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Volume 7018

Spotlight on
ERB Researcher and Wrestling Hall of Famer

Mike Chapman
Guest of Honour at the 2017 Coldwater Dum-Dum
speaking of his connections to five movie Tarzans
(Brix, Morris, Mahoney, Miller, and Scott)
and the books that he has written.
Enjoy our coverage of Mike's successful 2008 Waterloo Dum-Dum at:

Mike's in-depth, fully illustrated biography on
Herman Brix / Bruce Bennett

The silver screen’s greatest apeman
emerged from the forests of the Evergreen State
By Mike Chapman
(Originally published in "washington" magazine, circa 1989-90)
Article transcribed and Submitted by John Martin

  Millions of adventure-fantasy fans are convinced that Tarzan of the Apes spent his youth in the jungles of Africa, growing to manhood there. If they are speaking of the “real” Tarzan, the immortal fictional creation of Edgar Rice Burroughs, they are correct. But when it comes to the “reel” Tarzan, there are many different homes. To date, 17 men have cavorted across the silver screen as Tarzan, dating back to bare-chested Elmo Lincoln’s debut in 1918.

  In the opinion of many Tarzan fans, the greatest of the reel Tarzans is a Washington State product, who built his muscular frame in the woods near Tacoma and honed his considerable athletic skills in Seattle. Herman Brix was born and raised in Tacoma, the fourth of five children. His father worked in the lumber business, and Herman benefited from the association with his father’s physically demanding job. “I worked a lot in the lumbering business as a youngster,” says Brix, recently interviewed in his Beverly Hills office, where he is in the real estate business. “I spent most of my summer vacations in the woods, or in the logging camps. Just plain hard work helped me develop my physique.”

  Brix was a natural athlete as well. In high school, he participated in football, basketball, track and soccer, earning a total of 16 letters. He and his brother, Egbert, both enrolled at the University of Washington, and became football standouts. Egbert earned letters in 1924 and ’25, while Herman was a starter for three years – 1925, ’26 and ’27. The 1925 Washington team posted a 10-1-1 record, opening with a 108-0 rout of outmanned Willamette and closing with a 20-19 loss to Alabama in the Rose Bowl.

  But it was in track and field that Herman Brix really excelled. Quick and skilled as well as powerful, he ran the hurdles, threw the javelin and heaved the shot.

  “In those days, I was called the ‘blond giant,'"he says with a chuckle. “I was six feet, two inches tall and weighed about 195 pounds. The heaviest I ever got was 201 pounds, but that was pretty big then, I guess.”

  During his Seattle years, Brix matured into the nation’s best shot-putter. He was undefeated for over five years in his specialty in all types of competition, and earned a total of seven national titles, including the NCAA crown in 1927. In 1928, he finished first in the United States Olympic trials, and wound up with a silver medal at the Olympic Games in Amsterdam. The former Seattle star broke the Olympic record on his first effort in Amsterdam, and led the competition until the final toss of the day. John Kuck, his teammate from Kansas, unleashed a toss that edged Brix’s by several inches, giving the US the top two spots.

  At the games, Brix became friends with two swimmers. Remarkably, within just six years all three of them were in Hollywood starring in Tarzan films for three different companies. “Sure, I can remember being over there with Johnny (Weissmuller) and Buster (Crabbe),” says Brix. “We hung around a little together on ship and cheered for each other.”

  After the Olympics, Brix returned to Seattle prepared to find a job, but when he was contacted by the Los Angeles Track Club he moved to California. His life was about to take a dramatic turn.

  “I met Douglas Fairbanks at a track meet and he invited me to train at his personal quarters,” explains Brix. In the 1930s, Fairbanks and his dazzling wife, Mary Pickford, were the reigning royalty of Hollywood. Brix continued working hard at the shot put, until the day he heard about MGM’s tryouts for the lead role in a Tarzan movie. He hustled over at Fairbanks’ urging and got the role. First, however, there was the matter of a minor part in a movie entitled “Touchdown.”

  Brix showed up for the first day of shooting, and proceeded to break his arm in a freak accident. The arm was in a cast for six weeks, knocking him out of both films. MGM, unable to wait for Brix’s arm to heal, selected  a lanky swimmer for the lead in “Tarzan the Ape Man” and Weissmuller proved an immediate sensation.

  Author Burroughs, despite the enormous financial success of the MGM films, was hugely disappointed by the manner in which Tarzan was portrayed. He had conceived the apeman as a physical Adonis with a mind to match, a renaissance man fluent in several languages. MGM saw Tarzan as a buffoon, upstaged by chimpanzees, Jane and Boy. When another film company came out with the equally disappointing “Tarzan the Fearless” in 1933, starring Crabbe, Burroughs was prodded into action. He and several businessmen formed their own company, determined to depict the apeman as he was written. An extensive search was organized to find the ideal Tarzan – and Herman Brix was selected.

  In late 1934, a cast and crew of 29 left California on the appropriately named liner “Seattle” for Guatemala. The ship reached its destination in the midst of a howling storm, and much of the filming took place in remote highlands under adverse and primitive conditions. “The filming was arduous,” recalls Brix, who was instructed to dye his hair black for the role. “I was in the hospital a number of times with cuts and abrasions. I weighed about 190 pounds when we got there, and was down to 171 pounds by the time we finished up.”

  In spite of the considerable hardship, Brix was magnificent in his first starring effort. Moving with the ease of a great athlete, he appeared comfortable in all of the action sequences. His physique, with its hard, cordlike muscles, provided a sharp contrast to the more smoothly muscled bodies of Weissmuller and Crabbe. In one scene, the physique was shown to particular advantage. Tarzan is tied to a post, left to be eaten by savage jungle predators. He escapes by simply tensing his muscles until his bulging sinews actually pull the ropes apart – an easy feat for today’s special effects wizards, but Brix did it with his own natural strength.

  The movie was released first as a feature – New Adventures of Tarzan – and then as a serial, “Tarzan and the Green Goddess.” Well received at the time, they have since become highly regarded by Tarzan purists.*

  “Brix’s portrayal was the only time between the silent and the 1960s that Tarzan was accurately depicted in films,” wrote Gabe Essoe in is book “Tarzan of the Movies.” “He was mannered, cultured, soft-spoken, a well-educated English lord who spoke several languages and didn’t grunt, and because of its fidelity to the books, the film has become a classic…”

  Unfortunately, the movie was marred by an atrocious soundtrack, actually apologized for in the credits. It was redubbed for TV, so viewers today get a better audio, but the voice of Tarzan does not belong to Brix.

  Brix was typecast by his Tarzan performance, and in the next few years was able to land only a few roles in serials, the bottom of the filmmaking world of the 1930s. One such serial, Republic Studio’s “Hawk of the Wilderness,” furthered Brix’s typecasting, but  gave audiences another chance to see the magnificent athlete at his physical best, once again portraying a white hero marooned in the wilderness, and supreme in his primitive world.

  Despite the success of “Hawk of the Wilderness,” Brix decided to leave the film scene for a few years to study acting. His return was hastened by the advent of World War II. Adopting the screen name of Bruce Bennett, he found many roles beginning in the early ‘40s. He is perhaps best known for his role as the heroic tank commander in “Sahara” who treks across the desert to get help for his besieged company. As Bennett, he appeared in nearly 140 more films, in major roles and in films that have become legends. He was Joan Crawford’s husband in “Mildred Pierce,” the role that earned her an Academy Award. In “Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” he was punched by Humphrey Bogart. In “The Last Outpost,” he played opposite Ronald Reagan, and later served on the board of the Screen Actors Guild when Reagan was its president.

  Today, Brix and his wife of many years, Jeanette, live in Beverly Hills, not far from his downtown office. They take long trips in the summer, to such places as Australia, the British Isles and Santorini, the crater island in the Aegean that many are convinced is ancient Atlantis.

  Although there was a time when Brix was not overly fond of his days as Tarzan, he finally has come to enjoy the attention it brings him. He continues to receive mail from around the world, asking for autographs and photos. Many Tarzan fans now regard him as the best “reel” Tarzan of ‘em all.

*Actually, "New Adventures" was the serial (1935) and "Green Goddess" was the feature film (1938).
Note: Brix/Bennett passed away Feb. 24, 2007



Mike Hosted
The 2008 Dum-Dum Waterloo, Iowa

Mike Chapman Honored at The Wrestling Hall of Fame
A Biography
National Wrestling Hall of Fame ~ June 3, 2007
Author Mike Chapman and his friend Dan "The Beast" Severn
Mike Chapman of Newton, Iowa has been elected to receive the Order of Merit from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in Stillwater, Okla. The Order of Merit is presented to an individual who has made significant contribution to the advancement of wrestling, other than success as an athlete or coach. The winner is selected by a vote of the Distinguished Members of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. Chapman, a professional journalist with a passion for wrestling, has been a leader within the sport for decades with a focus on the promotion of the sport. His involvement has been at many levels, including as a publisher, author, historian, publicist and speaker. Gifted as a writer and communicator, Chapman has used those skills to tell the stories of wrestling?s heroes and bring the excitement and drama of the sport to millions of people worldwide.

Chapman was born and raised in Waterloo, Iowa, hometown of Dan Gable and a wrestling hotbed. His interest and passion for the sport learned at an early age helped guide the rest of his life. Chapman had a 35-year career as a journalist and reached the top of his profession. He held sports editor positions at the Dixon Telegraph (Ill.), Iowa City Press Citizen (Iowa), The Coloradoan (Colo.) and the Cedar Rapids Gazette (Iowa), as well as serving as Editor for the Voice of the Hawkeyes, a newspaper covering the Univ. of Iowa athletics. Chapman was also the Managing Editor of the Daily Sentinel (Ill.), Executive Editor of the Sauk Valley Newspapers (Ill.) and the Publisher of the Newton Daily News (Iowa). For two years (1986-88), Chapman served as Director of Communications for USA Wrestling, the national governing body for amateur wrestling in the United States.

Throughout his professional journey, on his own time, Chapman was involved writing and communicating about wrestling, using all of his skills in a variety of mediums. He became the most prolific author about wrestling in history, penning 13 books about the sport. Each book was meticulously researched. The books told in rich language the personal stories of wrestling heroes, with a dramatic presentation that described the intensity and excitement of the sport. Chapman?s respect for wrestling is evident in each book, as he takes efforts to explain the values that the sport teaches.

The books that he authored with wrestling as a theme were: Two Guys Named Dan in 1976; From Gotch To Gable: A History of Iowa Wrestling, in 1981; Toughest Men in Sports in 1982; Nick and the Cyclones, in 1988; The New Breed: Living Iowa Wrestling, in 1985, (co-author with Lou Banach); The Encyclopedia of American Wrestling, in 1988; Gotch: World's Greatest Wrestler, in 1989; Fighting Back, The Bob Steenlage Story, in 1993; GOTCH: An American Hero, in 1999; Wrestling Tough in 2005; Achilles: Son of Peleus, Scourge of Troy in 2005; Legends of the Mat in 2006 and The Sport of Lincoln.

In 1993, Mike created W.I.N. Magazine, a wrestling newspaper dedicated to covering all levels of the sport. The magazine was immediately recognized for its depth of coverage, outstanding columnists and timely delivery. He has since sold it but is still a columnist for the paper. While at W.I.N. Magazine, Chapman created the Dan Hodge Trophy, given each year to the top collegiate wrestler in the nation. The Hodge Trophy has been called "the Heisman Trophy of wrestling, and has become one of the most coveted honors in the sport.

He was the creator of the International Wrestling Institute and Museum, which opened in Newton, Iowa, in 1998 and had over 40,000 fans visit before moving to Waterloo, Iowa, in 2007. The museum is now named in the honor of wrestling legend Dan Gable and housed in his hometown. Visitors to the museum are impressed with the large variety and detail of the exhibits, which are displayed in an entertaining and educational way. He also created the WIN Memorabilia Show, an annual showcase of wrestling memorabilia, products and services, which has been held annually during the week of the NCAA Div. I Wrestling Championships for 18 years. Numerous past wrestling champions make appearances at the show to meet with fans, bringing the history of the sport to life for new generations. Chapman also developed the Museum Show, which has appeared at nearly 100 wrestling tournaments.

Among the ways that Chapman has helped promote wrestling is through the development and marketing of posters. Among the dozen posters which he has produced are America Needs Wrestling, which lists 40 famous men who have wrestled, Train Like A Madman with Alexander Karelin, Train Like A Madman 2 with Tom and Terry Brands and Making History with Pat Smith. Chapman has also produced two feature length videos about wrestling, and has created three different wrestling card sets. Mike has given speeches on wrestling history to hundreds of groups, offering a stirring and passionate presentation about man's oldest sport. Considered one of the nation's experts on wrestling, he has appeared on numerous radio talk shows to talk about the sport, and has been interviewed by many national and regional television networks on the topic.

Mike has won many awards in journalism. He has been named National Wrestling Writer of the Year five times and was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002 by the Cauliflower Alley Club, an organization of former boxers, wrestlers and movie actors. He is a member of four halls of fame recognizing his efforts involving wrestling. He was co-winner (with wife Bev) of the Impact of Year award by WIN magazine in 1988.

Mike did not wrestle in high school but wrestled three years in the U.S. Navy, and has also competed in judo, sombo, weightlifting contests and even several races. He once bench pressed 440 pounds weighing 202 and won the Iowa State Masters Bench Press contest (over age 55) in 2001.

          Wrestling is not his only passion. He has also written a novel called Lowell Park, about Ronald Reagan as a lifeguard at age 22 in Lowell Park, and biographies of three movie stars from the past Herman Brix, Glenn Morris and Tom Tyler. His book Iowans of Impact has biographical chapters of 25 famous Iowans, from Herbert Hoover to John Wayne to Frank Gotch and Bob Feller and Dan Gable. Because of his interest in Tarzan, Chapman received the Golden Lion Award, given annually to a person who has helped further the worldwide popularity of Tarzan. Chapman has been honored by the wrestling community to recognize his lifelong service to wrestling, based upon his detailed knowledge of the sport, his creativity in marketing and his passion for telling the stories of its heroes.

Visit Our ERBzine ERB Silver Screen Series
for more on Herman Brix and appearances as Tarzan

Part 1: ERBzine 0584
Posters, Production Notes, Reviews, Bios, Photos
Part 2: ERBzine 0585
Ads, Stills, Press Book, Summary, Credits, Links
Part 3: ERBzine 0586
Lobby Cards, Ads & Synopses Episodes 1-6
Part 4: ERBzine 0587
Lobby Cards, Ads & Synopses Episodes 6-12
Part 5: ERBzine 0587a
Lobby Card Display I
Part 6: ERBzine 0587b
Lobby Card Display II
Part 7: ERBzine 0587c
Part 8: ERBzine 0587d
Lobby Card Display III 
Part 9: ERBzine 5042
Trading Cards

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