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.

Herman Brix competing in the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam.

Herman Brix competing in the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam.

1928 Olympic Track and Field Ceremony: USA's John Kuck with the gold, German's Emil Hirschfeld with the bronze and USA's Herman Brix with the silver.

1928 Olympic Track and Field Ceremony: USA’s John Kuck with the gold, German’s Emil Hirschfeld with the bronze and USA’s Herman Brix with the silver.

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.

Playing Tarzan and billed as Herman Brix

Playing Tarzan and billed as Herman Brix

“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.

Billed as Bruce Bennett with Joan Crawford in "Mildred Pierce" (1945)

Billed as Bruce Bennett with Joan Crawford in “Mildred Pierce” (1945)

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.”

He went by either Bruce Bennett or Herman Brix. Pictured in 1993 with his shot put and a photo of himself from the Olympics.

He went by either Bruce Bennett or Herman Brix. Pictured in 1993 with his shot put and a photo of himself from the Olympics.

Don’t miss our other Olympic spotlights:

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Musical Monday: Holiday in Mexico (1946)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

holiday4This week’s musical:
Holiday In Mexico” (1946)– Musical #119

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
George Sidney

Starring:
Jane Powell, Walter Pidgeon, Roddy McDowall, Ilona Massey, Hugo Haas, William ‘Bill’ Phillips, Helene Stanley, Linda Christian (uncredited), Grady Sutton (uncredited)
As themselves: Jose Iturbi, Xavier Cugat, Amparo Iturbi, Jose Iturbi’s grandchildren: Tonia Hero and Teresa Hero

Plot:
Christine (Powell) lives in Mexico with her father Jeffrey Evans (Pidgeon), who is the United States Ambassador to Mexico. Jeffrey is a single parent to Christine, who dotes on her father and tries to be the lady of the house and manage her father’s affairs. She is constantly quarreling with her boyfriend Stanley (McDowall), who is the son of the English ambassador. When Jeffrey meets an old flame, singer Toni Karpathy (Massey), Christine feels replaced. To console herself, she decides that she’s in love with piano player Jose Iturbi (who plays himself).

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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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Musical Monday: Dangerous When Wet (1953)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Dangerous When Wet (1953)– Musical #79

Studio:Poster - Dangerous When Wet_01
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Charles Walters

Starring:
Esther Williams, Fernando Lamas, Jack Carson, Charlotte Greenwood, Denise Darcel, William Demarest, Donna Corcoran, Barbara Whiting, Ben Gage (uncredited)

Plot:
Katie Higgins (Williams) is the daughter of dairy farmer Pa Higgins (Demarest). The family is the healthiest in the county, starting their morning with exercise and a swim. However, financially their farm isn’t doing so great. When the family meets traveling salesman Windy Weebe (Carson), he convinces them to swim 30 miles across the English Channel with his product, Liquapep, as their sponsor. Katie meets handsome Frenchman Andre Lanet (Lamas) in the process.

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Review: Geordie (1955)

Never have I stumbled over a more delightful film.

While searching for films about sports, the 1955 British film “Geordie,” released in the U.S. as “Wee Geordie,” came up in the results. I hadn’t heard of this film or several of the stars, but I decided to give it a go and I’m glad I did.

Geordie is smaller than the other students and gets picked on.

Geordie is smaller than the other students and gets picked on.

Directed by Frank Launder, “Geordie” follows a young boy named Geordie MacTaggart (Paul Young) who is the smallest in his class and Scottish village. The “wee” boy is fed up with being picked on at school and harassed about his height.

Geordie spots an advertisement for a mail-order body-building course on the back of his father’s (Jameson Clark) newspaper. He orders Henry Samson’s (Francis DeWolff) exercise correspondence and continues to work through the course until he’s a tall, strong 21 year-old man (Bill Travers — who was 6′ 6″). Geordie’s girl Jean (Norah Gorsen) is aggravated by the exercises and feels like it takes up all of his time.

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Musical Monday: Sing Your Way Home (1944)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

singThis week’s musical:
“Sing Your Way Home” (1944)– Musical #551

Studio:
RKO Radio Pictures

Director:
Anthony Mann

Starring:
Jack Haley, Marcy McGuire, Glen Vernon, Anne Jeffreys, Donna Lee Smith, Lawrence Tierney (uncredited)

Plot:
Big headed World War II correspondent Steve Kimball (Haley) is eager to leave Europe and get back to the United States. To do so, he agrees to chaperone a group of teenagers. While Steve is very strict with the teenagers, he uses teen Bridget Foster (McGuire) to smuggle his stories through the radio in code.

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Review: Orry-Kelly and the “Women He’s Undressed” (2015)

Poster WOMEN HE'S UNDRESSED - Courtesy of Wolfe VideoAt 14, loving both classic films and fashion, I always kept my eyes peeled for the film’s costume designer. With 293 credits to his name from 1932 to 1963, Orry-Kelly was a name I often spotted.

Dark Victory (1939), Now Voyager (1940), Casablanca (1940), American in Paris (1951), Auntie Mame (1958), Some Like it Hot (1959), and Gypsy (1963) are just a few films that he added to his resume.

While many today will name Edith Head when put on the spot to name a costume designer, she wasn’t the only one in Hollywood. Head’s costumes were lovely and she deserves all her accolades, but many costume designers seem to be cast in a shadow as dark as her round black glasses.

“Women He’s Undressed” (2015), a new documentary directed by Gillian Armstrong, gives audiences the opportunity to learn more about the prolific costume designer, Orry-Kelly.

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Review: Gidget’s Summer Reunion (1985) TV Movie

From 1959 to 1986, there were nine versions of “Gidget” on TV and film, live action and animated.

I’ve refrained from calling versions made from 1959 to 1972 “the worst” of the Gidget series, because they aren’t.

“Gidget Goes Hawaiian” isn’t great but it has some bright spots and is colorful. “Gidget Goes to Rome” is a little too syrupy sweet, and “Gidget Gets Married” was just goofy.

gidgetBut the worst came in 1985 with the two hour made-for-TV movie “Gidget’s Summer Reunion.”

Gidget (Caryn Richman) and Moondoggie/Jeff (Dean Butler) are married, living in a house they can’t afford and working paycheck to paycheck. Gidget runs a travel agency and Jeff works as a contractor and has a sexy blond boss, Anne (Mary Frann). Their 15-year-old niece Kim (Allison Barron) comes to stay the summer and is ready to learn how to surf and gets tangled with a college-aged surfing jerk (Vincent Van Patten) who only has one thing on his mind.

Gidget is so busy at work that her marriage is falling apart and Anne is reaching out her claws for Jeff. Just as Gidget attempts to patch up her married and is planning a surprise birthday party for Jeff with the old surfing gang, she has to take over on a tour of Hawaii when her tour guide gets sick.

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Musical Monday: Step Lively (1944)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

step3This week’s musical:
Step Lively” (1944)– Musical #209

Studio:
RKO

Director:
Tim Whelan

Starring:
Frank Sinatra, George Murphy, Gloria DeHaven, Adolphe Menjou, Walter Slezak, Eugene Pallette, Anne Jeffreys, Grant Mitchell, Wally Brown, Dorothy Malone (uncredited)

Plot:
Gordon Miller (Murphy) wrecking havoc at a hotel where he’s rehearsing a musical comedy. Not only are his actors running rampant and eating all the food in the dining room, but he also doesn’t have any money to pay for the hotel, the actors or the play. Gordon’s brother-in-law and manager of the hotel Joe Gribble (Slezak) is in hot water as Gordon continues to run up his credit. Along the way, playwright Glenn Russell shows up wondering what became of his play that he sent to Gordon to produce. They find that Glenn can sing better than write and leading lady Christine (DeHaven) works to get him in the show.

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