Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Remembering Johnny Weissmuller
Last year, my wife and I were taking a city tour of Acapulco. During the bus ride, the tour guide pointed out a heavily vegetated location on the fringes of the town where at least one Tarzan movie had been filmed when Johnny Weissmuller was playing the role of Tarzan. She also pointed out Weissmuller's former home and the fact that he was buried in Acapulco. It reminded me of a time when I was a child that Weissmuller visited our home.
Johnny Weissmuller, for you younger readers, was an Olympic swimmimg champion in the 1920s, winning five gold medals. He then went on to become the most famous of the Tarzan actors in the 1930s and 1940s. After a wild and tumultuous life and five wives, he retired to Acapulco in poor health where he died in 1984 at the age of 79.
During the 1950s, our family was living on Corinth Avenue in the Mar Vista section of West Los Angeles. My father was a golfing (and drinking) buddy of a certain Ward Gates, a local golf pro/gambler. Gates was also a noted drinker, spending a lot of time on the 19th hole of the Fox Hills Country Club(often with my Dad). Gates and his wife were also social friends of our family. I believe her name was Martha.
At any rate, Ward Gates daughter, Allene, herself a golfer, became the 4th wife of Johnny Weissmuller, who was living in LA and acting in various movies. They were married from 1948-1962, when they were divorced. I remember at least one occasion when our family joined the Gateses at Weissmuller's home and I swam in his pool. (He was not there at that time.) If I recall correctly, the house was located in Baldwin Hills though I could be in error.
I also recall one occasion in the 1950s when Weissmuller dropped by our house in Mar Vista with his father-in-law. I was about 10 at that time, but I knew who he was and recall him as being extremely gregarious. He told us of a story when he was in a hospital and restricted from getting out of bed, but rather than use the bedpan, he would pull the tubes out, jump out of bed and use the bathroom instead. I don't recall the details, but he told it as a funny story. My impression of Weismuller that day was that he was a wild and crazy guy, which his biographies pretty much corroborate.
At any rate, if anybody who lives at 3261 Corinth Avenue in Mar Vista happens to read this, Johnny Weissmuller was in your house over 50 years ago.