Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Most inspiring were the champion bodybuilders I met and trained with: Arnold was my original training partner when I moved to California and several years afterward. I had never experienced such drive as he had. These were the most incredible workouts of my life and I moved up a few notches in 1969, 70, and 72 by winning Mr. World and Amateur and Professional Mr. Universe. Arnold was my training partner and coach for all these competitions. Joe Weider was always present at photo sessions — it was a good idea to have several photo sessions before competing. “It’s all about getting good photos,” Joe told me, so I listened and took thousands. And that’s what you see in this quarterly magazine.
Thank you, Joe. One of the funniest guys was Artie Zeller our photographer. He was the best outdoor physique and exercise shots photographer in Gold’s Gym. It was a good idea for a career to travel around with Artie for lots of laughs and photographs. Franco Colombu was a formidable opponent. Our competitive history was I beat him in the 1969 IFBB Mr. World in Belgium, NABBA 1970 Amateur Mr. Universe in London, and placed ahead of him in the 1972 Mr. Olympia. I couldn’t believe it when he beat me in the 1974, Mr. Olympia. By then he was Arnold’s sidekick, they did exhibitions together. Artie said “Franco has no problem posing at Arnold’s feet” as Arnold did his front double biceps and Franco his lunging double biceps. It worked well and didn’t show Franco’s lack of leg development. Colombu had one of the best bodybuilding metabolisms I’ve ever seen and was one of the strongest guys around. Incredibly strong thick back and lats. Training for it one week he deadlifts 710 two reps! He and Arnold would do T bar rows with eight 45- pound plates and bent over rowing standing on a bench with a 315-pound Olympic bar for sets of 10 reps! I was doing Roman chair situps one day at Gold’s when Franco walked in clad in pointed Italian shoes and tight blue polyester trousers. “Franco I’ll give you $5 if you do a split snatch with that weight (it was a 7-foot Olympic bar with four 45-pound plates on it, a total of 225 pounds. Without hesitation he dropped his gym back and easily did a perfect split snatch without any warmup. Zabo Koszewski was a great guy and a person I looked up to as a role model for aging. He always looked young for his age. The Chief loved Venice beach spent hours in the sun always with a deep tan. One day Zabo was on a cruise with bodybuilders, rich people, men in women in various walks of life when he yelled out “We’re all in the same boat”. Another day a guy in the gym said to Zabo “I’m going to train hard for the first half of my life and relax more the second half of my life”. Zabo retorted “How will you know which is which?’ replied the Chief. Who knew?
Of all the bodybuilders I’ve known Reg Park was the most complete as a person with great values. He was a great Mr. Universe, Hercules in the movies, had a wonderful wife, son, and daughter, and was very smart and strong. He brought me to South Africa in 1978 and we trained together and toured the country for two weeks. It was a fantastic time. When I saw Reg in later years at the Arnold Classic, he would always ask me “Are your happy?”. This was the most important thing to him. ‘Bill Pearl, behavior king, lats like wings, calves and thighs maximized to an astonishing size, deep dark tan weighed 238, posing supreme, he looked really really great.’ I wrote those lyrics after I competed with him for 1971 Mr. Universe. Bill is a true professional, from him I learned how to act like a champion when competing. One day Christine and I drove to his gym in Pasadena, it was in 1979 and we spent hours talking to Bill about how to open and run a gym because that’s what I thought we’d be doing. Bill told us all his business secrets.
Steve Reeves and Larry Scott were my bodybuilding idols. As a high school senior, I couldn’t believe it when I saw Reeves in the Hercules movie. I sought to find out everything about him and his training. I later met him on several occasions, the last time on a TV show I hosted in Los Angeles in 1997 where he came on as a guest. It was then I had the opportunity to play harmonica and sing my tribute to Steve Reeves song. He liked it. My ideal visualized body was Steve Reeves wearing Larry Scott’s arms.
I’d seen Larry in the 1964 Mr. Universe competition at the Brooklyn Academy of music, but the most amazing spectacle was his appearance at the first Mr. Olympia competition in 1965. The Brooklyn Academy was where all the IFBB contests were held. Iodine mixed with baby oil stained the backstage benches and saturated the curtains. “Contestants be prepared for sink cleanup” we were told in my many competitions there. Competitors drank up the can of Weider Super Pro 101 as Jimmy Caruso took their photos. So, I’m sitting in the audience, good seat up front and Larry Scott slowly moves onstage and hits his side shot with arm extended then flexes biceps and smiles. Never heard crowd response like that before. He blew away the few other competitors, won a crown and $1000. Backstage I talked to him since I was competing in Mr. Universe that night and he was very personable. I asked him about teaching in California because it was in my mind to train there. Joe Gold was kind to everybody, even if they had no money, he was generous with everyone, one day I saw him give 20 bucks to a bum, down the street from Gold’s Gym, in the Venice Beach of old. I couldn’t believe the atmosphere of the original Golds in 1969, all equipment Joe had made himself, he was a welder in the merchant marines. Training here cost 60 bucks a year, gladly I paid every sent. Joe no longer charged me after I won Mr. Universe. In the early 1970s Arnold, Colombu, Artie Zeller and I drove to Las Vegas in my 1972 Volkswagen van, one of the slowest vehicles in the world. It took 8 hours from Los Angles because we could not go much over 60. We were on our way to see George Eiferman who operated a gym in Vegas. I first saw George in 1959 when I was a senior at Edwardsville High School in Pennsylvania. George did an assembly where he lifted a football player with one arm while playing a trumpet! This was one of my earliest motivations to be a bodybuilding champion. What a great guy he was, kind and helpful.
We trained at his gym and vowed to take a faster car next time we drove to Vegas. Summer 1975 presented an opportunity to train at Vince’s Gym for a few months. Gold’s Gym had become a madhouse with the filming of Pumping Iron. “We are making a documentary film about bodybuilding” photographer George Butler told me. “I don’t think so. Why don’t you just call it ‘Pumping Arnold’, it’s obvious the film is all about him” I retorted to the biased shutterbug. I wanted no part of it, so I drove 20 miles each way every day to Studio City to train at Vince’s Gym. Vince Gironda welcomed me, its unique equipment, great equipment, the best dumbbells, but with no serious leg machines. “No wonder none of the guys who came out of here had no great leg development” I thought. Vince didn’t believe in barbell squats, only hacks, leg extension and leg curl (he would have loved the Leg Blaster). I got along great with Vince because I agreed with him most of the time. One day I told him a parable which in effect said, “Only he who drinks tea truly know it’s taste.” He really liked me after that. And I liked him. All this knowledge was imparted to me over a 20-year period and I’m still contemplating these experiences, they really color my past, it’s fun to relive them.