It is 1975, and our athletes train particularly hard today. Some lift for the upcoming Mr. Universe, where they hope to turn professional, and others pump for the professional contest-of-contests, the Mr. Olympia, where only one reigns supreme.
Pretoria, South Africa, hosts both events and the American contestants travel together. Most train together. As the competitors turn up the heat, they help one another, although many compete for the same prize.
They train oblivious to the usual assortment of fanatical onlookers. They are besieged by a camera and microphone-wielding documentary team. Headed by visionary George Butler, the camera crew captures the intensity and camaraderie that typifies the Gold's Gym training house. An eager interviewer corners a physical behemoth, a young Austrian named Arnold. He politely questions the giant about his training.
Sternly, he is told to wait until training is over. The serious business of molding muscle ensues, the intensity reaches fever-pitch and the bodybuilders dig deeper for a few final reps and sets.
With so much on the line and so little time to achieve it, concentration rules and conversation is limited to a few grunts and orders barked to various training partners. All that matters is the Universe, the Olympia and being the best. The latter became an occupational requirement ever since the man they call 'Arnold' walked into Gold's.
The film crew shoots, unaware of the impact its efforts will have on millions of aspiring bodybuilders around the world for decades.
The Cast of Pumping Iron
Each of you gentlemen was, to a greater or lesser extent, involved in the landmark bodybuilding film, Pumping Iron. This movie is thought to have done more to popularize bodybuilding than any other form of media. What was your involvement in this movie and what kind of impact do you think it ultimately made?
Danny Padilla I was flown out when they first started, so when I got out there it was in the middle of filming. Joe Weider flew me out because I won the rights to be on the American Mr. Universe team. I was sent there to train and I watched a lot of the filming.
I was in a lot of Pumping Iron in South Africa, but much of this was cut because I was basically not allowed to participate on the American team. They had too many bodybuilders. I was supposed to be [in the] short class, Robby [Robinson] in the medium, but they ended up with two heavyweights [Mike Katz and Ken Waller]. Instead of picking one [heavyweight], they decided to let me go.
So I got on Portugal's team. If you look on my website you will see where I am carrying the Portuguese banner and it looks kind of silly. Then all of a sudden I got onstage and participated in a couple of rounds. It looked pretty much like I was going to whip some behind. Then basically there was a protest and I was taken out again. I trained so hard and I think, had I not loved bodybuilding so much, I would have sued. I would have easily won. I cared so much for the sport and wanted to be involved and that was it. Very little was written about how I was cheated and I ate it because I wanted to compete.
Everything these guys have today is because of that freakin' movie [Pumping Iron]. It brought bodybuilding to the top. All of a sudden, everybody wanted to be a bodybuilder. It showed that bodybuilders were human. They weren't just guys who looked in the mirror all the time. That was the perception: they were all dummies looking in the mirror. It showed the hard work that goes behind getting in shape and how mind games played out. It was almost like a freakin' game, like a basketball or football game, except we were using iron.
It was entertaining watching you guys perform inside and outside of the gym
Danny Padilla It was entertaining and it showed you how different every guy was from the other. It helped all of us because we became so popular: I was the Giant Killer; Arnold was the Austrian Oak; Franco was the Powerhouse; Eddie [Corney] was the Master Poser; Frank Zane was The Chemist with an incredible physique; Bill Grant was the Man of Steel and on and on.
You picked one and who was your hero. Today it is different, I think. You don't see that.
There was a memorable scene in Pumping Iron, where you are sitting in the crowd with Arnold at the 1975 Mr. Olympia. Tell us more about this scene?
Danny Padilla I had just been kicked offstage. I had gone one or two rounds and was kicking ass. There was a protest from someone from one of the other teams who said there was no way I could be on Portugal's team, so I was asked to leave. So they stopped the show. They actually stopped the prejudging and made me step off stage. And as I stepped off, I went to the front and sat down and said, "You know, to hell with it. I will watch the Olympia."
Right before the camera came that way, Arnold, who was sitting next to me, asked me if I was okay. I said, "What can I do?" And then he said it is a terrible thing to happen. And then we started talking about the Olympia itself and he said, "Well who do you think is going to win?" I said, "I don't know, Franco looks great but Eddie's upper body looks phenomenal, too, and he is such a great poser."
Then Franco turned around and did a lat spread and I said, "Oh my God, look at those lats. He could fly." In my heart I was saying, "I could have won the Universe, and next year I would have been in the Olympia." So that demise set me back. I had to wait two more years until I won the Universe. So I started losing interest in the sport.
You didn't gain an additional motivation to prove you had what it took to win bodybuilding's biggest amateur show?
Danny Padilla No, not at all. To me, if they could treat me the way they could and get away with it, I had to be stupid to give all my marbles to a game of that nature. That was the beginning of the end for me. You know how hard that was to explain? You come home and tell what happened and people say, "No way, that can't happen. Why don't you sue them?" Nobody could believe it. The only thing that proved me right was when Pumping Iron came out.
I didn't know it was coming out; I was in New York at the time. All my friends were telling me, "Arnold looks incredible and you are in there, too." I said, "I am not in there, I was taken out of all that." But there it was: that one little scene. That proved the point that I was in Africa and did not make it up.
Ed, you played like a big role in Pumping Iron as the Master Poser and as Arnold's training partner. What recollections do you have of this film's production?
Ed Corney Nothing was personal. We were all competitors. Of course, when we got to South Africa for the Olympia, Frank was in it, Franco Columbu was in it, Albert Beckles, Bill Grant. They had the over- and under-200 pound classes. And the winner of one went up against the winner of the other. Arnold won the over 200 and Franco won the under 200. He beat me by five points.
We all recall the footage of your stunning posing routine, which apparently put shivers down Arnold's spine. Were there any additional standout moments for you competing in South Africa?
Ed Corney When Arnold was pumping up and waiting for his class to go on, I went by him and said, "Arnold, you got dem by da neck." And he says, "I know." So he had Serge Nubret and, of course, the Hulk. Serge was too lean and the Hulk was too fat. Arnold came in the middle just right and he took over.
In your view Ed, what overall impact did Pumping Iron make as far as educating the mainstream public who bodybuilders were and what bodybuilding was?
Ed Corney It educated the public. It made them begin to understand that it wasn't just muscles, it went beyond that. Columbu was a chiropractor, Frank Zane was a schoolteacher, I was a bar owner, Mike Katz owned a World Gym and was a schoolteacher in Connecticut. We all had private lives.
Did the movie improve bodybuilding's image?
Ed Corney It sure did. Even today when I do the Arnold Classic Expo and the Olympia, I sell the Pumping Iron books - 30-year-old Pumping Iron book in great condition. [Ed is on the cover of the original Pumping Iron book.]
How did the competitors respond to being filmed at Gold's? Were there any problems associated with having a film crew following you around?
Danny Padilla Not at all. The film crew understood what was going on so they set up the cameras and said, "Train the way you want to train." And they were in no one's way and they did an incredible job.
Ed Corney It didn't matter. They had the gym all lit up. They had the camera on a boom. Arnold said, "Ve are doing chest today and ve vill do this exercise." So we did flat bench, incline bench and flyes. And all they did was follow us around. None of this, "Now can you guys hold that, can you guys do that again?" We actually trained.
We had no time for all the bullshit. And if they wanted some sort of an interview, Arnold would say, "After we are through with training. We are going to eat at the restaurant, come down there."
Did it increase motivation among the guys, knowing a film crew captured their training intensity?
Ed Corney Yes and no. I mean, you want to put me in the movie, fine. If I can do it, okay; if I can't, I'm training. The movie was always in the background.
Pumping Iron had a major impact. People were drawn to your massive physiques. Why was the public so fascinated with bodybuilding back then?
Danny Padilla I think every man in the back of his head wants to be this big, powerful figure. It is like the child in us that never goes away. Even though a lot of people say, "Oh my God, it looks terrible," in their hearts they are thinking, I wonder what it would be like to be like this guy for just a week. But they will never tell you that. You feel powerful, and if you are a guy who is balanced [physique-wise], you feel unbeatable. To be the best in anything is hard, whether it is picking your nose, basketball, football or bodybuilding. It is an honor. In the NFL and NBA, these guys are constantly exposed by TV - we [bodybuilders] are not. All we have are the magazines ... we just don't get the publicity we deserve.
Old-School Bodybuilding Reality
Several of our champions must cut today's training short. Work beckons and money must be made for the next can of protein, the necessary red meat. Competing in an era that does not acknowledge sacrifices -sweat and pain - requires ingenuity and a work ethic that future generations won't need.
Ed Corney completes his final exhaustive set of incline bench presses, pecs pumped to capacity; he has time to swallow a vile concoction of raw egg and tasteless, milk-based protein and take a 2-minute shower before rushing to bounce the door of his local nightclub. Before the night is through, he will have put his muscles - and street-fighting skills - to good use on several inebriated patrons.
Despite his height (5-foot-6), he is one of bodybuilding's true tough guys. With no sponsorships or lucrative supplement company contracts, Ed takes what work he can find. The same goes for many of his iron brethren who take advantage of the emerging seminar and guest posing circuit. Only Arnold, with his small Weider allowance, can afford to train, rest, eat and repeat.
Dave Draper, another Venice Beach muscle champ, fashions ornate furniture from old pieces of hardwood salvaged from the original Santa Monica Pier. Draper shapes knotted wood into saleable material; he dreams of bodybuilding stardom. Though his craft doubles as a hobby, he would appreciate a little more time to train for Olympia glory. Though the sport cannot support their involvement in it - their love for it - our champs find time to train each and every day.
Compared to today, was it harder to be a top-notch bodybuilder in the Gold's era?
Frank Zane I don't know. I don't compete today. I had my goals and was determined to win Mr. Olympia no matter how long it took, and it took a while. I had been training nearly 20 years by the time I won. [Frank Zane won the '77, '78 and '79 Mr. Olympia contests].
'70s bodybuilders typically held down jobs, would this have made it harder to prepare for a show?
Frank Zane Sure, there were no sponsorships. I had to work. The only guy who did not have to work was Arnold, and even he was only getter a meager salary from Weider. It was hardly anything, but it was enough to make ends meet while he was training. Nobody else had a deal like that.
Bill Grant When I returned to L.A. in 1972, I was working for United Airlines, where I continued to work for the next 10 years. I had great hours, so it really worked out well for me and complemented my training schedule. That is why I was able to work out at 10 a.m. I didn't start work at the airport until 2:30 p.m. and I often had days off during the week, which really was helpful. Most of the guys had jobs that had flexible schedules.
Danny Padilla I was working at the Pritikin Center. I was a personal 1-on-1 trainer there, and that is how I made ends meet. And of course I had mail order going on and courses, so we were able to make a living. Nothing like today, but we did all right.
Were there many seminars and guest posing spots, like there are today?
Danny Padilla Yes, that was going on also and most of the guys did that. I didn't really have as many as some of these guys, but I did okay. There were always exhibitions and seminars because they were hot at the time. It was the thing to do and it was happening.
So you were all, in a sense, creating something new back then; you were pioneers?
Danny Padilla We were the first group to create that, because we just decided to do it and it became popular. Arnold started it and Mike Mentzer had a great impact, as did Franco, Zane and I. If you were not one of the top guys, you weren't really making that much money. Back in the days of Arnold, he was only getting $1,000 from winning the Mr. Olympia. A lot of these guys were training for the love of the sport, and if you made a couple of dollars then that was okay. It was cool. But not until later did the money really start rolling.
How much later?
Danny Padilla I would say by 1975, when I got out there [Venice Beach], it just started to go. The guys were starting to make decent money. Again it wasn't like any other sport. The other sports were still making mega bucks compared to us, but I believe in the early to late '70s it really kicked off.
How did you fare financially, Dave?
Dave Draper Not very well. Making a buck was as hit and miss as clamming off the shoals of Nova Scotia. There were rare jobs in the film industry, cheapie jobs in the sparse neighborhood gyms, promises from pushy muscle-building magazine tycoons and occasional miracles. I resorted to crafting furniture (beats starving), Frank Zane taught high school science (serves intelligently), some guys delivered mail (gotta eat) and some guys had real jobs (engineer) or slept in their cars. Some guys had mysterious financiers.
Ed Corney There were seminars, exhibitions, training courses, photos in the mail and part-time jobs. I was a bouncer for five years to supplement my income. Yet I won the America and the Universe while I bounced. I trained every day and night.
Were there any problems associated with having to bounce while trying to maintain your bodybuilding lifestyle?
Ed Corney Nothing really goes along well with the lifestyle, and there are certain problems that come up, but you take care of them. You make sure you can train. That was really the primary purpose. Instead of going to the office with a briefcase you would go to the gym with a bag.
How do you feel the public received bodybuilders in your day?
Dave Draper People in Venice in the '60s were not easily excited. The kicked-back nature of the stony beach community in a time of questioning and doubts influenced our reception of Arnold. And bodybuilding was yet a novelty, an anomaly, remember, a half-pint in a rolled-up brown paper bag.
What were some of the things that motivated you to become a better bodybuilder, Ed?
Ed Corney I learned how to motivate myself. The challenge was always there. Can I get better? People kept telling me, "Ed, you are over the hill, forget it." I kept training. They tried to stop me a few times, but it never happened.
If you lost a show, what would you do to minimize the likelihood of losing again?
Ed Corney You would get back to the gym. Then you start putting things together: "What did I do? Should I have done a little bit more? Should I tighten up on my diet?" You keep asking yourself all of these questions. "Okay, how am I going to adjust things? Do I need to get bigger, better?"
So you focus on your own development, not waste your energies thinking about what others were doing?
Ed Corney Yes, on you. Forget about them, they have their own problems and you got yours. You know you got to get good. Every time you get onstage you have three choices: look the same, look better or look worse. Very simple.
What was life really like for '70s bodybuilders?
Bill Grant Life was good. Being a bodybuilder was even better. As bodybuilders, our bodies really helped us make friends. I think people were intrigued about us because the average person did not look like we did.
Dave Draper I never thought of myself as a bodybuilder, as if that was something to be. The term never rolled off my lips with affection. The early lifters from Muscle Beach were no fonder of the term than I. We were, we are, weightlifters - people who lift weights. Bodybuilder has a connotation as likeable as "mercenary" when speaking of soldiers, or "camper" when referring to explorers, or "stargazing" when discussing astronomy. Who knows? Maybe they hung at the beach and waited for life to happen. You'd have to be one to know. I trained hard and slipped out the back door, applied myself to forming wood and lived a simple life. Arnold would know better than I. He was engaged as a bodybuilder and sought it professionally and positioned himself advantageously amid the crescendo.
Did you get good at coming up with new moneymaking ideas? Was it more of a lifestyle than a career?
Ed Corney Always. And of course at the Olympia itself, the only vendors were the competitors themselves. Eight or ten of us would be selling photographs, autographs, T-shirts, courses and things of that nature. It was a lifestyle. It wasn't a money thing like it is today.
Danny Padilla We tried to start a union. The reason for the union was to make sure everybody got paid because there were some guys who were making money and some guys who did not. And basically some of the guys who were making the money were not interested in a union, and that was a good example of some of the difficulties we had. I think Arnold was for the union.
A union? Quite radical for the times?
Danny Padilla We were saying, "Why can't we have a union where everyone is protected?" Everyone should get paid for their work. Those were the thoughts we had, but it just never happened. The thing is: the guys were not protected so the photos of the guys were used forever and they made no money from them.
Were there any other problems associated with bodybuilding in the '70s?
Danny Padilla To be a top bodybuilder back in those times required you to put in your own money, which affected relationships. If you had a wife and kids, something had to give.
Guys would think: "This is my big year, this is my big chance." But it just never happened. You were putting bodybuilding before your family - sometimes without even realizing what you were doing. That was one of the big problems; it was tough.
Bill Grant I think the general perception of bodybuilders was negative. We were often thought of as being muscle-bound, not too smart, conceited and non-caring. The movie business perceived us as guys who could only play muscle-head roles. Although those jobs paid well, we didn't like that perception.
A lot of the guys in bodybuilding are intelligent. Ken Waller, for instance, was a college grad and he played some football in the Canadian League. Frank Zane was a schoolteacher at Venice High, where sometimes Ken Waller would substitute. Mike Katz was a school principal and also played for the New York Jets [football team] for a while. The public perception at the time was 'all brawn and no brains.' So it was really a great breakthrough when Arnold became the biggest star in Hollywood and then went on to become Governor of California.
Dave Draper There was no problem in identity. I was impervious to the misunderstandings from the average folks around me. I enjoyed the distinction from those to my right and left. There were so few top names in the '60s, you knew them all: Howorth, Pearl, Scott, Gironda, Zane, Yorton, Zabo, the local guys and Ortiz, Poole, Ferrigno, Abbenda, Boyer. Each was a mystery, each an inspiration, each a friend. Being a top bodybuilder was easier, once you got past discovering the sport, became fascinated with it, and engaged in it with passion and zeal. The rest was hard work, sacrifice, perseverance, time, patience, common sense and luck.
Camaraderie Among The Champs
They will compete against one another in the upcoming Mr. Olympia, so Arnold and Franco Columbu push each other forward. They walk from the cable crossover station to the bench press; all eyes land on them. They are the biggest and most impressive athletes.
Franco, naturally stronger than the Austrian Oak, presses 100 pounds more than his larger counterpart. Arnold counters with a side chest shot that dwarfs the diminutive Italian strongman and, once and for all, ends the long-running gym argument over the correlation between muscle strength and size. Competitors train together, help one another, offer advice to 'the enemy' and enjoy the company of those they gun to defeat come showtime.
They eat together, tan together and, when bodybuilding prep is shelved for a few rare moments, enjoy movies and recreation together. The ability to enjoy the company of the competition is something they consider normal. In the cloistered world of elite level '70s bodybuilding, a greater need keeps the wheels of progress moving through a continual process of bonding and camaraderie.
The carefree social climate they're accustomed to prevents the isolation and guardedness that permeates the sport in the future. The Gold's Gang views 'working together to defeat one another' as just another facet of a bodybuilding scene they unwittingly create.
Bodybuilders training at Gold's encourage one another more, and camaraderie between the athletes was more evident than it is today
Dave Draper The activity has become extraordinarily popular and busy, the sport sharply competitive and crowded, the diversion commercialized and usurped. The world is swifter and tighter, more jaded and impersonal. Today, it's not who you are, it's who you are compared to. It's not who you are, it's what you're worth.
You trained because you loved to train?
Ed Corney We loved it. We all loved to be stronger and we all got good. One guy would stop to pose and we would all stop to look at him and we would say, "Yeah, he is getting good, getting better."
Do you think today's bodybuilding game has become more competitive?
Ed Corney Oh yeah, because of the prize money. It definitely is [more competitive].
Frank Zane Now there is a great deal of money involved. Everybody in those days came to the Santa Monica/Venice area to train. They don't anymore. They are all over the county. Maybe Las Vegas is now a bigger center for bodybuilding than Southern California. I think we got a lot of wannabes in Venice, California.
I just saw something on CBS where 1976 was called the "Year of Love" when all the hippies were in San Francisco and Haight Ashbury, and they were the true lovers of peace; they were the real thing. And after that it just got loaded with bums and imitators and drug addicts. And I think that is pretty much what happened to Venice.
There is nothing authentic about it anymore; it is just full of wannabes. None of the original people are there anymore. Everybody has gone their own way and is in different parts of the country.
Might a geographical spread explain the different training methods used by bodybuilders today?
Frank Zane I think we have a tendency to see people in the same gym training relatively the same way. I know that is how it was in Gold's Gym in the early '70s. People training in similar ways. I can't say they all did, but I know Arnold and I did. Then there was Dave Draper who basically had no routine, just totally instinctive. I asked him about this and he said, "Well, if I don't have a routine, then I can't get a bad workout because I have nothing to compare it to." ... I think Dave's approach could work for some people, but I think you need some kind of routine.
Other than Arnold, who else would immediately light the place up?
Frank Zane There weren't that many. People would come from out of town. In those days and up until recently even, people came to Southern California to train for competitions that were all held in August, September and October. Even through the '80s people would go there to train for competitions. I don't think they do anymore.
Bill Grant I think we were more of a family back then because it was such a small sport and we were looked upon as some sort of freaks. We only had each other to rely on for everything we did - eating together, training together, going to the beach as a group and hanging out on the weekends together. There was not a lot of money available back then in the sport, so it wasn't that thing of who's going to get the biggest payday and how am I going to screw the next guy from getting more than me.
Although, right after Pumping Iron, things got a lot better financially for a lot of us, getting lucrative commercials, movie parts and even television roles. Even with that, we still had that great sense of camaraderie - we would even help each other get some of the great jobs.
Any examples, Bill?
Bill Grant Kent Kuehn worked the front desk at Gold's when it moved to 2nd street in Santa Monica. The Studios and commercial agents would call all the time, and Kent doled out work to all of us at the gym. Ken Sprague helped me get my Union Cards for the Television and Movie Unions. He was helpful to all of us and showed great concern for the future of bodybuilding.
Roger Callard used to work for a security agency; he got jobs for a lot of the guys at the gym. They did work as security for rock concerts, movie awards like the People's Choice Awards, and even Paul McCartney's Wings, which I did and had the task of guarding Paul McCartney's kids. What a job that was. As soon as money becomes a part of the equation, things sometimes change, and not in a favorable way.
Danny Padilla We had a few wars, but at the end if you needed help somebody would help you. Probably because there was not that much money involved. Today there is a lot more money, so it has to be a little more cutthroat. That is the nature of business: the more money there is, the more everybody wants to be in your spot. Back in our day, sure it was a little cutthroat, but not like now. Back in the day, we won a trophy and a couple of bucks. I remember the guys being a lot closer than now. I mean, we used to go to the gym and laugh - we would have a ball.
Would you openly share information and try to help the next guy prepare for his competition, even if he was competing against you?
Danny Padilla Yes, I remember the kindness of the guys. Some guy would come in there out of nowhere and people would help him, help him settle in and try to make it easier for him. These guys were strong. Sergio Oliva was pretty strong; Bertil Fox and Mike Mentzer were strong. Arnold was also very strong. I don't know if I see it any more. I know the magazines say so, but I see some of the guys in my own facility: they are huge but they are doing leg curls with quarters; they don't do any squats or deadlifts like they used to, none of that stuff. They tell me what I do is old-school, so what do I know?
Danny Padilla Exactly. Old-school meant give it all you got. And don't train to be second or third, train to win and you might get second. If you aim for number one you might be number five, but if you aim for number five, you might be number ten.