Dave Draper as ‘David the Gladiator’

David the Gladiator
David the Gladiator

The Rise of the Italian Sword and Sandal Epic Genre and the Legacy of “David the Gladiator”

In the vibrant era of the late 1950s, a new wave surged through Italian cinema, birthing what would become known as the Sword and Sandal Epic genre. Spearheading this movement was the iconic portrayal of Hercules by Steve Reeves in the eponymous 1958 film, marking the genesis of a cinematic phenomenon that would captivate audiences for years to come, its golden era lasting until 1965.

The genre’s popularity soared to unprecedented heights, transcending borders and captivating audiences worldwide. Hollywood, always quick to recognize a burgeoning trend, eagerly embraced this cinematic wave. In 1964, Los Angeles TV station KHJ in Hollywood astutely capitalized on the genre’s allure by securing a year’s supply of classic heroic epics featuring illustrious actors like Steve Reeves, Brad Harris, and Lou Degni, also known as Mark Forest.

With a treasure trove of epic adventures at their disposal, KHJ embarked on an ambitious endeavor: the creation of a Saturday night prime-time show that would serve as a haven for enthusiasts of the genre. Thus, a casting call was issued, seeking a charismatic and muscular host to guide viewers through this celluloid odyssey. Dave Draper, who was Mr. New Jersey at the time, impressed the casting crew.

According to Dave Draper who portrayed David the Gladiator from 1964 to 1965: Vince Gironda was sitting on a curb in front of the studio drinking a cup of coffee. He was called before the camera for a screen test while I milled about the remaining short list like’a stray dog. Is that Reg Lewis over there with Ray Rutledge and Dick Sweet, my training partner? My name was announced and I was ushered onto a sound stage, placed before a marker and asked to read a handheld teleprompter that said, “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and you muscle worshippers. Welcome to The Gladiator. Tonight men with swords and shields will capture your hearts.”

Although Steve Reeves’ Hercules Unchained was one of the movies introduced by Dave’s gladiator character, Reeves never actually played a gladiator role. In 1964, Steve Reeves’ final epic adventure film, Pirates of Malaysia, was released, coinciding with the rise in popularity of Spaghetti Westerns, notably with the release of Fistful of Dollars, a movie he was offered the lead role in but declined. However, in 1968, Reeves did opt to make an Italian western, A Long Ride from Hell, which became his final film.

About Yegor Khzokhlachev 807 Articles
Gorilla at Large

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