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Health And Strength, January 1971

Dave Draper, A Candid PictureBy Colin Sheard. Property of Health And Strength, The Official NABBA Journal, January 1971. Provided from the William Moore Collection.

John Steinbeck should be writing this. I know of no other pen capable of doing justice to the essential Dave Draper. Between the two men is a fundamental affinity, a depth of feeling that even kinship couldn't deepen. Here is a man after Steinbeck's own heart; a subject worthy of his pen.

In Steinbeck's book "Travels With Charley", is a passage in which he describes the giant redwood trees. Moving, evocative, awe-inspiring, his love for the redwoods is consummately expressed. It communicates.

It is significant that Dave spoke to me of those trees. That his dearest wish is to go and live in the rugged beauty of their surroundings. He seeks peace and quiet, clean air to breathe and the space expressive of mental and physical freedom.

Says Steinbeck: "The vainest, most slap-happy and irreverent of men, in the presence of the redwoods, goes under a spell of wonder and respect. Respect - that's the word."

And that's what I felt for Dave as I listened to him. As I sensed his claustrophobic need to stretch his spirit in such an environment.

So with apologies to them both: and feeling about as tall as I did when reading about the redwoods - I was on tiptoe peering over the grass - here's what I learned about Dave.

His father was physically inclined. Football and basketball provided the outlets. Dave's two brothers were mostly intellectually involved. His own need for physical expression came at the age of 12, and for four years, in and out of school, it was expressed mostly in gymnastics. From then on he devoted more time to developing his physique; not with any aspirations to physique titles, but as a means of self-fulfillment. He always trained alone. "I have no love for ball games or team events. I'm a lone man."

He likes to use heavy weights and move fast. But his training is spontaneous.

"The regimented counting of sets and reps interferes with instinct. I like to tinker about for a while. Until something takes place, an involvement and rhythm, a flowing thing. It doesn't always happen that way; but when it does I'm in rapport with the weights. It's like a love affair and the physical exultation lifts me out of myself."

The outcome in terms of development?

"Hard quality. Balance of the smaller muscles; inter-costals, serratus, rear deltoid. Larger muscles are often fully developed but lacking in finer points. Details come through care."

Dave's reason why

This love of physical involvement is Dave's sole reason for training. "Contests came because it seemed the thing to do, and because it seemed favorable to enter for financial reasons."

There hasn't been many. The first one came at 19, when he won the Mr. New Jersey title: "Not a strong contest", commented Dave. In 1965, he became Mr. America and in 1966, he won the IFBB Mr. Universe. But…"I have no lust for contests. When committed to one, I have a premise which distracts me. I have a tendency to doubt, to rely less on instinct. I am depressed, exultant, at odds with myself and everything. I feel out of step, make mistakes which I know are my own fault and I feel a sense of shame."

The favorableness of the financial reasons was realized when his successes brought offers from films and TV.

"Don't Make Waves", starring Tony Curtis brought Dave a role which he described as "sympathetic to the bodybuilder". He also took par in a hillbilly series on TV. But there were offers to which he wasn't attracted; roles in which he was to appear intimidating, or subjected to ridicule.

"Rather that prostitute the feeling I have for physical culture, I wouldn't film."

His financial resources come mainly from a half share in Gide's Health Company, Long Beach. Named "Food of Life", this company distributes pharmaceutical products throughout America. Exhibitions and demonstrations are arranged in which biochemists give talks on health and ecology. Dave handles exercise and demonstrates its vial importance in achieving health and all-round fitness.

Works with his hands....

But he is never happier than when working with his hands, and his creative skill augments his income in the making of distressed furniture. (Furniture skillfully beaten with a chain, and judiciously burned to achieve the effect of centuries of use; simulating furniture used in the castles of 200-300 years ago.)

How did it begin?

"I had an itch to make something. So I made a table. It turned out poor and I broke it up. But I'd found my medium; I love working in wood, and sometimes iron. I made more things and they turned out pretty good. A friend asked me to make something for him, then another, and another."

Word got around; carried by the quality of his craftsmanship. Restaurant owners sought his skill to enhance their interior decorating. He now has a shop in his house, and his work goes far and wide.

Was he taught woodwork at school, or did he receive tuition elsewhere?

"I taught myself; if you're school trained or trained at all, it's not instinctive, not creative. They're not your own ideas."

His own ideas! Instinctive! Creative! Dave said he is a lone man. He is also his won man; seeking expression in the things he does best, in his own way, without help. Self reliant, confident in his own strength and ability.

As he talked, I watched the hands with which he loves to work. He used them occasionally to express a point. The tools of a craftsman; large, able, skillful, descending from forearms bulging with a strength that can be tempered to a delicacy of touch that transforms wood - and iron - into shapes and patterns of his own creative instinct.

In 1969, Dave went to South Africa, where he did about a dozen shows for Reg Park. It was a turning point. A widening of horizons in more sense that one. The itch to travel, to widen his interests, was upon him.

However..."The world makes it difficult to determine any kind of future. I don't think much in terms of what's ahead. The increased temp and acceleration, the pollution, industrial and political disputes; the whole scheme of things, including self, is difficult to resolve. The development of society is so dynamic, no subject is free. Life is momentary. Security! Insecurity! Thinking rather than being. I hope the Food Supplement Company does well enough to allow me freedom to travel. I'd like to come back to Europe for about a year. To move freely, in a camper, make direct contact and feeling with people." Readers of "Travels With Charley" will catch a glimpse, in that last statement of the affinity I mentioned, between its author and Dave." "Then the redwood country. It's freedom I want, not material things."

Fitness in the States...

What of the bodybuilding scene in American?

"There is an increase in attention to bodybuilding and fitness. In the years 1967-69, it was dying out. The attitude was negative. People were not physically inclined. I had, in fact, questioned it myself. But incentive has been rekindles. There is a big movement, new feeling, more positive attitude in current thinking and life style. Don Howarth has had much to do with his revival."

It would be heresy for any bodybuilder to admit he hadn't seen a magazine picture of Dave Draper. But what conclusions are drawn? How does the "man" come through in any physique shot?

"People are impressed by pictures. Training shots are all right, but candid shots impress more. They reveal more, set an intimacy. In this way, those who look toward the physique man for something, get to know him better."

The truth of that statement is best shown in the paradox of the physique shot, in itself; in the varying misinterpretations it evokes from those who, so often, look for the wrong things. Dave's feeling that the candid shot reveals more is well founded.


But no shot of Dave, and I've seen many, is capable of revealing his real character. There is a clean, wholesome quality about the man. His wants are simple. His longing to achieve them stated with engaging frankness. In a word, "candid" describes him. That's why he prefers the camera, within its limitations, to show him as he is. But it would need a wide screen to project him. He is a truly big man - in every sense of the word.

I was told I'd get little out of him; that he wouldn't say much. How little are they who told me that.

He is one of the most articulate men I've ever met. And he was in spate. As he spoke of certain things, he lit up. The planes of his face shaded off into softer lines; toned to varying depths of emotional response.

He is renowned for his physique. Ranked among the world's best. His coming was eagerly anticipated; has been for several years. How then, does he measure up? How tall, what weight, what chest and biceps measurements? It never occurred to me to ask. I wasn't interested anyhow. When gold in pouring into your lap you don't stand up and risk it falling away. I was caught up in the current of his words; carried along most willingly to where ever he wanted to take me.

We went back to his childhood, his youth; brief candles that soon threw out lengthening shadows of responsibility. At 16, he was married. His bride was one year younger than himself. Eighteen months later they had a daughter.

"There are those who consider us to have exploited our naivete. To have missed much in the way of childhood and youthful pleasures. But we have gained a great deal; developed qualities special to ourselves. We've grown up together, an unusual relationships, different friendships, different bonds. We've been brother and sister, man and wife; all of which has led to complete understanding."

Whatever he may have lost in the early years, Dave has found much that eludes the majority of men. And his deeper sense of values is most seen in the simplicity of his requirements.

Dave deviated form his rule of training alone and joined Frank Zane and Arnold Schwarzenegger in their training for the Universe.

"It was good. Exciting! I found a new surge of energy."

Coming when he did, Dave entered NABBA's Pro Contest at its most fiercely contested. If he took back little to show for his effort, he left much behind of what he brought, of himself. This "candid picture" will, I hope, bring a little of his greatness to those denied the chance of meeting him.

I hope he makes the redwood country. It's where he belongs. Like the redwood themselves, he engenders respect. And not a little awe!



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