Philadelphia at the Movies

As the film industry’s annual awards season gets underway, Philadelphia’s connections to Hollywood and the movies is a fascinating topic to explore through the various entertainment-related photographs available on PhillyHistory.org.

For Philadelphians and film buffs alike, Sylvester Stallone’s 1976 film Rocky exemplifies the intersection of Hollywood storytelling and the spirit of the city more than any other.   The story of a small-time boxer from Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood who rises to fight for the world heavyweight championship, Rocky won the 1976 Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director and spawned five sequels over the next thirty years.  In that time, the film’s connection to Philadelphia became undeniable, epitomized by the famed scene in which Rocky triumphantly runs up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and looks out over the Ben Franklin Parkway.

Among the most enduring and referenced moments in entertainment, the scene has made the Art Museum a prime pop culture destination and inspired passionate debate about Rocky’s place in Philadelphia’s cultural heritage.  For the filming of Rocky III in 1982, Mr. Stallone commissioned a bronze, 8-foot statue of the character to sit atop the celebrated steps and, once filming was complete, left the statue as a gift to the city.  Viewed by the Philadelphia Art Commission as more of a movie prop than a piece of art, the statue was moved to the Spectrum at the South Philadelphia Sports Complex, leaving only a pair of footprints at the top of the stairs to mark the scene of Rocky’s illustrious climb.  Nonetheless, the association between Rocky and the Art Museum endured and, over the next twenty years, the statue was re-installed on the steps for the filming of Rocky V, Philadelphia, and other films before permanently returning to the Museum in 2006.  By a 6-2 margin, the Art Commission voted to install the statue on a granite pedestal just off Kelly Drive, about thirty yards north of the Museum steps.  A public dedication ceremony was held on September 8, 2006 and featured a screening of the first Rocky, a film and character that, as Mr. Stallone told the crowd of approximately 3,000 spectators, “could only come from the City of Brotherly Love.”

Beyond Rocky, countless movies have been filmed in Philadelphia, including The Sixth Sense, In Her Shoes, Invincible, The Lovely Bones, and Marley and Me. A Philadelphia-native and graduate of Friends’ Central School in Wynnewood, legendary filmmaker Brian De Palma has filmed a number of movies in the city, including Dressed to Kill (1980) and Blow Out (1981).  While filming Dressed to Kill in 1979, Mr. De Palma and actress Angie Dickinson were honored at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which serves as the setting for a scene in which Ms. Dickinson’s character encounters a mysterious stranger at a museum.  Likewise, key scenes from Blow Out, which starred John Travolta and Nancy Allen, were filmed in and around such Philadelphia landmarks as Independence Mall, 30th Street Station, and City Hall.  Perhaps most notable is the climatic chase scene in which John Travolta’s character drives a Jeep through the City Hall courtyard before crashing into a display window at Wanamaker’s Department Store.  After filming was complete, Blow Out premiered at the Budco Regency Theater at 16th and Chestnut Streets on July 23, 1981.  Welcomed back to Philadelphia by a crowd of enthusiastic fans, Mr. Travolta received an Independence Hall replica from City Representative Richard A. Doran, while Ms. Allen received a replica of City Hall.

If Rocky is the quintessential Philadelphia film, Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco, is perhaps the most illustrious native among the many actors and actresses who hail from the City of Brotherly Love.  The Kelly family resided in Philadelphia’s East Falls neighborhood and Grace’s father, John Brendan “Jack” Kelly, was a prominent Democrat who ran for Mayor in 1935 and later served on the Fairmount Park Commission. The future Princess Grace graduated from Stevens School in Germantown in 1947 and went on to become an Academy-Award winning actress best known for her roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and To Catch a Thief. She left Hollywood to marry Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1956 and visited Philadelphia several times in the years following her marriage.  In April 1963, the royal couple was on-hand to inaugurate the Monaco pavilion at a travel and vacation exposition in the city and was welcomed by both Mayor James H.J. Tate and Miss Philadelphia, as seen in the photographs from their visit.  During that same trip, Princess Grace and Prince Rainier were also the guests of honor at a ball at the Philadelphia Museum of Art sponsored by the Philadelphia Fashion Group, which honored the Princess for her “leadership in fashion.”

Incidentally, Princess Grace was not the only Kelly family member to become the stuff of Philadelphia legend; her brother, John B. Kelly, Jr., was an Olympic rower who won a bronze medal at the 1956 games and subsequently became the namesake of Kelly Drive.  This bit of trivia is just another instance of how entertainment and celebrity have been woven into the fabric of the city throughout its history and allowed Philadelphia to continually captivate audiences and filmmakers alike.

References

“IMDb: Most Popular Titles With Locations Matching ‘Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.’”  The Internet Movie Database. <http://www.imdb.com/search/title?endings=on&&locations=Philadelphia,%20Pennsylvania,%20USA> (Accessed 14 January 2011).

“Princess Grace is honored at Philadelphia Fashion Ball.”  The New York Times, April 23, 1963.

“Rainiers Coming to United States.”  The New York Times, February 27, 1963.

Ronberg, Gary.  “They Came, They Saw, and Travolta Conquered.”  The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 24, 1981.

Vitez, Michael.  “‘Rocky and I thank you:’ Statue unveiled; Stallone unbridled.”  The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 9, 2006.

Vitez, Michael.  “Rocky statue ready to hit the steps: With a win, the fictional pugilist is back at his old haunt- The Art Museum.”  The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 7, 2006.

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