Brother Iron Sister Steel Excerpt: Bill Pearl

Brother Iron, Sister Steel: A Bodybuilder’s Book
Dave Draper, Sequins and Pearls Excerpt

It was the weekend before the Mr. America contest in 1965. My training was going well, as far as I could tell. Truth was I didn’t yet know how to tell. I looked okay, but compared to what or whom? I was working hard, eating hard, braced with hard discipline and felt hard. My first months at Muscle Beach were a crash course and I established training methods I would follow forever; but I learned the essentials quickly and settled into private, unmitigated early-morning workouts. They were silent, undistracted and unrelenting: no compromise and no competition. How sweet it is.

Two years of isolated training and I wasn’t sure who I had become. I moved with three different training partners at different stages and the reinforcement and friendship were priceless. They knew the Mr. A was on my mind and stood by my side; they were too close, however, to offer the critique and subjective counsel I now sought. Only an outsider could provide an evaluation and dare to place it in my hands. Who could I trust? I needed to know if I was ready for the competition in New York City only eight days away. I also needed a pair of posing trunks. Did I mention procrastination was one of my specialties, followed by irresponsibility and dimwittedness? Nobody’s perfect.

If you got on Washington Boulevard and followed it east for five miles you’d find yourself in East Los Angeles and standing in front of Bill Pearl’s Gym. If you walked in the front door at 6 p.m. you’d find Bill, forearms pouring out of a cut-off sweatshirt, sitting behind a wood desk, chair tilted against the wall. If you arrived at 6 a.m. Bill Pearl was under a bar, bench pressing or squatting some absurd weight for a lot of reps. His training partners would be exuding energy, zeal and perspiration. For my first visit I chose the evening hour after a gentlemanly phone call to assure he would be there. Didn’t need to go to East Los Angeles if he wasn’t. Bill was the man I could and would trust with the deed of critical analysis; thumbs up or … er thumbs down.

A legend at thirty-five, Mr. America, Mr. Universe–twice, served in the Navy, built and owned several gyms over the years, the man was known for his incredible power and ability to bend coins and tear license plates and phone books in half. “Hi, I’m Dave. Can you tell me if I have muscles? I don’t know.” “Sure, Dave. Why don’t you come here tomorrow morning at six when my huge partners and I can stand you under the skylight and take a good look. Bring your posing trunks.”

Me and my mouth. How could I say, “Never mind” or “I don’t have posing trunks?” There are the tough times, Buster, when you can’t go forward and you can’t go back and you can’t lie. The only thing left was the truth. I was right on time, my big grin and my big gym bag and my big feet. I found the skylight on my own but couldn’t find my posing trunks. No problemo, Big D, you can borrow mine. Bill’s generosity is also overwhelming. I didn’t ask for music. Silence was loud enough.

I hit a few shots like Joe Weider, The Master Blaster, had taught me. Joe could pose a molting ostrich and he’d win “the overall” and “most muscular” hands down at any pro show on the globe. The gold metallic trunks offered by Bill fit perfectly and I felt pumped by the end of my routine. The guys were excited and full of suggestions, which further warmed me up and put the disabling self-consciousness to rest.

A few more run-throughs with additions and deletions, a change in timing and tempo, posture, facial expression and attitude adjustments and I was a different animal. You can win this thing, Draper. I’m tellin’ ya.

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Another excerpt? Okay: Dave Draper: MGM Town
Yet another: From the Gripper to the Dungeon