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The Big Scoop
November 5, 2003

If you'd like to download the full Draper here newsletter in live-link, pdf format, click here.

Shawn Perine, writer-at-large for Flex magazine and creator of the informative and entertaining website, IronAge, requested a telephone interview for an upcoming article. We would set up a date for the conversation; Shawn would ask a series of exciting questions to which I would respond with equally exciting answers, all to be completed in 90 exciting minutes. Any sane person would have said, “Sure.” Not me. Instead, I sent the following letter.

Dear Shawn,

It’s a compliment to be interviewed and I appreciate the exposure and attention and the thought that someone might be interested in what I have to say. Truth is I’ve read too many over-the-phone taped dialogues in which I sound as provocative and enlightening and entertaining as an old plowhorse snortin’ in the barn. Try as I might, no expression or passion is conveyed without voice inflection, gestures or the use of the right words. Bright spontaneity is what you hope for and redundancy is what you get. “That’s what I said, yeah, but that’s not what I meant to say” is my agitated reaction to statements I throw out on tape. The truth hurts, I guess, and my on-the-spot articulation is for the birds. Plus, I am not fond of the phone and the anticipation of phone calls -- gives me hives, very itchy. Jeez, alright already, Bomber. With this in mind, let me mess with my keyboard instead.

Hardcore muscle-builders are a strange lot. Excuse me, time to light the incense and chant... DD

Shawn is a very cool guy, knows how to deal with the mentally disadvantaged and emotionally challenged, and said, “Whatever.”

This is part one of the interview; next week’s newsletter will be the second part, the final of two. When the article in its edited form will be published we do not know. Be sure you’ll be the first to hear.

Part One:

The short background you requested: Born in Secaucus, N.J., in April of ’42; moved to Santa Monica in early summer of ’63, 21 years later. Worked for Weider Barbell Co. during that time till ’69 and also did some work in Hollywood and began working in heavy wood. I won Jersey in ’63, America in ’65, Universe in ’66 and World in ’70, generally competing at 230, plus or minus, at six feet.

Q) Dave, you and Governor Schwarzenegger were friends and training partners during his first few years in America. How did that come about?
a) What was your early impression of him?
b) Are you surprised by his latest achievement?

I met Arnold in Miami a week after he arrived in the New York area in the fall of ’68. He was competing in the Mr. Universe contest, which Frank Zane won and in which I was appearing as a guest poser. We met backstage amid the mass of busy contenders as we prepared for the evening show. Dimly lit, crowded, confusing, oily and hot, I made the best of the introduction. Arnold was bright-eyed, smiling broadly, at ease with the excitement, eager to please, child-like -- a very large and pulsating sponge soaking up every bit of his surroundings. I noticed immediately this tall and muscular fellow was aware, astute, a step ahead and to the right of the guy next to him and, indeed, very clever. I noted, too, thank God, that he was lovable.

He is the governor of California and I am not surprised. In the ‘80s when there were early signs of his political interests, I thought, “But, of course. That’s what Arnold does best. He governs.” The race was interesting, fun, nuts and I hoped he’d win, thought he would, glad he did and trust he’ll do a good job, better than anyone else could do.

Q) How did you first come to meet Joe Weider? So there was no Gold's when you first came over? What was it like training at the Dungeon?

My first set of weights consisted of a 16” bar and four 10s, 7 1/2s, 5s, 3 1/2s and 1 1/4s. They sat on the sidewalk in front of our house, my father and brothers peering over my shoulder as I tried to make sense of them. I was 10, the iron weighed a ton and the family fan club quickly lost interest. Who remembers the details of discovery, but I pushed and pulled and rolled that iron in all directions over the years, in the basement on an old mattress, in the corner of a bedroom occupied by me and two bigger brothers and in the yard under a rotting maple. Over time by accident and luck and the grace of God, I grew, and my high school gym teacher began calling me “Arms.” Time for more weight and another bar or two.

Oddly enough, or wouldn’t-ya-know-it, the weights were made by Weider and his offices, foldout couch and shower, showroom, research clinic (an imaginary space) and warehouse -- the whole catastrophe -- was in Union City, only a bus ride and long walk from where I lived. I found myself on the doorstep of Weider Barbell Co. making purchases with my teenage fortune. Leroy Colbert, slick as a panther, made sure I got what I needed -- bars, collars and plates -- and gave me a heart full of inspiration based on a knowing grin and huge and powerful muscles. I measured his arms at 20 and a half, cold as ice.

One day while struggling toward a bulky 220 pounds or whatever and adding a pair of 35s to my collection, I met Joe Weider at the loading platform who asked me how he looked -- what can ya say? -- and did I want a part-time job. The answer to the second question was easy. Sure; it’s me and Leroy and seated dumbbell alternate curls in the stockroom. Six months later after winning Mr. N.J., I transferred to the other side of the world, California. The Beach Boys were singing “Surfer Girl.”

California has a bad rap today because the world is full of dumb people, but remains the land of wonder and plenty. Santa Monica was the Garden of Eden after 21 years in the Garden State and pig farms and swamps and dirty rivers. The Dungeon was a palace where the original kings and princes and knights and warriors met to play noble games -- my gym and I’m proud of it, bub. It was also dark and dank and crumbling; it was broken down and fixed and broken again. It was a large, awful space dug out of the ground on the corner of 4th and Broadway upon which sat a century-old hotel and its faulty plumbing. But, oh, the atmosphere oozed from every rusty bent-bar and pair of rattling dumbbells, every clang of steel, every heated set and burning rep. The 2x4s held together by carpenter’s nails to suggest a bench supported the back of George Eiferman as he slowly did his perfect reps with 425. Peanuts West moved mucho iron from that power rack of oversized beams in the middle of the puddle of diluted beer dripping from the upstairs time-warped tavern, a watering hole for the old and inebriated.

Atmosphere doesn’t come from a paint brush or a wall decoration or an expensive carpet, it comes from the passing of time over a place or a thing, the heavy impression of memory, the lingering breath and experience of original characters who live once and forever: Reeves, Eiferman, Gene Shuey, Zabo, Joe Gold, Artie Zeller, Chuck Collras, Chuck Pendleton, Dick Dubois, John Tristram, Hugo Labra, Danny Vafiadis, Steve Merjanean, Chuck Ahrens. Environment can supercharge the air or it can bury you alive. The Dungeon, once the Muscle Beach of sand and sea and finally displaced to the Muscle Beach Gym on 4th, became the launching pad of the greatest era of bodybuilding for the world’s greatest bodies.

In the middle of the ‘60s the Dungeon ironically offered itself up as a sacrifice to the growing population and man’s hungry needs; as Joni Mitchell predicted, “They put up a parking lot.” The subterranean castle became a five-story parking garage.

Enter Joe Gold’s Gym. Talk about solid, bold and mighty.

Q) What was it like training in Gold's back then?
a) Who else was training there with you?
b) Is it true that you were its first member? If so, how did that happen?

I don’t know how it is for you, but changing gyms in the middle of life is like trading your faithful old dog for a new one. No way, no thanks; I like the way he drools. I sat there on ground level with the bright light of day pouring through the windows and skylights of Joe’s first muscle emporium, surrounded by walls of mirrors and Olympic bars that weren’t bent and dumbbells that weren’t cracked and steel machinery that purred and hummed. I sat there and stood and walked in a circle and sat. I didn’t know what to do. The mirrors were immediate enemies and that I couldn’t hide in dark, shadowy corners was uncomfortable, almost miserable. But there’s a clean and working toilet at the top of the stairs -- the relief, you have no idea -- and there’s a huge spotless shower. I lay down and proceeded to knock out reps with a straight, well-knurled and rust-free bar without picking up a splinter in the backside. I can get used to this.

Joe put together a first-class hardcore gym with rugged steel benches of varying dimensions and degrees of incline, oversized pulleys for smoothness, sturdy racks for curling, pressing and squatting and platforms for powerlifting and Olympic lifting. The place was charmed. No crowds, no music, no hustle, no hassle, long hours and Joe said, “It’s free, Draper.” I had no money so I agreed.

The year was 1966 and it was the beginning of The Golden Era of Bodybuilding. Frank and Christine Zane and Arnold and Franco and Giuliani and Chet Yorton and big Mike Katz showed up in those months throughout ‘65, ’66, ’67 and ’68. The fever had begun in ’62 with Larry Scott and Don Howorth and Bill McArdle out of Vince Gironda’s gym and coincided with Bill Pearl at his gym in East LA and Chuck Sipes bending spikes in Northern California, Boyer Coe in Louisiana dueling it out with Casey Viator over the new-rage Nautilus contraptions, Sergio in Chicago spreading his wings like an eagle, Dennis Tinnerino and Chris Dickerson in NYC with more to come from under rocks and out of trees. And, you know what was weird? They all trained like animals, they all liked each other and they all looked different.

Different bodies with different minds, chemistry, genes and motives groped about with differing results. Some trained harder than others; some cruised, many were good and a few were great. I hooked up with a Mr. California Muscle Beach original who pointed me in the right direction and I haven’t veered more than five degrees since: straight ahead, around the strains and hurts, with intensity, volume, focus and form. Superset and keep your eye on power, use common sense and depend on your intuition, rest only when you’re certain you’re fatigued, and watch out for the devils of procrastination, laziness, carelessness and disorder. I adopted the precepts as my credo, chiseled them onto my forehead, the blood dried and the scars remain.

We are halfway through the gory details, Bombers. Hate to leave you hanging on the edge of your seats like this, but that’s showbiz. Next week will be here in just seven days.

Engage engines. Push that throttle, raise those flaps and lift that metal skyward with God’s strength…

Draper

Click here for part two, or click here for a pdf version of the full interview.

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