Muscles Movies and the Mat Game.
By David Gentle
Have you noticed how all the kid’s heroes are now so muscular? Take “Action Man” toys for example, in early days, he looked tough enough, but the muscular anatomy wasn’t exactly inspiring. Comic heroes like Superman looked good, but again, early versions were more like Mr Blobby than a muscle man, in other words muscles are now accepted as the norm, no more Mr muscle bound. Years ago, if your coach found you lifting weights, you would have been flung off the team, now all sports use weights as an auxiliary part of their training regime.
Wrestlers were years ahead when it came to training, not for them sissy running on the spot type of workout, almost to a man, they used weights and heavy ones at that to toughen up for a sport that really does need real muscle and endurance. So it is, that from the ranks of bodybuilders, most wrestlers evolve.
“Back in the day”, older wrestlers will recognise the name of Mickey Wood. Mickey had a gym in London which specialised especially in providing the film and then in its infancy, the T.V screen with heroes and villains who were fit for the part of Tough Guys. (I think Wood called his outfit “Fall Guys.”
Lou Ravelle, a little later also took up the challenge in his London gym, training not only established “stars” but also those who could fill in as extras as gangsters, villains and who know, even the Sultans slaves with their weight trained physiques suitable for the part. Other sources of muscle/wrestling trainers were the muscle by mail merchants. The late, great
Mick McManus told me he first trained under the instructions of Fred Unwin, a renown physical culturist and trainer of fighters.
Its great to have muscles, but a man also has to make a living. The beginnings of the comic hero had their heyday circa the 1930s.Flash Gordon a great serial character, Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs,
Conan the Barbarian another muscular hero who first appeared in comic books around the ‘30s and of course Superman, Bat Man and many others now iconic figures in fiction history.
Comic’s heroes were as good as their artists, the best being the Tarzan strips by Burne Hogarth teacher at the New York College of Art. The first Tarzan didn’t exactly fit up to the “art”, being a rather portly Jean Polar. Many Tarzans were to follow, although Olympic swimming champion Johnny Weissmuller was for most people the favourite, the most muscular were Buster Crabbe who also played Flash Gordon
Tarzans popularity spawned many imitators, one being Joe Robinson, brother of Bert, who first came to fame as a Ju -Jitsu instructor, then wrestler. Joe’s fine physique attracted the Italian film makers who featured him in a Tarzan take off called Thaur. About the same period, the most- long lasting of villains from the movie Star Wars, David Prowse was cast as Darth Vader. David was not only a world class bodybuilder and British champion weight lifter, but also enjoyed a wrestle.
( Joe Robinson wrestles boxing Legend: Primo Carnera)
(Joe Robinson with Diana Dors in Kid for two Farthings)
(Dave Prowse MBE a.k.a. Darth Vader)
(Green Cross Code man saved 65000 childrens lives in 14 year TV run)
Back in the gym American Bill Pearl a top college
wrestler and world winning bodybuilder, also did a stint in the movies, playing scary zombie like characters. Bill in his turn inspired a young Lou Ferrigno to take up weights, win titles and later fame as The Incredible Hulk. Pearl himself was a contemporary of the British champion Mr Universe Reg Park, who as well as trying out wrestling along with his training partner Spencer Churchill, who stayed in the mat game for most of his life, Reg, followed another muscle man Steve Reeves into the “Sword and Sandal” movies taking over the role of Hercules that Reeves had made so successful. Both Reeves and Park were contemporise of Andre Drapp a former French resistance fighter, who for a time was a pro bodybuilder, but later also, took to the wrestling game, mainly as a bad guy as most will recall.
(Lou Ferrigno a.k.a Incredible Hulk)
( Worlds greatest natural bodybuilder -Steve Reeves)
( Former French Resistance Fighter: Andre Drapp)
The first muscle man to appear on the silver screen was Sandow in an Edison historic demonstration. Later Hollywood looked more for villains than good guys from the ranks of wrestlers, using such legends as Mike Mazurki and even Zybscho. The latter appeared in a memorable film The Night and The City. All about the “Shady world of all in wrestling”. I wonder what they meant? Even possibly the greatest wrestler of his era Lou Thesz, who by the way lived to 86 years of age, appeared with Bob Hope in a movie cameo.
( Hollywood star ,former wrestler and founder of the Cauliflower Alley Club -Mike Mazurki )
( Muhammad Ali)
The history of wrestling is complex, most agree that George Wagner, now known to the world as “Gorgeous George” was the for-runner of most of the hyped up characters on the mat with his make up and purple cape.( Gorgeous George, once beat the French Angel, what a contrast.) The legendary Mohammed Ali admitted openly that’s where he found inspiration for his showmanship in the boxing ring. Despite the makeup, George was a tough former manual worker who could fight with the roughest of wrestlers. Not so pretty was Harold Sakata a former Japanese/Hawaiian weight lifter with some of the best set of pecs (pectorals i.e.chest muscles.) you could find, Fighting as The Great Togo, as a villain in the Bond movies he became the bad guy “Odd job” who had a way with flipping his lethal top hat in the 1984 block buster “Goldfinger.” Bond or Tom (Sean) Connery himself was a long time bodybuilder with wrestling part of his all round training regime. On the home screen of T.V a favourite wrestler/actor was the giant Pat Roach in the regular Auf Weiderson Pet series.
( Harold Sakata a.k.a. The Great Togo and Oddjob)
( 007 Actor Tom Sean Connery as Mr Universe contestant 1949)
(The late great Pat Roach)
Arnold Schwarzenegger,former Governor of California, already famous as a bodybuilder, found further accolades with his portrayal of at first Conan the Bavarian, then a variety of parts designed to show off his muscles and hide his lack of acting ability. In my opinion, better actor and just as muscular is Duayne Johnson, or as wrestling fans know him “The Rock”. Intelligent, a great actor, most muscular and certainly one of the modern day great wrestlers, The Rock has it all.
( The mighty Arnold Swarzenegger)
( The Rock a.k.a. Dwayne Johnson with his Father and WWE wrestler Rocky Johnson)
From “Hack” (Hackenscmidt) to the Hulk (Terry Boulder) the world of wrestling is a great springboard to media fame and fortune. The formula? Train with those weights and build some muscle, learn some ‘rasslin, especially the way to fall, take a few acting lessons, and who knows? You may turn out to be next movie all action hero.
©David Gentle For the British Wrestlers Reunion web pages.
With acknowledgments to sources including Fall Guys 1937, Milo to Londos, Pictorial history of wrestling, Graeme Kent, Nat Fleischer’s Ring Magazine, Blue Blood on the Mat, Joe Dorazio’s Who’s Who of Wrestling, half a century of watching “grunt and groan” and personal conversations and information from real wrestlers, the British Wrestlers Reunion gang.