Friday, September 08, 2006

Rocky Returns

I was supposed to be named for my father but, in the mystery of providence, ended up with the moniker most intimately linked with the city of my birth. Well, after Ben Franklin.

To quote a certain Canadian band, "This name is the hairshirt I wear...." ...and especially in this town.

Tonight, Philadelphia's most sacred space will resonate with the sights and sounds of the movie which has become its great folk legend as, for the first time, the Rocky Balboa statue is dedicated for permanent display at the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The 25-year-old statue - depicting Rocky Balboa, boxing gloves raised above his head in victory - will now stand on a fresh granite pedestal on Fairmount Park property just off Kelly Drive, about 30 yards north of the bottom museum steps....

The Rocky statue has been a subject of controversy in Philadelphia for 25 years, since its creation as a prop for Rocky III.

In that sequel, Rocky had just become heavyweight champion of the world, and the fictional mayor dedicated the statue at the top of the museum steps, claiming, "This memorial ... will stand always as a celebration to the indomitable spirit of man."

Reality was much different.

Stallone wanted the statue to remain at the top of the steps, made famous in Rocky (1976). In its iconic scene, Rocky runs the steps at dawn and celebrates his own transformation and achievement of the American dream.

The Art Commission in 1982 rejected the idea of leaving the statue at the top.

F. Eugene Dixon Jr., who then headed the Art Commission, told the city:

"I hope you are jesting."

This created immense controversy. Was the statue art? Where did it belong?

In a compromise, the statue was placed outside the Spectrum, where it stayed, with two brief interruptions, for 25 years.

After the statue was removed this year for use in Rocky Balboa, coming in December, city officials proposed a permanent spot near the bottom of the museum steps.

Suffice it to say, it'll make life a lot easier to not get pelted with the "Where's the Rocky statue?" question anymore. You wouldn't believe how many visitors ask for it.

And maybe, just maybe, it'll make it a bit quieter at the top of the steps. At least, here's hopin'.

AP/Matt Rourke