The Muscles of Hercules beneath the Skin of Antinuous’: Mapping Herculean Stardom in film fan-magazine discourse
During the silent era, the myth and iconography of antiquity provided a ready-made vocabulary for Hollywood to fashion its new idols for the modern world. While explicit and implicit references to Apollo and Venus were readily appropriated in studio portraits and fan-magazine features for the streamlined age of Art Deco, the figure of Hercules stirred uneasily in what Photoplay magazine termed in 1928 ‘the world’s new Olympus’.
While Hercules’ large build was a gift for publicising stars associated with strength (‘Hercules reincarnated’ or the ‘Hercules of the Pictures’, a trope going back to the early 1910s), his sometimes weary demeanour (the Farnese sculpture being most often cited in fan-magazines) also carried negative connotations. As one British fan wrote in 1924, Hercules was ‘too large’, and there ‘..are plenty of living models to-day who “out-model” any of the old masters of statuary’. Most interesting are attempts to modify Hercules’ image in publicity with references to other gods, as happened elsewhere in contemporary physical culture, producing intriguing combinations, with Hercules merged with Apollo, Adonis, Mercury, and even Antinous.
Drawing from research into the influence of antiquity on the development of film stardom, this chapter looks beyond on-screen portrayals of Hercules to more oblique, and yet crucial, uses of his myth and image to codify genre, gender and sexuality in star discourse at particular historical and cultural moments. While I focus on stardom’s formative decades, I also signpost Hercules’ continuing influence on stardom today.
Provisional content for The Modern Hercules (Volume 2)