One could easily dismiss MGM’s 1954 production of Athena as a light-hearted, romantic, musical romp, devoid of intellectual, artistic, or social value. Although it was scripted by William Ludwig and featured several accomplished stars, it never lived up to box office expectations or critical acclaim. Much fault can be found in this film. The script seems whacky and simplistic, the acting wooden, and the songs unmemorable. Furthermore, Athena does nothing to remove existing stereotypes at a time when bodybuilders were often stigmatized as muscle-bound, narcissistic, and homosexual and health food aficionados viewed as kooks. Its legacy, however, was different. It inspired many other peplum films of the 1950s and early 1960s featuring bodybuilders, laying the groundwork of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pumping Iron, and the fitness craze that swept America and the world in the 1970s.
John D. Fair is with the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, University of Texas, Austin, TX.