to the practice green where our shots were resting. Then we looked at each other again and had a Great Laugh. We both hit ‘em pretty darn good. He ruffled my hair. On the way back to rejoin his foursome he turned and smiled. It never mattered what Big John was doing — he always had time for me. That was the last time I saw my jungle father alive.
    FAME... Tony Curtis said it best. You find something you like to do and learn how to do it well enough to gain recognition. If you are LUCKY you attain FAME. Then you have to learn another profession; how to DO fame. Maybe you can have a private life, but you must learn to do FAME first. Big John LEARNED to do FAME like the champion he was.
    AND NOW... Umgawa, my dear Reader, Umgawa... ende