The Mondo-Esoterica Guide to

Reg Park


Born on 7th June 1928 in Leeds as Roy Park he quickly adopted the name of his father, Reg Park Snr. who ran a local gymnasium and a barbell company. Always interested in sport, young Reg trained as an athlete and played briefly for the Leeds United reserves football team before he wrenched his knee and had to end playing. During his recovery he became interested in body building and quickly became dedicated to the rather niché pasttime, despite a rather rudimentary training regime in a friend's front room and a two year National Service period spent in Singapore as a physical training instructor. He returned to Britain in time to watch the inaugural Mr Universe contest in London and there decided that body building was to be his life. Inbetween his studies for a business course, he continued to train in the family garden and their unheated garage, as a result easily winning Mr. Northeast Britain and being invited to compete at Mr Britain that same year.

Training properly in a gym for the first time he massively improved his physique and won the contest. With the support of his family he travelled to America to train with some of the biggest names in the field and returned to London to enter the second Mr Universe contest in 1950, placing a close-fought second to the American Steve Reeves. Developing a new training regime and increasing his physique even more, Park entered the contest again the next year and won outright.

In light of Reeves' victory, body building had suddenly taken off and the body builders themselves became popular. Park made several tours, demonstrating his incredible strength to large audiences and becoming the first Brit to bench-press 500lbs while at a show in Bristol. In 1952 he married Mareon Isaacs, a South-African ballet dancer and in 1958 moved to live in South Africa for the warmer climate. His ambition was to open a bodybuilding studio but realised that since his Mr Universe victory he had fallen out of the public eye somewhat and elected to enter again in the Professional catagory - he did and won the 1958 Mr Universe (Pro) title, his brother-in-law John Isaacs taking the smaller men's class victory as well. Returning to South Africa with his name back in lights, he established the first of a sucessful chain of gyms in the country.

In the late 1950s, Park's old rival Steve Reeves had been cast in the fantasy film Hercules (1958) - performing well in Europe, clever marketing in the USA saw it become one of the most popular films of the year and producers across Europe rushed to film similar productions to cash in on the sucess. Known as the Peplum, these sword and sandal films usually required a muscle-bound hero and when Reeves was fully booked they looked to other champions of physique to fill the parts. In late 1960 Reg Park got the call from a studio in Rome and flew up to take part in a screen-test - he was approved and appeared in Hercules and the Captive Women (1961) and almost immediately afterwards, Hercules in the Haunted World (1961) for director Mario Bava. In 1963 he returned to the touring field, exchanging the shows of strength for poses that he developed in conjunction with his wife and in 1965 was again crowned Mr Universe becoming the first three time champion.

When his first two films proved sucessful, Park was cast in three more, playing the title roles in a pair of non-Traditional entries, the African set Maciste in King Solomon's Mines (1964) and the Central Asian Hercules Prisoner of Evil (1964) before the more traditional Hercules the Avenger (1965) for which his part largely consisted of footage from his first two films. By this time the Peplum boom had begun to decline after years of endless repetition and competition in the form of the newly popular Spaghetti Westerns. By 1966 it had disappeared from cinemas completely.

Park returned to South Africa - however his legacy had made an impact on the young Austrian, Arnold Schwarzenegger who had watched all of the sword and sandal movies and begun ernest training to try and match the physiques of his heroes. He travelled to England to compete in the 1966 Mr Universe where he placed second and there met Reg Park who quickly took on the role of mentor and invited Arnold back to South Africa to train with him, Schwarzenegger went on to win the Mr Universe title the next year and the Pro contest three times in a row after that. In 1970, Park and Schwarzenegger went head to head at the Mr Universe contest, but distracted by his business, Park did not have as much chance to prepare as usual and placed second behind the Austrian. He entered Mr Universe again in 1971 and 1973 placing third and second and decided that it was time to retire from the competition circuit. Staying active in body building, he continued to mentor Arnold Schwarzenegger and many others at his gyms in South Africa. His daughter Jeunesse founded the Reg Park foundation to help disadvantaged and disabled individuals get access to training facilities. In 1999 he was in the first group admitted to the International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB) Hall of Fame. After an eight month battle with melanoma he passed away in November 2007.

Unlike his contemporary, Steve Reeves, Park was never too concerned about becoming an actor and for him, his film appearances were just a minor chapter in his body building career - however the entertaining and daft nature of the Hercules films has inevitably lead to them becoming cult favourites. As a bodybuilder he was one of the first, along with the likes of Reeves, to make this niché pasttime into a real sport with worldwide recognition. However, his most lasting legacy to the worlds of body-building, cinema and even politics, has undoubtedly been with the incredible rise of his protege Arnold Schwarzenegger - first inspired, then trained as a body builder and finally encouraged into cinema by Reg Park, the rest is history.

DVD Reviews: Films starring Reg Park

Hercules and the Captive Women (1961)

Retromedia USA Region 0 DVD
A typical Traditional Peplum story is bolstered by a solid storyline and some well budgeted direction.
Recommended to genre fans.
Hercules in the Haunted World (1961)

USA Image/Fantoma Region 1 DVD
A hellbound peplum with a top-notch euro-cult cast including Christopher Lee and Reg Park. From director Mario Bava.
Recommended for an entertaining watch.
Hercules Prisoner of Evil (1961)

Retromedia USA Region 0 DVD
A Central Asian location and a solid script make this an interesting entry but Reg Park doesn't get much to do.
Partly recommended.
Hercules the Avenger (1965)

Retromedia Region 0 DVD
An interesting storyline but the heavy reliance on stock footage from earlier films is very distracting.
Not recommended.
Maciste in King Solomon's Mines (1965)

Alpha USA Region 0 DVD
A unique African location is wasted by a completely generic script and lackluster pacing.
Not recommended.



Return to main menu.

Return to Mondo Esoterica Guides menu.

All text in this page written by Timothy Young - March 2008.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

Please contact: