'Prop' Culture? Rocky Statue Blurs Art Line Is an eight-and-a-half foot statue of Rocky Balboa a movie prop, or is it art? The Philadelphia Museum of Art isn't so sure. Joel Rose from member station WHYY reports.
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'Prop' Culture? Rocky Statue Blurs Art Line

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'Prop' Culture? Rocky Statue Blurs Art Line

'Prop' Culture? Rocky Statue Blurs Art Line

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A statue of Rocky, Philadelphia's most famous movie character, is poised for a triumphant return to the city's art museum. It's an eight-and-a-half foot likeness of actor Sylvester Stallone and stood atop the museum steps for only a few months in the early 1990s. Ever since, it's been wandering the city while politicians and art lovers argue over where it belongs. From member station WHYY in Philadelphia, Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE reporting:

It's easily the most well-known film location in the city. Rocky sprints up the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art at the end of his training run in the first movie, and various sequels. It's also where the mayor in Rocky III unveils a statue of the Italian Stallion.

(Soundbite of movie Rocky III)

Mr. GENE CRANE (Actor): (As Mayor of Philadelphia) It is with tremendous honor that we present this memorial. Philadelphia salutes its favorite son, Rocky Balboa.

(Soundbite of applause and cheers)

ROSE: Sylvester Stallone donated the prop to the city after Rocky III came out in 1982.

(Soundbite of movie Rocky III)

Ms. TALIA SHIRE (Actor): (As Adrian) Beautiful.

Mr. BURGESS MEREDITH (Actor): (As Mickey) (Unintelligible) thing of beauty.

(Soundbite of crowd chanting Rocky)

ROSE: The actor wanted a place in a prominent location, meaning at the top of the art museum steps. But art museum officials had questions about the statue's artistic merit. After much debate, the museum allowed the statue to spend a few months on the steps in 1991, where it was a big tourist draw. Then it was carted off to the Spectrum, the sports arena in South Philadelphia where Rocky won his biggest fights.

(Soundbite of movie Rocky II)

Mr. MEREDITH: (As Mickey) Well, Rock, you got another shot. It's your second shot at the - I don't know, the biggest title in the world.

ROSE: The statue was never a big draw at the Spectrum, and now it's in storage. But the city wants to put it back in front of the art museum, this time at the foot of the steps.

Mr. J. RUSSELL PELTZ (Boxing Promoter): It should have never left the art museum.

ROSE: Philadelphia boxing promoter J. Russell Peltz says he's rooting for the statue's comeback.

Mr. PELTZ: Unfortunately, you know, the art museum should be known for a lot more cultural things, but, you know, you take the publicity any way you can get it.

ROSE: Museum officials say they're okay with the statue's return as long as it's displayed near the bottom of the steps, not the top. That would put it in the city's Fairmount Park. The park commissioners voted to approve the compromise earlier this year, but there were dissenters, including park commissioner Harris Baum.

Mr. HARRIS BAUM (Fairmount Park Commissioner): It's a replica of an individual who was an actor, who acted very well in a particular film about Philadelphia, but other than that, it's not a work of art and doesn't belong there.

ROSE: The latest compromise does not go far enough for some tourists. Alan Hobart(ph) came all the way from London to reenact Rocky's training run.

Mr. ALAN HOBART (Tourist): I wanted to run the steps and do what Rocky did. So I got up to the top and done the old Rocky, arms in the air.

ROSE: As someone who's just visiting, where would you like to see the statue?

Mr. HOBART: Exactly where it was on the film. To come all the way from London and to come here and see Rocky elsewhere, it would be disappointing. It makes a mockery putting it elsewhere.

ROSE: Sharon Jones(ph) of Shreveport, Louisiana, agrees.

Ms. SHARON JONES (Tourist): If it draws people to what you have for them to see, why not get them here?

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROSE: A skeptic might wonder if the statue is also supposed to draw people to the latest Rocky sequel. Rocky Balboa is due in theaters this Christmas, and the trailer is already on the Internet.

(Soundbite of movie Rocky Balboa)

Mr. SYLVESTER STALLONE (Actor): (As Rocky Balboa) I think I want to, like, fight, you know. Nothing big, just small things, like, local.

Mr. BURT YOUNG: (As Paulie) You haven't peaked yet?

ROSE: The relocation plan still has one round to go. It needs approval from the city's art commission, which meets Wednesday to talk about it. For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose in Philadelphia.

(Soundbite of Rocky theme)

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