Meet The Champs
Nervous, eager, hopeful that two years of drama lessons might finally be paying. off, Tab Hunter, unknown and unsung, was about to be interviewed for a leading role. “Step in here,” director Stuart Heisler told him. “Take off your shirt.”
Tab was startled at this command. In his one movie up till then, “The Lawless,” all that movie-goers had seen was the back of his blond head. But this time they were scheduled to see a lot more. His 173 pounds (as fans now know) turned out to be well-distributed over his six-foot-half-inch frame, with its forty-inch chest, thirty-one-inch waist. Heisler .was convinced that Tab could get by with a castaway’s scanty garb in “Island of Desire.” So the newcomer joined the long list of movie heroes who’ve made good by giving away the shirts off their backs.
Burt Lancaster has always been a stand-out in this department. Spotting a magazine photograph of him with his imposing chest bared, a fellow actor was once heard to remark, “Hah! There’s Burt without a shirt again.” The gent was just jealous; if his proportions matched Burt’s (6‘ 2”, 185, 44”, 30½”), he’d be only too willing to show them off. Or take Tony Curtis (5‘ 10”, 150, 39”, 29”)—and what girl wouldn’t if Janet hadn’t gotten there first? He’s the original beefcake boy, so dubbed in a Sidney Skolsky column when Tony credited his first success to some photos in which he wore only bathing: trunks.
Marlon Brando (5‘ 10”, 170, 42”, 30”) scored his most sensational hit in a thoroughly torn shirt, and his toga in “Julius Caesar” grants an excellent view of the bulging Brando biceps. Present-day male clothing, with its padded shoulders and casual drape, isn’t so generous; underneath it, many a handsome shape goes unappreciated. Jeff Hunter, for instance, looks rather slight fully dressed, but the tropical locale of “Sailor of the King” gave Jeff (6‘ 1”, 172, 41”, 30”) a chance to prove that he’s up there with the muscle men.
Like the sleek or voluptuous, petite or statuesque pinup girls, the beefcake brigade comes in a fascinating variety of sizes. Virile young Dewey Martin (5‘ 9”, 160, 40”, 30”) admits he’s only two inches above average height. At the other end of the scale there’s the strange case of Rock Hudson. Studio statistics now claim that he’s six feet, four. Noting that Rock towers over even such lanky stars as Jimmy Stewart, this writer once questioned the official measurement (then only six, three). Back came the astonishing answer: “Rock’s really six feet, five, but he’s terribly self-conscious about his height, so would you please say he’s six, three or six, four?” It seemed kind then to oblige a shy guy, but now that Rock’s gained more confidence he probably won’t mind seeing the awful truth in print for the first time.
Rugged Rock (6‘ 5”, 190, 44”, 32”) has an appetite to match his size, so he resorts to swimming, riding, tennis and golf to stay in shape. And an eye-pleasing shape it is as revealed in “Gun Fury.” A male idol has to watch his figure as carefully as a female star does—if he wants a figure worth watching. You’ll often find Jeff Chandler (6‘ 4”, 190, 46”, 34”) tearing into a rare steak while wistfully eyeing a nice, rich, forbidden dessert at the next table. To counteract an occasional eating binge, Jeff relies on golf and gym workouts.
Boxing is the favorite method for keeping in trim, and plenty of stars can prove that their muscles are useful as well as decorative. Tony Curtis got his start in fisticuffs on the New York streets, having to establish a beachhead in one neighborhood after another as his family moved around the big town. Later, he got more formal training, learned the control of his body that helps to make him a convincing football hero in “All American.” Scott Brady (6‘ 2”, 175, 42”, 32”, starring in “El Alamein”) and Ricardo Montalban (5‘ 11”, 170, 42”, 30”, now in “Latin Lovers”) both put on the gloves frequently. So does Rick’s fellow Latin, Fernando Lamas (6‘1”, 175, 44½”, 31”), who was intercollegiate boxing champ back home in Argentina. A versatile athlete, Fernando needed no double to keep pace with Esther Williams in “Dangerous When Wet.” He once won the free-style swimming championship of South America.
Rory Calhoun’s boxing background is equally impressive. In college, he fought fifteen Golden Gloves bouts and never lost one. Before he scored in movies as a lusty outdoor type, Rory (6‘ 3”, 193, 42”, 32”), was a forest-fire fighter, a logger, a miner, a truck driver, a cowhand. He’ll be right at home in “River of No Return.” John Bromfield (6‘ 1”, 184, 44”, 32”) also has picturesque experiences behind him. Another collegiate Golden Gloves champ, he was earning a living as a tuna fisherman off the California coast when Hollywood discovered him. A lady agent saw John on a wharf, mending nets, and decided his splendid muscular development would be highly photogenic. It is—in Esther Williams’ new film, “East to Love.”
Tab Hunter and Burt Lancaster, of course, both excelled in specialized athletic fields. Tab was a figure skater of near-championship calibre, and he still spends a lot of his spare time on the rinks. In “Gun Belt,” he looks at ease on a horse with good reason: He began riding in the horse shows at the age of eleven, and he’s even gone in for the dangerous sport of jumping. Burt’s acrobatic skill, which landed him a circus job at nineteen, is put to frequent use in movies. Between pictures, he does daily tumbling workouts with partner Nick Cravat.
Some of Hollywood’s muscle men have had to work hard to get those husky shapes, as well as to keep them. Incredible as it seems, Cornel Wilde (6‘ 1”, 180, 40”, 30”) was a skinny, sickly youngster, until he went in for fencing in high school and college, winning city and American amateur championships with the foils. With this talent, he’s been pretty well typed in swashbucklers, but the sense of timing and precision it gave him came in handy when he had to learn the aerialist’s art for his prize role in “The Greatest Show on Earth.”
Another adventure-yarn king, Richard Todd (5‘ 1”, 170, 41½”, 34”) also battled illness as a child. An attack of rheumatic fever might have left him an invalid but he rebuilt his strength first with exercises, later with bicycle and horseback riding. Eventually, his parents were horrified to find that Dick was even going in secretly for roughneck games of rugby. The boy who might have been an invalid achieved a fine war-time record as a commando and a paratrooper. Now vigorous sessions with trainer Paddy Ryan keep Dick in shape for his prize role in “The Sword and the Rose” and the forthcoming “Rob Roy.”
An actor faces one hazard when he acquires a beautiful set of muscles, however. People are likely to be so dazzled by the muscles that they don’t recognize him as an actor. But Lancaster did score one for his beefcake colleagues when he kept his shirt on and won an Academy Award nomination for “Come Back, Little Sheba.” But he’s gone right back to the shirtless class since, with “His Majesty O’Keefe,” and his fans don’t seem to be doing any crying about it. Lex Barker, (6‘ 4”, 200, 44½”, 34”) has made a career of displaying his muscles as Tarzan. Any time he gets restive and begins to feel he’s frustrated as an actor, he remembers what an earlier Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller, once said in the correct jungle-man dialect: “Me no get Oscar. Me get fortune.”
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE OCTOBER 1953