The Original Naked Swim – Tarzan & Jane in 1934

In 1934, Maureen O’Sullivan shocked  movie audiences by appearing completely naked on the Big Screen. This was no quick flash where you were not certain what you had seen. She was swimming naked for almost 4 minutes in Tarzan and His Mate.

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It turns out that there are stories withing stories surrounding this scene.  For one thing, the woman swimming naked was not actually Maureen O’Sullivan.

Tarzan 21It turns out that it was actually an Olympic swimmer by the name of Josephine McKim.

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Audiences should  have been tipped off by the incredible  amount of time the couple spends underwater and how well they both swim. Johny Weismuller (Tarzan) was also an Olympic swimmer. Of course, the audience was probably too stunned by the nudity to be paying attention to the couple’s  swimming skills.

1934 audiences were astounded that Jane was obviously completely nude

1934 audiences were astounded that Jane was obviously completely nude

But Maureen O’Sullivan herself is no prude in the film. She spends a good deal of time wearing a very revealing loincloth that would have been considered obscene if not for the prior nude swimming episode.

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It is not clear exactly how individual audience members felt, but it is clear how the “moral authorities” of the day reacted. The Catholic Legion Of Decency condemned the film and

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various State agencies spoke of pulling it from the theaters.  What finally happened is that there ended up being 3 versions of the film in circulation simultaneously.  In what were considered the most conservative parts of the country, the film had Jane swimming fully clothed. In most parts of the country, she was topless. In a few select theaters (mostly in New York City) the totally naked swimming scene was left in the film in its entirety.

Maureen O'Sullivan in Tarzan and His Mate

Maureen O’Sullivan in Tarzan and His Mate

Somehow, with all the focus on the swimming scene, the parts of the movie with Jane running around in her loincloth got left in all the versions.

Tarzan and His Mate perform an underwater ballet with Jane naked

Tarzan and His Mate perform an underwater ballet with Jane naked

However, the Moral Authorities were not satisfied. This film lead to increased censorship of movies in the U.S. and it was decades before audiences saw this much flesh on screen again.

Tarzan and Jane in a romantic moment in Tarzan and His Mate

Tarzan and Jane in a romantic moment in Tarzan and His Mate

Viewing the movie from a modern perspective, the naked swimming scene still holds up as being  beautiful and artistic. The only unrealistic part of the scene, in fact, is that Tarzan himself is not naked.  It makes no sense that in the middle of the jungle Tarzan would swim with a loincloth on, while his mate cavorted nude. However, male nudity was completely taboo in 1934. Even today there remains a double standard about male versus female nudity, which many actresses have complained about.

Jane and Tarzan in 1934

Jane and Tarzan in 1934

So if you want to see what was the talk of the country in 1934, take a look at Tarzan and His Mate. Most of the movie is silly, but the swimming scene is still great.

 

 

 

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