Me Tarzan, You Olympian

OK, it's Olympic trivia quiz time. Question number one: Name the Olympic gold medalist who also played Tarzan in the movies.

Come on, piece of cake. Johnny Weissmuller. Duh.

Correct. Johnny Weissmuller, the Michael Phelps of the 1920s, won a total of five Olympic gold medals in the 1924 and 1928 Olympics and set multiple world records in the freestyle at four different distances. According to Wikipedia (a source only slightly more trustworthy than its analog cousin - legend), Weissmuller never lost a swimming race. In 1932, he starred in Tarzan the Ape Man, the first of 13 Tarzan movies in which he played the title role. I have never seen the last four films of this series, but the titles (Tarzan and the Leopard Woman, Tarzan and the Amazons, Tarzan and the Huntress, Tarzan and the Mermaids) suggest that primates in the wild, just as in civilized society, do not necessarily mate for life.

All right, back to our trivia quiz. Question number two: Name another Olympic gold medal winner - also a swimmer - who played Tarzan in the movies.

Okaaaay, ummm, wait, I know this ... Buster Crabbe!

Yes, indeed. Clarence Linford Crabbe (I think I'd have gone with Buster, too), best known for his portrayal of science fiction heroes Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, won Olympic gold in the 400 meter freestyle in Los Angeles in 1932. In 1933, Crabbe was cast in a Tarzan ripoff called Kaspa the Jungle Man, and then went all the way in Tarzan the Fearless, released that same year.

Very good, two-for-two. Question number three: Name another Olympic gold medalist who played Tarzan in the movies.

Well, I know this one only because I am an avid reader of Fourth Place Medal. Glenn Morris.

Right again. Glenn Morris won the decathlon in Berlin in 1936, setting a world record for points in the event. Hollywood casting executives flexed their creative muscles by choosing to cast Morris - an Olympic decathlete, not an Olympic swimmer - in Tarzan's Revenge in 1937. Unfortunately, his film career was as brief as his scandalous affair with Leni Riefenstahl.

You are on fire! Question number four. Can you name the fourth (and final?) Olympic medalist to play Tarzan in the movies?

Hmmm. I'm beginning to sense a theme here, but I think I am stumped. Can't think of any other gold medalists as Tarzan. I give up.

Ah-hah, but I didn't say gold medalist, did I? Herman Brix – that's him in the picture – won silver in the shot put in Amsterdam in 1928 and was a struggling actor when Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs handpicked him for The New Adventures of Tarzan in 1935. Brix's long career in movies peaked with performances alongside Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce and Humphrey Bogart in Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

One final bonus question: Can you name the Olympic gold medalist to appear in Tarzan movies, but not as Tarzan?

Well, Bo Derek (link censored by the Chinese government) was in Tarzan the Ape Man, and I know she scored a perfect 10, but I don't think that was in the Olympics.

No, I'm afraid the answer we were looking for was Rafer Johnson, the 1960 decathlon champion. Johnson was so impressive as Barcuma, the villainous leader of the evil leopard cult, in 1967's Tarzan and the Great River, he returned to the big screen the following year as Nagambi, the evil tribal chief, in Tarzan and the Jungle Boy. Yes, Johnson is the only African-American Olympian in this discussion, and, to repeat, no, he did not play the heroic Tarzan. Feel free to draw your own conclusions about the cultural and racial biases of Hollywood and American filmgoers in 1968, the same year as John Carlos and Tommie Smith's medal stand civil rights protest.

And that's the end of today's Olympics and Hollywood trivia quiz. Thank you for joining us. Be sure to tune in tomorrow as we go one-on-one with former Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas about his mesmerizing performance in the international blockbuster, Gymkata.

Photo via Getty Images

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