Back Story with George Butler

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Going back over the years to rummage through my mind can be a musty experience. Not every thought I turn over is a precious and delicate item of nostalgia or a rusting, rugged tool used to forge a splendid future. Dim recollections, they are more like sagging, threadbare spring-popping mattresses and worn-out, tight-legged bellbottoms, often embarrassing, uncomfortable and tiresome. The 70s for me were lusterless and without grand imagination. Not necessarily bad years, they just happened.

What went on in the land of bodybuilding, I’m not sure. I carried on my merry weightlifting with internal enthusiasm and fulfillment like a fly-casting fisherman in a secret cove on his favorite lake up north. I missed the Olympias, the Mike Mentzer-Arnold Schwarzenegger Battle, and the whole muscle population explosion. It’s as if I had peacefully slept through it all.

One day amid those sleepy times, Artie Zeller came to my house in Playa Del Rey for a friendly visit as he often did to break up his day. He brought with him a very nice young man, George Butler; both were carrying large, professional cameras. I was working on a chandelier of beams and chain and rusted iron the size of a Volkswagen. The torch was blazing and tools were scattered everywhere in my workplace.

I looked like, well, a madman: broken goggles, shredded jeans, barefooted and generally dirty. This pleasant scene was further enhanced by my bearing a lingering symptom of mild acetylene poisoning... a slack, slightly paralyzed jaw. Cute. Conversation was one-sided. I listened and uttered grunts as we sat around that enlightening afternoon. George Butler, a smooth gentleman Pumping Iron film master and me, Bomber gone bonkers.

You can’t live and die by these horrific faux pas. They are indelible and cringing, yet so outrageous as to be too good to be bad. To this day I smile upon the event and am flattered by the visit. You can’t kill pride.

And for all these years I think the good fellow thinks I’m a nut. The story has just begun.

Pumping Iron, the film that breathed super life into bodybuilding and set it among the constellations was celebrating its 25th anniversary, and the writer, producer and director, George Butler, was at the Arnold Classic, which at the time was celebrating its 25th year in Columbus.

A gathering of the film’s stars -- Franco, Lou, Arnold, Ed Corney, Mike Katz -- were being interviewed for an HBO special as part of the film’s re-release that summer in conjunction with Arnold’s big show.. a staggering coincidence in the year 2000.

We were there, and I wondered if I would bump into George. Since I could now speak I could, no doubt, put my entire foot in my mouth.

Friday late morning as a World Gym Convention breakfast was winding down, I was invited to the stage to welcome the gym owners to the seminars that were to follow. As I approached the microphone, a special acknowledgement was made to a celebrity in the audience, Pumping Iron’s Own, George Butler. Evidence of his reverence was clear. I slurped out a few heart-felt words... hi, nice, good, happy, er, swell, so long... and casually made toward the famous exit, where George stood beaming with both hands extended.

One looking on might think we were long lost friends. And, indeed, we were.

The obvious next thing long-lost friends must do is to get to know each other. We were off in different directions for the day, so we arranged an appointment for a 45-minute interview for something George was working on, and met up later that evening.

The interview went on for nearly two hours, filling in historical gaps and jammed with great humor. Upon parting George put his hand to his heart and said, “You bury me or I’ll bury you.”

Friends for life.


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