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Out of Sight Musclebuilding


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I start slow and offer this as a preamble these paragraphs to make clear I was not exactly the bodybuilding participant some expect I was or appeared to be. The early ’60s were a mild time in bodybuilding. I trained hard in the Dungeon and worked regularly for Weider in his pint-sized office and shipping department. I had a young wife and daughter, no dough, lots of promise and promises and was busy with daily survival. There was some TV, a few side jobs to pay the bills and I had some friends in both Vince’s gym and the Dungeon. We had lifting in common, it was the bond, but we didn’t talk about training or nutrition or muscles -- shop talk -- when we hung out and played and explored.

At the same time there was a sharpening rise in bodybuilding interest as the ’60s progressed. Three or four big Weider shows in New York smack in the middle of the ’60s set things off: the Mr. Americas, Mr. Universe shows and the Mr. Olympia. The zealous NY audience started a stampede. Sergio arrived on the bodybuilding scene, Arnold was in California toward the end of the decade and the launching pads were ready.

In the ’70s we saw bigger magazines, more coverage, and greater participation in the gyms, contests and audiences worldwide. Musclebuilding became an industry overnight. Hello, Pumping Iron.

At the stir of this phenomenon I resisted and returned to lifting for the same reasons I began 15 years earlier as a snotnose kid: for its calm truth and simplicity, pain and fulfillment, muscle and might. I was not the star type nor a muscleman groupie. Thus, I didn’t submerge myself in the developing bodybuilding world of the ’70s. I performed my delicious musclebuilding out of sight of the crowd and the crowd-pleasers.

Laree found a couple-dozen older interviews in her recent search. Here’s part one of a two-parter.

Q: Describe a typical day at Gold’s in the 1970s, if there was such a thing.

It was in the shadows of the Muscle Beach Dungeon’s spare lighting that I learned all I know about building muscle and power. There the seed I brought from the streets of Jersey in ’63 took root, grew deep and bore a decent yield. I won Mr. America and Mr. Universe.

I joined Joe Gold’s gym in Venice in 1966 and continued to lift the weights with quiet passion. But for an occasional burst of training when a special occasion prompted me to work out twice a day (posing exhibition, inner urges, the 1970 Mr. World), I was in and out of the gym by 8 AM. Those two hours, six days a week, were major events internally, but on the outside they were as ordinary as toast.

In the middle-late ’60s Frank Zane made his home in Venice and our workouts conveniently overlapped. Arnold appeared in California, with Franco close behind him, and made his way to Joe’s original Gold’s in ’68. Ken Waller joined the group at a corresponding time, and various seasons of the year brought champs from the corners of the world for a plunge in the West Coast bodybuilding scene. Rick Drasin, Denny Gable, Bill Howard, Dan Howard, Chet Yorton, Bill Grant and Superstar Wayne Coleman are some of the tanned and sand-dusted faces I see fondly in my memory.

Zabo ran the place and became known as the Chief. Eventually, Eddie Giuliani headed the gym’s secret service dept.

Q: What was the atmosphere like at Gold’s in the 1970s?

I offer a narrow picture of training at Gold’s during the ’70s. For all intents and purposes competitive bodybuilding was behind me. In fact, I resumed the role I never left -- lifting weights for muscle and might and the fulfillment and pleasure it offered. In ’n out, like the hamburger joint, and off to make odd, oversized furniture from pier wood. That’s me.

The best times I recall at the original Gold’s were the summer days of 1970. There were a series of competitions in the fall, and five of us were preparing for the shows: Frank, Franco, Arnold, Katz, Zabo, Holland’s Serge Jacobs and me. We trained twice a day, and at least one of those daily sessions were together.

The days were exciting yet serene. The workouts were focused and intense, yet loose and easy. The gym floor was some 2,000 square feet of benches and platforms, pulleys and racks, iron and bars. No radio. The sounds came from moving bodies, shuffling benches, jangling weights, groaning lifters and muted thuds.

We conversed, no one chattered; we laughed, no one snivelled; we barked, no one bit. The weights moved in the direction they were urged, and we grew.

One July evening stands out above the rest. Artie Zeller, one beautiful guy, carried his camera around the gym like a stealth pilot. He was there, but under the radar, silently exposing film at just the right instant. The gym was simmering, each of us off in different directions. Frank was benching, Mike was doing pulldowns, Franco was doing barbell rows, and Arnold and I were squatting. Not a false move was made. We appeared like moths around a nightlight, we moved tons of iron like cranes, and we encouraged each other with authentic and willful persuasion, and a strong arm when needed.

And the best part -- aside from the fact that it’s in black and white -- we never viewed each other as competitors, challengers or rivals. No revolting egos. No one wore designer gear, carefully torn sweatshirts and look-at-me low-slung tank tops. We were all unique with strengths and weaknesses to overcome, aches and pains to endure, and hopes and dreams to realize. We were friends of an unusual cut. Not that we considered it a very special thing, but we were a rare breed of musclebuilders yet to be displayed, yet to be archived and yet to be imitated.

Time moved on, the gym’s location and ownership changed and the core dispersed, lost cohesion and became diluted by the crowd. That’s what time, people and things do.

Next week in Part Two, we’ll look at the training and the day-to-day life of a 1960’s bodybuilder.

Dave 

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