A recent trawl through Ebay uncovered a story which for me, has a very unhappy ending. Stumbling across a 1979 movie poster for the Silver Surfer, the Marvel superhero capable of travelling through space aboard his trusty surfboard, I was shocked to find name of the legendary bodybuilder and three time Mr. Olympia Frank Zane attached to the project. So I did a little more digging and came across one of the greatest what if moments in bodybuilding… and no I’m not being overly dramatic.
The real question is why not? Since Steve Reeves and Reg Park at the mid-century, a series of bodybuilders and physique models had found their way into Hollywood movies. While oftentimes case playing Hercules, for pretty obvious reasons, others had begun to move into the superhero universe. In 1977 Lou Ferrigno of Pumping Iron and World’s Strongest Man fame had landed his iconic role as Bruce Banner’s alter-ego the Incredible Hulk in the tv series of the same name. Running for five seasons and an impressive 82 episodes, Ferrigno’s popularity proved there was a space for muscle men in the Marvel universe. While there are many, many clips I could use to showcase Ferrigno’s time as the Hulk, the following has been my favourite since I first saw it as a child many moons ago
Preceding Lou was of course Arnold Schwarzenegger who began acting in 1969 in the time honoured tradition of playing Hercules. Interestingly Arnold actually auditioned for the Incredible Hulk but missed out to Ferrigno owing to the latter’s taller frame. Arnold’s breakout smash, outside of Pumping Iron, came in 1982 with Conan the Barbarian and then James Cameron’s 1984 classic, The Terminator.
Heck even Dave Draper had made a splash in Hollywood during the late 1960s when he appeared on the Monkees, an appearance previously discussed on this site. The point of all this? That bodybuilders were already being co-opted into Hollywood. Zane, having won the Mr. Olympia in 1977, 1978 and 1979 was the sport’s latest star. Using his physique, widely considered as one of the most aesthetic bodies to hit the stage, was not so surprising.
Sadly it appears that the movie failed to make any significant headway amongst studio executives. According to Dave Draper’s forum and Taint the Meat, the film failed to secure funding and was ultimately set aside, much to the disappointment of this particular Zane fan! Sadly the movie poster from the top of this post is the only tangible peace of the story we have for Zane’s brief flirtation with superheroes.
The failure to star as the Silver Surfer did not discourage Zane’s acting ambitions. In 1980, Zane starred as a bodybuilding judge in the made for tv movie The Hustler of Venice Beach. Also featuring Franco Columbo and Lisa Lyon, The Hustler tells the story of one man’s efforts to find bodybuilding’s next Mr. Olympia, much to the dismay of his cohorts. Remarkably the entire movie is available free on YouTube. You’ll find Zane around the 1 hour 40 minute mark.
Sadly Zane’s acting career has since been limited to bodybuilding documentaries and workout tapes, save of course for the following advertisement which previously featured here.
Sadly when a Silver Surfer movie finally emerged in 2007, movie goers were met with a CGI monstrosity rather than a real life bodybuilder.
In 1976 an article in Rolling Stones magazine noted Zane’s nickname, ‘The Silver Surfer’ amongst the local media. Maybe they knew something we didn’t?
As always… Happy Lifting!