News your connection to The Boston Globe

Herman Brix, 100; Olympian became Tarzan in movies

Herman Brix, with his shot put from the 1928 Olympics, in which he won the silver medal, and an artist's portrait. Herman Brix, with his shot put from the 1928 Olympics, in which he won the silver medal, and an artist's portrait. (associated press file/1993)

WASHINGTON -- Herman Brix, 100, an Olympic shot-put medalist who became a screen Tarzan in the mid-1930s and went on to act in more than 100 other films under the name Bruce Bennett, died Feb. 24 at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, Calif. He had complications from a broken hip.

Mr. Brix was a star on the University of Washington football team and won a silver medal in the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, throwing the shot 51 feet, 8 1/8 inches.

He was competing for the Los Angeles Athletic Club and doing film stunt work when he befriended Douglas Fairbanks Sr., the athletic star of silent pictures who encouraged the strapping blond athlete to make a screen test.

At first, Mr. Brix appeared in serials that showcased his physique -- "The New Adventures of Tarzan," "The Lone Ranger," and "Hawk of the Wilderness." He was one of several Olympians to make the transition to Tarzan stardom, including Johnny Weissmuller, Buster Crabbe, and Glenn Morris.

To many Tarzan aficionados, Mr. Brix was among the best of the nearly 20 actors to play the Lord of the Jungle and truest to Edgar Rice Burroughs's idea of a young British lad of refinement left to survive in the wilds.

In the book "Tarzan of the Movies," Gabe Essou wrote that "Brix's portrayal was the only time between the silents and the 1960s that Tarzan was accurately depicted in films. He was mannered, cultured, soft-spoken, a well-educated English lord who spoke several languages, and didn't grunt."

Burroughs hand-picked Mr. Brix for the 12-chapter serial, "The New Adventures of Tarzan," made in 1935.

Filmed on a low budget in Guatemala, the new Tarzan film had its hazards. "There was only a single sharpshooter up in the trees to keep the croc away from me," Mr. Brix told the Christian Science Monitor in 1999.

He performed his own stunts, including swinging from real jungle vines. At one point, the crew placed a 200-pound weight on the vine to test its strength before Mr. Brix leaped from the vine into a small pool of water.

But Mr. Brix approached the scene with a bit more verve than a dead weight. "I ran for the rope, which of course gave it an extra push," he told the Monitor. "I swung way too far out and dropped way beyond the pool. . . . I still have the scars from that fall."

Changing his screen name to Bruce Bennett in 1940, Mr. Brix had leading roles in World War II action films such as "Atlantic Convoy" and "Sabotage Squad" and became a dependable secondary leading man in several "women's pictures," such as "Mildred Pierce" as Joan Crawford's ex-husband, as well as "A Stolen Life" with Bette Davis, "Nora Prentiss" with Ann Sheridan, and "The Man I Love" with Ida Lupino.

For a while, he was seemingly everywhere, from "Three Stooges" shorts to supporting roles in prestige projects such as George Stevens's "The More the Merrier."

One of his most memorable roles was in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948). He played a lone gold prospector named Cody who wanders into a camp headed by an insanely greedy and paranoid Humphrey Bogart. Mr. Brix beat out Ronald Reagan for the part.

He also co-starred with Bogart in the war drama "Sahara" (1943) and the suspense film "Dark Passage" (1947).

Mr. Brix also worked opposite Bela Lugosi in the serial "Shadow of Chinatown."

After his movie career, he enjoyed parasailing and skydiving, leaping out 10,000 feet over Lake Tahoe when he was 96.