They soared through the trees on vines, swam in rivers wild, fought and played with wild animals, and became lovers. You knew them as Tarzan and Jane. In real life they were Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan, and both were extraordinary individuals.
The Real Tarzan
Weissmuller was a five-time Olympic Gold Champion who was a star long before he became Tarzan (click for more on Weissmuller).
O’Sullivan was an 18-year-old petite Irish colleen when she was discovered, in all places, at the 1930 International Horse Show in Dublin. She was discovered by Hollywood filmmaker Frank Borzage.
O’Sullivan signed with Fox Studios and quickly found herself cast opposite John McCormack in the musical, “Song O’ My Heart” (1930). The film was not well received. However, O’Sullivan quickly followed up with “Just Imagine” (1930) which was nominated for an Academy Award, and then starred opposite Will Rogers in “A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court” (1931). In 1932, O’Sullivan signed with MGM where she was immediately cast as the very sexy Jane — wearing a very revealing costume for the times — in the international run-a-way hit, “Tarzan the Ape Man” (1932).
And, this is where things get interesting.
“Tarzan the Ape Man” was followed up with a sequel, “Tarzan and His Mate” (1934). And surprisingly, the sequel included an underwater nude scene with Tarzan in a loincloth and Jane completely nude. For a little over two and half minutes, the two stars swim a very artistic choreographed routine underwater. Well, I say two stars. The fact is Maureen O’Sullivan had a body double do the scene for her, a former Olympic Champion — Josephine McKim. Not that O’Sullivan had any qualms about the nude scene. She spent most of the movie scantily clad in a loincloth herself. And, in a 1994 interview with Ron Miller admitted she thought the sexy scenes were “fun.” In the same interview, O’Sullivan says she refused to do the swimming scene because she’s claustrophobic and couldn’t bear to put her face under water.