Just around the corner, the most famous and enduring training center of its time was getting its start. Gold’s Gym opened in 1965. Founded by Joe Gold, a bodybuilder who had done a stint in Mae West’s traveling male revue, Gold’s offered a unique blend of the romance and glamour that the original Muscle Beach personified and the intense bodybuilding training that made the Dungeon and Gironda’s gym such productive places to work out. “The gym was a cinder-block building with nothing on the walls and a concrete floor,” says Ric Drasin, a bodybuilder and professional wrestler who frequented Gold’s, later designing its legendary muscleman logo. At about 2,000 square feet, the gym contained some very bare-bones equipment, including homemade barbells and dumbbells—enough for about 50 guys at a time to work out with. “It was also just a few blocks from the beach,” says Joe Weider, fitness-magazine magnate and mentor to many bodybuilders of the day, “so all the champions gravitated to it.” After an intense workout, the men could walk to Venice Beach and work on their tans or show off their pumps to gawking onlookers.
It wasn’t long before Dave Draper and most of the future cast of Pumping Iron (including a 245-pound, gap-toothed Austrian) were calling Gold’s home—sometimes quite literally. Since the cash prizes in bodybuilding at that time were paltry at best, Gold allowed a number of homeless bodybuilders to sleep on the gym’s shower-room floor and even on the roof. “Joe wasn’t looking to make a lot of money,” says Draper, recalling that most of Gold’s early members weren’t even required to pay gym dues. “He was just putting a place together for the guys.”
Gold’s enormous generosity went hand in hand with his ferocious enforcement of gym rules. No music, no dropping weights, and no silly behavior, or you were out (nevertheless, stories of crazed antics remain—see “Muscle Memories,” at right, for some examples). The strict atmosphere provided for some balls-to-the-wall workouts, the likes of which set a precedent for how to conduct oneself as a bodybuilder. “The first thing that came to my mind when I walked in the first time was that I had to train harder,” says Lou Ferrigno, who had already captured back-to-back Mr. Universe titles when he arrived in 1976. “It was all blood, sweat, and tears in there.” More than a construction site for monstrous physiques, Gold’s also served as a cultural meeting ground. Whether bodybuilders arrived seeking greater motivation, the fellowship of training around icons such as Schwarzenegger, or a chance to test their resolve against that of other determined champions, men flocked to Gold’s from around the world. “And they would be accepted right off the bat,” says Drasin. “If you were from another country, that was even better. It was a melting pot of ideas, and everyone got along.” For these reasons, the gym came to be called the mecca of bodybuilding.
Although Gold’s reputation was solid, it took Joe Weider (and his magazines Muscle Builder and Muscle Power—forefathers of our own Men’s Fitness) to cement the gym’s legendary status. In an age when bodybuilding was reviled by the media, Weider celebrated it, distributing information on the sport to newsstands around the world. “I believed that men who worked out and were strong were comparable to the ancient Greeks,” says Weider, who sold his magazine empire in 2002 and recently co-authored the book Brothers of Iron. “The Greeks did feats of strength, and our bodybuilders would more or less do the same with their workouts. I wanted to carry on the Greek tradition—building the perfect body.” By photographing bodybuilders in loincloths and sandals against the backdrop of California’s ocean and canyons, Weider created a heroic, cinematic, and indelible image of the pumped-up male body—and he sold it with great success. Arnold Schwarzenegger saw it in Austria and dedicated his life to looking the same way. Lou Ferrigno saw it in Brooklyn and did likewise. “That got our attention,” says Ferrigno. “Everyone knew that to be the best, you had to come to California and be a part of Gold’s Gym.”
Though Weider did much to publicize the benefits of training with weights, he wasn’t the first to do so. Bob Hoffman, a weightlifter, had been publishing a revolutionary fitness magazine called Strength and Health since the mid-1930s. Hoffman’s agenda was very different from Weider’s. He wanted the world to know that weightlifting (explosive lifts such as the clean and jerk and the snatch, as seen in the Olympics) was the best route to athleticism and power. (Hoffman, like the rest of the planet, believed that bodybuilding was self-indulgent and, worse, nonfunctional.) However, Weider shrewdly observed that bodybuilding training, with its attention to building each muscle group evenly and minimizing body fat, would ultimately have broader appeal. “I figured that for every one guy who wanted to lift heavy weights, there were at least 10 guys who wanted a beautiful body,” says Weider. “When World War II began, the Army took the weightlifters, and weightlifting competition was dead. That’s when bodybuilding really began to rise.” Though Hoffman continued to fight Weider and his bodybuilders, his magazine lost momentum. By the 1960s, Weider’s publications ruled the muscle media. Fitness aficionados no longer cared if you could lift 500 pounds—but it was particularly important that you looked like you could. The magazines’ focus on aesthetic body development buried the more attainable athletic look and functionality that ruled the day at Muscle Beach. Back then, physique contests were only one part of the festivities, and they usually included some exhibition of strength and flexibility in addition to muscle posing. Now bodybuilders would only be required to flex onstage. The quest for gargantuan size and sharper definition led to the popularity of then-legal anabolic steroids, and the overall health of the participants became more questionable. “I was a natural bodybuilder for 15 years,” says Bill Howard. “But then I couldn’t get into a contest. We’d lie and say to each other that we weren’t using steroids, but then we’d look at each other in the gym and think, ‘That son of a bitch is, so I’m going to, too!’”