Herman Brix, 100; Olympian became actor known as Bruce Bennett

Times Staff Writer

Herman Brix, who parlayed a silver medal for the shot put in the 1928 Olympics into a Hollywood career that included playing Tarzan in a 1935 movie, has died. He was 100.

Brix, who later adopted the stage name Bruce Bennett and appeared as Joan Crawford's husband in "Mildred Pierce" and as an ill-fated gold prospector in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," died of complications from a broken hip Saturday at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center, his son Christopher said Tuesday.

A former University of Washington football and track and field star who played in the 1926 Rose Bowl, Brix moved to Los Angeles in 1929 after being invited to compete for the Los Angeles Athletic Club.

He became friends with actor Douglas Fairbanks, who arranged a screen test for the handsome young athlete at Paramount. But while playing a small role as a running back in the 1931 Paramount college football movie "Touchdown," Brix broke a shoulder.

The injury caused the world record-setting shot-putter to fail to qualify for the 1932 Olympic trials. It also ended his chance to play Tarzan at MGM, where he is said to have been the studio's leading candidate for the role.

Instead, the star-making role in MGM's 1932 hit "Tarzan the Ape Man" went to Olympic swimmer Johnny Weismuller, who went on to appear in a string of Tarzan movies.

But two years later, Brix got his chance to play the jungle hero in "The New Adventures of Tarzan," which was produced by an independent film company whose principals included Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs.

In fact, Brix was picked by Burroughs to star in the 1935 movie.

"Herman Brix brought a presence to the screen that many people feel personifies the Tarzan of the books," Danton Burroughs, Edgar Rice Burroughs' grandson, wrote in the foreword to "Please Don't Call Me Tarzan: The Life Story of Herman Brix/Bruce Bennett," a 2001 book by Mike Chapman.

Brix, Burroughs wrote, "was lean and muscular, articulate and dignified. He moved with the superb athletic grace that my grandfather envisioned ... and played the role to perfection."

The high-profile role, however, proved to be a detriment to his acting career.

A test at Warner Bros. after the film came out was canceled after the casting director saw a photo of Brix as Tarzan in Life magazine.

"He said they couldn't use me," Brix told Chapman. "I asked why, and he said the audience would see me as Tarzan and wouldn't accept me as an actor."

Over the next several years, however, Brix appeared in more than a dozen films, including the serials "The Shadow of Chinatown," "The Fighting Devil Dogs," "Hawk of the Wilderness" and "The Lone Ranger."

But after making yet another serial, "Daredevils of the Red Circle" in 1939, he realized he had to do something to break being typecast in action roles.

"I realized the name Herman Brix was associated with Tarzan, so I made up a list of seven or eight names and asked people which they liked best," he told Chapman. "Bruce Bennett was the name I came up with."

As Bruce Bennett, he began carving out a new career as an actor, initially under contract at Columbia Pictures and then at Warner Bros. Among his many credits during this period were "The Officer and the Lady," "Atlantic Convoy," "Sahara" and "Dark Passage."

One of his most memorable film credits was "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," the 1948 movie starring Humphrey Bogart, with Walter Huston and Tim Holt as fellow gold prospectors in Mexico.

As James Cody, the prospector who shows up at the trio's camp and offers his help for a share of the profits, Bennett angers Bogart's paranoid character Fred C. Dobbs and winds up being killed when the four men are attacked by bandits.

"I wish I would have had more to do in the film," Brix told Chapman. "I hated to get killed so soon."

The fourth of five children, he was born Harold Herman Brix in Tacoma, Wash., on May 19, 1906. In high school, he played football, basketball and soccer, as well as competing in swimming and track and field.

At the University of Washington in Seattle, Brix discovered the shot put. He also became an All-American tackle for the Huskies and went to the Rose Bowl in 1926, where the University of Alabama defeated the Huskies, 20-19. He graduated in 1928 with a bachelor's degree in economics.

After his Hollywood career ended in the 1960s, Brix went to work for a Los Angeles food service company, where he became West Coast sales manager. He later had a successful career in real estate before retiring in the mid-1980s.

Christopher Brix said that depending on how someone best knew his father -- as an Olympic athlete or as a Hollywood actor -- he would be called either Herman Brix or Bruce Bennett.

"He'd answer to either name," Christopher Brix said. "I think he was proud of both."

Jeannette, Brix's wife of 67 years, died in 2000. In addition to his son, he is survived by his daughter, Christina Katich; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Memorial donations may be sent to the Olympic Committee, National Headquarters, 1 Olympic Plaza, Colorado Springs, CO 80909.

Services will be private.



For The Record Los Angeles Times Thursday March 01, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 70 words Type of Material: Correction Brix obituary: A photo caption with the Herman Brix obituary in Wednesday's California section said an injury kept Brix, who later took the stage name Bruce Bennett, from becoming the first Tarzan. The shoulder injury kept Brix from getting the role in MGM's 1932 hit "Tarzan the Ape Man," but the first Tarzan movie was made in 1918. The obituary also misspelled the surname of actor Johnny Weissmuller as Weismuller.
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