Sunday, May 18, 2014

Jungle Jim (TV)

Created by
Alex Raymond, Don Moore
Starring Johnny Weissmuller, Martin Hudson, Dean Fredericks, and Tamba the Chimp
IMDB Entry

When you think of Johnny Weissmuller, you think Tarzan.  But he was more than just an actor, and more than just Tarzan.

Weissmuller was born in Austria-Hungary, and emigrated with his family to the US when he was a baby.  He contracted polio when he was nine and, as rehabilitation, he was told to try swimming.  It was a wise decision:  he took to the sport and became a champion, setting a world record in the freestyle and winning five gold medals in the 1924 and 1928 Olympics.  He established himself as one of the great freestylers of his age.

Weissmuller went into modeling and, in 1932, signed a seven-year contract with MGM.  His first major role was Tarzan in Tarzan the  Ape Man, which was such a hit that is spawned a series.  He was credited with the Tarzan yell* and he played the role in a dozen movies, which pretty much was his entire list of credits until 1948.**

At that point, Weissmuller was 44 and probably realized that his days of being able to run around with just a loincloth were numbered.  He left MGM for Columbia and started a new series:  Jungle Jim.

Jungle Jim was created by the great comic book artist Alex Raymond.  Raymond created the Flash Gordon strip and the long-running Secret Agent X-9, one of the first spy strips, and Rip Kirby.  He was known throughout the field as the artist most others wanted to be (and steal from).  His Jungle Jim started in 1934, as a reaction to Tarzan.*** It featured Jim, an Asian-based adventurer.

It seemed a good fit for Weissmuller, who appeared in 14 movies as the character from 1948-1954.  And then came television.

Jim (Weissmuller) and his son Skipper (Martin Huston) faced the usual African adventures,**** solving mysteries and teaching Skipper a lesson.  They were helped by their Hindu servant Haseem (Dean Fredericks) and by Tamba the Chimp.  Jim traveled in his plane, the Sitting Duck.  Stock footage abounded.

The TV show only lasted a season, but remained in syndication on Saturday mornings for years afterward. 

*The original yell was a combination of sounds (sources differ on exactly which one), but Weissmuller claimed it was all his, and learned to duplicate it for personal appearances.

**The one exception was a film Swamp Fire, where he co-starred with Buster Crabbe, the original Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon.

***Much like Flash Gordon was a reaction to Buck Rogers.

****Even though the comic was based in Asia. 

No comments: