Sex, Steroids, And Arnold: The Story Of The Gym That Shaped America

All illustrations by Elena Scotti (GMG). Photos: Getty, Gold's Gym, World Gym
All illustrations by Elena Scotti (GMG). Photos: Getty, Gold's Gym, World Gym
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When did the modern-day fitness movement really begin in the U.S.?

Maybe our infatuation with getting in shape can be traced to when President-elect John F. Kennedy published an article in Sports Illustrated titled “The Soft American,” urging “the United States to move forward with a national program to improve the fitness of all Americans.” Or perhaps in 1982, when Jane Fonda donned Spandex and leggings and released the first of her best-selling workout videos. Cynics might cite the first time athletes gobbled down blue Dianabol pills, the first “mainstream” steroid, back in the 1950s.

Another candidate: That day in 1965 when Joe Gold, a crusty Merchant Marine from East Los Angeles, opened a workout space for hardcore weightlifters and bodybuilders on a desolate street in Venice Beach.

The original Gold’s Gym was a squat sweatbox that Joe and a few of his pals built from cinder blocks. Gold himself crafted the equipment that he and his fellow “Muscleheads” used to shape their flesh into cathedrals of strength. The gym spawned Pumping Iron, one of the most popular and critically acclaimed documentaries in modern times; redefined the masculine look in everything from commercials to modeling to movies; helped establish Southern California as the nation’s fitness capital; and shaped the ascent of one Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Today, we take for granted that high school, collegiate and professional athletes—not to mention Hollywood stars and weekend warriors—lift weights. And yet, when Gold’s first opened that practice was frowned upon, or even considered taboo, by most every doctor, trainer, and coach. The few men (and they were pretty much all men back then) who called themselves bodybuilders were ridiculed as narcissistic freaks and taunted with not-so-subtle innuendoes of homosexuality. They were outliers, but they did not care. They lived for The Pump.

Joe Gold changed that perception. Though Gold sold his eponymous gym and the rights to his name in 1970 (a move he regretted for the rest of his life), by the time of his death in 2004, the place known as “The Mecca” by generations of bodybuilders and their fans had become a cultural touchstone in the modern fitness movement that now encompasses activities like yoga, meditation, and mountain biking.

Some 50-plus years after the original Gold’s Gym opened its doors, here are some of the stories of the landmark gym, its irascible founder, and its legacy, told in the words of those who knew Joe Gold and his creation best. These interviews were conducted in person, on the phone, and via email. They have been edited slightly for clarity and to avoid repetition.

Seymour Rosen (childhood friend): I grew up across the street from Joe Gold in City Terrace [in East L.A.]. His real name was Sidney Gold, but he didn’t like the name Sidney. I started calling him Li’l Abner because he used to dress like that, with the overalls, but he didn’t like that. I said, “How about Joe?”, after a guy named Joe Palooka in the funnies? He liked that.

Joe had this garage where he lived, which we called the Dugout, and we lifted weights there. We thought we’d like to build ourselves up because we used to see the ads in the magazines: Send in a coupon and learn what they called “dynamic tension” with Charles Atlas, the guy kicking sand in your girlfriend’s face. Back then, you could only buy weights from York Barbell in Pennsylvania. They were the only ones who made weights. We didn’t have the money for that. Joe was a very good machinist. He made his own collars to hold the weights in place. He took coffee cans, put cement in them, and attached them to a small bar. We used that for curls for one arm. Then we had large coffee cans filled with cement and a rod from under a car for clean and jerk. They would probably weigh 120 pounds. We had different sized coffee cans: Ben-Hur, Hills Bros.

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Joe Gold played football at Roosevelt High School, then discovered Muscle Beach, next to the Santa Monica Pier, where the likes of Jack LaLanne and Steve Reeves developed their taut physiques amid a crew of acrobats, gymnasts and “physical culture” enthusiasts. After enlisting in the Navy during World War II, Gold opened his first gym in New Orleans. When that gym closed, he joined Mae West’s nightclub revue and performed alongside fellow strongmen Irvin “Zabo” Koszewski, Gordon Mitchell, and Mickey Hargitay, Gold eventually returned to Southern California to find that the original Muscle Beach had disappeared in part due to a scandal involving the arrests of five bodybuilders on rape charges in 1958.

Determined to re-create the congenial vibe, Gold purchased two lots on Pacific Avenue in Venice in 1965. With help from his lifelong pal Zabo, he built a gym so that he and his brawny friends could work out by the ocean.

Frank Zane (International Federation of Bodybuilders Mr. Olympia, 1977-79): It was no-frills. There were solid concrete floors, rubber mats. Many, many good mirrors.

Eddie Giuliani (IFBB Mr. America, 1974): Joe had a two-car garage where he lived in Venice that he converted into a machine shop. He made all the equipment for the gym: dumbbells, overhead cables, seated calf machines, leg presses, the benches. Serious iron.

Chet Yorton (National Amateur Body-Builders’ Association Mr. Universe, 1966): I had started competing and won Mr. Los Angeles and Mr. Pacific Coast, all the titles out here. Then I saw Joe down at the beach. He had just opened his gym. He said, “Come on and train over at my place. I’ll give you an honorary membership. You don’t have to pay anything. Just come and train,” because I had a lot of titles behind me. I went over to his gym and started training.

Joe made all the equipment. He had unbelievable equipment. Fact is, it was probably one of the best-equipped gyms in the country for bodybuilders. He had a lot of Olympic sets and dumbbells up to probably 150 pounds, which was very scarce in other gyms.

Jim Morris (Amateur Athletic Union Mr. America, 1973): 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. Once he got the gym started, Joe would bring a new piece of equipment in and he would use it and the guys would use it and make comments, and then he’d take it back out, tweak it, bring it back. You know how they talk about a Ferrari and a Lamborghini and a Porsche—you get in and you and car become one? When Joe would make a piece of equipment, it just felt right. It was balanced. It moved with you.

Franco Columbu (IFBB Mr. Olympia, 1976, 1981): 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.”

Dave Saxe (weightlifter; co-owner of Gold’s Gym): The original Gold’s Gym was quite rudimentary by today’s standards, but it was far ahead of other gyms around. It was a gym for serious muscleheads, and I don’t use that term derogatorily. It’s descriptive. It was a weightlifting, bodybuilding gym. There were no cardio machines. Cardio machines hadn’t been invented yet. If you wanted to run, you walked a block to the beach. Joe liked building equipment more than money and the business. The business was run like a family.

Lou Ferrigno (IFBB Mr. Universe, 1973-74; actor, The Incredible Hulk): 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.

Joe wasn’t a people person. If he liked you, he liked you. If he didn’t like you, just accept it because he won’t change. All Joe cared about was respect. Like, you respect him, you respect him when you go to his gym, and you just have respect for yourself.

The thing I liked about Joe was, when you go to the gym when he was there, you know that you’re gonna have a good workout. You know you’re gonna have a good time. And if he’s in a bad mood, stay the fuck away from him. If he had something to say to you, he’d say it to your face. And sometimes you deserved it. But I never took personal what he said because I knew he liked me.

Giuliani: Joe wasn’t a party guy. He never went out. He went to bed early. He got up at 5 o’clock in the morning. His whole life was the beach—volleyball on the beach—and weights and working out.

Saxe: Joe gave everybody a nickname. In front of the squat rack there was a mirror, and the mirror was sitting on the ground rather than the wall. Being taller than a lot of the guys, my foot hit the mirror and I broke it. I gave Joe money to replace the mirror, and about two months later I did it again. So I was “The Destroyer.”

Jerry Brainum (fitness journalist and former competitive bodybuilder): Zane was “The Chemist” [for the fact that he taught math and chemistry, and for his constant use of supplements].

Columbu: He called me “The Sardinian Samson.” They called Arnold “Austrian Oak” or “Arnold Strong” in the magazines, but Joe looked at Arnold and says, “Balloon Belly.”

Yorton: Zabo was “The Chief,” the heart and soul of the business. He was a well-known bodybuilder and attracted most of the other bodybuilders that came along. He’d come to work and take the phone off the hook so he wouldn’t have to answer it. He’d work out during the day, take a shower and lounge around and socialize. Joe would come in in the afternoon and scream like hell and put the phone back on.

Ric Drasin (bodybuilder/pro wrestler): The gym had all kinds of characters. Really oddball people. You had Bugsy Siegel, who was a one-armed bench-presser who’d drink a quart of vodka before he trained. One-armed meaning that he pushed the weight up first with one arm and then the other. We had David Carter, who we called the Missing Link. He’d come in in just a pair of shorts and squat 400 pounds and talk like his voice was going out. He’d eat chicken, fried in a pan, the bones and all. Remember Gypsy Boots? Gypsy Boots peed in the sauna. He said, “I want a natural sauna, with my own urine for the steam.”

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.

Boyer Coe (AAU Mr. America, 1969): The big gym at the time [in Southern California] was Vince’s Gym—which was over in Studio City—and that was because Larry Scott trained there. He was the reigning Mr. Olympia.

John Balik (publisher, Iron Man Magazine): Vince Gironda was originally a dancer and he did Hollywood stuff. Because he had that connection, he started to train a lot of actors. Robert Blake was a fixture there, and Clint Eastwood later on. Actors getting in shape for movies, they had to get in shape in six weeks and had never worked out before. Vince would work with them for like $125 a week. He was really a scientist about nutrition and exercise way before his time.

Brainum: Vince designed his gym to match his aesthetic of what a physique should look like: refined, graceful, slim, nice abs but not overly big, not with a big butt. He hated guys with big butts. He said, “That’s what you get when you do squats,” so of course there were no squat racks. Vince’s gym was a shaping gym. You couldn’t really get that big. It was all pulleys and specialized machines, whereas Gold’s was basic heavy iron. No frills.

Balik: Vince’s was a low-ceilinged, un-air-conditioned building, probably 1,000 square feet. It was this tiny dark room. Vince would say, “It’s warm and sticky like a womb. You grow in the womb.”

Morris: Bill Pearl was an icon in fitness. He [also] had a gym on Manchester and then later in Pasadena. But it was primarily for middle-aged people who came in to exercise and maybe take off a few pounds. It was gold-vein mirrors and plush carpeting on the floors and wood panels on the walls.

Giuliani: The magic of Gold’s was it was a block off the ocean. You opened up the front doors—they were big—you always got the breeze coming in. And you had these big skylights. Pearl’s was in Pasadena. It was hot in the summer. Vince’s was in the Valley. Hot.

Balik: The barbell was the unifying factor. It was a lifestyle, an identity. [Publisher/strongman] Peary Rader back in the late ‘50s wrote an editorial that basically said: “You are different. You care about your health, you work out, you’re not part of the mainstream.” They felt they were outliers and on the right hand side of the bell-shaped curve. The people seemed to relish being their own subculture.

Don Howorth (AAU Mr. California, 1963): At the time, bodybuilding was pretty much ostracized by the mainstream community. The perception of bodybuilders was [they were] vain muscle guys always looking at themselves in the mirror. Everybody put us down with all kinds of derogatory comments. Meathead. Queer. Faggot. You could feel this negative vibe.

Coe: Back then, doctors and coaches didn’t want athletes to train with weights. They said, “You’re going to be muscle-bound.” People believed stupid stuff like that.

Giuliani: It was only boxers and wrestlers that used a little bit of iron. Football, baseball, and basketball players—the three most famous, popular sports—they never used iron. The coaches and trainers were against it. They said it slowed you down. It was no good. Doctors were all against weightlifting because they said it was bad for your heart. It gave you high blood pressure. Everybody was wrong.

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At the time, publisher Joe Weider was competing with Bob Hoffman for control of the iron game. Hoffman prioritized competitive weightlifting at the Olympic Games and via the AAU, all the while selling equipment through his company, known as York Barbell. Weider favored bodybuilding. He published various “muscle mags,” like Your Physique and Golden Boy, and developed protein supplements and pills. His brother, Ben Weider, ran the contest side through the IFBB.

Morris: Weider was in it for money, pure and simple. Bob wasn’t. Bob wanted to beat the Russians.

Coe: Joe Weider was an excellent promoter. Hoffman wasn’t. That made the difference. Weider began to create more romance—he had a sharp eye for photography—and he was a better businessman than Hoffman. The one thing I respected about Joe Weider was, he gave everybody an opportunity to do something with themselves. He gave us exposure. It was up to you to take advantage of it and do something with it. Many bodybuilders expected money to fall to them. That ain’t the way it happens. You gotta get out and hustle your ass off. The ones who’ve prospered the most were guys who took advantage of the publicity and let that spill over to other aspects of their life.

Drasin: Joe Weider loved what he did. He just had a love for it. Then he came out with products and supplements. He’d advertise something before he’d make it. He’d advertise a supplement, see if he got any response, and if it took off he’d go ahead and make it. He’d do the same thing with the equipment. But he knew what he was doing. He had an audience with all the different magazines.

Bill Dobbins (photographer): [Joe’s wife] Betty Weider was the best cheesecake model. There was nobody better. Tiny waist, beautiful full breasts, lovely face. She wasn’t a high-fashion model. She wasn’t a sexy model. She was just a glamour model that Joe had photographed on the beach, pushing the whole idea of California as this brand of health: the beaches, the mountains, the sunsets.

Drasin: He exploited certain people here and there to do what he could do. He could be a little shady on some things. Once, he had a big bust of himself made, but they used [bodybuilding legend] Robby Robinson’s body to sculpt the statue. For the unveiling, when they pulled the cover off, it was Robby’s body and Joe’s head. That wasn’t too cool.

Bill Grant (IFBB Mr. World, 1974): Joe Weider had the product and magazines to promote us. We had the muscle. He made us famous. He didn’t give us a lot of money. He gave us free ads in the magazines. He gave us the opportunity to make money: do exhibitions, appearances, sell pictures, sell courses.

Giuliani: Joe always had a superstar. For a while it was Dave Draper. I knew all about Dave before I moved here because he was in all the Weider magazines. Everybody wanted to be Dave Draper in Brooklyn. He was magic when you looked at him: big, blond, good-looking surfer type. He was perfect for California. He looked like he was born on the beach with that blond hair. He was the Blond Bomber.

Drasin: Dave was a furniture builder. He’d take all the wood from Ocean Park—the big pilings that held the pier up—bring them home at night, cut them up, and make tables and chairs out of them. They were heavy pieces of furniture. He made a dining table for Zabo, with benches and stools, and took it over and put them in Zabo’s house by himself. Zabo later moved next door, so he asked if we could help with the move. It took six of us to move the table and chairs. We struggled, and Dave did this by himself.

Brainum: Dave was a very, very nice guy, but very, very shy. Almost pathologically shy. He did that movie Don’t Make Waves [starring Tony Curtis and Sharon Tate], but it was almost painful for him to do that. He just didn’t like being in the public eye. He was a very private person. Very introverted.

Balik: Draper was in the right place at the right time—big, blond, great-looking guy—but that other piece was missing. The limiting factor is, how bad do you want it? For him, it was a hobby.

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Draper’s crossover success opened the door for the unlikeliest of candidates to become the new face of bodybuilding. Like many of the weightlifters who flocked to Gold’s Gym, he was a transplant from outside of California. Unlike many of his peers, he didn’t speak English.

Yorton: I beat this young kid in the [NABBA] Mr. Universe contest in ‘66. He was very subdued. He needed an interpreter because he spoke very little English. He followed me around like a puppy dog backstage. He wanted to know what to do for his calves, what to do for this and that. He came in second to me, but at 20 years old you could tell he was unbelievable. When I came back to Gold’s I told everybody, “You’re not going to believe this guy Arnold Schwarzenegger.” I knew then.

Zane: I won Mr. America in September of ‘68. A week later was [IFBB] Mr. Universe in Miami. Arnold was there. He’d just come over to the States. He was white, smooth, didn’t pose good, had missing body parts, couldn’t speak any English. I beat him, and he took it real hard. But Joe Weider immediately fell in love with Arnold and whisked him off to California, where he was moving his business empire [from New Jersey]. Arnold got a Volkswagen, paid apartment, free supplements, couple hundred bucks a week. From Joe Weider, that was pretty amazing.

Balik: Without question, Joe Weider was the most important person in establishing Arnold here. Arnold wouldn’t be here without Joe Weider making the first step and supporting him.

Joe Weider first told Arnold to go to Vince’s 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.”

Brainum: Vince thought Arnold was an idiot because he spoke broken English. When he looked at you a certain way, his jaw would hang down. He kind of looked like a big dumb guy. If that’s an idiot, boy, we should all be so lucky.

Balik: Arnold was already living at the beach and going back and forth to the Valley. Arnold was there long enough to learn some things from Vince. And what he learned was, he was never that heavy again. He was never fat. He started to appreciate quality muscle rather than just size. It changed the way Arnold looked at things. But it didn’t last because of the draw of the beach: Studio City on Ventura Boulevard versus Venice Beach. Come on.

I think Arnold, just like all of us, enjoyed the energy at Gold’s. There’s no question that, when Arnold would walk in, everything would go up a notch. He was 110 percent focused. He worked out crazy hard.

Columbu: Frank Zane would come and try to intimidate me. He’d say, “Franco, I beat Arnold in the Mr. Universe just before you got here last year.” I said, “Really? You’ll never beat me.” I said, “I’m going to compete against you 100 times, and I’m going to beat you 101 times.” He would go, “GRRRRRRRR.”

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.

Drasin: A lot of bodybuilders are short. Arnold was like 6'2”. He had amazing shoulders and arms that were big and very much defined tapering down to a 32-inch waist, which was hard and tight and all proportioned properly. He knew how to pose, which is really important. On stage he knew how to present himself. He’d show a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and then walk off the stage. He always left them wanting more.

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?

Giuliani: Arnold came from Europe, so he had two strikes against him already. He doesn’t speak English and he’s in a foreign country. I know what that is like because my father was born in Europe. My father met Arnold and knew Arnold. He always told me: Arnold will try harder than an American because you guys were born here. He comes here and has to prove himself more.

Coe: He had high motivation, he had high drive, and he had good genetics. So do a lot of other people. I don’t think he was near as strong as, say, Dave Draper was.

Howorth: Sergio [Oliva] was better than Arnold. He was an awesome specimen. Without a doubt he should’ve beaten Arnold at the 1972 [IFBB] Mr. Olympia contest [which ended in a controversial decision that many speculated was fixed by the Weider brothers]. But Weider could not control [Sergio]. He jumped on Arnold because he was white and he could control him. And, Arnold made a lot of money for him.

Coe: Sergio Oliva, in my opinion, was the greatest bodybuilder that ever lived physique-wise. I had to pose right after him [at the 1966 Junior Mr. America contest]. I was so awed by him that I completely forgot my routine. My mind went blank. I had to make something up when I went on stage. He was so genetically superior, I just wonder if he would have had the right education and the right promotion and the right skin color what he could have done. He was a very charismatic character as well.

Grant: People want to bypass the racism aspect [of bodybuilding], but it’s part of the history. It was pretty damn bad. For years black bodybuilders could never win the Mr. America competition. That was out of the realm. We couldn’t be on the cover of the magazines because they said it wouldn’t sell.

Dobbins: Joe Weider and Arnold had a mutual respect with a certain degree of conflict. That is, Arnold was the only bodybuilder who really knew how to handle Joe Weider. Joe would send Arnold a bill for some ads that he had in the magazine, and then Arnold would send him back an invoice for the use of Arnold’s pictures in Weider ads—and they would both ignore them. I think they both realistically understood the degree to which they were mutually dependent.

(Numerous requests to interview Arnold Schwarzenegger about Joe Gold and Gold’s Gym, made through his attorneys and representatives, were declined.)

Daily workouts at Gold’s were augmented by public sessions on the beach in a small area owned by L.A. Parks and Rec. As the crew figured out ways to make money to support themselves financially, they lifted together, ate together, partied together.

Drasin: Back then the weight pen on Venice Beach was just a little chain-link fence and a platform. There was a big sandy area where you could lay in the sun and work on your tan.

Heide Sutter (weightlifter/waitress): No women were allowed in the weight pen, so I got my own weights. When they finally let me join, this man—his name was Duffy—looked me up and down and said, “I want a woman in my playpen, not in my weight pen.”

Barbara Baker (teacher): My summer job [in 1969], I was the hostess at Zucky’s deli on Wilshire Boulevard. The manager said to me, “That big guy that comes in here has a crush on you.” I was picturing the obese guy who came in all the time. Very soon after that I’m sitting at the counter eating my French fries and Arnold comes over and says in that thick guttural accent, “You are so sexy. I must ask you out on a date.” It’s like, whoa, that’s bizarre. That started it. We were together, on and off but mostly on, for six years.

Lydia Tack (Zabo Koszewski’s wife): Zabo used to get Arnold high. Arnold would be at the beach and say, “Zabo, we go to your house? We go visit your space machine?” He’d lay back and smoke pot on this green leather Barcalounger. He called it Zabo’s space machine.

Charles Gaines (author of Stay Hungry and co-author of Pumping Iron): Among other things that’s not widely understood about bodybuilders, I think, is how good they feel. Working out they have these endorphins cascading their bodies. They’re eating enough meat for a male lion every day, and lying in the sun and screwing whoever they want to screw. It was a kind of paradise. They’re always tanned and they’re in great shape. That sense of physical well-being and pure physical pleasure was a big part of that scene.

Drasin: We’d go to the Marina on Friday and Saturday nights to pick up women. Donkin’s Inn, Charlie Brown’s, Captain’s Wharf, The Warehouse. They’d go crazy over us. They’d never seen anything like it.

Bill Pettis (bodybuilder): I had like 10 girlfriends. I said, “Jane, you’re Tuesday. Sally, you’re Wednesday.” We were broke, but we lived like kings.

Giuliani: Nobody had money. There was no money in bodybuilding. I was an electrician for a while, and then I went to work for the phone company. I had a family.

Pettis: I moved pianos. I was a bouncer and a bodyguard.

Drasin: I was training to stay in shape for pro wrestling. Superstar Billy Graham and S.D. Jones and Rocky Johnson, The Rock’s dad, people like that, we’d all train during the day and then ride together to the matches at the Olympic Auditorium. Different thing, but as a bodybuilder or as a wrestler in the ring you’re selling flesh. I figured I’d train like I do for bodybuilding, but I’d use my skills toward wrestling where I could make good money, not just get a trophy that was a dust-catcher.

Howorth: Some guys did posing exhibitions at the Hayloft [a gay bar on Ventura Boulevard] wearing risqué trunks.

Morris: A lot of bodybuilders made food money and protein-powder money doing private exhibitions for older gay men. It was prevalent. That’s one of the things that nobody talked about.

Baker: The guys called them assignations. That would be when a wealthy gay doctor, or whatever, would come to the gym and pick up on a bodybuilder who was heterosexual. He’d pay him so he could afford the sport, which was expensive.

Ken Waller (IFBB Mr. Universe, 1975): There was a payphone on the wall at Gold’s, and occasionally guys would get calls they couldn’t receive at home. I’m thinking of one bodybuilder who was married with a couple of children. You would never think of him like that.

Morris: I wasn’t alone [in being gay], but nobody talked about it. Part of it was that bodybuilding was seen as this vain exercise that attracted this taboo element. The other part of it was, they were afraid it would affect their income in the gyms and all. They didn’t want to be known as a hotbed of this activity.

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Bodybuilding’s other open secret was steroids, which were introduced in the U.S. starting in the mid-to-late 1950s. Physicians and trainers initially pooh-poohed their efficacy, but the athletes and weightlifters who dared to experiment with them saw immediate and tangible results. By the mid-1960s, every major competitive bodybuilder—including Schwarzenegger, as he has admitted publicly—incorporated steroids into their training regimens. Until passage of the Anabolic Steroids Control Act of 1990, steroids were not classified as a controlled substance.

Saxe: There was two schools of thought. Anybody who competed after Larry Scott [IFBB Mr. Olympia 1965-66], if they wanted to be at the top, they had to be on the drugs. No question. There was also the old-school philosophy prior to Larry Scott: Joe Gold and Zabo and those older guys from the original Muscle Beach believed the body is a temple and you didn’t take steroids. Health was at the forefront. That’s why they called them health clubs.

Danny Padilla (IFBB Mr. America, 1977): It was like a plumber’s union or an electrical union. No one really talked about it. Nobody really knew what anybody else was taking. It was like this big secret.

Giuliani: Nobody wanted to believe that a pill could enhance your athletic ability. It makes you lift a lot of iron in the gym, and the next day with the juice you can recover.

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.

Grant: Most people think we did them all the time. We didn’t. We only did it just before the show—maybe a couple months out. It wasn’t a whole year type of thing. We were engaged with bodybuilding. We ate good, we trained hard. We didn’t depend solely on steroids. That was like 10 percent, to finish off the program. Look at the pictures of us in the off-season. All of us look kinda flat. We had no delts, no pecs. We were just training on our own. We were getting big on our own.

Brainum: There was no growth hormone, no insulin, in those days. The dosages they used back then—the guys today would laugh hysterically at how small they were. They would say that’s for an infant.

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.

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.

Drasin: I started selling a T-shirt: “Dianabol: Breakfast of Champions.”

Gaines: It was something they had to do. They didn’t love the idea. They knew what the consequences could be, though it was still so early in the wide use of steroids that they didn’t know to the degree that they do now what the physical consequences could be. You could be as gifted as Arnold genetically and you could work as hard as Arnold did, but without steroids, you were never going to beat Arnold.

Coe: If you eliminated anabolic steroids for a contest, and the curtains would open, guess how many people would be standing onstage? Nobody.

Morris: Doing drugs was part of the Woodstock generation: smoking pot, experimenting with LSD, taking steroids.

Yorton: Why drugs? People don’t want to spend the time and make the effort. It took me like seven years to win the Mr. America and Mr. Universe title. People want it right now. They sacrifice their health and well being for an easy fix.

Baker: Once they stopped taking them, there would be a noticeable downer. Arnold would get a kind of hangover.

Gaines: Arnold has had health problems—heart-related—that might or might not be related to steroids. He would probably claim that they’re not.

Grant: We knew there were consequences if you went crazy and did steroids all the time. Bodybuilders today are dying like flies, and I hate to see that. It’s like, guys, please, the sport is not taking steroids. You gotta work out and eat and train. Steroids are prevalent in every other sport, but it’s just that bodybuilders ... well, just look at ‘em. We’re the poster boys of steroids.

They also experimented with every type of diet.

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.

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.

Howorth: I used to take Rex wheat germ oil for dogs.

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.

Howorth: I asked [bodybuilder] Ron Margason, “How’d you get so cut up?” He said, “I lived on tuna and water for six weeks.” We know now that’s one of the worst things you could do to your body. You’re starving yourself. You have to feed your body, not starve it.

Morris: 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.

In 1970, Joe Gold decided to return to the Merchant Marines. He started looking for a buyer for the gym.

Mike Uretz (Joe Gold’s attorney): I think Joe just got tired of it. He made real good money as a chief boatswain on these ships that would go around South America. He didn’t like to be tied down.

Brainum: The original Gold’s Gym was truly a non-profit. Joe owned the building and he owned the land. If he had to pay the rents like they have today, that thing would’ve closed down in a month. He made no money. Memberships started at $40 a month, and he had like 100 members. If you didn’t voluntarily pay your membership, it was never paid. It was like the honor system.

Saxe: Joe wanted $15,000 down and $50,000 for the building and the business. I had a friend [Bud Danitz] who had some money, and he said he’d invest with me. So we bought Gold’s. We tried to do some changes. We had “Gold’s Gym” painted in big letters on the front of the building in red, white and blue. The last year I opened it up to women. Two women joined. One was a camera operator in Hollywood. The other one was a tall, Scandinavian woman, hippie-type broad. She had a giant dog that went everywhere with her. There was no women’s showers, but that didn’t bother her. She’d go up, take a shower, and that dog would stand guard at the front.

Sutter: I loved the gym. It was so rugged. I had a Great Dane. I used to take my showers there even though I was the only woman in the gym. No one bothered me because the dog would be outside.

Saxe: We were eking it out the whole time. I had no business experience. I was an engineer. We had it long enough to know that it wasn’t working.

Discouraged, Saxe and Danitz unloaded Gold’s Gym—the business and the buildings—to Ken Sprague in 1974. Sprague was a recent transplant from Cincinnati. Buff and good-looking, he appeared in gay porn under the stage-name “Dakota.” With his young wife Maryon, he also came with Hollywood connections and marketing ideas.

Ken Sprague (owner, Gold’s Gym): Everybody that Dave Saxe and Bud Danitz approached to buy Gold’s Gym turned it down. Arthur Jones [inventor of the Nautilus fitness machines] turned it down. My purchase price was $74,000, which included the cost of the mortgage to the building, the mortgage on the house next door and the lot next door to that, and the business itself—Joe Gold’s Gym Inc.

Dobbins: Ken is an amazing guy. He made his own rules. He was not gay. He was gay for pay. As Dakota, he was a huge male porno star. That’s what paid for the gym. His thing was, I don’t care. I’ll cash the checks.

Coe: Ken Sprague was a great marketing guy. He was smart enough to make sure that all the photographs that appeared in Joe Weider’s magazines were being taken at Gold’s Gym.

Dobbins: Ken was a good businessman. We did a book together called The Gold’s Gym Weight Training Book. He promoted the gym. Joe Gold never promoted anything. Joe Gold would just as soon kick you out as look at you.

Coe: Sprague was the first guy to sell T-shirts. If you appeared in the magazine, you had to wear a Gold’s Gym tank top or T-shirt. That created a buzz.

Waller: I went to a nightclub in San Francisco one weekend. There was a band with a [musician] who had a tight T-shirt on and a shaved head. When I came back, I told Ric [Drasin], “I want you to design a logo for the gym. Go get yourself a Mr. Clean bottle and make it look like Mr. Clean.” Ric drew the thing, and he had the barbell straight. The only thing I told him to change was make the bar curved, because if you’ve got that much weight on a bar, it shouldn’t be straight.

Drasin: I took the design to this place on Venice Boulevard, and they printed up a couple dozen. They sold out and we printed up some more. Pretty soon it became THE shirt.

Grant: Remember the Mr. America parade that Ken Sprague organized in Santa Monica [in 1977]? It started on Wilshire and came down as far as Main Street. We had a big float, we had elephants, and we had Mae West. I walked her out on-stage and she said, “Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me, big boy?” The audience went crazy, including me. They sold so many T-shirts at that parade, they were putting money in the drawers. They were stuffing bills into bags. It was a boon, man.

Sprague: That got us press from all over. 60 Minutes did a piece on it, the Wall Street Journal mentioned it, Paul Harvey, Tomorrow with Tom Snyder. The Hollywood Reporter sent their social columnist—George Christy—to do a write-up. He referred to Dianabol as “Diana balls.”

In 1972, Stay Hungry, a novel by Charles Gaines set at a gym in the South, was nominated for a National Book Award and snapped up by a Hollywood producer. That same year, Gaines and George Butler, a photographer friend, were assigned to write a feature about bodybuilding for Sports Illustrated.

Gaines: George and I struck up a friendship with Mike Katz, one of the top bodybuilders. [Katz also played for the New York Jets on their practice squad in the late 1960s.] He told us that we ought to do a story on this Austrian guy who is going to blow everybody’s socks off. The next fall we spent a lot of time interviewing Arnold and also getting to know Franco. George and I had a drink at the Algonquin, we looked at each other and said, “Shit, this is cool. This is worth more than a story.” I mean, all you had to do was meet Arnold to know he was going to be a star at something bigger than bodybuilding.

George Butler (author/documentary filmmaker; director of Pumping Iron): I had published a book with John Kerry [titled The New Soldier, about Vietnam War veterans who opposed the war]. So, Charles and I got an appointment with Sandy Richardson, the head of Doubleday, to pitch a documentary book about bodybuilding. He said, “We love you, but that book is the worst idea I’ve ever heard. Nobody cares about bodybuilders except gay guys and other bodybuilders.”

Gaines: Bob Datilla, a literary agent whose only client was [novelist-poet] Jim Harrison, thought the idea was great. He brought it to Dan Green at Simon & Schuster, who was a very cerebral and refined editor. He listened to our rap without saying a word. Then he said, “How much do you want as an advance?” Now we had the pocket money to do it. George and I started going to California and spending time at Gold’s.

Balik: I remember sitting on the floor in Arnold’s living room when Gaines and Butler were talking about it, and I was like, “These guys are out of their minds. Who’s going to buy this thing?” But they were outsiders. They were able to recognize the specialness of what they were looking at. I didn’t have their tools and their connections and their vision.

Gaines: The book introduced bodybuilding as an interesting, if not serious, topic. It broke them out of the closet. Since Arnold was prominently featured in the book and was clearly the most presentable—if that’s the word—of the people whom we featured, George and I were always invited to bring Arnold along to all the TV shows: Good Morning, Mike Douglas, the Today show with Barbara Walters. It did two things: it introduced him to a larger audience before the movie came out as this charming, offbeat character. More importantly, because Arnold was so smooth and sophisticated and palatable, it cast a much friendlier light on bodybuilding than had ever been done before.

One of my teachers at the Iowa Writers Workshop was Kurt Vonnegut. He read the book and said, “Jill and I”—at that point he was with Jill Krementz—“want to see a competition.” So George and I took him and Jill and a whole retinue of literati down to the Brooklyn Academy of Music for a competition.

Image for article titled Sex, Steroids, And Arnold: The Story Of The Gym That Shaped America

Published in 1974, Pumping Iron was a New York Times best seller and made bodybuilding chic. The next year, as Schwarzenegger, Columbu, and others trained at Gold’s for the 1975 Mr. Olympia contest, Butler and Gaines began production on the movie version.

Butler: We shot for about six weeks at Gold’s. All my crew wanted to focus on Frank Zane. I had done the book and I knew that Arnold was a natural star. So I put my foot down and said, “This film is about Arnold.”

Sprague: I owned a motion-picture soundstage in Hollywood, so I knew something about production. I told Butler that he could run his cables and leave them and keep his lights up on the ceiling, so anytime he wanted to he could walk in and start filming. All the footage in the gym scenes on the West Coast was from Gold’s. What do you see on Arnold and everybody else? The Gold’s Gym T-shirt.

Giuliani: For months they were there. I went over to Ken Sprague and said, “You know, people are complaining. They’re tripping over these cables. The movie never ends.” He looked at me and said, “Where they gonna go?”

Uretz: Later on, Joe Gold said to me sheepishly, “Mike, if I had owned the gym then I would never have allowed them to film it.” I had lunch later with Arnold. I said, “It’s ironic that Joe would never have allowed Pumping Iron to be made because it was ruining the workouts of all the guys in the gym.” Arnold looked at me and he said, “Mikey, believe me, he would do it for me.”

Steve Cepello (professional wrestler known as Steve Strong): Pumping Iron was more of a voyeur’s peek into the evolution of the competitive aspect, a bit contrived to the knowing eye. It had a comic-book approach in creating bigger-than-life personal struggles and setting the stage for the stardom of a select few.

Waller: It’s not a true documentary. To make it more dramatic, they said they needed some sort of a villain. They took the T-shirt incident [when Waller swipes Mike Katz’s lucky T-shirt] and made it looked like I’d planned it all before. After the movie came out, I’d go to shows and people would boo me.

Butler: To a certain extent we pumped up the dramatic tension between Arnold and Lou [Ferrigno]. I was very influenced by the non-fiction novels that were being published in the early 1960s. I’m talking about writers like Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote.

Ferrigno: The father-son thing was played up in the film, so you could see the tension between us. You know, it’s your father, so you make the best out of it. He had never trained me before, but for the movie he stepped in. He was like a stage father.

Gaines: The movie was a star vehicle for Arnold, and Lou to a lesser extent. Arnold got his role as Conan [in Conan the Barbarian] as a result of his performance in Pumping Iron, and Lou got The Incredible Hulk.

Zane: Pumping Iron put bodybuilding on the map. Now there was a way you could actually make a living as a professional bodybuilder. You could do posing exhibitions and seminars, where you’d go out and meet with a bunch of people and talk about your training and answer questions. There was more publicity. Bodybuilding was on network television.

Years later, Schwarzenegger bought all the footage, the photos, and the rights to Pumping Iron.

Saxe: Why? Why not? He’s a strong A-type personality who wants control. That’s why he wasn’t as great a politician as he could have been. He’s not a negotiator. He’s a controller.

Gaines: Arnold was smart enough to recognize that he didn’t need somebody digging through the outtakes of Pumping Iron. It cost him—for Arnold—a pittance.

Meanwhile, director Bob Rafelson (Head, Five Easy Pieces) was in pre-production for the film based on Gaines’s novel Stay Hungry. He chose a youthful Jeff Bridges for the lead with Sally Field as his romantic interest. The role of Joe Santo—the sensitive, banjo-strumming bodybuilder—was Rafelson’s most challenging casting decision.

Drasin: Arnold took me on one of his first auditions in Burbank. We go to read and he’s stumbling over the lines. He’s having a really hard time. The producer and the director are watching him and laughing. We got back in the car and he asked me, “What did you think?” I said, “If I were you, I’d stick with bodybuilding.”

Gaines: I took Arnold over to Bob’s house, and Bob said, “No, it’s not going to work. We’ll find an actor who happens to be a bodybuilder.” We went through about a dozen of them and couldn’t find anybody who was right. Finally, Rafelson said, “Let’s give Arnold another chance to read some lines.” Arnold had been doing a lot of acting classes and working on his accent. He came in and just blew Bob’s socks off.

Balik: My first ever ride in a limo was with Arnold and Bob Rafelson in New York. Bob is sitting between Arnold and me. He says, “Arnold’s going to be a star.” Rafelson recognized it. All of us were too close to see where it could go. Just like Butler and Gaines, they recognized the specialness of this.

Brainum: Arnold was an introverted guy, but somehow he picked up the idea of projecting the way he wanted to be. He turned himself into this super extrovert where he was able to joke and come off with a big personality, make fun of himself. People loved this guy because they saw this giant muscle guy who had a sense of humor and was self-deprecating. The strange thing was, he became what he was trying to be. He became that extroverted, super-confident person. But he wasn’t for like those first four, five years. It was an act, but nobody caught on.

Schwarzenegger won a Golden Globe award for Stay Hungry. He was profiled in Rolling Stone and appeared on seemingly every talk show. Besides training, he was also taking business classes, studying English, and setting his sights on the future.

Brainum: Arnold has all these stories where he laid bricks when he first came over here. He gave the impression that he did it for several years. That’s not true. He did it, but only for a short period. Arnold was not the kind of guy to do manual labor, trust me.

Franco: Arnold and I formed a little construction company called European Bricklaying. Very big name. Bud Danitz says, “I need a new wall for my house.” We went there and looked at the wall, and I say to Arnold, “$1,000 to take the wall down and build a taller one.” Arnold turns around and says to Bud Danitz, “Nineteen hundred bucks.” I say to Arnold in German, “One thousand could do it.” He says, “A thousand in material, our labor is $900.” Bud Danitz says, “I don’t care what you want. Just build the wall tomorrow.” The wall is still there.

Baker: Even though Arnold’s very capable of loving another person, his fundamental ground of being is to assess you for what you can offer to his life. I was a seamstress, a socializer, a cook, and a masseuse, not by profession but I gravitated to all those domestic things. I thought I was a really great catch for him, and I was sure that this was something he would want forever—until he got to the next level, where he wanted to ascend to a more moneyed world. I couldn’t offer the moneyed world. And so then he went with a Beverly Hills lawyer’s daughter, and then the next big one was one of the Kennedys.

Balik: In bodybuilding we had never seen anybody combine personality with physique. That’s Arnold. He could be sitting in a storefront church in Watts or across from the Pope, and he’s completely confident and comfortable in either situation. There’s no artifice. The classic political animal.

Brainum: There was one time I was in Arnold’s little Volkswagen that Joe Weider leased for him. We went to go eat lunch and parked in a parking lot. There was an old man watching the parking lot. Arnold pays him the dollar when we’re leaving and says to him, “Hey, how old are you, man?” and the guy says, “I’m 85.” Arnold says, “Oh, you’ll probably be dead within a year,” and he laughed and he pumped the gas and moved out. I didn’t say anything, but I’m thinking, what was the purpose of that? That’s not funny. He had a little sadistic streak to his humor.

Baker: I didn’t like it. We would get into fights about it. It was like, how could you have said that to that person? What are you thinking? It’s something in him. There’s that little sadistic streak in him. But there is a part of him that is such a good guy.

Image for article titled Sex, Steroids, And Arnold: The Story Of The Gym That Shaped America

At the same time Schwarzenegger was blowing up, Ken Sprague was moving Gold’s Gym from its original location at 1006 Pacific Avenue in Venice Beach to less spartan quarters at 1452 2nd street in Santa Monica. Meanwhile, Joe Gold had returned to Southern California and decided that he wanted to return to the gym business. That set up a conflict between Sprague, supported by Joe Weider, and Gold, supported by Schwarzenegger.

Giuliani: Joe Gold wanted to get his name back, but he couldn’t get it back. Ken Sprague wouldn’t give it back to him. Joe realized that he made a big mistake selling the name.

Sprague: I could see where Joe was peeved. Here his name was now a household word, and he wasn’t getting anything for it. Then he started building what would become World Gym. There was a non-compete clause [in the purchase agreement], so I sued to block it so that he couldn’t build the gym just when it looked like bodybuilding was going to be a cash cow. You had Arnold—who was the celebrity of the sport—and you had Gold’s Gym—which was the vehicle for the bodybuilders. There was a lot of tension in terms of who was going to control bodybuilding.

Uretz: All of a sudden Arnold was a hot commodity. Arnold hated what was going on at Gold’s, and he didn’t like Ken Sprague. Arnold told Joe, “Joe, if that lawsuit is taken care of, I will work out at your gym exclusively.”

Sprague: I felt sorry for Joe. All he wanted was his own gym. So, we allowed him to open World Gym [on Main Street in Santa Monica], but he was not allowed to have a picture taken there for a period of several years. That blocked World Gym from the media because bodybuilding, if anything, is a pictorial endeavor.

Brainum: The main impetus [for starting World Gym], the major motivation, was revenge. Joe seethed when he saw Gold’s Gym making money off his name. It just drove him crazy. If it wasn’t called Gold’s Gym, I don’t think there might’ve been a World Gym. It really bothered him. He said, “Screw it, I’m opening up my own gym.” He did it, again, for his buddies. Once he opened up World, he expected all the original guys to leave Gold’s and come to him at World. He looked at it like a loyalty thing.

Giuliani: Joe made all the equipment for World Gym, just like he did with Gold’s, and me and Zabo helped him open up the gym. Arnold came with him and Franco and Frank Zane and Draper and Saxe. We were loyal to Joe.

Drasin: Joe came to me and said, “I’m opening another gym called World Gym. I need a logo.” So, I drew a gorilla with a barbell. That became the next-biggest-selling logo after Gold’s.

Ferrigno: Joe needed help to move the equipment upstairs when he opened World Gym. He goes, “Baby Louie, get your ass downstairs and help me bring this machine up.” I could hear him yelling down the hallway. If Joe has something he wants, you do it.

In 1978, Ken Sprague found out that his wife was dying. He decided to sell Gold’s Gym.

Saxe: He dutifully took care of his wife to the end. I saw him pushing her in a wheelchair in front of my house. You may say a lot of things about Kenny Sprague, but he did it proper.

Sprague: Pete Grymkowski, who was one of the top bodybuilders, was helping Maryon with running the gym on a day-to-day basis. Maryon really liked Pete. Maryon wanted Pete to have Gold’s, and I wanted Pete to have it. I felt he was the right person for the job if he could raise the money.

Pete Grymkowski (IFBB Mr. World, 1977): Ken Sprague told me that these two guys [Bob Fischer and Denny Malloy] wanted to buy it, but whoever gets him the money first gets the gym. The price was $100,000. That day, or a day later, I put a deposit on it. I had two partners: Ed Connors and Denny Doyle. Then, after Denny bailed out, I brought Tim Kimber in.

Sprague: All Pete bought was a name—which by now was extraordinary—and some broken-down equipment.

Tim Kimber (co-owner, Gold’s Gym): Our landlord on 2nd Street was Robert Blake. We heard that he was going to triple our rent. Hart To Hart, the TV show, wanted to use the gym for an episode. We booked it for $2,500 the first day. Robert Wagner hurt his back and they had to come back. So, we got $5,000 for that day. Then they had come back again and again. We ended up getting $65,000 in location fees.

Pete Grymkowski: Ed Connors, who was an architect, had found a new place on Hampton Drive back in Venice. Between the move and the build-out we were strapped financially. The TV production people moved all our equipment to the new location with their trucks. It’s safe to say that Hart To Hart saved us.

From their headquarters at 360 Hampton Drive in Venice, the new owners introduced an entirely different business model for fitness clubs: franchising.

Paul Grymkowski (president, Gold’s Gym): My brother Pete was still competing and going around the country guest posing. People would say, “I would love to come out to Gold’s, but we don’t have the money, we don’t have the time,” and so on. Pete came back and said, “We should license the name and bring Gold’s Gym to the people.”

Pete Grymkowski: My strategy was to make a household name out of Gold’s Gym.

Brainum: Joe Gold did not have a businessman’s mentality. He had basically a blue-collar worker mind-set. He didn’t envision things like franchises. When he saw Gold’s Gym going into franchise, he said, “I should never have sold the gym.” He always, always regretted it. He did not envision the growth of the gym business. He thought it would be this small clique forever, with a couple of hardcore knucklehead bodybuilders.

The timing of the new owners was in sync with the zeitgeist. The publication of Jim Fixx’s 1977 best-seller The Complete Book of Running heralded the jogging/marathoning boom, while the first issue of Yoga Journal two years earlier announced yoga’s swelling presence in the West. Richard Simmons was gyrating in his new exercise studio, Slimmons, in Beverly Hills, and Jane Fonda was poised to release her eponymous line of aerobics videos. Women purchased gym memberships in increasing numbers; an upstart company in the Pacific Northwest called Nike peddled sneakers to the masses. With the debut of easy-to-use equipment like the StairMaster and sweat-till-you-drop activities like Spinning, the pursuit of health and fitness transformed from a cult into an industry.

Gold’s itself grew to a chain of 534 gyms before the business was sold in 1999 to a private equity firm for a reported $60 million. Five years later, TRT Holdings purchased Gold’s Gym Inc. for a reported $158 million.

The original Gold’s Gym, at 1006 Pacific Avenue in Venice, is now a private residence. The Gold’s Gym at 360 Hampton Drive in Venice remains open; the building was recently purchased by Google.

Joe Gold followed their example by franchising World Gym. His later years were spent in a wheelchair, but he could still be found most days behind the counter, being his irascible self. He died in 2004 and his ashes were spread in the Pacific Ocean.

Ferrigno: The legacy from that era is the chiseled look, like when Sly [Stallone] did Rocky. You take The Rock today: Fans get excited because when they see his muscles, they know it’s real and not some costume. It’s believable. They want buff. They want abs like Gerard Butler in 300.

Balik: Joe is the connection between the original Muscle Beach guys—the all-natural scene, hanging out at the beach—and Arnold and the others taking it to the modern era.

Brainum: People were realizing that the weights were tools: they could use them to get in shape, strengthen their muscles, and look good. Jane Fonda was photographed lifting light weights. People said, “My god, she looks great.” It dawned on people that you could use weights, get fit, and not worry about that other stuff. That’s when it took off. People of all types and shapes started showing up at gyms. Prior to that it was all muscle guys, bodybuilders, and a few athletes.

Morris: It’s sad that Joe Gold is not given more credit for making fitness and exercise and paying attention to your diet so important. People today think that Gold’s Gym is a chain gym with a crazy logo.

Brainum: Gold’s became the essence of what a real gym should be in the modern era. It’s a training gym for everybody: Fat, skinny, old, young, buff, sick, wheelchair, male, female, whatever. Before, gyms were esoteric places where these strange Muscleheads hung out. Nobody thinks like that anymore. Gold’s is the place that originally brought weight training and re-shaping your body to the masses. That’s why it’s the mecca.

David Davis is the author of Waterman: The Life and Times of Duke Kahanamoku.