Tor Johnson was born in Sweden around the turn of the century and by the early 1930's was barnstorming the United States as a professional wrestler, usually under the name of the Super Swedish Angel. In 1935 he appeared as a wrestler in the W.C. Field's comedy The Man On The Flying Trapeze and for the next two decades he would continue to make fleeting film appearances while remaining one of the most popular attractions in the wrestling world. By the mid-1950's Tor had retired from wrestling and settled into a new career a movie monster. In 1944 he had his first brush with fantasy films with a bit in the Universal comedy The Ghost Catchers, starring the comedy team of Olsen and Johnson, and in 1955 he kicked off his starring career in the genre by creating the role of Lobo in Bride Of The Monster, the final starring film for Bela Lugosi. Johnson, in fact, would appear in Lugosi's final three films and he was a friend of the horror film great in the final years of his life.
Bride Of The Monster was a shoddy effort detailing how a crazed scientist (Lugosi) used atomic energy to create a human monster (Johnson) whom he planned to mate with a young girl (Loretta King) to create a super race. Johnson had a great deal of footage as the lumbering Lobo and he soon became a favorite of horror film fans and the part became closely associated with him. Next he was featured as the mindless giant Curry in The Black Sleep (1956), an all-star horror outing which had him as the lobotomy victim of a mad scientist (Basil Rathbone). The film also featured Bela Lugosi as the doctor's mute servant. Johnson worked with Bela one last time on Grave Robbers From Outer Space, an Edward D. Wood, Jr., production about aliens landing on earth and using resurrected corpses to aid them in taking over the world. Lugosi died after filming only a few scenes as Ghoul Man, a resurrected corpse who murders a policeman (Johnson) and turns him into a zombie. Tor Johnson and Vampira made quite a ghostly team as they wandered through the film's spooky graveyard although it was not until 1959 that the film was finally nationally issued, as Plan Nine From Outer Space.
In 1956 Tor Johnson also had a small part in the musical fantasy Carousel at Twentieth Century Fox and the next year he was Lobo again in The Unearthly, one of the last films released by Republic. Here Lobo was the servant of a mad scientist (John Carradine) whose gland experiments had turned him into a brainless giant. The film did give Tor a few lines of dialogue and in the end he aided the heroine (Allison Hayes) in escaping the fate he had befallen. In 1959 Tor again repeated the part of Lobo in Night Of the Ghouls, a sequel to Bride Of The Monster. This time Lobo is resurrected and becomes involved with two ghosts and a fake spiritualist (Kenne Duncan). Although completed, the film was never issued. Tor had his last starring role in the 1961 Crown-International release The Beast Of Yucca Flats. Here he played a defecting Russian scientist who is caught in an atomic blast in the Yucca Flats area and is turned in a radioactive rampaging monster. In the early 1970s the film resurfaced as Atomic Monster: The Beast Of Yucca Flats.
During the 1960s Tor Johnson made occasional television appearances on such programs as People's Court, You Bet Your Life (with Grouch Marx) and The Red Skelton Show and he also made a few television commercials. In the late 1960s he recreated the role of Lobo for a series of personal appearances in Southern California. Tor Johnson died on May 12, 1971, in a Los Angeles hospital after a brief illness and was survived by his wife and son.
It goes without saying that Tor Johnson was a giant in the horror film genre and while not a great actor he was certainly adept at playing mindless monstrous giants; occasionally he added a little pathos to those parts, which have endeared him to horror film followers.
Recently, Tor's life was essayed in Tim Burton's brilliant film Ed Wood(1994), by another popular professional wrestler, George "The Animal" Steele.