Ode to Johnny Weissmuller


Johnny Weissmuller Johny Weismuller as Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller with Jane, Boy, and Cheetah


If you are of a certain age, say over fifty (and certainly not much under it) you recall (for better or worse) Johnny Weissmuller as Hollywood’s Tarzan. Perhaps (like me) you were credulous and a bit romantic and saw nothing silly at all in those paleo-Darwinian leitmotifs to nature-meets-nurture. (When I was 8 I broke a broom stick and whittled it sharp with a kitchen knife to make a spear.) Perhaps (if you were a certain kind of boy) you rose from your latency in love with Maureen O’Sullivan as “Jane” and by God was there ever anything as sexy as Jane teaching Tarzan how to use a fork?



Ah me. And today, browsing my dusty book-shelf I found an old poem by John Bowie, a poet who died young (at 27) and whose only book of poems “Screen Gems” is long out of print. Bowie, who was a big fella, who probably felt as hopeless in the public square as any customary person with a disability–Bowie wrote a fine little “Ode to Johnny Weissmuller” which carries its schadenfreude rather gently and is well worth reprinting here.


Ode to Johnny Weismuller


Why are there never thorns

On your jungle floor, Johnny?

Why no mango stains on your loincloth?

The rain-forests you slip through

Are too free of ants, of flies,

Of all the eager microbes

That must grind a visitor down.


Crocodiles and thick-headed lions 

Are too easy to slice up,

Too easy to trample

With the help of a few restless

Elephant chums.


Try to think of Cheetah

Nursing a green banana

Through his intestines,

Johnny, or Jane picking

Tree-lice from her arm,

Daydreaming of a freshly-painted

Tract home in San Berdo.


Try to think of yourself

Laid up in the tree-house

With ringworm, while your eyes

Follow the pattern of a

Sluggish mosquito on the dry

Palm-leaf wall.




0 thoughts on “Ode to Johnny Weissmuller

  1. I hate to take exception to Mr. Bowie’s poem, because he’s not here to defend himself. But no one has EVER daydreamed about a tract home in San Berdo(o), not even a freshly painted one, not even someone stuck in a lice-ridden jungle with a chimp for a best friend. That’s just not plausible. I’ve been to San Berdoo, I know.


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