Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina
I believe the underwater scenes were actually done by a professional swimmer, not by Maureen O’Sullivan.
This is one of Tom’s most lively and fun birthday podcasts, perhaps because of fascinating and new-to-me anecdotes about John Randolph and Henry Clay and also his discussions of two characters I knew a lot about, Johnny Weissmuller and Pat Garrett. Believe it or not, the Tarzan yell was Johnny Weissmuller’s alone. He came up it with for the first of his Tarzan movies, saying that he had yodeled growing up. One of my uncles was an acquaintance of Weissmuller’s and told me about a time he was with Weissmuller at the bar in the Riviera Hotel in Palm Springs. One well oiled imbiber kept pestering Weissmuller, telling him the studio had created Tarzan’s signature yell and another guy had recorded it. Weissmuller ignored him for a time but after more drinks himself Weissmuller slammed his glass down, drew his nearly 6’4″ frame erect, and let rip with the classic call of Tarzan. Glasses didn’t break but the sound was deafening and reverberated through the bar and the dining room and to rooms above. There was only one Tarzan. Thanks, Tom!
I forgot to add Allen Wilson is correct. Maureen O’Sullivan’s underwater swimming scenes were performed by a double. That double was Josephine McKim, a Gold and Silver medalist in two Olympics, 1928 and 1932. She knew Johnny Weissmuller from the 1928 Olympics. The second movie in the series, Tarzan Finds a Mate (1934), called for an underwater swimming scene with Weissmuller appearing in a loincloth and Jane naked. Because O’Sullivan was assured the underwater shots would be discreet, the County Roscommon colleen did not object to the nudity but didn’t like swimming below the surface. Enter Josephine McKim. The shoot went smoothly and the end result was artistic and discreet but there was interference from a brand new player in Hollywood, a board of censors that enforced the Production Code. The scene was shot again and that’s how we saw it. However, early prints had already been distributed overseas so the footage was not lost. It’s on Youtube today–and the scene is artistic and tasteful. Jane cavorting on dry land in her skimpy little outfit is far more revealing. Like Tom Fleming I still enjoy the old Tarzan movies. They are innocent, entertaining, and loads of fun. Moreover, who could be prettier or more fetching than Maureen O’Sullivan and what could be better than when in dire circumstances we suddenly hear Tarzan’s call reverberating through the jungle.
After two years of reading quietly here, the last thing I imagined that would cause me to break silence was a reference to Tarzan. I always thought it would be, to paraphrase Bismarck, some damn thing in Ukraine, or something to do with our race and culture wars that would cause me to cough up a comment. But those topics are hard to handle, while this one’s as easy as jumping into the lake. After waiting until my older sister answered my query, corroborating what I thought I’d heard my father say, I can say:
Roger, your uncle drank with Tarzan; my Dad SWAM with Tarzan!*
Some background: The boys came from the same corner of the old Austro Hungarian Empire, the Banat, my future father Andrew from Lugos, a small city that had held out for over 250 against the Turks after their victory at Nicopolis in 1396, Janos from what was then known as the village of Freidorf, now a part of the city of Timisoara.
Johnny’s family left the old country in 1905, travelling by way of Rotterdam to Ellis. The Jacobi family left in 1906, Trieste to Baltimore. Both families were in Chicago in 1906. Johnny lived at 1521 North Cleveland Avenue, just south of North Avenue, “German Broadway” in those days, Andy in Meyer Court, in the shadow of St. Michael’s, half a block west of and parallel with Cleveland Avenue and just north of North Avenue. This puts their abodes about two blocks apart. Both went to St. Michael’s Church, which survived the Great Chicago Fire, and its School, in the decade before World War One. With my father being two and a half years older than Johnny, and if Johnny started school in 1909, when he was five, my father, who that year turned eight on November 10, (a date Roger and I know well) would have been in 2nd grade. Thus they spent their days sharing the same small building for several years.
One account says Johnny had a bout with polio at the age of 9, and the doctor recommended swimming as a therapy. I’ve found no other account as to how his introduction to the water happened, but it seems reasonable to assume that he would have welcomed the company of his countryman on those initial forays. In any case, Andy and Johnny were swimming together from an early age, according to my father.
The story of how the pals got on to the separate paths that would lead one to fame and glory and the other to … not fame, goes like this: they were swimming in a pool one day when someone invited them to come and try out for a swimming club. Now my Dad was a very strong open water swimmer; he taught my older sisters so well they both qualified as Red Cross lifeguards. (Unfortunately for me, by the time I came along, he was no longer able to do that, and I never learned to swim. In fact, I nearly drowned several times, once while training for amphibious landings in the Marine Corps swimming tank.) Well, Johnny showed up for the tryout, Andy didn’t. While swimming for that club, Johnny was seen by Bill Bachrach, swimming instructor for the Illinois Athletic Club, who recognized his potential, got him into the club, and began an intensive training program, which would lead Johnny to Olympic glory, and all the rest.
A coda to the early years, which I didn’t know of until my sister’s recent communication, happened during World War Two. My Dad, making his second try to get into a war – the first try, when he was a teen, being nixed by his father – thank you, Grandpa Jacobi! – was in the Army but again stymied from getting into the action – this time for being too old! Stationed in California at the Santa Anita racetrack, he made a trip to Hollywood and looked up Johnny. We don’t know what the old friends said. It will be one of the questions I’ll have answered when I get to Heaven, where Andy and Johnny will be waiting and will teach me to swim like a champ.
* Yes, I know, little Andy wasn’t yet “my father”, and little Johnny wasn’t yet “Tarzan”.
Mr. Jacobi! So great to see your name again, and thank you for sharing the fun story. My own grandfather was once a friend of Hank Williams, Sr., and how thankful I am that their paths eventually diverged (no knowing what would have become of my namesake, or if I’d even be here to ponder such things). I hope you and yours are doing well up in Chicago. I enjoyed the Tarzan movies, but the Tarzan and His Mate with the naked swimming is a little too risque for my tastes. Although I agree with Dr. Fleming that even that is better than 99% of the flotsam coming out of Hollywood now-a-days.
On a separate note, I don’t know if it’s a showing of great comedic skill and timing or an earnest and sad tragedy that Rex is the only person I’ve heard successfully pull off the “It’s All Greek To Me” joke. Oy vay!