In the swim with Johnny and Esther
I must have been about 8 years old when I learned how to swim. At about the same time, I became a huge fan of Johnny Weissmuller, the screen Tarzan who was a five-time Olympic gold medalist.
I worshipped Johnny. “Tarzan’s” story about an English lord who grew up among apes would excite any boy. At that point, I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Albert Schweitzer as a missionary in the so-called “dark continent.”
Weissmuller’s swimming prowess was exemplary. He introduced a style that was speedier than previous champions’. In his jungle adventures as Tarzan, he could swim faster than crocodiles!
Then, Tarzan formed an ideal family that included ladylike Jane and athletic Boy, who became the role models of viewers who wanted to experience jungle life.
Enter beautiful and “aquatic” Esther Williams, who would herself have competed in the Olympics, had it not been affected by World War II. She was the “Bathing Beauty” and the “Million Dollar Mermaid” who often played underwater goddesses, and was courted by the likes of Howard Keel, Ricardo Montalban and Van Johnson. In her prime, she was Hollywood’s box-office queen.
As a swimmer, she popularized a style that combined the speedy Australian crawl with the glamorous backstroke—it was beguiling to me! After learning it, my fascination for Tarzan ceased, and I became an Esther Williams fan!
I also became a fan of “Dyesebel,” Haydee Coloso, Andrea Ofilada, Lolita Ramirez, Paraluman, and the Guerrero and Von Giese sisters of PWU.
I admired men like Fernando Poe Sr., who swam alongside beautiful but athletic women, like the original Darna, Rosa del Rosario; the original Dyesebel, Edna Luna, as well as Vilma Santos, who later played both iconic screen heroines!
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