West Coast Bodybuilding Scene: Afterword

West Coast Bodybuilding Scene: Golden Era Bodybuilding
Dick Tyler, Afterword
1965 Mr. America

For some reason I decided to go to a movie, a Saturday matinee. The theater was packed with screaming kids there to see the first “Superman” film with Christopher Reeve. The first part of the film was pure fun with everyone laughing and enjoying the man of steel’s legendary feats of strength. Then he takes the lovely Lois Lane for a flying trip around the New York skyline. The kids in the theater were jumping up and down, some pretending they were flying.

At last Superman brings Lois back to her apartment. Dazzled by her flying experience Lois asks just what he stands for. His answer, “Truth, justice and the American way.”

“Oh, come on,” says Lois sarcastically. This mirrored the great laughter of the reaction of the audience.

Now the camera came to a close shot of Superman’s face. His eyes narrowed and he replied very simply, “Lois, I never lie.”

The theater sudden went silent. I could almost hear a pin drop. At that point a completely different perception took place. With the simplicity and sincerity of the statement—Lois, I never lie— the movie was transformed from a large production of a cartoon character to an epic journey in the battle of good against evil. It was the turning point of the film.

Another such example was the first “Rocky” film. Poor Rocky was out of shape for his upcoming championship fight and his wife, who was always after him to quit fighting, was in a coma in the hospital. To the great frustration of the audience, Rocky sits by her bed mumbling how much he loves her, when her eyes flutter open.

“Rocky,” she whispers.

“Oh, honey, you’re awake!” he says excitedly.

She motions for him to come closer and whispers one simple word, “Win.”

With that, the famous Rocky theme thundered throughout the theater and the audience was electrified. With a single word, what was a corny fight film became a classic. It was that film’s turning point.

I have often felt most successful endeavors revolve around a turning point that makes the common become uncommon and even great. This happened in bodybuilding with the advent of the first Mr. Olympia contest in New York.

It was not, however, the contest itself but what led up to it. For years bodybuilding contests were treated as little more than a freak show tacked to the end of a weightlifting meet, which might not end until the early morning hours.

When Steve Reeves starred in a film about Hercules in the late fifties, the public perception of bodybuilders began to change. While more and more gyms began to open, the world of bodybuilding was still a world unto itself. The public might look in wonder at the massive muscles of those who wore them, but they essentially had no concept of what it took to get them. They knew nothing of the hours and years of the smell of sweat, the clanging of heavy plates, the yells of the training partners or the grunts of agony and pain to get out one more rep. They knew nothing of sacrifices in a bodybuilder’s personal life or the hours of sleep required or the diet and nutritional supplementation needed to get the most out of training. Only the true bodybuilder knew that. The money has not been minted that would be sufficient to equal the value of the sacrifices needed to become a bodybuilding champion.

It wasn’t until the early ’60s when Joe Weider came up with the idea of having a competition to pit only the winners of major contests against each other that the bodybuilders themselves began to realize the importance and financial value of their enterprise. This was the birth of the first Mr. Olympia.

Little did anyone realize at the time, however, the real beginning of bodybuilding’s turning point would be not in the Olympia contest itself, but in the Mr. America competition that was to precede it the same night.

For over a year Weider had been extolling the wonders of a young bodybuilder named Dave Draper. He was a big kid with big muscles and had just won the Mr. New Jersey title. The problem was he was just that, a kid with big muscles. All the photos we had of his training gave the perception of a muscular Pillsbury Doughboy. There was only a small amount of muscular separation and little, if any, definition. To make things even more difficult, he had no tan. He made a white sheet look grey.

This is who Joe sent to California. One of my jobs at the time was to chronicle the bodybuilding scene in Southern California. It was virtually dumped on me to build up this Blond Bomber to hero status as part of this job.

Fortunately Dave turned out to be a nice guy and easy to talk with. Unfortunately he never wanted to talk about himself. Since my job was to write about and build up the image of the Bomber, I was in trouble as I was able to learn little about his training, and worse, just what on earth he looked like.

He always wore a baggy shirt with the sleeves turned to just above the wrists. From that I was at least sure he had the most muscular wrists I’d ever seen. He trained at the then-Muscle Beach Gym, known to everyone as the Dungeon, always away from others, at times when few others were there…and always in heavy sweats. In other words he was the best known unknown in bodybuilding and wasn’t about to be any help in changing that image.

For a while he hosted a local television station’s show that played all the gladiator-type movies of the time. While we could see he was big, he never flexed or posed in any way, so it was no help to me at all.

I was beginning to panic. How could I write anything that was more myth that substance? However, my job was not so much to think as to do. So, I expanded on the things I knew: He was a great person to be around and he was very strong.

In the meantime Weider came up with the idea of the Mr. Olympia contest to determine the champion of champions. It was to be held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music along with the Mr. America, Mr. Universe and Miss Americana competitions. And guess what? Dave Draper was to be an entrant in the Mr. America, his first competition since winning the Mr. New Jersey two years before.

To me and to everyone else, for Dave to enter the Mr. America competition was something of a joke. This was to be the greatest bodybuilding extravaganza every presented. To take a virtually untested bodybuilder, build him into almost mythical proportions and then offer him as some kind of freakish sacrifice was the height of cruelty. I felt sorry for Dave and the anxiety he must have been feeling.

Finally it was the day of the contest. In New York, with Weider driving, we picked up Rick Wayne and Earl Maynard from their hotel. They had just arrived from England and were quite excited about competing that night. Soon the conversation turned to the contestants and, of course, to Dave Draper.

Rick, with his biting wit, began to ridicule Dave in not a very gentle way. “Oh, yes,” he said, “The great Dave Draper, otherwise known in England as the great white whale.” I started to laugh. Ooops.

Joe glanced over at me, “Wait till they see him, eh, Dick?”

I gulped. “Yeah, right,” I replied weakly. “Just you wait.”

That didn’t slow Rick or Earl down a bit; they were on that proverbial roll. I only wish I’d had a tape recorder—this was funny stuff. Joe, however, was not amused.

The Brooklyn Academy is an enormous opera house. Just off the main stage was a dressing room that had been turned into a warm-up area, and in it, preparing for the prejudging, were just about all the great bodybuilders of that time. They were all either pumping like mad or practicing their posing in front of the mirrors. It was a writhing pit of muscles in the truest sense.

But where was the vaunted Blond Bomber? He was in a corner, lifting in a robe. Still, no one knew what he looked like. The moment of truth was fast approaching.

A few minutes before Dave was to go before the judges, Wayne approached him. “Look, Dave,” he said, taunting. “I do believe you plan to pose with your robe on. Is that right?”

Dave didn’t answer as others began to gather around. I watched and could tell the pain he was feeling. The others started kidding and telling him to take off the robe.

What happened next is hard to describe. It’s one of those rare times when words fail to carry the message of what the eyes see.

Dave dropped his robe and for the first time we could see what he had been so carefully hiding. There was an audible gasp from those who gathered around. Rick Wayne took a step backwards and his jaw dropped.

I have personally never seen such a combination of raw power sculptured on such bronzed, separated and defined muscles in my life.

Dave Draper went on to win the Mr. America, which began the turning point that culminated with Larry Scott winning the evening’s Mr. Olympia contest. That night set the benchmark for all that would follow in the pages you just read, and the years that came after.

Almost like Rocky, the audience leaned forward as Joe Weider whispered “Dave Draper,” and the individuals were electrified. And, dear reader, as in “Superman” what I’ve told you is true because…I never lie.

Dick Tyler
January 2004

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Here’s another excerpt you’re sure to enjoy: Golden Impressions.