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The Incredible Profesor Zovek… for reals!

26 December 2018

Only in Mexico, that land of cross-bred culture, would you find a personality like “Profesor Zovek”… a seeming cocktail of a man, made of equal part  Harry Houdini, Charles Atlas, and Deepak Chopra… with a pinch of Teddy Roosevelt… a la Mexicana.

Born into a upper-middle class Torreon family in 1940, Francisco Xavier Chapa del Bosque was a sickly child even before he contracted polio.  His parents somewhat regretting his fondness while laid up for months at a time to neglect his studies (although he was described as a unusually intelligent boy) in favor of mythical heroes like Hercules and comic books, especially those featuring super-heroes, and with the advertisements in the back, which usually included those of former “98 pound weakling” Charles Atlas.  Encouraged by his cardiologist uncle, he began a rigorous routine of physical training of his own design, based somewhat on what he’d read about Charles Atlas, and perhaps having been trapped so long in his own, inadequate body, incorporating challenges to his own limitations… like those Houdini mastered.

Hey, it was the 60s… and Francisco — always a voracious reader — devoured the mystics, East and West.  What emerged was a character, based partially on the Mexican comic strip hero Kalimán, and partly on Superman.  THough what “Profesor Zovak” fought for was truth, justice, and the Mexican way… and the Red Cross.  He came to national attention during a televised fund raiser, escaping from a straight-jacket.  In demand not just as a physical trainer (his day job), he moonlighted as a novelty act, coming to national attention when he did 8,350 sit-ups in less than an hour on a television variety show in 1968.

With he training method focused as much on mental as physical development, he was sought out as an expert in his field… both as a physical trainer and as a motivational speaker.  With his quasi-guru persona, he attracted clients ranging from schools to rehabilitation clinics to the Mexican army… and the secret police:  a conservative nationalist, he was dismayed by the student movements of the 1960s, which seemed a rejection of his own campaign for a physically and mentally disciplined Mexico.  East European police and military officials looked favorably on Mexico’s crack-down on dissent, and began to express an interest in Zovek’s techniques, making him… briefly… international recognition.

Alas, his self-created image killed him.  René Cardona Sr., a master of schlock films, the brains behind such movies as “Night of the Bloody Apes” and “Batwoman” (not Mrs. Batman… not by a long shot!) convinced the eccentric, but quite serious, Chapa del Bosque to star in a film based on his stage character in 1972.  The film was made (The Incredible Profesor Zovek) but the Profesor was only around for half the film.  As part of a publicity campaign for Cardona’s studio, the “Mexican Houdini” agreed to appear at a supermarket opening. He was supposed to make his entrance, sliding down a rope from a helicopter, but the pilot — believing Profesor Zovek had made it to the ground, and feeling the wind start to pick up, climbed rapidly, and dropped the body-building mystic before the horrified crowd.  His death, (10 March1972) was the lead story on the television news (the broke into normal broadcasts to report it) and the lede in several dailies.  And then… other than his occasional appearance in memoirs and fiction about the era (portrayed by Luche Libre perfomer “Latin Lover” in the recent film “Roma”, and mentioned in Paco Ignacio Taibo II’s mystery novel “No Happy Ending”) largely forgotten.

 

Sources:

Zovek

Shock Cinema Magazine, “The Incredible Professor Zovek”

Mario Villanueva, “ZOVEK el ultimo escapista “, Jornada, 13 March 1998

Alfonso Cuarón (writer and director) Roma.  Esperanto Filmoj, et. al 2018

Taibo II, Paco Ignacio.  No Happy Ending.  Poisoned Pen Press, 1981, 2003.

 

 

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