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History and Ongoing Influence of the Rocky Statue

With arms raised in triumph, the Rocky statue has long held a place in the hearts of Philadelphia residents and visitors eager to re-enact the boxing underdog's proud and jubilant training sessions in the 1976 Academy Award-winning film. On September 9, 2006, the iconic statue took its permanent place near the famous steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, featured prominently in many of the Rocky films.

The statue was created by sculptor A. Thomas Schomberg, deemed by Sports Illustrated as "perhaps the best known sports sculptor of his time." The artist produced three Rocky statues in a limited edition series. During the summer of 2006, Schomberg studios introduced miniature versions of the Rocky statue in two sizes, available online at www.rockysculpture.com.

From the base of the pedestal to the top of his raised boxing gloves, the bronze figure stands 12 feet 8 inches tall. With the pedestal, it weighs approximately 1,300 pounds.

Director/writer/actor Sylvester Stallone commissioned the statue as part of Rocky III, released in 1982. Throughout the filming of the movie, and for some months after, it stood atop the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art overlooking the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Stallone donated his bronze likeness to the City of Philadelphia at the completion of the filming of Rocky III and requested it stay in its Art Museum location, but the gift prompted much debate. Discussion ensued about the statue's worth as art versus movie prop and whether the Art Museum location was the most appropriate. During that period, Stallone retained possession of the statue.

The statue spent several years outside the Wachovia Spectrum in South Philadelphia, where the cinematic boxer waged some of his biggest fights. Today, a metal silhouette of the figure stands in its place.

During the filming of Rocky V, the statue was once again repositioned on the famous Philadelphia Museum of Art steps. When Sylvester Stallone announced he would begin production on Rocky Balboa, the sixth installment in the series, discussion about the statue began anew. However, the statue does not appear in that movie.

In 2006, the city found a permanent home for the statue at the foot of Eakins Oval next to the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps, giving film fans an opportunity to visit and pose with the famous icon.

Atop the famous 72 Art Museum steps are bronze footprints immortalizing the spot where Rocky completed his arm-pumping training runs.

In addition to its appearances in Rocky III and Rocky V, the statue also makes an appearance in such films as Trading Places with Eddie Murphy, Mannequin with Andrew McCarthy and Philadelphia with Tom Hanks.

Pennsylvania is home to two other Rocky statues. The second sits at the International Institute for Sport and Olympic History in State College, Pennsylvania. The third was offered up for bid for private ownership.

New Book Looks at Rocky Runners

Released for the 30th anniversary of the first Rocky film (1976) and just before the opening of the final movie in the series, Rocky Balboa, Rocky Stories is a fun book that details the stores of a number of Rocky runners, i.e. those countless numbers of people who come every day of the year to the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art to relive the most famous scene in the first film where Rocky wraps up his run through the streets of Philadelphia by triumphantly climbing those very steps.

On the day that I parked nearby to get the photo of the Rocky Statue in its new location, I could not resist urge to make my way to the top of the steps and view the skyline of the city as seen from the top of the steps. It's a ritual repeated over and over again by almost everyone who makes their way to the site. In the brief times I was there I saw two groups of visitors making their own run up the steps including a group of four visitors from Korea.

It is the stories of people like these four Korean visitors that inspired Rocky Stories' authors Pulitzer Prize-winners Michael Vitez and Tom Gralish of the Philadelphia Inquirer. The authors spent a year visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art to observe, photograph, meet, and capture the stories of these runners who come from all over the world to these famous steps.

Michael Vitez has been a staff writer at the Philadelphia Inquirer for twenty years. In 1997, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism for his series chronicling the experiences of five people as they approached the end of life. He has taught writing and journalism at the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University.

Tom Gralish has been at the Philadelphia Inquirer since 1983, working as both an editor and photographer. In 1986, he won both the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for his photo essay on the homeless. Since 1998, he has published a weekly photo column in which he documents everyday life in neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia.

I have to admit I find it ironic that after years of opposing the permanent placement of the Rocky statue on the grounds of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the museum not only sells Rocky Stories in their gift shop but also hosted the post-premier party for Rocky Balboa. I suppose that even the hardened minds of the museum's board and management ultimately could not resist the appeal and permanent influence that Rocky Balboa has on the City of Philadelphia, its citizens and its visitors.

Rocky Stories - Tales of Love, Hope, and Happiness at America's Most Famous Steps
by Michael Vitez
Photographs by Tom Gralish

Rocky Statue Photo by John Fischer

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