On rare occasions the (mostly) sports site Deadspin.com has covered bodybuilding, strength, and fitness topics. One of the best such articles was posted in August 2018: Sex, Steroids, And Arnold: The Story Of The Gym That Shaped America. This oral history of the original Gold’s Gym covers the mecca’s creation by Joe Gold in 1965 until it started to go mainstream in 1978. Journalist David Davis interviews seemingly everyone of note (except Arnold Schwarzenegger, unfortunately) who was still living. (Several, including Jim Morris, Ric Drasin, and Franco Columbu subsequently passed away.) It’s a long read, but highly recommended. What follows are a few excerpts.
Jim Morris: What made Gold’s Gym Gold’s Gym? Joe Gold. Literally and figuratively. There are people who have a great sense of the body and how it moves and how it feels and how it works. Joe had all of that. He knew anatomy and he knew instinctively how the body worked and how it should feel. He applied that to his machinery. When Joe would make a piece of equipment, it just felt right. He knew how it should feel to exercise.
Franco Columbu: I would go to Joe and say, “I need a different bar for the triceps pushdown machine to grab. Not a straight one—I want it to be slightly bent.” He say, “Okay, Franco.” The next day he show up with the piece. I say, “Perfect, Joe.”
Lou Ferrigno: Nobody could drop his weights in the gym. One time I dropped a dumbbell. He was like, “Yo, Louie, get outta here, you fat fuck.” Even today, if someone drops a dumbbell, I get upset because I learned from Joe.
John Balik: Joe Weider first told Arnold to go to Vince’s [Gym] because they were doing business together. I was standing next to Vince at the desk when Arnold walked in for the first time. He was wearing flip-flops, white shorts, and a string T-shirt. Arnold was probably the biggest he’d ever been; he weighed maybe 255 pounds. He said in very broken English, “I’m Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’m Mr. Universe.” Vince took the cigar out of his mouth and said, “You just look like a fat fuck to me.”
Bill Grant: Arnold was ultra-competitive. It was no bullshit and it was, “I don’t want to lose.” I can remember we were doing squats one time in the gym. We said we were going to do 12 reps. So Arnold finished his and I’m on the last set, and he’s counting: “10, 11, 12, 13.” I racked the bar, and Arnold says, “Bill, what are you doing?” I said, “Nothing.” He says, “We agreed to do 12 reps. You did 13 reps. You did one rep more than me! You’re an asshole!” I’m like, “Arnold, c’mon, man.” But I love that competitive side of him. Any champion doesn’t like to lose.
Franco Columbu: Arnold had something else that most people don’t have and that was, number one, glamour. It came from inside out. Number two, more ambition than all of them. Number three, he had to do it or he would go back to Austria like nothing. He was not born rich in Los Angeles or New York, okay?
John Balik: It was mostly Dianabol, and Arnold brought Primobolan from Europe. It evolved through competitive people who weren’t afraid to experiment on themselves. What do you need to do to win? An athlete will do anything short of killing himself to win. In other words, bigger, stronger, faster.
Ric Drasin: We’d go see this pediatrician on Hollywood Boulevard. One side of the waiting room was pregnant mothers and kids, the other side was bodybuilders. Then he’d give you your shots.
Eddie Giuliani: Guys would drive down to Mexico with a broad and a kid. “Oh, me and my wife came down to spend the afternoon,” they’d say, and meanwhile the trunk was full of shit. The Mexican connection.
Boyer Coe: If you eliminated anabolic steroids for a contest, and the curtains would open, guess how many people would be standing onstage? Nobody.
Ken Waller: Arnold and Franco and myself and Eddie Giuliani and Kent Kuehn—we would all go down to a place called The Germans after we worked out. It was like a ritual. Everyone would get at least a one-pound hamburger patty, sometimes we’d get two of them, and like six eggs.
Eddie Giuliani: Nobody knew anything about nutrition in those days. The only thing we did was eat. Things were real cheap. A six-egg omelet at The Germans was like a buck and a half.
Jim Morris: A guy named Bob Gajda—a very nerdy fellow—got on a desiccated liver kick where he was taking 200 pills a day. Because of him, the rest of us started taking 200 desiccated liver pills a day. We all ate tuna fish. One day, I realized that I had been chewing the same mouthful of tuna fish for a half-hour. It just wouldn’t go down. How the fuck am I going to get this tuna fish down? My protein drink—which consisted of eggs and desiccated liver powder and milk—was sitting there, so I dumped the tuna fish into it and mixed it up and chugged it. So, yeah.
MECCA OF BODYBUILDING
Frank Zane: To pay $40 or $60 a year for membership at a place like that—are you kidding? It was all serious people. I would go there like 6, 7 in the morning. That’s when the real serious guys were working out. Zabo was always there. There was no noise or nothing. Just silence. And you had access to all that equipment. It was fantastic. That was my experience coming to the mecca, and it really was then. It really was the mecca.