It hardly needs mentioning that Steve Reeves must bear some of the responsibility for turning me and at least a couple generations of us gay. In my childhood, Hercules movies ran and re-ran on television on Saturday afternoons (often alternating with the aforementioned Tarzan flicks). Of course Hercules was also portrayed by actors other than Reeves, such as the very memorable Three Stooges Meets Hercules.
But it was Reeves’ ridiculously handsome face and dizzyingly, perfectly muscled body that fueled some of my earliest sexual fantasies. His torso was almost always bare and oiled up. By definition, he was perpetually engaged in grunting tests of strength. And, the coup de gras, he almost invariably wrestled in every movie. Watching Hercules grappling, dominating, and possessing his opponents must get a great deal of the credit for my lifelong obsession with wrestling body-beautifuls. In Hercules Unchained, Reeves fights an extended battle with the pro-wrestler Primo Carnera. Hercules is such a dismissively cocky heel in this scene! Bearhugs, full nelsons, cocky carries… all seeds planted in the fertile imagination of a gay boy.
In addition to cementing the homoerotic images of wrestling, Reeves’ Hercules also taught me the joys of body worship. In the 1959 Hercules, beautiful but lesser young men literally throw themselves at Hercules in adoration. As Hercules watches perched on a rock above, soldiers in training spar and exhibit their feats of strength and athletic prowess (9:14) in an effort to catch Hercules’ eye. One elder observes that the young men “have all become fanatics since Hercules arrived” (9:41) . The one eager young man who pole vaults up to Hercules’ perch (0:06) is clearly in love, desperate to worship at the feet of the bodybuilder demigod. “I wanted you to notice me!” he says passionately (0:20), despite his father’s disapproval. Like the good muscle Daddy, Hercules both disciplines and encourages the young cub who offers himself to the son of Zeus. In the sequel Hercules Unchained, as Ulysses tries to convince the amnesiac Hercules who he is, Hercules strips his torso bare and stretches across a table for an oil massage. Lustful body worship, infatuation with the cocky muscle stud, the eager bottom offering himself to the dominant top, the passion of sweaty, body-to-body wrestling… all the wonderful lessons that Hercules taught me as a gay boy.