Behind the Smile

by Dave Draper

This is an excerpt from Dave’s book, A Glimpse in the Rear View

Muscle and Fitness, a colorful and energetic riot of musclemen and musclebuilding information, isn’t a recent publication that gained popularity overnight. It has gone by a variety of names over half a century and was reared by a guy named Joe Weider. Joe, dubbed the Trainer of Champions, dragged it from the ink-smeared pages of a manual printing press in his grandma’s Montreal apartment and gave it dramatic life based upon his vision of muscle and might.

I was one of the characters who played a role in his elaborate vision, a Mr. America and Mr. Universe in the dream he presented to the world. Appearing on the scene in the early ’60s, I filled the pages of his magazines, adorned their covers and, through inspiring pictures on California beaches, conveyed stories of delight, promise and hope to the young and young at heart.

I smiled broadly, flexed my muscles and frolicked with beach bunnies on lazy, crazy sunny afternoons. The blue Pacific rolled in mightily, billowy clouds with silver linings caressed the horizons and dogs playfully chased seagulls along endless sandy shores. Hop in. The water’s fine. Life is grand.

Hold it there. Back up twenty feet and take another look. I see a distressed cameraman and his elaborate gear in a heap of cases, containers and bags; I see a guy — that must be Joe — in half a suit with his sleeves and trouser legs rolled up; off to the side a group of sticky, uninterested bystanders mope about, kick sand and suck on water bottles. These must be the delighted characters in the delightful pictures awaiting a moment of delight.

The sun pours down, hot and relentless, and more baby oil is applied to the muscular bodies. A pump is sought to give vibrancy to fatigued and dehydrated muscles; instead itchy sand is distributed generously to far reaches of the body — ears, eyes, nose and every known crack and crevice. Are we having fun yet?

Now the sun is going down and neither the cameraman nor the subjects can delay the untimely process. Joe is flailing his arms, while Artie Zeller or Russ Warner or Jimmy Caruso — bless their hearts — tries hopelessly to interpret his wild gesticulations. Reflectors are brought in, the location is moved, the ocean grows calm and the dramatic lighting is lost to soft shadows suitable for capturing romance, a bottle of wine and thou. Not good.

But wait! The sun’s lowering rays join their own reflection off the ocean’s surface and the bodies amid the stunning light are spectacular. Everyone is by some freak of nature in the right spot at the right time and in the right mood. Joe screams at Artie, whose nose is deep in his film bag, to take the picture now, now, now.

Art Zeller was a master photographer and physiques were his specialty. He knows what to do, when and how. The digital camera is not even a dream of the future and, alas, our patient and sensible lensman fusses with his ole’ reliable Roloflex. Joe is now tearing at his shirt and performing what appears to be an Indian rain dance and whooping, “Artie, Artie! Shoot the picture! Shoot the picture!” Without hesitation Artie shouts, “Joe, the camera is out of film.” Joe, with a child’s authority and desperation shrieks, “Shoot it anyway!”

Artie did. Joe was pleased. Another day at the beach.

The pretty models went their way — they could care less for muscleheads in the 1960s — and the muscleheads went theirs. The first thing on their minds was protein and then a workout missed due to the fun and frolic at the beach. But it was worth it, wasn’t it? Maybe your mug will be in the mag and you’ll be famous. In those days fame and glory in a muscle magazine and ten cents got you a cup of coffee.

Hey, buddy, can ya spare a dime?

Undeniably, the most inspiring and pleasant photographic sessions were experienced during the winter. Not! Though snow does not fall, nor the temperatures drop below 50 in southern California, winter is winter is winter. Tis the season for hibernation, losing the tan and gaining weight to accommodate heavy off-season training. Repair and grow, relax and attend life beyond cuts and striations is the bodybuilder’s theme. Let’s go to the mountains, the deserts or visit the folks back east. Throw in a few year-end holidays and you’ve got bulky, round and white all over.

“What’s that you say? Pictures on the beach this Saturday? What beach? I thought the beach dried up in the winter, was evacuated, dismantled or closed for repairs.”

“An up-coming summer promotion needs to be shot now, Bomber, or I’m out millions of bucks.”

Oh! In that case, don’t want to lose my eighty-five-dollar-a-week shipping clerk’s salary. Sure, JW, see ya there… bright and early… I’ll bring coffee. The grazing white rhinoceros in Dave Draper’s trunks will be me.

I’m training hard, strong as a hippo and about as shapely. Put me on a beach and big-game hunters from miles around will gather to claim me as a trophy. You can’t do this, Joe. I’m too young to die. Not the beach. Flash! Cover boy is as white as a blank billboard and twice as big. The only definition I have goes something like this: bulky, rounded, colorless, foolish, unwilling, miserable, pouty.

Breaking News: Unidentified Blimp Hovers Aimlessly Over Southern California Beaches. No Details at This Time.

Smiles form with difficulty on frigid lips. The air is cold and nippy breezes supply shivers in spasms. The unlikely crew of plump and pasty bodies huddles under beach towels to stay warm and protect themselves from blasts of sandy wind. The ocean is ominous, the beach is desolate and surviving seagulls are inland hiding under bushes. Dogs and their owners are home where it’s safe and cozy. February is no time for these shenanigans. Neither is July for that matter.

Joe is quite a character and has more color than a rainbow and twice the gold found at the end. He loves the bodybuilding scene, gave it a stage upon which to play and did more to present it to the world than anyone.

Anyone, that is, except the players themselves. Praise be to musclemen who, driven by passion and desire, did what they did because they had to do it.

The smiles on the beaches were hard-earned and their payment was gained in the dark confines of gyms filled with heavy iron. Weights — barbells and dumbbells — were the source of resistance that built the muscles that built the men that built the magazine. I, and the guys before me, lifted the cold and noisy metal not for a moment on a page of paper, but for reasons — wonderful reasons — too numerous to count.

Oh, heck! Let me give it a try. I’ll be brief.

There’s health, muscle and might for starters. Not bad. There’s the fun of lifting weights and the exciting challenge it presents, the physical pushing and pulling and stretching, the intelligent formation of exercises, movements and routines, and the tantalizing pumping, burning and striving. Weight training is a dynamic diversion providing strong camaraderie, identification and hope. Be sure of this: Few pastimes provide more benefits, rewards and fulfillment.

Training builds discipline, perseverance and patience. Mountains are climbed with these superior characteristics, lives are saved and nations are shaped. Tough exercise puts order and rhythm in our lives, diminishing confusion and reducing stress, and that’s worth more than a few trips to the psychiatrist’s couch. As quality is added to life, so is it extended with enduring, useful and enjoyable years. When once we said, “I can’t,” after gaining fitness and well-being through dedicated exercise, we say, “Don’t just sit there, let’s get moving.”

A strong back and strong heart match one’s courage and confidence, four natural byproducts of working out and regular lifting. And, though personally pleased, true ironheads don’t brag about their accomplishments — one more modest attribute gained from solid cast-iron training.
I said I was gonna be brief.

Not all the fun was captured on the beaches of sunny California. There were the eight- and ten-story abandoned buildings in the old garment district of Manhattan. Somehow we gained admittance to these deteriorating fire hazards and were dragged by chattering and screeching cables of old industrial lifts to forsaken levels high above alleys and dumpsters below. After clearing a corner of over-turned benches, worktables and indeterminable debris, we settled in to serious photography. A white backdrop was hung in contrast to the dust and mold, and spider webs as thick as tapestries in a haunted house. The rats kept to themselves; I was more concerned with the warped floorboards that shook perceptibly as we traversed our surroundings, soldiers in a minefield.

The camera sat on its tripod, the lights and reflectors and umbrellas were in place and the champion stood on his mark, all objects precisely determined by strings with signifying knots in measured placements. The oil is smoothly applied after a hint of a pump is gained by flexing in place. Swell! Move from your mark, you get smudged and grimy, splintered and wounded, infected and quarantined. The trouble starts when a thirsty star asks for a slug of water. It’s hot and stuffy in New York City in August. No water. It worsens when he has to go to the men’s room. No plumbing.

No problem is too big or too small for a band of smiling bodybuilders.

“One, two, three and flex. Again, and this time, Dave, twist harder and don’t forget to flex your legs. Jimmy, is he standing in the right spot? One, two, three and flex. That was good, Bomber. Once more, this is for a cover. Twist and bring your arms higher; flex your legs. NO, no, no! Caruso, you tell him! Twist, flex, arms higher, higher; Smile.”

I’ll tell you this: No one got the poses and the photographs like Joe Weider.

Once I stood in the center of Century Plaza, on the granite edge of a stunning water fountain. The size of a tennis court, the fountain adorned the center-divide of Century Boulevard and was framed by towering thirty-story glass-fronted office buildings to the east and west. Water gushed brilliantly toward the sky, and I nonchalantly busied myself while glowing with oil in my teal posing trunks waiting for Russ Warner to prepare his camera, position himself and position me. It was high noon — lunchtime, in the bustling, sophisticated business district of Beverly Hills, home of world finance and filmmaking. Traffic was heavy and animated. No problem, I’m cool. I’ve been stared at before.

“Yeah, you too, wise guy!!”

Oh, look. Russ is talking to some policemen who are pointing at me. Old friends, no doubt, but I refrain from waving. Rather than pump up, I try to look very small as I stroll through the slightly slimy shallow pool to the other side. Chilly. Halfway there I hear the whoop-whoop sound emergency vehicles make when they approach an intersection and want it cleared immediately. I return to my original post — dripping wet — and, as if responding to their signal, hit an overhead, double-arm biceps shot, a side back shot and a kneeling side chest. I’m Mr. America, after all. I bow and wait for the traffic to subside before I jaywalk and join them at their bleeping patrol car.

“Hi, guys. My name is Dave Draper.”

I forget how it went after that. The human being has a weird way of going numb and blocking things out — playing dead — when under siege.

Crazy, man. Why did we do the stuff we did? Don Howorth, Larry Scott, Zane, Yorton, Labra, McArdle, Zabo, Eifferman, Sipes. The money?

No. Not the money. Sure, a few bucks would have paid some bills and broadened the smile, but no, not the dough.

The fame and glory? Such rewards circulated close to home and no one was profoundly impressed, least of all the champs. The brotherhood of recognition was quiet, almost silent. Fame and glory were as rewarding as the kiss of congratulations from the pretty girl in the miniskirt onstage. I’ll never forget the authentic thunder of applause and cheering in New York, but those fans in those days were there for the same reasons we were.

It was the doing it that was good. And it’s the doing it that continues to be good. None of us would change much if we were to do it all again. The smiles came when they weren’t expected and they’ve lasted a long, long time.

Lift weights for fame, glory and money and you miss the point entirely.

A Glimpse in the Rear View, Dave Draper

This was an excerpt from Dave’s book, A Glimpse in the Rear View