Simanaitis Says

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AS AN AFICIONADO of old-time movies, I sure accumulate scads of trivia. Several tidbits shared here touch on Greta Garbo’s legs, Maureen O’Sullivan’s entire body (sorta), Johnny Weissmuller’s yell, and Norma Shearer’s brother’s capturing this yell. Talk about variety!

Greta’s Eyelashes? Yes, But…. Much is said about Greta Garbo’s beautifully expressive eyes, but I’ve come to admire her legginess as exhibited in The Single Standard. This 1929 feminist flick was the penultimate of Garbo’s 17 silent films. Fifteen talkies were to follow, including my favorite Ninotchka, 1939.

Image from

Part of Garbo’s appeal was her 5 ft. 7 height; this, at a time when other stars were considerably shorter: Joan Crawford 5 ft. 3; Bette Davis 5 ft. 3; Jean Harlow 5 ft. 1; Norma Shearer 5 ft. 1. Wikipedia says of Garbo, “Her look has been described as ‘trench coat, simple shoes, shirts, cigarette pants, slouchy hat and big sunglasses.’ ” 

What’s not to like?

Tarzan’s Jane and the Code. Five foot three Maureen O’Sullivan helped encourage the infamous Hays Code, through her teaming up with Johnny Weissmuller in Tarzan and His Mate, 1934. As described in Wikipedia, “The film has acquired a cult status, largely due to O’Sullivan wearing one of the most revealing costumes on screen to that time — a halter-top and a loincloth that left her thighs and hips exposed. Because Jane was a cultivated lady from England (not Baltimore, as in Burroughs’ novel), with manners and poise, her wearing such a provocative outfit was particularly risqué and symbolic of her sexual freedom.”

Maureen O’Sullivan in Tarzan and His Mate, 1934.

“In this pre-Code film,” Wikipedia continues, “Jane sleeps in the nude, swims nude with Tarzan, is constantly touched by Tarzan, has a scene in which she is stranded in the jungle naked, and is seen nude in silhouette when dressing in a well lit tent. That Jane and Tarzan sleep together is all the more startling by Hollywood standards because they are not married; the end credits list O’Sullivan as Jane ‘Parker,’ emphasizing that she was single and living in sin.”

The scene causing the most commotion was an underwater ballet, a loinclothed Tarzan cavorting with Jane apparently in the all-together. Actually, Maureen was averse to being underwater and the filming involved her swimming double, Josephine McKim.

Image from YouTube.

Josephine McKim had won three swimming medals in the 1928 and 1932 Olympics. Johnny Weissmuller was also an Olympics champion, with three golds in 1924, and another two in 1928. 

A Family Tidbit. Prior to his MGM Tarzan role, Weissmuller toured the country’s swimming pools for BVD swimwear. It’s a family story that my dad, a teenager at the time, learned the Australian Crawl swim stroke from Weissmuller. 

Tarzan’s Famous Yell. Wikipedia notes, “Weissmuller is considered the definitive Tarzan. He originated the famous Tarzan yell, which was created by sound recordist Douglas Shearer. Shearer recorded Weissmuller’s normal yell, but manipulated it and played it in reverse.”

Shearer? A Familiar Name. Douglas was the elder brother of actress Norma Shearer. His career in motion picture sound technology extended from 1928 to 1968, including fundamental work at the beginning of talkies in eliminating unwanted background noise. Among his 21 nominations, Shearer earned seven Oscars for Sound and Special Effects. 

Douglas Graham Shearer, 1899–1971, Canadian American pioneering sound designer and recording director. 

In my old movie binge, Douglas Shearer is to sound engineering as Edith Head is to costume design. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022 

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