Hercules through the years

(The Philippine Star) - January 5, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Baby Boomers have their first glimpse — nay, full view! — of Hercules in the late ‘50s when Steve Reeves played the legendary strongman. At that time, Kellan Lutz, the newest screen reincarnation, was not even a glint in the eyes of his parents (who might not have even been born yet at that time!).

With the renewed interest in Hercules, it’s interesting to review how he has evolved through the years in the persona of the actors, most of them real-life strong men, who have perpetuated his magical spell:

 1. STEVE REEVES (Jan. 21, 1926-May 1, 2000)

Named Mr. Universe in 1950, the year after he played a Tarzan-type character in the TV show Kimber of the Jungle, Reeves appeared in a small role in his first movie, Athena, as the boyfriend of Jane Powell’s character and then as a cop in Jail Bait. Those were the only two films in which Reeves used his own voice. In his mostly Italian-made films that followed, the dialogue and sound effects were added after the shoot.

In 1957, Reeves was cast as lead actor in Hercules, a low-budget film shot in Italy based on the Jason and the Argonauts tales. With a gross of over $5M  in the US, the film was considered a hit, followed up with the sequel Hercules Unchained in 1959. Soon, Reeves was ranked No. 1 box-office star in 25 countries, including the Philippines.

Among the many offers that followed was a starring role in A Fistful of Dollars (1964) which eventually landed on Clint Eastwood’s lap after Reeves turned it down because he didn’t believe that Italians could make a western. Spoken too soon. The movie was a huge hit, giving way for what became known as spaghetti western.

Another role that Reeves rejected was James Bond in Dr. No, the first 007 movie done in 1962, reportedly because he was being paid only $100,000 when he was already earning $250,000 per film. Sean Connery took the role. The rest is history.

Reeves dislocated his shoulder while shooting The Last Days of Pompeii when his chariot slammed into a tree, an injury aggravated by his stunts in his successive films and that eventually led to his retirement. On May 1, 2000, he died due to a blood clot two days after a surgery.

 2. Arnold Schwarzenegger (Born July 30, 1947)

The big guy who would become the 38th Governor of California (Nov. 2003-Jan. 2011) started weight training at age five, became Mr. Universe at 20 and won the Mr. Olympia contest seven times.

Born in Austria, Schwarzenegger was raised in a Roman Catholic family that attended Mass every Sunday. He said in a speech that his father, who got him into sports, wanted him to follow in his footsteps as a police officer; and his mother, for him to go to trade school. Instead, Schwarzenegger followed his heart to showbiz. That was after he won several titles, foremost of which was as Mr. Universe (the youngest to win) which served as his springboard to America. In a speech in Munich where he trained, Schwarzenegger was quoted as saying, “I’m going to become the greatest actor!” Prophesy fulfilled.

In 1970, he played the titular character in Hercules in New York. He didn’t get stuck in the character, but went on to play other roles that cemented his box-office stature, among them Conan The Barbarian (1982/84) and The Terminator (1984/1991/2003).

3. Lou Ferrigno (Born Nov. 9, 1951)

Born in Brooklyn, New York, of Italian descent, Ferrigno lost 75 to 80 percent of his hearing due to an ear infection, diagnosed when he was three years old. But it didn’t stop him from starting weight training at age 13, keeping an eye on Steve Reeves, his role model. He also trained with Schwarzenegger with whom he competed in the Mr. Olympia contest, first in 1974 (second placer) and then in 1975 (third placer). It was Ferrigno’s failed attempts to beat Schwarzenegger that became the subject of Pumping Iron, a 1975 docu which made Ferrigno famous.

Ferrigno cast as the title role in The Incredible Hulk twice (1977 and 1978) before he played Hercules in 1980.

He realized his dream. Ferrigno was a big fan of Hercules that starred Reeves.

4. Kevin Sorbo (Born Sept. 24, 1958)

Unlike the first three Hercules, Sorbo wasn’t a graduate of bodybuilding contests. It was only eight years after he began appearing in TV series (Murder She Wrote, etc.) that Sorbo played Hercules in the telemovie Hercules and the Amazon Women which expanded to a longer TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1995-1999).

Sorbo played other roles in movies and television before he resumed playing Hercules in 2010 in God of War III, a video game (released for PlayStation 3). In 1997, Sorbo suffered an aneurysm in his shoulder, which was kept secret while he was recovering (but details were later chronicled in his 2011 autobiography True Strength), between the fourth and fifth season of Hercules. During the series’ last two seasons (aired 1998-1999), Sorbo’s filming schedule was toned down to give way to guest stars brought in to lighten his load.

5. Tate Donovan (Born Sept. 25, 1963)

Like Sorbo, Donovan was not a bodybuilder. Unlike the first four, he didn’t appear as Hercules but only voiced the character in Disney’s 35th animated feature in 1997.

The youngest of seven children, Donovan is of Irish Catholic background. He started as a teen actor (as Kevin Donaldson in the 1986 film Space Camp), followed by more roles --- as the boyfriend of Jennifer Aniston’s character in the sitcom Friends, guest star in Magnum P.I. episodes, and lawyer Tom Shayes in Damages (for which he directed two episodes).

Also a director, Donovan megged an episode of Medium, two episodes of Damages, an episode of Nip/Tuck, an episode of Weeds, an episode of Gossip Girl and the Valentine-themed episode of Glee in 2011. — From the Internet



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