JOHNNY AND GEORGE HURRELL
JOHNNY AND CHEETAH
Johnny was always able to build a camaraderie with the many animals used in the Tarzan films, and he let them know he was not afraid. Especially difficult were the chimpanzees used to play Cheetah; they are notoriously vicious and unpredictable and get worse as they age. He actually worked with eight different chimps over the years.
Back in 1931 when he met the first Cheetah, the chimp challenged Weissmuller by baring his teeth in a prelude to attack. Johnny drew his hunting knife and held it closely to the Chimp’s face, and then knocked it hard against its head. After replacing the knife in its sheath, he offered Cheetah his hand. First the chimp glared at him, then grinned and took his hand. From that moment on there was a lasting bond between them, and Cheetah would snipe at anyone who came near Johnny. Maureen O’Sullivan many times has recounted how she ended up with lots of scrapes and bites from a jealous chimp!
JOHNNY IN JAPAN
In October of 1928, Weissmuller was part of a special team of a few athletes that was invited to Japan to compete in exhibition meets for swimming fan Crown Prince Chichibu’s wedding celebration. Swimmer Katsuo Takaishi, who had competed against him in the Olympics, warned Johnny and Bachrach that the Japanese intended to prevail by virtue of the fact that they were used to swimming in frigid water. So he and his teammates “trained” by taking twice daily baths in ice water in their hotel, and remained undefeated in their meets. Ironically, he was then asked to become the Olympic swimming coach for that country. This ice water training would serve him well later when making the Tarzan movies, as when performing on camera with live alligators and hippopotami, the water on set would be chilled so as to render the giant beasts sluggish.
JOHNNY IN CUBA
Weissmuller was well known and loved in Cuba, both before and after that country’s communist revolution. To this day there remains a “Johnny Weissmuller Suite” at the historic Hotel Nacional in Havana. Early in the morning or after a night of hard partying, he would dive from the second story balcony outside his room to the pool down below.
One widely recounted story is from when he was there in 1958 for a pro celebrity golf tournament. At that time, Cuba was in the throes of revolution, with Castro’s rebels fighting a guerilla war against Batista’s regime. Weissmuller and some other golfers were commuting to and from the Villa Real golf course in an open touring car, accompanied by bodyguards assigned by President Batista. Suddenly they were surrounded by a band of Castro’s rebel soldiers, demanding the bodyguards throw down their weapons. Realizing the danger of the tense standoff, Johnny raised himself up in the car and gave his famous Tarzan yell. The rebels immediately recognized him and gathered around their cinema hero, crying “Tarzan, welcome to Cuba!” Far from being kidnapped, they were escorted by the rebels to and from the golf course.
This story was confirmed directly by Weissmuller’s granddaughter when she was working in Havana at the Hotel Nacional on a special project. She was introduced to a charming old man who everyone knew had hung out with Johnny as his local helper when he was a teenager. Unprompted, he himself told her this story, and knew it because he was there as part of the entourage when it happened!