Johnny Roth was a sickly Philadelphia youth
of 19 when he saw “Tarzan the Ape Man” (1932) and was so impressed with
Johnny Weissmuller’s performance that he dedicated himself to physical
Three years later, Roth entered a contest sponsored
by the Lily Tulip Cup Company, and won the role of Tarzan in their nationwide
ice cream promotion. Roth, now a six-footer with a toned 160-pound physique,
toured the country stumping for ice cream and the ape man.
Unfortunately, Roth was unable to translate his success
into a film career, and only appeared in a few bit parts in the movies.
His closest brush with playing the jungle lord onscreen came when he suited
up as a member of the cat cult in “Tarzan and the Leopard Woman” (1946).
Roth’s fellow leopard men included several renowned athletes: Miola Kalili,
a middle-distance swimming champion; Stubby Kruger, Johnny Weissmuller’s
friend and an Olympic backstroker; Paul Stader, a paddleboard champion-turned-stuntman;
and Peter Weissmuller, Johnny’s younger brother, who occasionally worked
as Johnny’s stand-in. Diving title holder Bill Lewin and football players
Charlie McBride (all-American halfback) and Don Malmberg, a tackle on the
1945 UCLA team, also donned the spotted cape.
Roth also appeared as Taro, the son of a Pacific Island
native chief, in the low-budget Monogram war picture, “Wings Over the Pacific”
(1943), and played another character named Taro in Allied Artists’ “The
Bride and the Beast” (1958), the tale of a gorilla queen reincarnated as
a blushing bride, written by Ed Wood, Jr.
Roth continued his fitness pursuits throughout life,
and maintained his physique through his 60s. He wrote and published two
motivational books, “Adventure of Taro,” geared to children, and “Fit-Trim-Young
at Any Age,” which he sold by mail order from his Los Angeles home. By
1969, he was working for Johnny Weissmuller’s American Natural Food Stores
as a sales agent, after which he faded from public view.