Born as Harold Herman Brix in Tacoma, Washington, he was the fourth born in a family of five children of an immigrant couple from Germany. His eldest brother, and their father's favored son, Hermann, died before Harold's birth and he was given his middle name in this child's memory. To please his father, by high school he had discontinued using his own first name, Harold, in favor of his middle name, Herman. His father was a lumber man who owned a couple of different logging camps. His first career was as an athlete. At University of Washington, where he majored in economics, he played football (tackle) in the 1926 Rose Bowl and was a track-and-field star. Two years later he won the silver medal for shot-putting in the 1928 Olympic Games, and held the indoor and outdoor records for shot-putting.
|Olympic medal record|
|Competitor for the United States|
|Silver||1928 Amsterdam||Shot put|
In 1931, MGM, adapting author Edgar Rice Burroughs' popular Tarzan adventures for the screen, selected Herman Brix to play the title character. Unfortunately, Brix broke his shoulder filming the 1931 football movie Touchdown, which also prevented his entry into the 1932 Olympics while holding the world record for shot put. Swimming champion Johnny Weissmuller replaced Brix and became a major star.
After Ashton Dearholt convinced Burroughs to allow him to form Burroughs-Tarzan Enterprises, Inc. and make a Tarzan serial film, Dearholt cast Brix in the lead. Pressbook copy has it that Burroughs made the choice himself, but in fact, in his biography, Brix confirmed that Burroughs never even saw him until after the contract was signed, and then only briefly. The film was begun on location in Guatemala, under rugged conditions (jungle diseases and cash shortages were frequent). Brix did his own stunts, including a fall to rocky cliffs below. The Washington Post quoted Gabe Essoe's passage from his book Tarzan of the Movies: "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."
Due to financial mismanagement, Dearholt had to complete filming of much of the serial back in Hollywood, and Brix, although his travel and daily living expenses in Guatemala were covered throughout the shoot, never received his contracted salary, along with the rest of the cast. The finished film, The New Adventures of Tarzan, was released in 1935 by Burroughs-Tarzan, and offered to theaters as a 12-chapter serial or a seven-reel feature. A second feature, Tarzan and the Green Goddess, was culled from the footage in 1938.
Brix continued to work in serials and action features for low-budget studios until 1939. Finding himself still typecast as Tarzan in the minds of major producers, Brix changed his name to "Bruce Bennett" and became a member of Columbia Pictures' stock company. During the next few years he would be seen playing minor roles in many Columbia films, from expensive dramas to B mysteries to Three Stooges short subjects (including How High Is Up?). His screen career was interrupted by World War II, when he entered the service.
Bennett appeared in many films in the 1940s and early 1950s, including Sahara (1943), Mildred Pierce (1945), Nora Prentiss (1947), Dark Passage (1947), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Mystery Street (1950), Sudden Fear (1952) and Strategic Air Command (1955).
The Washington Post noted, "He moved into grittier roles in the late 1940s and early 1950s, playing a detective in William Castle's Undertow and a forensic scientist who helps solve a crime in John Sturges' Mystery Street. He also portrayed an aging baseball player in Angels in the Outfield (1951).
Bennett had two children, Christopher Brix and Christina Katich, by longtime wife Jeannette, who died in 2000. They named their children after his parents. They had three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
From the mid-1950s on, Bennett mainly appeared in B-movies, such as The Alligator People (1959) and in the title role of the Fiend of Dope Island (filmed 1959 released 1961) that he co-wrote, and on television in guest starring roles. He was a very successful businessman during the 1960s.
Bennett turned 100 on May 19, 2006, and died less than a year later in February 2007 of complications from a broken hip.