On Target With Dave Draper!

How come it was Dave Draper achieving such an unusual feat? Because he's recognized as a major figure in the sport of bodybuilding and he's now firmly back in action in the iron scene after a prolonged absence of almost 15 years.
Republished with permission from www.davedraper.com.
By: Redd Hall, Ph.D

Publication Date: 1988

Which male bodybuilder recently had a total of seven major photo sessions, each with a topnotch physique photographer, during a three-week period?


Arnold? Haney? Gaspari? Christian? Labrada? DeMey? Love? Strydom? No! None of these. It was Dave Draper, champion of the '60s and early '70s, whom Arnold has called "the original Golden Boy of bodybuilding." He was photographed by Mike Neveux, John Balik, Bill Dobbins, Russ Warner, Chris Lund, Ken Marcus and Artie Zeller.

How come it was Dave Draper achieving such an unusual feat? Because he's recognized as a major figure in the sport of bodybuilding and he's now firmly back in action in the iron scene after a prolonged absence of almost 15 years.

As longtime bodybuilding fans know, Draper in his heyday was a popular international star, his titles including Mr. Universe and Mr. World. He had a flourishing double career, actually, in bodybuilding and also in the movies - and some kids thought Arnold was the first bodybuilder to make it in films. Draper had a contract with MGM and was in several films, the most memorable probably being Don't Make Waves with Tony Curtis and Claudia Cardinale. The man was no wooden actor, either. He had talent.

But then, after achieving a pinnacle of success that 99% of bodybuilders can only dream about, Draper turned his back on the whole scene. By his own choice he gave up everything, leaving Southern California to live in Aptos in the Santa Cruz mountains, where he owned 12 acres in the redwoods.


Asked why, he gives several reasons: that he wasn't happy, that he never felt like he was good enough, that he wasn't the partying type and that he was disturbed by changes in the sport. "I felt like my love affair with bodybuilding was being intruded upon by a new style of bodybuilding," he explains. "The camaraderie and closeness were gone, the love and feeling for the sport were disappearing. Most of the newcomers had only a surface interest, whereas mine was a deep-down-to-the-marrow thing.

"So I left," he says simply. "I became almost reclusive and didn't keep up any of my contacts with the sport. Occasionally I'd go into L.A. for three or four days to get reenergized, but then I'd always come back appreciating the mountains more."

Asked if he continued training every day during these years away from the sport, Draper retorts in a split second, "Of course!" as if that were the only answer possible. "I kind of fade or crumble when I don't go to the gym. Training puts harmony in my mind." Dave also continued his longtime vocation of custom furniture making, specializing in native woods and sometimes using them in conjunction with animal hides. Typically, Draper designs each piece especially for the customer and for the environment in which it will be placed.

Then the piece is individually cut and custom finished, resulting in a one-of-a-kind work of art. "Working with wood is my way of creative expression," Dave says. "Arnold has one of my pieces, and so do Joe Weider, Joe Gold, Dennis Tinerino and others." But Draper's sylvan existence was not all peace and happiness. "I had developed troubles with drinking and drugs," he admits matter-of-factly, "and I sank deeper and deeper. I've always felt quite shy and insecure, like I was never good enough, no matter what I accomplished.

So I guess that my dependency on drinking and drugs was my way of dealing with it." What got him out of the habit? "I hit absolute bottom," he says. "I was exhausted and I abused all the gifts I had, though I didn't do it in a boisterous or unkind way. I even developed congestive heart failure five years ago from excessive drinking and was in intensive care for three weeks. That was a tremendous shock, and I've been clean since. It's been a long, hard time of repair, and I'm still in repair."


Dave has been making the scene lately at several Bay Area bodybuilding shows and also some major shows, such as the 1986 Mr. Olympia. He looks good, and fans are happy to see him. His body size and proportions remain stunning, with his famed upper body development evident despite any kind of top he is wearing. Many bodybuilders would commit virtual mayhem for a body like that, and yet the man is still at times almost painfully shy.

"I separated myself for so long that I didn't relate to people well," he says. "So I'm learning to socialize again. I do love the sport, and I'm glad to be getting back in the mainstream."

MD talked with Dave on several occasions, and quite at length over dinner after the 1987 Mr. Olympia satellite telecast. We talked so mightily that Dave hardly had time to eat! He was most cooperative, knowledgeable and interesting, with a great, font of memories and information. Here are the highlights:

What was your world of bodybuilding like in the '60s? A lot different from today's in several respects: I started training with only a small set of weights and had to improvise and teach myself. Body- builders then had to think on their own and "want it" very badly. We trained virtually by ourselves with no help. There weren't a lot of gyms, equipment, books, magazines and seminars as there are today. That's hard for present-day bodybuilders to picture!

We were essentially alone and had to figure things out for ourselves and depend upon our own creativity. We trained in a close-knit way. For example, I spent a lot of time with Arnold, Zane and Franco. We trained together and for each other, with a real feeling of closeness. We were hardcore. A lot of today's bodybuilders are only "down to the surface of the skin." Bodybuilding isn't coming from their centermost point: it's only peripheral. That's typical and understandable today with the fast pace of life ... fast foods and fast everything.

What was your diet like back then? Again, very different from today. I ate almost all protein and virtually no carbs, hardly any potatoes and vegetables. I didn't realize the need for them. Now I have a more balanced diet with medium protein plus carbs and low fat. I love good breads, homemade pasta and homegrown vegetables - they taste totally different from store-bought, with more nutrients. I stay away from sauces.

What are your remembrances of the following people?

Arnold: Arnold who? (laughing) He's one of the finest bodybuilders. He was like a sudden explosion that rocketed off in the '70s. He's a strong, assertive person and at the same time likeable, with a loving quality and sensitivity about him. He had all the qualities necessary for his meteoric rise to success: boldness, leadership, intelligence, business sharpness and personality. I saw all those qualities emerging in him. At his first major contest he was like a fun-loving Greek god farmboy. He got quite an education very quickly, soaking up learning like a sponge.

Franco: A sweet guy with a great sense of humor. One of my favorite memories of him is of one show in which he bench pressed almost 500 pounds for reps, deadlifted an incredible amount, did various strength acts - you know how strong he is - and then did an outstanding posing exhibition, all in the same evening.

Frank Zane: A great poser and one of the most symmetrical bodybuilders ever. You can turn him sideways or upside down, and he's always flawless. I appreciate him and enjoy him as a friend. He's a very private person, a gentleman.

Robby Robinson: If he was stranded on a desert island, before he built himself a shelter he'd be devising a way to train his hamstrings!

Reg Park: A stern, bold guy. He "wore his muscles" all the time. He's very careful about his manners and the way he carries himself. If you were backed up in a corner, he'd be right there to help.

Steve Reeves: I never met him, but I've always heard that he's a really nice guy and always took everything casually about his beautiful physique.

Sergio Oliva: Another great guy. He's jovial and smiling all the time. And he carries himself so well, especially with all those gold bangles and beads and chains dangling on his chest.

Bill Pearl: A real leader, always focused in. He kept his whole act clean. He lived only a few miles from me, and I went to him for advice on posing. He gave me feedback, help and direction. Most important, he showed belief in me.

Joe Gold: A good friend and good mentor, a strong man in my life. He's been important in the development of bodybuilding.

When you were growing up, who were your heroes? Guys who used jackhammers! Then when I began bodybuilding, I admired Reg Park, Steve Reeves and Leroy Colbert.

Whom do you admire among today's bodybuilders?


Mike Christian - I have a fondness for him. When he was a kid, just starting, he used to come to me for advice. And now he's this great big guy! His potential never entered my mind. And he still has the same kind of eagerness now that he did then. He's a pretty special person.

Tom Platz - He's popular, a great showman and a good friend. There was nothing impromptu in this year's Olympia like his posing routine last year. He got the crowd in a frenzy. Within him he has some of the entertainer that lies in a professional wrestler. Again, he's a person I know from way back. He used to live up the street from me. He was one of the younger surfer kids who would come by my house and watch me making furniture. Not to mention that I had a good-looking daughter ...

Lee Haney - He's a humble person, a perfect gentleman and a fine bodybuilder.

Rich Gaspari - Another fine bodybuilder, hard-working.

Dennis Tinerino - He's a good brother, a real outgoing Brooklynite with all sorts of stories to tell.

Lee Labrada - He's a nice, sweet, intelligent guy, personable in the genuine sense of the word. He's well-equipped, with symmetry and artistic posing qualities in the tradition of Frank Zane.

What are your happiest memories of bodybuilding?

Winning Mr. Universe. That was thrilling. The place was packed and filled with excitement. New York audiences are so intense that you can hardly believe it. The excitement used to be so intense you'd think the place might shatter and split. But even so, the feeling lasted only that night. I didn't even tell the cabbie what my trophies were for, and the next day I was back in the dungeon training as if nothing had happened.

What's Your Most Unusual Memory?

(Smiling), In New York City I remember seeing my father being followed by 200 of my fans - and that's not an exaggeration - wanting his autograph because he was my father. That might seem hard to believe, but it's true.

What's Your Worst Memory?

On a supposed World Tour in 1968 that began in Hawaii. It started out fine. Arnold and I trained together for a month. But then we were stranded by the promoters and saddled with bills. There are some horrendous stories ...

What's the best thing you've seen happening lately in bodybuilding?

I've seen many positive things. One of the best was Bill King, Marc Missioreck and Dave Zelon's Pro Muscle Camp in California this past summer. They did a good job putting the camp together, staffing it, bringing in giving stars and providing a good education for the people who attended. I spent four or five days there as a representative of Serious Lifting Systems, a company producing exceptionally efficient, durable equipment.

I had a lot of fun. I did some modeling and photo shoots of the equipment, plus helping put together a portfolio and promotional material about the Serious Lifting line. I also had a chance to meet many of the people there and see all of the good things going on. What got you back into the bodybuilding scene? Taking a job at Harry Jenkins' Spa Fitness Center in Santa Cruz. I needed a job outside of woodworking, which was stressing my shoulders. So Harry took me on to help with promotions, public relations, counseling and training.

I had been training from 1970-1985 totally apart from the bodybuilding world, not even knowing anything about who was winning. But being at Spa Fitness Center, I had to learn what was going on in bodybuilding - I even had to read the magazines so I could have conversations with people coming into the gym. I also had to overcome my shyness so I could learn to instruct and help others. I had always trained instinctively, but now I had to verbalize what I knew about training. I had to learn how to express training ideas in efficient, effective ways.

What are you doing now in bodybuilding?

Several Things: - Continuing to work at Spa Fitness Center.

Training twice a day at the Spa - I train hard, as I always have, with intense concentration. I do 1 1/2 hours in the morning, get away from the gym to work on various projects and, finish building my house, then come back to train a couple of hours more on major body parts. I never miss a day.

Working with the Super Spectrim food supplement company - Their products are top quality. I believe in them completely and consider them one of the key elements in my recovery. I've been with the company for several years. Dr. Carlin Venus, the owner, is a fine man and a real friend.

Getting my own business developed - On Target, with my partner, Laree Baker, who is a talented photographer and also an effective business manager. I met Laree at Spa Fitness. She took some good pictures of me, developed a letterhead and an ad, contributed several good ideas, and got things organized. We formed the idea of On Target. So now we're working on many different things like articles, slide shows, selling photos of contestants at local bodybuilding shows, going to bodybuilding affairs and writing two books.

We're well underway on the first one, which we're calling Get Serious. The second, an "autobiography plus," is in the beginning stages. I do all my writing by hand on lined yellow pads, while Laree is a whiz on a word processor. It's been interesting blending the two styles!

It sounds like your life is on a very firm basis now - On Target, so to speak. Yes, and I'm very thankful for that. The first thing I do every day is to thank God for what I have. I have a very strong love for God: He's first in my life.

All in all, how would you appraise your experiences in bodybuilding? On the one hand, I remember the pain and drudgery involved, and how I felt like I had a monkey on my back when I would go out and receive attention for my size. But on the other hand, at the opening of Joe Gold's bold, beautiful new gym, when I was around guys like Christian, Beckles, Haney and Tinerino, I realized how fortunate I am to be part of this sport.

Being greeted there by friends, and having Haney come across the floor to greet me - I can tell you, that was more thrilling than getting trophies. I appreciate bodybuilding and I'm proud to be part of its history. I can't say that I've gained money from the sport. I haven't. But I've gained pleasure: great experience, great travels and knowing great people.