Reading time: 35 MIN

Introducing the Thesping Olympians

All mentioned films in article
Not released
Not released
Not released
Not released
Not released
Not released

The Games of the XXXII Olympiad are well under way. Hundreds of athletes are still dreaming of gold medal glory, while others have already returned home. For many, it will be a case of back to the drawing board, but for some, it will be back to the day job. A handful will go on to find fame outside their sports and Cinema Paradiso salutes those Olympians who went on to become familiar faces on the silver screen.

In A Brief History of the Summer Olympics on Film, Cinema Paradiso recalled the features and documentaries that have been inspired by the sporting celebration that has been staged (with a few wartime exceptions) every four years since Athens 1896. Obviously, the pandemic has caused Tokyo 2020 to slip a year, but this particular edition of 'the greatest show on earth' is bound to produce its own share of heroes who will find their way into film and television.

The First Thesplympians

In 1900, Norman Pritchard came second in both the 200m and the 200m hurdles. Despite subsequent claims that he had competed across five events as part of the British team, Pritchard actually represented India at the Paris Olympics and, thus, became the first Asian-born athlete to win a medal. Curiously, on arriving in London in 1905 to pursue an acting career, he chose not to cash-in on his Olympic fame and adopted the name Norman Trevor.

After a decade in the West End, he relocated to Hollywood, where he became the first Olympian to act in films. The majority of Trevor's 28 silent outings have been long forgotten, but he did get to play Mr Rochester opposite Mabel Ballin in Hugo Ballin's Jane Eyre (1921) and Major de Beaujolais alongside Ronald Colman in Herbert Brenon's Beau Geste (1926).

A still from OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies (2006)
A still from OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies (2006)

French cineastes will know Henri Decoin for his partnership with actress wife Danielle Darrieux. But he was also a talented swimmer, who followed a tilt the 400m freestyle in the London Games of 1908 by forming part of the French water polo team at Stockholm four years later. Between 1931-64, Decoin directed 50 features, several of which bore the influence of a spell in Hollywood in the late 1930s, when Darrieux was contracted to Universal. He proved adept across the genres, with his brooding film noirs and astute adaptations of the prolific Belgian writer Georges Simenon deserving to be better known. Amusingly, there was renewed interest in Decoin's espionage thriller, Casablanca, Nest of Spies (1963) after Michel Hazanavicius parodied the format in OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies (2006) and its sequel, OSS 117: Lost in Rio (2019), in which Jean Dujardin excels as bungling agent Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath.

Hailing from the Sydney suburb of Surry Hills, Reginald Baker was one of Australia's greatest sporting all-rounders. Known as 'Snowy', he went to the 1908 Games in London to swim and dive, but he also competed in the middleweight boxing and took home the silver medal. A traffic accident cut short his career, but he started acting in 1918 and became one of the country's biggest stars in action sagas like Wilfred Lucas's The Man From Kangaroo (1919). He later tried his luck in Hollywood, where he worked as a stunt performer when not managing the polo club where he famously taught Elizabeth Taylor to ride for her role in Clarence Brown's National Velvet (1944).

We met Jim Thorpe in our Summer Olympics survey, as he famously lost the gold medals he had won in the pentathlon and decathlon at Stockholm in 1912 because he had earned money playing semi-professional baseball at a time when the Games were the exclusive preserve of amateur athletes. However, as a member of the Sac and Fox Nation, Thorpe found himself in demand in Hollywood after his pro sporting career ended.

In all, he amassed 71 credits during a 19-year career that culminated in John Ford's Wagonmaster (1950). Thorpe often played First Americans and frequently went uncredited. But Cinema Paradiso users can keep an eye out for him among the theatregoers in Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack's King Kong (1933), as a pirate in Michael Curtiz's Captain Blood (1935) and as a man seeking Gary Cooper's good graces in Frank Capra's Meet John Doe (1941).

It's apt that Curtiz also directed Burt Lancaster in Jim Thorpe: All American (1951), as had fenced for Hungary at the 1912 Games under the name Mihály Kertész, having been born Manó Kaminer to Jewish parents in 1886. He returned to direct his nation's first feature-length film, Today and Tomorrow (1912), in which he also starred. Over the next half century, Curtiz would rack up 177 further film credits, with several of them being available to rent from Cinema Paradiso on high-quality DVD and Blu-ray.

Having established himself at Warner Bros in 1926, Curtiz went on to make 86 pictures, with collaborations with Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland, such as The Adventures of Robin Hood, being highly recommended. He also worked regularly with James Cagney on crime classics like Angels With Dirty Faces (both 1938), which also featured Humphrey Bogart, who would join Ingrid Bergman in Curtiz's most momentous achievement, Casablanca (1942).

A still from A Breath of Scandal (1960)
A still from A Breath of Scandal (1960)

In 1945, Curtiz guided Joan Crawford to her Oscar in the noir drama, Mildred Pierce, while he later enlisted Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye to sock over the festive sentiment in White Christmas (1954). At home in any genre and with stars of any generation, Curtiz also coaxed one of the best screen performances out of Elvis Presley in King Creole (1958). Type Curtiz's name into the searchline to find everything from classics to curios. Why not keep a special eye out for William Powell and Irene Dunne in Life With Father (1947), John Garfield in The Breaking Point (1950), and Sophia Loren in A Breath of Scandal (1960). We promise you won't be disappointed.

Swimmers, Skaters and Scandals

The Great War deprived Duke Kahanamoku of the chance of being involved in five Olympic Games. Having taken gold in the 100m freestyle in 1912 and 1920, the Honolulu swimmer took silver in 1924 and found himself on standby for the US water polo team in 1932. In addition to his five-medal haul, Kahanamoku also helped popularise the sport of surfing outside Hawaii. Moreover, he found a niche in Hollywood from the mid-1920s, taking 14 roles over the next couple of decades, most notably teaming with another Duke, John Wayne, in Edward Lustig's Wake of the Red Witch (1948).

Antwerp hosted the first Games after four years of global conflict, but the spirit of fair play was only intermittently alive, as observers concur that American Nat Pendleton was robbed of wrestling gold. Back in the States, the Columbia-educated Iowan had no qualms playing slow-witted palookas, as he made a decent living between 1924-47 in over 110 features and shorts. He first caught the public's attention by kidnapping Harpo and Chico on Norman Z. McLeod's 1932 romp, Horse Feathers, and he would reunite with the Marx Brothers as a strong man in Edward Buzzell's At the Circus (1939).

While at MGM, Pendleton had the fortune to land the respective recurring roles of NYPD lieutenant John Guild and ambulance driver Joe Wayman in the Thin Man and Dr Kildare series. Following W.S. Van Dyke's The Thin Man (1934), Pendleton reunited with William Powell as Sandow the Strongman in Robert Z. Leonard's Florenz Ziegfeld biopic, The Great Showman (1936), which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Bigger parts came in the kind of smaller flick that never gets released on disc. But Cinema Paradiso renters can enjoy Pendleton's genial presence in projects as different as King Vidor's Northwest Passage (1940), the Abbott and Costello duo, Buck Privates (Arthur Lubin, 1941) and Buck Privates Come Home (Charles Barton, 1947), and Cristy Cabanne's Scared to Death (1947), which has the distinction of being the only colour film ever made by horror icon, Bela Lugosi.

Considered the finest swordsman of his generation, Aldo Nadi won three golds at Antwerp at the age of 21. He debuted on screen in Jean Renoir's silent, The Tournament (1928), and spoke but four words 'Come with me, please') in Howard Hawks's Ernest Hemingway adaptation, To Have and Have Not (1944), which teamed Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. However, Nadi also owned a fencing school in Hollywood and not only coached the stars, but he also choreographed fight sequences in such sophisticated swashbucklers as Mitchell Leisen's Frenchman's Creek (1944), in which he also doubled for Ralph Forbes and Arturo de Cordoba.

When Duke Kahanamoku took silver in the 100m in 1924, he lost out to Johnny Weismuller. He also bagged the 400m freestyle and the 800m freestyle relay golds, as well as a bronze in the water polo, In Amsterdam in 1928, he defended his 100m and relay crowns and retired undefeated with 67 world records to his name. Not bad for someone who had left his native Austria-Hungary before his first birthday.

A still from Tarzan and the Huntress/ Tarzan and the Mermaids (1947)
A still from Tarzan and the Huntress/ Tarzan and the Mermaids (1947)

Yet Weissmuller would surpass his sporting success on the silver screen after having debuted in nothing but a fig leaf as Adonis in a tableau in the Florenz Ziegfeld-produced movie, Glorifying the American Girl (1929). He was snapped up by MGM to take the title role in Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), W.S. Van Dyke's adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs's bestselling jungle adventures. Over the next 16 years, he reprised the role on 12 occasions, the first six of which featured Maureen O'Hara as Jane. Cinema Paradiso users can thrill to the famous call created by sound engineer Douglas Shearer in Tarzan and His Mate (1934), Tarzan Escapes (1936), Tarzan Finds a Son! (1939), Tarzan's Secret Treasure (1941), Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942), Tarzan Triumphs, Tarzan's Desert Mystery (both 1943), Tarzan and the Amazons (1945 Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946), Tarzan and the Huntress (1947) and Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948).

Weissmuller can also be seen washing dishes in a cameo in Frank Borzage's wartime flagwaver, Stage Door Canteen (1943). Sadly, however, his 13-film stint as Jungle Jim isn't currently available on disc, while his acting career rather petered out. But he lived to the age of 80 and remains the most popular embodiment of the Lord of the Apes, even though he was not the only Olympian to take the role. Indeed, he even co-starred with one of his successors in William H. Pine's Swamp Fire (1946) and William Berke's Captive Girl (1950).

Having taken bronze in the 1500m freestyle in Amsterdam, Californian Larry 'Buster' Crabbe became the golden boy of the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics by winning gold in the 400m freestyle. His winning margin was 1/10 of a second over Frenchman Jean Taris, who had been profiled in Taris (1931) by the great poetic realist director, Jean Vigo. This innovative short can be rented from Cinema Paradiso on either the DVD or Blu-ray editions of L'Atalante (1934), which also contain Vigo's avant-garde masterpieces, À Propos de Nice (1930) and Zero For Conduct (1933).

There was nothing so artistic about Crabbe's screen career, but he remained gainfully employed in Hollywood in around 115 films, serials and TV series until the year before his death in 1983. You'll have to look carefully to see him playing a sailor falling off the boat in Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack's The Most Dangerous Game (1932) or alongside Alan Ladd as one of Charles Laughton's beast men in Erle C. Kenton's Island of Lost Souls (both 1932). But better things were to come.

Undeterred by losing out to Weissmuller at MGM, Crabbe joined forces with producer Sol Lesser on Tarzan the Fearless (1933), a 12-part chapterplay that was followed by such further tropical expeditions as King of the Jungle (1933), Jungle Man (1941) and King of the Congo (1952). However, he discovered a temporary niche in outer space, while taking the title role in the serials Flash Gordon (1936), Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938), Buck Rogers (1939) and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940).

Fans of Mike Hodges's Flash Gordon (1980) and the Gil Gerard TV series, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-81), might speak warmly of Crabbe, especially as he guested in the latter as Brigadier Gordon in the 'Planet of the Slaves Girls' episode. But he was more at home on the range than the final frontier, as he played Billy the Kid on 13 occasions before saddling up with Al 'Fuzzy' St John for 23 excursions as Billy Carson. Cinema Paradiso offers you the chance to see three Billy the Kid adventures - Trapped, Smoking Guns (both 1942) and The Kid Rides Again (1943) - as well as the Carson saga, Frontier Outlaws (1944), which were all directed by Sam Newfield. Moreover, you can catch Crabbe in Sidney Salkow's Gun Brothers (1956) and Spencer Gordon Bennett's The Bounty Killer (1965), which was made six years before Buster broke the Over-60s record for the 400m freestyle.

Herman Brix would prove to be even more prolific than Weissmuller or Crabbe, although it took a false start and a change of name for him to get his bearings in Tinseltown. The son of German migrants, Brix took silver in the shot put in Amsterdam in 1928 and was invited to screen test at Paramount by his friend, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Unfortunately, while making Norman Z. McLeod's Touchdown! (1931), Brix broke his shoulder and not only lost the role of Tarzan to Weissmuller, but he also failed to qualify for the 1932 Games in Los Angeles.

It would have come as scant consolation to have been cast as a Klopstokian athlete in Edward F. Cline's W.C. Fields comedy, Million Dollar Legs (1932). But aspiring producer Ashton Dearholt believed Brix had what it took to play Lord Greystoke and he persuaded Edgar Rice Burroughs to let him base The New Adventures of Tarzan (1933) on the original text. Partially filmed in Guatemala, the 12-part serial had enough footage left over to make Tarzan and the Green Goddess (1938).

Brix was unhappy with the results and the fact that he kept being offered muscleman roles like the lead in Hawk of the Wilderness (1938). Consequently, he dropped off the radar, enrolled in acting classes and tried his luck under the name Bruce Bennett. It took a few years of slogging in the B Hive, but Bennett eventually got to co-star with Humphrey Bogart in Zoltan Korda's Sahara (1943) before landing the role of Joan Crawford's husband in Michael Curtiz's aforementioned Mildred Pierce.

A still from Three Violent People (1956)
A still from Three Violent People (1956)

Reunions with Bogie followed on Delmer Daves's Dark Passage (1947) and John Huston's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), while Bennett came into Crawford's orbit again in David Miller's Sudden Fear (1952). However, the hot streak didn't last and he began appearing more on television than in hit movies like Rudolph Maté's Three Violent People and Robert D. Webb's Love Me Tender (both 1956), which saw a rising singer named Elvis Presley make his acting bow. Yet Bennett never turned down exploitation cheapies like Roy Del Ruth's The Alligator People (1959) and continued to enjoy life long after he quit acting in 1980. Indeed, he kept skydiving until he was 96 and lived to celebrate his centenary on 19 May 2006, which makes him the longest-lived Thesplympian.

As it took place on Hollywood's doorstep, the X Olympiad turned into something of a mass-casting session. While stars like Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, Cary Grant and the Marx Brothers regularly attended the sporting events and Douglas Fairbanks was mobbed in the Olympic Village, the studios hosted lavish receptions to schmooze the delegations and spot likely pin-ups.

For the likes of triple gold-winning swimmer Helene Madison, the Tinseltown dream fizzled after uncredited bits in Walter Lang's The Warriors Husband and Alfred L. Werker's It's Great to Be Alive (both 1933). But Eleanor Holm seemed set to do much better out of improving on her fifth placing in 1928 by winning the 100m backstroke in LA. She had hardly been focusing on her swimming, as she had spent two years on Broadway in the Ziegfeld Follies. Yet, she claimed gold between screen tests at Warners, MGM and Paramount, which caused so much excitement around the film colony that Holm found herself alongside Mary Carlisle, Gloria Stuart, June Clyde and Ginger Rogers in the annual 'Baby Stars' selection made by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers.

Warners signed her to a $500 per week contract. But, rather than landing a major movie role, Holm found herself on a train with Busby Berkeley and dozens of other hopefuls promoting Lloyd Bacon's hit musical, 42nd Street (1933). Having married bandleader Art Jarrett, she decided to return to swimming and was selected for the Berlin Games on 1936. While aboard the SS Manhattan - which is refloated for a couple of scenes in Stephen Hopkins's Jesse Owens biopic, Race (2016) - Holm lost consciousness after a drinks party and was thrown off the team for alcoholism by US Olympic Committee President, Avery Brundage.

She later claimed this was payback for spurning Brundage's advances, but the scandal caused the break-up of Holm's marriage and she made headlines for all the wrong reasons again when she broke-up the fabled relationship of stage legend Fanny Brice and impresario Billy Rose. The trio are played by Heidi O'Rourke, Barbra Streisand and James Caan in Herbert Ross's Funny Lady (1975), which was the sequel to William Wyler's Oscar-winning Funny Girl (1968). But Holm wasn't quite ready to vacate the spotlight.

Having made her sole film appearance in D. Ross Lederman's Tarzan's Revenge (1938), Holm swam alongside Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe in the 1939 and 1940 editions of Rose's New York World's Fair Aquacades. She separated from Rose in 1954, with the nickname given to their ensuing court case providing the title of Danny DeVito's hilariously dark divorce comedy, The War of the Roses (1989). Holm survived another half century, however, and claimed never to have looked back with the slightest regret at being 'a spectacular flop as an actress'.

A still from Olympia: Festival of Nations (1938)
A still from Olympia: Festival of Nations (1938)

Holm's leading man in Tarzan's Revenge had also made the trip to Berlin and returned clutching the gold medal for the decathlon that he had won with a record points tally. According to reports, Adolf Hitler had watched every second of his performance and instructed Joseph Goebbels to offer Glenn Morris $50,000 to stay in Germany and make sports films. Despite supposedly having a fling with Olympia (1938) director Leni Riefenstahl, he turned down the offer and returned Stateside to be hailed as America's new 'Iron Man'. Shamefully, his achievement was deemed more significant than Jesse Owens's four golds and he was presented with the prestigious Sullivan Award as the year's best amateur athlete.

Naturally, Hollywood came calling, as MGM persuaded him to play himself in the short, Decathlon Champion: The Glenn Morris Story. He also took an uncredited bit as a steward in Marion Gering's She Married an Artist (both 1937). Producer Sol Lesser liked what he saw and paired Morris and Holm in Tarzan's Revenge, but the decathlete vanished from the scene after making George Marshall's Hold That Co-ed (1938). Life after war service seemingly proved a struggle and the fourth and final Olympian to play Tarzan died at the age of 61 in January 1974.

Although only Sidney Lanfield's Second Fiddle (1939) and H. Bruce Humberstone's Sun Valley Serenade (1941) are available to rent from Cinema Paradiso, it's worth noting the Olympic career of Norwegian figure skater, Sonja Henie, who first competed in the Winter Games at the age of 11 in 1924. She took gold at the next three editions, however, during a 10-year reign as world champion and neither achievement has yet been surpassed. During her time at 20th Century-Fox (1936-43), she consistently scored box-office hits through retaining complete artistic control over her skating routines.

Hailing from Nether Wallop in Hampshire, Belita Jepson-Turner came 16th behind Henie in 1936. But she followed her to Hollywood to headline a couple of Mongram skating pictures in the early 1940s. However, she fared better in such underrated noirs as Frank Tuttle's Suspense (1946) and Gordon Wiles's The Gangster (1947), in which she played the femme fatale.

Belita is more effective, but less prominent in Burgess Meredith's adaptation of Georges Simenon's The Man on the Eiffel Tower (1947). Yet, while she danced alongside Gene Kelly in Invitation to the Dance (1956) and Fred Astaire in Rouben Mamoulian's Silk Stockings (1957), she was reduced to taking an uncredited bit as the canteen hostess in Carol Reed's wartime melodrama, The Key (1958).

Czech skater Vera Hrubá came one place below Belita at Garmisch-Partenkircken. where she infuriated Hitler by insulting the swastika. Arriving in Hollywood, Hruba was signed by Republic Pictures and had the surname Ralston appended by studio chief, Herbert J. Yates. He teamed her twice with John Wayne on Joseph Kane's Dakota (1945) and George Waggner's The Fighting Kentuckian (1949), which also featured Oliver Hardy. But not even marrying the boss could save Ralston's career and rumour has it that only two of the 28 pictures she made before retiring in 1958 made any money.

At least she made the transition from Olympian to thespian, however. A number of famous faces flirted with the Five Rings without actually getting to compete. Space prevents us from doing more than listing them. But feel free to type the following names into the Cinema Paradiso searchline: Hume Cronyn (1932, boxing), Cornel Wilde (1936, fencing), Dennis Weaver (1948, decathlon), Strother Martin (1948, springboard diving), Tammy Grimes (1952, swimming), Sonny Chiba (1960, gymnastics), Thomas Kretschmann (1984, swimming) and Geena Davis (2000, archery).

A still from The Devil's Brigade (1968)
A still from The Devil's Brigade (1968)

Special mention should be made of Jason Statham, who may have missed out on Seoul in 1988, but he did get to dive for England in the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, New Zealand. Pride of place in the Nearly Brigade, however, has to go to Vince Edwards, who was denied the chance to swim in London in 1948 by appendicitis. Determined to make it as an actor, he became a classmate of Grace Kelly, Anne Bancroft and John Cassavetes at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and went on to enjoy a 45-year career that included a starring role in TV's Ben Casey (1961-66), as well as such big-screen credits as Stanley Kubrick's The Killing (1956), Irving Lerner's Murder By Contract (1958) and City of Fear (1959), Carl Foreman's The Victors (1963) and Andrew V. McLaglen's The Devil's Brigade (1968), which are all available to rent from Cinema Paradiso.

Bring on the Action Men

As we noted in A Brief History of the Summer Olympics on Film, the Second World War prevented Esther Williams from swimming for the United States in Helsinki in 1940. She found fame in a series of spectacular synchronised aquatic routines in such MGM showcases as Mervyn LeRoy's Million Dollar Mermaid (1952), in which she played controversial Australian swimming sensation, Annette Kellerman, who had become the first major actress to perform nude in a Hollywood film, while starring in Herbert Brenon's A Daughter of the Gods (1916), in which she also performed her own stunts.

The great Fanny Brice once said about Williams, 'Wet she's a star, dry she ain't.' But Cinema Paradiso users can judge for themselves in Harry Keller's thriller, The Unguarded Moment (1956).

Finnish javelin thrower Tapio Rautavaara had already made a couple of movies before taking Olympic gold in London in 1948. Yet, despite rumours that he was being lined up to replace Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan, his acting career was limited to such domestic items as Aarne Tarkas's Western spoof, The Wild North (1955). However, Rautavaara was also a popular crooner and his hit, 'Lokki', can be heard in Ari Kaurismäki's typically deadpan delight, The Man Without a Past (2002).

Having won a weightlifting silver in the light heavyweight category at London, Hawaiian Harold Sakata wrestled for several years under the nickname 'Tosh Togo'. In 1964, he was cast as the hat-hurling sidekick Oddjob in Guy Hamilton's James Bond adventure, Goldfinger. He remains one of the franchise's most iconic villains and Sakata's menacing performance led to further features like William Grefé's Impulse (1974) and Mako: The Jaws of Death (1976), William A. Levey's The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington (1977) and André Kob, Bruce Le and Joseph Velasco's The Ninja Strikes Back (1982).

Cinema Paradiso users can also check out Sakata's guest appearances in such enduring TV shows as Hawaii Five-O (1968-80), The Rockford Files (1974-80) and Quincy M.E. (1976-83). They can also keep their eyes peeled for Floyd Simmons, who took decathlon bronze in the 1948 and 1952 Games that were won by Bob Mathias, who quit pictures for politics after having debuted as himself in Francis D. Lyon's The Bob Mathias Story (1954).

'Chunk' Simmons was signed to Universal, where he found himself in the contract pool alongside Rock Hudson, John Gavin and Clint Eastwood. He regularly jogged and surfed with the latter, although they never appeared together on screen. Simmons packed eight features into his first year as an actor and, following uncredited bits in Joseph Pevney's Away All Boats, George Marshall's Pillars of the Sky and Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind (all 1956), he played an army sergeant in Nathan Juran's creature feature, The Deadly Mantis (1957).

He remained in uniform to essay Commander Harbison in Joshua Logan's film version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, South Pacific (1958). However, he lost out to Paul Newman for the plum role of Brick Pollitt in Richard Brooks's adaptation of Tennessee Williams's Pulitzer-winning play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), and thence was only seen again alongside Vincent Price in Sidney Salkow's Twice Told Tales (1962).

Having fought with distinction during the Second World War, Bob Anderson fenced for Great Britain at Helsinki in 1952. A year later, he moved into films to coach Errol Flynn and co-ordinate the stunts in William Keighley's take on Robert Louis Stevenson's The Master of Ballantrae (1953). Over the next six decades, Anderson would work in various capacities on over 50 films and TV shows. Tempting though it would be to list them all, we have to mention that he worked on Gerald Thomas's Carry On Jack (1964) and Carry On Don't Lose Your Head (1967), as well as the 007 trio of Terence Young's From Russia With Love (1963), the multi-directored Casino Royale (1967) and Lee Tamahori's Die Another Day (2002).

A still from Pirates of the Caribbean 1: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
A still from Pirates of the Caribbean 1: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

But the impressive list doesn't end there. In the classic swashbuckling vein, Anderson served as sword master on Delbert Mann's Kidnapped (1971), Russell Mulcahy's Highlander (1986), Rob Reiner's The Princess Bride (1987), Steven Herek'sThe Three Musketeers (1993) and Martin Campbell's The Mask of Zorro (1998) and The Legend of Zorro (2005). He also coached technique on Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (1975) and Gore Verbinski's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) before turning his attention to Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002): Sword Master and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003).

Topping the lot, however, Anderson stood in for Dave Prowse during Darth Vader's lightsaber duels in Irvin Kershner's The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Richard Marquand's Return of the Jedi (1983). As he was six inches shorter than the former Green Cross Man, the footage had to be filmed from below. What's more, Anderson also doubled up in the latter as Hoth rebel Trey Callum. He bowed out with Agustín Díaz Yanes's Captain Alatriste: The Spanish Musketeer (2006), although he returned to share his swordfighting secrets in Daniel McNicol's documentary, Reclaiming the Blade (2009).

While Anderson was failing to place in Helsinki, American Dean Smith followed a fourth finish in the 400m with the lead leg in the gold-winning relay team. Returning home, he divided his time between rodeo and stunt performing, as he notched up over 90 screen credits, including such diverse items as Lewis Milestone's Pork Chop Hill (1959), Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963), Bob Fosse's Sweet Charity (1968) and George Roy Hill's The Sting (1973).

Smith specialised, however, in Westerns and disaster movies. In the case of the former, we'll restrict ourselves to such John Wayne classics as Rio Bravo (1958), The Alamo (1960), The Comancheros (1961), How the West Was Won (1962), McLintock! (1963), El Dorado (1966), The War Wagon (1967), True Grit (1969), Rio Lobo (1970) and Big Jake (1971). Hell, why not also also throw in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Little Big Man (1970) and The Quick and the Dead (1995) before highlighting such disaster blockbusters as Airport (1970), Westworld (1973), Airport 1975, Earthquake, The Towering Inferno (all 1974), Black Sunday (1977) and The Concorde: Airport '79 (1979). Toss in The Sugarland Express (1974), Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Christine (1983) and what you have is one heck of a CV.

When not playing water polo to a high standard back in Italy, Carlo Pedersoli swam at the Helsinki and Melbourne Games in the 100m freestyle. He reached the semi-finals on each occasion, but struck gold in pursuing the acting ambitions that had seen him land a bit part in Mervyn LeRoy's Quo Vadis (1951). His fortunes changed a decade after featuring in Charles Vidor's A Farewell to Arms (1957), when director Giuseppe Colizzi paired him with Mario Girotti in God Forgives...I Don't (1967), which was the first of 18 outings the duo made under the pseudonyms of Bud Spencer and Terence Hill.

A still from Banana Joe (1982)
A still from Banana Joe (1982)

Merging Budweiser beer and Spencer Tracy to forge his name, Pedersoli tended to play palookas with a soft centre in such Spaghetti Westerns as Boot Hill (1969), They Call Me Trinity (1970), Trinity Is Still My Name (1971) and A Genius, Two Partners and a Dupe (1975). However, Spencer and Hill proved equally irresistible in comic capers like Odds and Evens (1978), Who Finds a Friend Finds a Treasure (1981), Go For It (1983), Miami Supercops (1985) and The Fight Before Christmas (1994). Moreover, Spencer (who amassed over 60 credits) often struck out alone in the likes of Dario Argento's Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971), Enzo Barboni's Even Angels Eat Beans (1973), Michele Lupo's Why Did You Pick on Me? (1980), Steno's Banana Joe (1982) and Bruno Corbucci's Cats and Dogs (1983).

All of the above are available to rent from Cinema Paradiso, which offers members the chance to explore a world of cinema, whether they enjoy arthouse or blockbusters or all of those irresistible classics and curios in between. Moreover, where else would you find articles like this one taking you through the acting careers of sporting heroes like Rafer Johnson? He bounced back from a silver in Melbourne to brandish the Stars and Strips in Rome's Olympic Stadium in 1960 and carry off the decathlon gold. A quarter of a century later, he would light the cauldron at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles.

Johnson was training for the XVII Olympiad when Kirk Douglas offered him the role of Draba, the Ethiopian gladiator who spares his life, in Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus (1960). However, the fee for the film would have compromised Johnson's amateur status and Woody Strode stepped into the breach. On returning from Rome, however, Johnson decided to juggle acting with playing basketball and American Football. Having gone Wild in the Country (Philip Dunne, 1961) with Elvis Presley, he tried his hand at swashbuckling in Robert D. Webb's Pirates of Tortuga (1961) before co-starring with Mike Henry in Tarzan and the Great River (1967) and Tarzan and the Jungle Boy (1968).

While these aren't currently available to rent, Cinema Paradiso users can follow Johnson's small-screen exploits in The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1962-65), Daniel Boone (1964-70), Mission: Impossible (1966-73) and The Six Million Dollar Man (1974-78). It's also possible to watch him as DEA Agent Mullens in John Glen's Licence to Kill (1989), which saw Timothy Dalton play James Bond for the second and last time. Although he doesn't feature in Emilio Estevez's Bobby (2006). Johnson showed enormous courage in wrestling assassin Sirhan Sirhan to the ground after he had shot Senator Robert F. Kennedy at the conclusion of his presidential election speech at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on 5 June 1968.

A few weeks later, Norman Jewison's The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) was released in US cinemas, with Noel Harrison singing the Oscar-winning song, 'The Windmills of Your Mind'. He was the son of revered British actor Rex Harrison, but he had already made headlines back in 1952 and 1956, when he had formed part of the British skiing team at the Winter Olympics in Oslo and Cortina d'Ampezzo. But Harrison had to miss his big moment at the Academy Awards, as he was back in Blighty making Jonathan Miller's Take a Girl Like You (1970), with Hayley Mills and Oliver Reed.

Initially seen on television in shows like Man of the World (1962-63) and homegrown features like Ralph Thomas's Hot Enough For June (1964), Harrison decamped to America, where he performed in cabaret before a guest slot as Mark Slate in an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964-68) led to a recurring role in the spin-off series, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. (1966-67). He also featured in Mission: Impossible, Hart to Hart (1979-84) and The Young Riders (1989-92) and even played Glastonbury in 2011. Yet, he never managed to emerge from his famous father's shadow, even playing Professor Higgins in a touring version of My Fair Lady, which had earned Rex Harrison the Oscar for Best Actor for his work in George Cukor's 1964 gem.

Faster! Higher! Stronger! Fewer!

It can only be downhill after winning three golds at your home games as a 17 year-old. But Australian swimmer Murray Rose went on to break 15 world records, as he followed his Melbourne haul with medals of each colour in Rome. Having completed his education, he made his screen bow in Don Taylor's beach blanket romp, Ride the Wild Surf (1964), and co-starred with Rock Hudson in John Sturges's take on Alistair MacLean's bestselling thriller, Ice Station Zebra (1968). Nearly two decades were to pass, however, before Rose popped up in an episode of Magnum, P.I. (1980-88), as he devoted his time to commentating.

As televisions became more affordable, cinema audiences dwindled and film stardom became one of many options open to successful Olympians. Many followed Rose by taking up the microphone, including Mark Spitz, whose seven swimming golds in Munich in 1972 all came in record times. Such a feat would once have seen the Hollywood studios come knocking on his door. But pop singers were hotter properties at the box office than athletes after the Swinging Sixties and the Olympic gravy train began to slow down.

A still from Jack and Jill (2011)
A still from Jack and Jill (2011)

One of the last gold medallists to exploit their fame on screen was Caitlyn Jenner, who was known as Bruce Jenner before coming out as a trans woman in April 2015. Having come tenth in the Munich decathlon, Jenner topped the podium in Montreal in 1976 and was supposedly considered for the lead in Richard Donner's Superman (1978) before the casting of Christopher Reeve. When Jenner finally got to debut, it was in Nancy Walker's Can't Stop the Music (1980), which has the unwanted distinction, along with another Jenner picture, Dennis Dugan's Jack and Jill (2011), of being the recipient of the Golden Raspberry for Worst Picture.

After taking the lead role of Jim Gregory in George Stanford Brown's Gambling's White Tiger (1981), Jenner made six episodes of CHiPs (1977-83) as Officer Steve McLeish before winding up this particular chapter with Robert Macarelli's Original Intent (1992) and Kevin Allen's The Big Tease (1999). Jenner became a reality star in Keeping Up With the Kardashians (2007-) prior to playing Skip Bayflick in Josh Stolberg's The Hungover Games (2014). Since transitioning, she has also appeared in Lauren Greenfield's documentary, Generation Wealth (2018).

It would be a bit of a squeeze to suggest that Cuba Gooding, Jr. owes his Oscar-winning career to the fact that he was among the breakdancers in the opening ceremony at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. So, we'll move on to Carl Lewis, who was prevented from competing at five Olympics by the US boycott of Moscow 1980. At LA, Lewis matched Jesse Owens's achievement of winning the 100m, 200m, the long jump and the 100m relay.

Things didn't go quite as smoothly in Seoul in 1988, however, as Daniel Gordon reveals in 9.79* (2012), a documentary that chronicles Lewis's rivalry with Canadian sprinter, Ben Johnson. But more golds came in Barcelona in 1992 and Atlanta in 1996, as Lewis won the long jump for the fourth time in a row in tallying nine Olympic golds. His acting career hasn't been quite so stellar, although Cinema Paradiso users can catch his efforts in Ron Krauss's Alien Hunter (2003) and Martha Coolidge's Material Girls (2006).

They can also check out gymnast Mitch Gaylord appearing fleetingly with sibling Chuck in a pre-fame scene in Michael Anderson's sci-fi classic, Logan's Run (1976). He became the first American to score 10 at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, as he led the US men to their sole team gold. Gaylord also picked up a silver and two bronzes, but his acting hopes faded after such largely forgotten offerings as Albert Magnoli's American Anthem (1986), Sergio Martino's American Rickshaw (1989) and Edwin Brown's Sexual Outlaws (1994). Look closely at Tim Burton's Batman Forever (1995), though, as Gaylord took the uncredited role of Mitch Grayson, while also stunt doubling for on-screen sibling, Dick Grayson (Chris O'Donnell).

Diver Greg Louganis will forever be remembered for smacking his head against the springboard en route to taking double gold in Los Angeles, a feat he would repeat in Seoul. But, while he remains the only male diver to defend two titles, his acting career has been less decorated. He was seen in passing in Sam Weisman's D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994) before taking a co-scripting credit on Steven Hilliard Stern's teleplay, Breaking the Surface: The Greg Louganis Story (1997). But he's more prominent as the coach in David Oliveras's gay diving romance, Watercolors (2008), as Rex Lee's fiancé in Doug Ellin's Entourage (2015) and as Zico in Anthony C. Ferrante's Sharknado 5: Global Swarming (2017).

Hillary Wolf is the odd one out in this overview, as she gave up acting to become an Olympian. She will be familiar to many as Megan, the sister of Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) in Chris Columbus's Home Alone (1990) and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992). But, having taken the lead in Joan Micklin Silver's Big Girls Don't Cry...They Get Even (1991), Wolf decided she would rather be an Olympic judoka. Consequently, she quit films and represented her country at both Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000.

Canadian synchronised swimmer Estella Warren has been very much in demand as a model since competing at Atlanta. However, she has also carved out a notable acting career since surviving a Razzie nomination for Worst Supporting Actress for her turns in Renny Harlin's Driven and Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes (both 2001).

Having played the non-bookish Elise in Jay Lowi's Tangled, Warren popped up as a representative of the Outback Wildlife Foundation in David McNally's Kangaroo Jack and as a pregnant wife in Wayne Kramer's The Cooler before landing the lead in John Ketcham's fact-based tale of invidious nightmares, I Accuse (all 2003). Then, having ventured into a haunted house in James Merendino's Trespassing, Warren became entangled in the power game being played out by husband Gil Bellows and headhunter Christian Slater in Kristoffer Tabori's Pursued (both 2004).

Away from guest slots in TV shows like That '70s Show (1998-2006), Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999-) and Ghost Whisperer (2005-09), Warren's trail goes a little cold on Cinema Paradiso. However, we can't resist mentioning that Aaron Pope's Taphephobia (2006) is about the dread of being buried alive. Warren was back in the spotlight by 2010, however, as Belle in David Lister's Beauty and the Beast: A Dark Tale. The same year also saw her in romcom mode in Tamara Tunie's See You in September, which sees her visit therapist Whoopi Goldberg in the hope of getting over her fear of commitment.

Three years later, she essayed a traumatised actress who becomes suspicious of the distressed woman who has infiltrated her Mediterranean holiday retreat in Adam Neutzsky-Wulff's The Stranger Within. In Burt Alexander's Vampire Blood (2015), however, Warren becomes the predator, as she battles Johnathon Schaech for nosferatu supremacy in New Orleans. She would move on play Michelle in Age of the Living Dead (2018), but not before she had teamed with Johnny Messner and former footballer Vinnie Jones in Timothy Woodward, Jr.'s Washington thriller, Assassination (2016).

None of these titles broke box-office records, but they provide undemanding entertainment and make Warren the most prolific and successful Thesplympian of recent times. Kurt Angle has also done pretty well for himself since taking gold in the heavyweight freestyle wrestling at Atlanta in 1996. The majority of his titles on Cinema Paradiso's books are linked to the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) franchises. But, since guesting in Kevin Dunn's documentary, Viva La Raza: The Legacy of Eddie Guerrero (2008), Angle has also taken musclebound acting roles in Kevin Munroe's Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (2010). Bruce Koehler's River of Darkness, Gavin O'Connor's Warrior (both 2011), Michael Bay's Pain and Gain (2013), Anthony C. Ferrante's Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014) and Breck Eisner's The Last Witch Hunter (2015).

A still from Entourage (2015) With Jeremy Piven, Kevin Dillon, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connolly And Jerry Ferrara
A still from Entourage (2015) With Jeremy Piven, Kevin Dillon, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connolly And Jerry Ferrara

Since becoming the first American woman to medal in judo after taking bronze at Beijing 2008, Ronda Rousey has also become a familiar face on the WWE and MMA/UFC scenes. Moreover, she has a clutch of impressive acting credits to her name, including Patrick Hughes's The Expendables 3 (2014), Doug Ellin's Entourage, James Wan's Fast and Furious 7 (both 2015), Peter Berg's Mile 22 (2018) and Elizabeth Banks's Charlie's Angels (2019).

Canadian Alexandre Despatie first caused ripples on the Canadian diving scene as a 13 year-old before competing at four consecutive Olympics between 2000-12. Yet, while he took silvers at Athens and Beijing, he's not been able to build on appearances in Frédéric D'Amours's Québecois comedies, Taking the Plunge (2007) and Taking the Plunge 2 (2009).

Basketball legends Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and LeBron James have certainly had more screen success, with the late Kobe Bryant even winning an Oscar as the writer and narrator of Glen Keane's animated short, Dear Basketball (2017). But, as they were already famous in their own right before they signed up to play in the Olympic 'dream team', we shall leave you to seek out their credits - along with those of tennis sisters Venus and Serena Williams - via the Cinema Paridiso searchline, the place where the best screen journeys begin.

Uncover landmark films on demand
Browse our collection at Cinema Paradiso
Subscription starts from £15.99 a month.