Olympic Stars that Didn’t Soar in Hollywood

During the past two weeks, Comet Over Hollywood has looked at Olympic athletes who found Hollywood fame after exhibiting their athletic prowess. Some Olympians were scouted for Hollywood but their stars didn’t rise has high as others.

Eleanor Holm
Eleanor Holm was an Olympic swimmer who competed for the United States in 1928 summer Olympics in Amsterdam where she finished fifth in the 100-meter backstroke. At the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, Holm won a gold medal in the 100-meter backstroke.

Eleanor Holm at the 1932 Olympics

Eleanor Holm at the 1932 Olympics

Between the 1928 and 1932 Olympics, producer Florenz Ziegfeld hired her to perform in the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway in 1930. She left the show to train for the 1932 Olympics. After the 1932 Olympics, she was placed under contract to Warner Bros. for $500 a week, but despite studio-hired acting coaches, she declared herself a spectacular flop as an actress, according to her 2004 obituary.

Holm was to compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and where she would be the first woman to compete on the United States Olympic team three times.

Holm boarded the ship to sail for Berlin for the 1936 games and when she got to Berlin, she was no longer on the team. Olympic president Avery Brundage expelled Holm for breaking curfew and drinking while traveling to Berlin.

“All I did was drink a couple of glasses of champagne,” she told People magazine in 1996. “I was married, singing in a nightclub with my husband’s band. I was not exactly a child.”

In 1938, Holm starred aside fellow Olympian Glenn Morris in “Tarzan’s Revenge.” This was the only film she was in. After this she married producer Billy Rose from 1939 to 1954. She starred in Rose’s New York World’s Fair Aquacades, swimming with fellow Olympian gold medalists Johnny Weissmuller in the 1939 show and Buster Crabbe in 1940.

Olympians Eleanor Holm and Glenn Morris in "Tarzan's Revenge" (1938)

Olympians Eleanor Holm and Glenn Morris in “Tarzan’s Revenge” (1938)

 

Glenn Morris at the 1936 Olympics

Glenn Morris at the 1936 Olympics

Glenn Morris
Glenn Morris competed on the United States team at the 1936 Berlin summer Olympics and won a gold medal for the decathlon. After the Olympics, Morris had a brief Hollywood career.

His film career started with an uncredited role in “She Married an Artist” (1937) at Columbian Pictures, and he was the fourth Olympian to play Tarzan.

Distributed through 20th Century Fox, Morris starred in a low budget Tarzan film, “Tarzan’s Revenge” (1938) which co-starred with Olympic swimmer Eleanor Holm.

After the Tarzan film, Morris acted in one more film, “Hold That Co-Ed” (1938) before leaving Hollywood.

Murray Rose
Murray Rose is an Australian swimmer who won six Olympic medals at the 1956 Melbourne and 1960 Rome Olympics. All three of the medals at the Melbourne Olympics were gold and he won a gold medal in Rome as well as one silver and one bronze.

Murray Rose (center) at the 1960 Olympics with his gold medal

Murray Rose (center) at the 1960 Olympics with his gold medal

After graduating from college at the University of California, Rose entered a brief Hollywood career. His first film was the beach movie “Ride the Wild Surf” (1964) with Tab Hunter, Peter Brown, Shelley Fabares and Fabian. Columbia called him “one of the best bets for stardom in a long time,” according to Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave, 1959-1969 by Thomas Lisanti.

Murray Rose in "Ice Station Zebra" (1968)

Murray Rose in “Ice Station Zebra” (1968)

From 1964 to 2008, Rose made a total of 10 film and TV appearances including an appearance on the TV shows “Dr. Kildare” and “Patty Duke.” He also had a role in the 1968 film “Ice Station Zebra” with Rock Hudson and Ernest Borgnine.

However, he was not passionate enough about acting to continue perusing it, according to his 2012 obituary.

Don’t miss our other Olympic spotlights:

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Olympics to Hollywood: Harold Sakata

Harold Sakata in the 1948 Olympics

Harold Sakata in the 1948 Olympics

You probably know him best as a James Bond henchman with a lethal bowler hat. But Harold Sakata’s career started as an Olympian.

Born in Hawaii, Sakata competed on the United States team in the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, England. Sakata won a silver medal for lifting 380 pounds in the men’s weightlifting portion in the light-heavyweight division.

After the Olympics, he was a professional wrestler under the name of Tosh Togo in the 1950s and 1960s, according to the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame.

But despite his silver medal winning, Sakata’s athletics aren’t what he’s best known for.

Noticed for his muscular build, James Bond producers hired Sakata to play Oddjob, Auric Goldfinger’s personal bodyguard in the film “Goldfinger” (1964). Oddjob wore a steel-rimmed bowler hat that he would toss at enemies.

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Esther Williams and the Canceled Olympics

What do you do when you’re an athlete and the Olympics are canceled? Become one of Hollywood’s top stars.

At least, that’s what Esther Williams did.

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17-year-old Esther Williams (third from left) with the Los Angeles Athletic Swim Club team in 1939.

In 1939, 17-year-old Esther Williams was the United States women’s 100 meter freestyle national champion at the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Championship. She represented the Los Angeles Athletic Club with the winning time of 1:09, which was better than all but one of the swimmers for the next six years, according to the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

The AAU formerly worked closely with the United States Olympic Committee.

Williams was assured a spot on the United States team for the 1940 Summer Olympics which were going to be held in Tokyo, Japan. But the games were canceled due to the outbreak of World War II.

She felt her career as a swimmer was over when the Olympics were canceled and she didn’t receive a swimming scholarship to the University of Southern California, she wrote in her autobiography “The Million Dollar Mermaid.”

She said stardom was her consolation prize.

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Olympics to Hollywood: Bruce Bennett/Herman Brix

Bruce Bennett or Herman Brix? He went by either name

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.

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Olympics to Hollywood: Buster Crabbe

Johnny Weissmuller wasn’t the only swimming Olympian to play Tarzan. There was also Clarence “Buster” Crabbe.

Crabbe and Weissmuller knew each other before their Hollywood days and were competitive.

Crabbe developed his swimming (and surfing) prowess while growing up on a pineapple plantation in Hawaii. His athleticism didn’t stop there. He was even the light-heavyweight boxing champion at the University of Hawaii, according to his Los Angeles Times 1983 obituary.

Buster Crabbe at the 1932 Olympics

Buster Crabbe at the 1932 Olympics

Crabbed competed on the United States Olympic team with Weissmuller at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam.  Crabbe won a bronze medal for the men’s 1500 meter freestyle.

But in 1932 Crabbe’s luck changed. He competed again at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and this time won a gold medal for the men’s 400 meter freestyle.

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Olympics to Hollywood: Johnny Weissmuller

Today, most Olympic fans in the United States are proud of Michael Phelps, who has broken records for both swimming and amount of gold medals won in one Olympic game.

But in the 1920s, the same pride and idolization was for another swimmer: Johnny Weissmuller, one of the first international swimming superstars.

Johnny Weissmuller in the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris.

Johnny Weissmuller in the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris.

Weissmuller is best known now for swinging through trees with his signature yodeling yell and speaking in broken English in the film role of Tarzan the Ape man. But his fame began as an Olympic swimmer.

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Why Bernard Herrmann left the Academy

Actress Mary Astor presents Bernard Herrmann with the Academy Award for Best Score for "All That Money Can Buy."

Actress Mary Astor presents Bernard Herrmann with the Academy Award for Best Score for “All That Money Can Buy.”

Bernard Herrmann is a name most avid film lovers know.

Even someone with little film knowledge is aware of his Psycho (1960) score.

You might hear film historian Robert Osborne mention his scores in an introduction to a film on Turner Classic Movies, or read an article where a musician discusses Herrmann’s influence on their album. But for someone highly revered today, Herrmann didn’t feel well respected by his contemporaries during a radio and film music career that spanned from 1934 to 1975.

Bernard Herrmann came to Hollywood in 1940 with a bang. In a time when the flowery and lilting film scores of composers like Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold were king, Herrmann provided something different.

His first two films—Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941) and William Dieterle’s All That Money Can Buy/The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)—yielded Academy Award nominations for Best Score. Herrmann won his first and only Oscar for All That Money Can Buy.

Some of Herrmann’s film scores included Jane Eyre (1943), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), his personal favorite; and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) but they also were overlooked by the Academy.

His third Academy Award nomination was for the 1946 film Anna and the King of Siam. For this film, Herrmann did extensive research on Siamese scales and melodic phrases to capture the geographic tone of the film, according to “A Heart at Fire’s Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann.”

Bernard Herrmann with director William Dieterle looking over the Academy Award winning "All That Money Can Buy" score.

Bernard Herrmann with director William Dieterle looking over the Academy Award winning “All That Money Can Buy” score.

But the Academy Award for Best Score that year went to Hugo Friedhofer score for the post-World War II drama Best Years of Our Lives. It was 29 years before Herrmann was nominated again for an Academy Award, and then it would be posthumously.

Some of Herrmann’s most famous scores include those he created when he teamed with director Alfred Hitchcock for Vertigo, Psycho and North by Northwest. This proved to be Herrmann’s greatest artistic collaboration. However, none of those were every recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Hitchcock himself was nominated five times, but never received an Academy Award for Best Director. The only Academy Award Hitchcock received was the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1968.

While he worked as a film music composer, Herrmann perceived himself as a failure, because he never felt he reached his full potential by being a world-class symphony conductor. Film music was low-brow to Herrmann. However, he did see the value in film music.

“Movies need the cement of music: I’ve never seen a movie better without it,” he said. “Music is as important as photography.”

As his career advanced into the 1960s, Herrmann started to distance himself from Hollywood. Herrmann and Hitchcock had a disagreement and parted ways, never to work together again. More films were calling for pop standard-like film scores to sell records, and Herrmann wasn’t willing to lower his artistic standards to make a buck.

“If I were starting my career now, I’d have no career in films,” Herrmann said. “I don’t like the new look in film scores. They have nothing to do with the movie.”

Composer Bernard Herrmann with director Alfred Hitchcock, one of his top artistic collaborators who he later had a falling out with.

Composer Bernard Herrmann with director Alfred Hitchcock, one of his top artistic collaborators who he later had a falling out with.

All of these changes moved Herrmann to resign from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1967, because he “did not approve of music being listed as a technical credit,” according to Smith’s book.

“There’s no point to belonging to an organization in which one is judged by one’s inferiors—not one’s peers,” Herrmann was quoted in the Los Angeles Times. “It was Tolstoy who said ‘Eagles fly alone and sparrows fly in flocks.’ But I’m afraid we eagles of the world are being pushed into sanctuaries.”

Herrmann experienced a career resurgence in the 1970s, when new directors like Brain De Palma and Martin Scorsese sought him out. He passed away on Christmas Eve in 1975 after completing recording for Taxi Driver.

In 1977, Bernard Herrmann was posthumously nominated for Academy Award for Best Score for the films Taxi Driver and Obsession. Jerry Goldsmith won the award for The Omen.

“I remember Charles Ives (composer and Bernard Herrmann’s friend) saying ‘Prizes are for boys, and I’m a grown-up,” said Bernard Herrmann’s daughter, Dorothy in Smith’s book. “I believe Daddy had that same attitude.”

Dorothy said many years later when her father came across his Academy Award, he looked surprised “as if he had forgotten he had even won it.”

Listing of Herrmann’s Academy Award nominations: 

Year Award Film
1942 Nominated for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture Citizen Kane (1941)
1942 Won for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture All That Money Can Buy (1941)
1947 Nominated for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture Anna and the King of Siam (1946)
1977 Nominated for Best Music, Original Score Taxi Driver (1976)
1977 Nominated for Best Music, Original Score Obsession (1976)

To learn more about Bernard Herrmann, follow the upcoming documentary Lives of Bernard Herrmann on Twitter and Facebook

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