But now, in the airplane bound for Fort Lauderdale, Weissmuller was concerned less with German translations than with the English original of Water, World & Weissmuller, which he said he intended to revise to make it "more inspirational for the kids." The revisions would consist, in the main, of excising all but the most essential references to his various marriages.
"I think I'll just mention three of my wives and leave out the other two," Weissmuller said, "I'll have to mention the one I had my three kids by, and I'll mention Lupe, and of course I'll mention Maria, but that's all."
"Why Lupe?" he was asked.
Weissmuller fell silent, absorbed in thought. "You're right," he said at last. "I don't have to include Lupe. I'll only mention two of my wives."
On Monday, all but recovered from the weekend, Weissmuller stopped off before lunch at the International Swimming Hall of Fame, a handsome building on a man-made peninsula on Fort Lauderdale's Intracoastal Waterway. Weissmuller is the Hall of Fame's honorary chairman (he is also commissioner of the World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation), and one way to tell whether he is inside is to look for his car out front, a 1970 Buick with a leopard-skin roof. Weissmuller received the car from General Motors as partial payment for a TV commercial.
It was at the urging of Buck Dawson, the Hall of Fame's executive director, that Weissmuller moved to Fort Lauderdale five years ago with the intention of playing more golf (he shoots in the low 80s) and partaking of Florida's good life. As for the latter, he could do worse than follow the lead of Dawson, an enthusiastic man in a black eye patch who on nice days abandons his office (decorated with a picture of Moshe Dayan) to give dictation to his secretary Mary on the Hall of Fame's front lawn, he shirtless, she in a floral bikini.
Today, however, Dawson was not sunbathing out front, nor, as it turned out, was he inside. "Where's Buck?" Weissmuller asked, entering the building.
"He'll be back tomorrow, Johnny," replied the man at the door. "He's at the swimming meet in Cincinnati."
As Weissmuller passed through the turnstiles, it was almost as if he had suddenly stepped into his own past. Just inside the entrance stood a life-sized statue of Duke Kahanamoku, the world's premier swimmer until supplanted by Weissmuller. In the exhibit hall loomed a 12-foot-high blowup of Johnny in a tank suit at the 1924 Olympics. Everywhere there were photos of old friends and rivals, including Buster Crabbe, who competed against Weissmuller both as a swimmer and as an ersatz Tarzan in one movie, and Eleanor Holm, with whom Weissmuller swam in Billy Rose's Aquacades. There were photos, too, of a huge, red-mustachioed man named Bill Bachrach. He was Weissmuller's swimming coach, but he was also, even more than most coaches of prize athletes, his surrogate father.
Johnny's own father, a Vienna-born brewmaster on Chicago's Near North Side, died of tuberculosis when the boy was 14. Johnny, who dropped out of school in the eighth grade, had learned to swim in Lake Michigan, and his passion for the sport led him to the Illinois Athletic Club, where the wily Bachrach was coach. The story has often been told that Weissmuller began swimming to build up his frail, sickly body, but Johnny, having tired of the yarn by now, refuses to perpetuate it further.