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The Incredible Lou Ferrigno - A Biography

by Mike Haberfelner

November 2005

For films starring Lou Ferrigno
on (re)Search my Trash
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If you are not a subscriber to bodybuilding magazines or a follower of the Mister Universe contest, you might know Lou Ferrigno only from his starring role as the green title character in The Incredible Hulk tv-series - but that would mean missing out on quite a few fun films ...

 

Born in 1951 in Brooklyn, Lou Ferrigno in 1973 became the youngest ever contestant ever to win the Mister Universe title - at age 21. & as if that wasn't enough, he won the title again the next year. In 1974 he also entered the competition for Mister Olympia - & came in second only to Arnold Schwarzenegger, a name that will pop up in this article more often.

 


1977 saw Lou Ferrigno's film debut in Pumping Iron, a documentary about bodybuilders, that besides him also features Arnold Schwarzenegger. Ferrigno's actual acting debut came later that year, in the tv movie The Incredible Hulk, where he - in green body paint - played the title character.

 

The character The Incredible Hulk was created in 1962 by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby for Marvel Comics - though created might be too strong a word, Lee & Kirby merely took the film The Amazing Colossal Man as an origin story, painted the monster green, & tagged on a bit of thinly disguised Jekyll & Hyde-motives for consecutive comicbooks.

The whole story is amazingly simple: doctor Banner is caught in the blast of an atomic explosion, but instead of killing him, the gamma radiation of the blast only gives him weird extra powers: He turns into a green musclebound angry giant ... The Hulk.

 

The tv movie The Incredible Hulk played around with the origin story a bit (the original origin story must have been too silly for the 1970's), now Doctor Banner, played by Bill Bixby, experiments in the theory of channeling fear into superhuman strength, and experiments on himself using gamma rays - with the results that he turns into Lou Ferrigno in green bodypaint every time he's angry.

 



The tv-movie was a huge success, and in 1978 was expanded into a series that ran until 1982. Lou Ferrigno was of course perfect for the role of the Hulk, his physique was impressive, he could look really menacing if he wanted to, and his bulky facial features corresponded perfectly with Jack Kirby's designs for the comicbook - in fact, Jack Kirby, a comicbook artist of modest talents who nevertheless had an inceredibly long career (from the 1940's to the 1980's) drew all of his characters bulky, seems he didn't know how else to draw them.

 

1982 saw the cancellation of the Incredible Hulk-series, but it seemed as if Lou Ferrigno was in luck, as in 1982, John Milius' Conan the Barbarian starring Arnold Schwarzenegger came out - & due to this film's success, all of a sudden bodybuilders who had at least rudimentary acting skills (& sometimes not even that) were in heavy demand to star in Conan-rip offs ... & production companies could have fared much worse than with Lou Ferrigno, who had considerable experience in acting from the Hulk-tv series.

 

Just like many other acting bodybuilders, Ferrigno's way first led to Italy, where he in 1983 starred in The Seven Magnificent Gladiators for the Cannon Group under the direction of Bruno Mattei [Bruno Mattei bio - click here]. The film is a thinly disguised reworking of The Seven Samurai, but set in ancient times, peplum style. Lou Ferrigno played the lead, with former Hercules actors Dan Vadis (The Triumph of Hercules) & Brad Harris (The Fury of Hercules) [Brad Harris bio - click here] supporting him as well as busty Sybil Danning [Sybil Danning bio - click here] .

 


The film seems to have been successful enough for its production company Cannon to hire Ferrigno - along with Brad Harris & Sybil Danning - for another film later that year ... the legendary Hercules by Lewis Coates/Luigi Cozzi, a film that is nothing short of incredible (& vastly underappreciated by genre fans).

Hercules, the movie, has little to do with the actual (or rather legendary) exploits of the ancient hero, instead the film is pure imagination run wild - on a small budget ... heck at one point, Hercules fights futuristic machines right out of a sci-fi-movie.

The film is at the same time a hoot that shouldn't be taken seriously one minute (& I doubt that anyone of the team did) and a triplike experience that takes you to places not even drugs can take you to.

 

2 years later, Cannon produced the sequel to this film, The Adventures of Hercules, again directed by Luigi Cozzi. This one, if anything, is even wilder: Allegedly, Cannon didn't want to spend the money to hire Lou Ferrigno for the whole shoot, so in the final battle, he & his adversary are substituted by animated versions of themselves, & the whole thing is explained away as them being turned into figures of light. For a while, it seems to be just an animated fight, then one of them turns into a dinosaur. In response to that, the other turns into a gorilla, whereupon the first one turns into a giant snake to strangle the gorilla ... fantasy cinema doesn't get any weirder than that, or any funnier ...

 


1989 saw another collaboration between Lou Ferrigno & Luigi Cozzi, Sinbad of the Seven Seas. Cozzi is here credited only as the writer, but according to the (credited) director Enzo G.Castellari [Enzo G.Castellari bio - click here], who was not very happy with the film as it is (& in fact fantasy is not his cup of tea), Cozzi did direct several scenes of the film.

& even if Sinbad is more restrained than the Hercules-movies, the film is still a good laugh, where again everybody - most of all Ferrigno - seems to be in on the joke. It has to do about as much with the actual Sinbad as the Hercules films have with Hercules.

 



Eventually, Lou Ferrigno tried to get a foothold in the American film industry as well, but contrary to his Italian films, the few American films with him in the lead (Desert Warrior, Cage, Liberty and Bash - also with Miles O'Keefe) had litle to distinguish themselves from the great number of other action films you find on the shelves of your local video rental.

With the advent of the 1990's, bodybuilder-actors seemed to be by and large out of demand, and his rather bulky facial features prevented Ferrigno from getting more conventional hero roles à la Arnold Schwarzenegger. By & large, Lou Ferrigno was reduced to play supporting characters in films & tv-series that needed a strongman (e.g. Frogtown II, Conan, Black Scorpion, Amazing Stories, ...), & by 1994, he even found enough time to re-enter the Mister Olympia Competition after 17 years of absence.

 




In 1990, even the Hulk, as whom Ferrigno had made a couple of tv-specials during the 1980's (The Incredible Hulk Returns and The Trial of the Incredible Hulk), finally died for good in Death of the Incredible Hulk (though Ferrigno would later lend his voice to an animated version of the series in 1997 and made a cameo-appearance alongside Hulk-creator Stan Lee in Ang Lee's 2003 feature film Hulk, where the Hulk himself was reduced to computer animation).

 


The advent of the new millenium however turned a new leaf in Lou Ferrigno's career, when he got a recurring guest role in the sitcom King of Queens, one of the best & funniest American sitcoms of its time, from 2000 onwards. In this one, Lou Ferrigno plays ... Lou Ferrigno, a bodybuilder who never quite made it to the top as an actor & instead of a villa in Malibu can only afford himself a house in a middle class neighbourhood in Queens, instead of becoming gouvernor of California or something he has to do guest appearances at fitness center openings for money. & to top it all off, all his friends & neighbours constantly make Hulk jokes about him, even though he asks them not to ... some kind of self-irony one only rarely finds with bodybuilders.

 

Who knows, maybe some day we will see Ferrigno emerge as a comedy actor, but let's just hope his comedies are better than Arnold Schwarzenegger's Kindergarten Cop ...

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD

 

 

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Bauliche Angelegenheiten
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