Golden Age Legends, Part 3: Joe Gold, The Social Scene, And Gold's Gym

Bodybuilders in the Golden Age built the framework for the industry to come. The legends rap about Joe Gold, '70s fashion, social life and the gym that brought them together.

This is the 1970s, bodybuilding's gilded and much-discussed Golden Age.

Nearly 100 spectators line the perimeter of our champions' favorite meeting place, a unique training center with a membership fee of $60/year. The Iron Elite pay this price for the pleasure of moving weight - thousands of pounds of weight - session after brutal session. Their workouts generate enough energy to power a small city. Our professional clique, over recent months, attracted thousands of curious international onlookers. Travelers are fascinated by phenomenal physiques on display.

For those who see training as a religion, this is holy ground.

Since it first opened its doors in the fall of 1965, Gold's Gym - known later as "The Mecca" - has drawn many different types to its 2,000 square foot facility: those serious about hardcore bodybuilding training, those who want to keep fit, groupies who want to check out their favorite bodybuilder and train alongside them, and those who enjoy soaking up the energy and enthusiasm that spreads through the gym like wildfire. Back then, being part of the Gold's scene was not just beneficial for building muscle. It was an experience. Being there, you became part of something, something bigger than yourself, heavier than the weight.

Q

What did you like most about being a top pro bodybuilder in the '70s, Danny?

Danny Padilla You made a little money and everybody all over the world knew who you were. It was incredible. And because the IFBB was so strong, you did exhibitions, you saw the whole world and they paid you to go see it, so that was a pretty good thing. And supplements were given to you, so there were some positives.

Did the bodybuilders get to travel that often?

Danny Padilla I did travel a lot, and I know the top guns did double what I did - Arnold and even Robbie and Mike Mentzer and Boyer Coe, Frank Zane, Franco.

Gold's Gym Venice was known for its interesting personalities. Could you give your take on some of these "one of a kind' people?

Dave Draper Each lifter was a character upon whom a book could be written. That includes the mild nutsos no one ever heard about, the 'Joe, Bob 'n Amys.' Zabo, his workout complete by dawn, would sit in his shorts and flip-flops with the sun on his back as he read an important paperback. "What's it all mean?" was his philosophy and answer to all questions. No one got past the Chief without a terse comment that summarized the day. "Shut up and train."

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dave Draper, Mike Katz, and Franco Columbu
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dave Draper, Mike Katz, and Franco Columbu.

Superstar Wayne Coleman [Billy Graham] strode into the gym with no bones to pick or bodies to toss. He specialized in heavy bench presses, dumbbell presses at the far end of the rack, and an attitude as soothing as Tupelo Honey. He was like quiet, distant thunder.

Arnold and Franco were a pair: two restless racehorses in the starting blocks with an absolutely fundamental approach to training and life. They seemed to ride their own wave, crest. Frank Zane slipped in at daybreak and we supported each other with pullovers and presses and endless gut work. We spoke silently and incessantly, and the communication was ideal. What went on between our ears and minds is anyone's guess. We never missed a workout, and seldom a set or rep.

Joe Gold cruised around the gym - his creation, his humble palace, his emerging empire - and spoke little and said a lot. He observed the muscle heads in their passionate and aimless activities devising ways to make them more productive and palpable.

Gold's is said to have a special aura. What made it a unique place?

Frank Zane When I first got there in '69, it was great. That was when Joe Gold owned it. The equipment was always good, but it was like 60 dollars a year to train there and it was just very basic, great equipment Joe made. I think Joe sort of got disillusioned with the whole thing, because there was never any money in it. He actually sold Gold's gym - the building, the equipment and his name - for practically nothing. Then bodybuilding became popular because of Pumping Iron.

When he really realized he wanted to be in the gym business, he opened up World Gyms. And that ran its course until he died, and now there are no more World Gyms. They have been bought up. Now Gold's are basically just a big chain of gyms.

Gold's Venice is of course still a popular training destination

Frank Zane It is not the same. It is not the original Gold's. It is just a big area - they must have more than 8,000 members, they have 20,000 workouts a day. I trained there a little bit even into the '80s because they had some of the original machinery Joe designed. But I did a lot of my training at World Gym. I define Gold's Gym atmosphere by the people who were there, by the people who were serious about training. The equipment was good and the people were serious about it.

Bill Grant [Gold's in the '70s] was electrifying. I looked forward to working out and meeting all the guys at the gym at 10 in the morning, getting a great workout in the greatest gym in the world. I cover the experience in one word: priceless. We had great times when we lived in California. Those were the days.

I tell young guys today, if I had a time machine I would love to take them back because they would really see what bodybuilding was all about and how we had the camaraderie. Today these guys don't have that - they don't hang out together, they don't work out together. We were like one big family. We had people who never even worked out come and watch because they liked what they saw.

Ed Corney We would all stop and look and say, "Yeah, Frank, you are getting good." Up on the wall they had 120 days before the Universe and Olympia - countdown time. And of course, everybody would be saying to each other, "Hey, you are getting better, getting good, getting good." There was always encouragement. Never this: "What's he trying to prove?" type thing. We supported each other.

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

Dave Draper

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 many 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 was 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 sniveled; 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 moment. The gym was simmering, each of us off in different directions. Frank was benching, Mike Katz was doing pull-downs, 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, or a strong arm when needed. And the best part - besides 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.

We were a rare breed of muscle-builders 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.

Social Life

With the disco era in full swing and free love and recreational drugs making a welcome appearance - or at least a bigger splash - the '70s ushered in cultural norms centered on experimentation and fun. Today, we forgo the gym for the beach, where the Gold's crew are sunning themselves and, once again, enjoying the spotlight of the public gaze.

What's a king without a queen?
What's a king without a queen?

As usual, Arnold is king. The others surround him like devotees taking in the divine wisdom of an exalted guru. With every word he speaks, each movement he makes, all eyes are upon him.

Following their time in the sun, several of our champs will lumber off to their respective jobs, others eat at their favorite restaurant or go watch a movie. Despite the hardships they face, life for the Gold's Gym muscle crowd is carefree and provides a healthy balance conducive to massive muscle gains. Many of these champs will go on to say their '70s bodybuilding adventure comprised the best days of their life.

What would bodybuilders do for fun after training? What was the social life like back then?

Bill Grant After our workouts we would normally go to the restaurant down the street, eat and then go to the Beach; Muscle Beach, of course. We would hang out, get some sun and of course meet a few girls. I thought the social life in L.A. was incredible. Some of us would bounce on the weekends for extra money. It was the famous Disco Era back then with John Travolta, Saturday Night Fever and all those things - we had a lot of fun. There were lots of girls, free love and all of the above. I think if you took a census you would find this was probably the best time not only during the '70s but in the 20th and 21st century.

Danny Padilla I was the kind of guy who did a little bit of everything. I liked to play pool, go bowling. I would also play touch football, go hunting and fishing, do a lot of reading. I always did a lot of other things besides bodybuilding. I liked getting away from the game.

So, you liked to separate your bodybuilding life from your private life?

Danny Padilla Absolutely, you are not the Giant Killer, you are Danny Padilla. I never took the sport real serious and I believe that was one of my biggest downfalls. The main reason for that was, after that Mr. Universe, I decided I could never be let down like that again. I was embarrassed and devastated. I loved bodybuilding; it was my world. And my world got shattered that day.

Sunday was a universal rest day for the Gold's Gym bodybuilders?

Danny Padilla All the guys got along pretty good, so we would go to the beach and everybody would see everybody down there.

If you were not dieting real hard, you even ate up a little bit. Back then everybody was trying to control their carbs so you tried to stay away from the junk. We would have a bit of fun and look at all the good-looking girls.

What was the groupie scene like?

Danny Padilla Back then we were the highest echelon of bodybuilding, and Arnold was the king, and that was it. Women gravitated to the gym. People came from all over the world. You would see people coming from all over the world, taking vacations to come and watch us train. That was one thing I will always remember: thousands of people would come from all over the world on a weekly basis and day after day you would see new faces - from Australia, England, Germany, Holland, all over. South America, Africa. Gold's Gym was the Mecca.

Why do you think this was the case?

Danny Padilla It [bodybuilding] was big news at the time. People just wanted to see how we trained. People wanted to see the guys and ask for autographs and stuff of that nature.

What did you do for fun back in the '70s?

Dave Draper There were a dozen parties that brought us together over a 2-or-3 year period - fun occasions with laughter, promise and cheer, good food and no drink - [but] we mostly went our own way. I was married, Frank was married and busy, Arnold and Franco had their interests and enjoyed the bodybuilding life since Joe Weider provided for their basic needs. We crossed paths for lunch and breakfast or trips abroad for competition or exhibitions and promotion. Life's a blur as you recall it 40 years later. It was fun, tough, heart-breaking, alive, fulfilling, energizing and exhausting. Some things never change.

Did you attend the premier of Pumping Iron in New York?

Ed Corney Yes. They drew everyone in and everyone gave their exhibition and left, but they kept me there an additional eight weeks - to keep promoting the movie.

I understand you also posed at the Whitney Museum

Ed Corney Yes, they had me pose at the Whitney; we made some extra money doing this. They had me, Frank Zane and Arnold pose on a rotating dais. The crowd sat on pillows on the floor.

It was great because some poses where you showed certain muscles, like the side back pose and double bicep from the front, it looked just as good, but it looked good from all angles.

Do you think posing has lost its artistic side, Ed?

Ed Corney It is very brutal now. It is robotic, it's brutal, and it's massiveness.

Joe Gold: Behind The Golden Curtain

As you enter Gold's Gym, you notice an older guy who speaks little but commands much admiration from those using his custom-made machinery. In his mid 50s, short, grey, trim and strongly built, the man the champs refer to simply as "Joe" can be seen surveying his gym, ensuring his clientele treat his beloved equipment with the kind of respect he's afforded by those who know him best.

As much of an institution as his Gold's Gym brand will become, Joe Gold, a merchant marine who served in World War II, has seen it all and does not suffer fools. Disrespect his gym or act out of accordance with his strict set of rules, and you may find yourself removed - forcibly or otherwise - from the gym he near-singlehandedly built from scratch. Treat him well and he will give you the shirt off his back.

What was gym owner Joe Gold like? What impact did he make?

Bill Grant Joe Gold, once you got to know him, was a very good guy, but he had strict rules for his gym. You had to make sure you put all of the weights back in their proper place when you were done. The one thing that always struck me as being a little strange was that he didn't allow any music in the gym. Music - to me and I think to others - was a great motivator for training. It actually inspired me to train harder. I really don't know whether any of us had any influence on Joe Gold but I can tell you this: he had a great impact on bodybuilding, and I think if you asked him if he thought bodybuilding would ever get this big, he probably would tell you, "No!" I think that was one of the motivating factors in selling his gym back in the '70s. I was told that he didn't think bodybuilding was going anywhere and he was no longer interested in the business.

Ed Corney Joe Gold was an excellent man. He loved bodybuilding and he loved people who trained. Usually you get a lot of guys who are wannabes, wishful thinkers, and they just don't have that type of mindset to really put up and go beyond. You have to separate yourself from yourself in order to become a champion. Wannabes take up oxygen, take up nitrogen, and they take up space. They are a pain in the butt.

Danny Padilla Joe Gold was an eccentric old man in the sense that he was a perfectionist. His equipment was perfect. He didn't want you banging on anything, tapping on anything. He was a sweetheart. That guy helped a lot of guys with financial help when they were doing bad. He was a big loss to bodybuilding.

Dave Draper Joe was 20 years my senior, and the odd combo of hard work and the beach-life styled his activities. He lifted and played volleyball in the sun, and went out to sea as a merchant marine first-mate when too much fun was too much fun. He was a leader in Speedos, an engineer in sandals and a solver of problems, personal and mechanical, wherever they sprang. Joe Gold was not a social hound; he stuck by his true friends and didn't take crap from anyone. He watched and listened, scored and toured, improvised and learned. Joe was smart, authentic and tough.

Joe Gold can be described in many ways
Joe Gold can be described in many ways, but consistently he was a huge influence on the great bodybuilders of his time.

Were there any limitations to training at Gold's, Frank?

Frank Zane The people. There were a lot of crazies there, a lot of typical Venice Beach people. I was in there one day and there was this guy who had no body doing incline bench presses on the Smith Machine. I wanted to use the Smith Machine. So I asked him, "How many more sets do you have left?" He says, "Ten."

I mean, why don't you just stop now, you don't have any body and you never will. Why don't you just go do something else? It doesn't matter because nothing is going to happen. Those were the types of people who were there, people who would get in your way.

What was the training equipment like at Gold's? Did it have many limitations compared to what is offered today?

Bill Grant Joe Gold built equipment that still rivals any equipment today. Even the old Nautilus equipment was very functional. There was a pullover machine, plate loading of course. Everyone loved that machine. None of the equipment we trained on had any limitations; they worked just as good, or better, than some of the equipment today.

Ed Corney I enjoyed using all the equipment. I am a short man with short arms, so to find a piece of equipment that fits me is difficult. I stick with basic dumbbells and barbells. I used machines for legs; you can't go wrong there. You have to use the machines for legs, and then there were the free squats.

Dave Draper Joe Gold did a great deal to improve the then-current muscle-building equipment: designing, engineering, enlarging, beefing up, broadening and thickening. Barbells and dumbbells did the trick, and various improvisations of the basic benches and racks filled our needs. Necessity is the mother of invention, and where there's a will there's a way. The earnest lifter will get where he's going, especially when it's over, around and through the limitations before him ... nothing like small obstacles to overcome the mountain. We could do with less nonsense and more guts and hard work and spontaneous invention.

Joe Gold, with his well-constructed training equipment, was the man who made it happen for the bodybuilders?

Ed Corney He was the provider. He made sure the equipment was in good working condition. You had Dan Howard, who was the welder. He put the equipment together and made it work for the guys upstairs [Gold's management].

Did any athletes, you included Bill, ever make suggestions on how a piece of training equipment should be made?

Bill Grant I can remember Dan Howard making gym equipment back in the day. He even sold some of his equipment to Clint Eastwood. I can remember [Eastwood] coming into Gold's one day asking for Dan. I couldn't believe my eyes when he walked into Gold's that day. There were a few guys who had some suggestions, but I liked most of the equipment that Joe Gold personally made.

Danny Padilla [The Venice Beach Gold's Gym training equipment] was the best of all time. No one will match it. It was handmade; he balanced it, checked it. You could hardly hear it, you couldn't hear a squeak of any kind or he would rip it all apart. He put all that stuff together with Dan Howard and it was incredible. It truly was the Mecca. I had never seen nothing like it in all my travels. [Joe Gold] was an incredible guy. When a lot of the guys were doing bad, he helped them.
That I know.

Note: Joe Gold, founder of the Gold's Gym chain, died at age 82 on July 12, 2004.

Substance Over Style: '70s Bodybuilding Fashion

The iron elite dress for gut-busting workouts, not for glamour, glitz or the latest designer label. They dress simply: bare feet and baggy pants and track tops more ripped than the physiques underneath. As they finish training, the clothes they change into are, once more, practically relevant: loose fitting, yet stylish. Nothing resembles the emphasis on high fashion the modern age will bring.

Golden age bodybuilder chic.
Golden age bodybuilder chic.

While the latest supplement or nutritional regimen might be a pressing concern for the modern-day bodybuilder, shopping for clothes is more of a dilemma for our Gold's Gym crowd. With no labels to accommodate men with 30-inch thighs and waists several inches smaller, with 54-inch chests and backs wider than manta rays, it is decidedly difficult buying clothing straight off the rack. Some competitors are reduced to shopping in the large men's section, despite their height barely reaching 5-foot-9. Others - shorter still and more compact - try to find suitable attire in the, um, obese children's department. Who said the life of a Venice Beach top-tier champ was easy?

What kind of clothing did you guys wear in the gym and on the street back then,? Was there a style for bodybuilders?

Dave Draper Few of us were fancy dressers on the street and certainly not in the gym. Think T-shirts, tank-tops, sweatshirts and flannel shirts and jeans. We wore our clothes hard and adjusted them to fit as needed and for comfort. The gear came later as the industry expanded.

Bill Grant We wore a lot of sweat-clothes and designer training clothes. Baggy pants were in as well. If we were going to go out on the town then the dress [standard] was different. Back then, bell-bottoms were in, as were polyester shirts. And who can forget those platform shoes!

Nowadays many commercial gym clients spend much of their time focusing on what they wear. Was this the case to any extent at Gold's in the '70s? How important was image?

Bill Grant We didn't really focus on what we wore to the gym back then, just take a look at some of the old photos from the '70s and you will see guys training with torn T-shirts, beat up sweat pants and headbands.

Dave Draper We wore layers in the winter and shed them as the workouts warmed up; sweatshirts and T-shirts often lost their sleeves in the middle of a workout, if needed. It was cool to see the bulk and muscle bulging through the well-worn clothes, but it was not the main source of entertainment. There was work to do.

Ed Corney It was not like that then [a major focus placed on clothing style]. It is now. And forget women. Women are not going to help you train. They are not gonna spot for you and not gonna lift your weights. A woman is a woman, period. When you train, you train. When I went to the gym I would say: "No phone calls. I don't want to be bothered until after I'm done." You are there for a purpose and you make it work for you. It is logical.

At less than 5-foot-2 and with a massive frame, was buying clothing that fit right ever an issue for you Danny?

Danny Padilla I couldn't buy anything because I was 5-foot-2 and huge. So I had to either go in the children's fat boy section or the grown men's triple-XL department. In the triple-XL men's department, the shirts would fit across the top but were down to my knees. I had to buy jeans a little bigger and have them all sewed up. It was not easy. For me it was hard, but even Arnold had to have special stuff made because he was so big. Everything has changed. Just like bodybuilding has changed, the clothing lines have changed. Today they can make anything for you, no matter how big or small you are.

I still have to respect these new champions because they are giving what the people want. They want the biggest guy possible; the biggest, strongest and most-cut guy possible. So you can't blame them. They are just doing what we always dreamed about. When I was younger that is what I dreamed about: being this big, huge, cut guy. Well now they have achieved that, so why should we get mad at them for it?

Bill Grant Buying clothes was an issue back then, as it is today. We had to buy clothes that were too big, especially the pants because our thighs were too big, and we would have to have them altered to fit us properly.

Ed Corney Someone would say, "Ed, buy women's jeans: smaller in the waist, bigger in the thighs." There you go.

What was the best clothing to train in, Ed?

Ed Corney As little as possible. You want to expose the body part you are working so you can see what is happening. A string-type tank-top and shorts was common, and Arnold was training without shoes in those days.

Training in bare feet? Arnold might have started a trend

Ed Corney It was a preference thing. Nowadays they have boots to be more stable. Arnold just loved training without shoes.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Nailon
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Nailon

Danny Padilla Arnold did train in bare feet because he was a beach guy - he used to believe in comfort. This is not war, this is comfort. So he just didn't care. But he still got great workouts.

Did anyone else train without shoes?

Ed Corney Not really, but Arnold would do donkey calf raises in bare feet with twin sisters on his back: anything to add resistance.

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