You may know him as actor Bruce Bennett who played Joan Crawford’s ex-husband in Mildred Pierce (1945) or perhaps as yet another actor who played Tarzan. Others know him by his birth name Herman Brix, which he was using when he won an Olympic silver medalist.
Before the Olympics and Hollywood, Bennett played football for the University of Washington when they competed in 1926 Rose Bowl Game against the University of Alabama. In that game he played against future actor Johnny Mack Brown, who was half back for Alabama. Alabama won the game 20-19.
In 1928, Herman Brix competed on the United States team in the Summer Olympic games in Amsterdam—also attended by Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe—and won a silver medal for men’s shot put in the track and field portion of the games. Brix threw the shot put 15.75 meters, breaking the world shot put record with his toss. But then his teammate John Kuck followed with a throw that set a new world record. Kuck won the gold.
Bennett started his film career in 1931, putting his football skills to use as a football extra in “Touchdown!” (1931). He broke his shoulder during the filming which kept him from making the United States team for the 1932 Los Angeles games. It also caused him to lose the role of “Tarzan the Ape Man” (1932) to another Olympian: Johnny Weissmuller.
Bennett later had the opportunity to play Tarzan in “The New Adventures of Tarzan” (1935) and “Tarzan and the Green Goddess” (1938), billed as Herman Brix.
Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs wasn’t pleased with Johnny Weissmuller’s inarticulate, “crude” representation and preferred Bennett for the role, according to Bennett’s 2007 New York Times obituary.
“So when Mr. Brix’s Tarzan is discovered by explorers in the 1935 movie “The New Adventures of Tarzan,” he intones: “Why, yes, I’m Tarzan, also known as Lord Greystoke. How may I help you?,” his obituary said.
He acted under the name Herman Brix—the name that originally made him famous—from 1931 to 1939. He then changed it to Bruce Bennett and acted in nearly 100 films.
“I realized the name Herman Brix was associated with Tarzan, so I made up a list of seven or eight names and asked people which they liked best. Bruce Bennett was the name I came up with,” Bennett told his 2001 biographer, Mike Chapman.
Along with “Mildred Pierce” (1945), Bennett’s other notable films include “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” (1948) with Humphrey Bogart, “A Stolen Life” (1946) with Bette Davis and “Nora Prentiss” (1947) with Ann Sheridan.
While Hollywood and acting was a large part of his life—from 1931 to 1973— so were athletics. When Bennett passed away, he requested memorial donations to the Olympic Committee.
But he was most proud of his marriage to his wife Jeannette for 67 years, who passed away in 2000, he told the University of Washington Alumni Magazine in 2002.
It’s a little confusing about which name to call him. He rose to fame as an athlete with the name Herman Brix and his Hollywood career was most profitable with the name Bruce Bennett. His son Christopher Brix told the Los Angeles Times in 2007 that he answered to either name.
“He’d answer to either name,” Christopher Brix said. “I think he was proud of both.”
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I am loving this series on Olympians to Actors. I had no idea there were more than Buster Crabbe and Johnny Weismuller (and Sonje Heine, of course). I suppose you can also include Esther Williams even though I thought she never technically competed there.
I love Bruce Bennett’s portrayals in Warner Brothers films. He is great in ‘Mildred Pierce’, one of my favorite films. I had no idea he was an Olympian.
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