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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
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
& 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.
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
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] .
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
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
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
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
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
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