With the right plan and the right discipline, you can get seriously shredded in just 28 days.Read article
Years before I started training I would watch muscular guys like Steve Reeves in the movies and wonder how they got to looking the way they did, and how’d they made their way into movies. It was said that if you moved to Europe you could find your way into Italian ‘Sword and Sandal’ films, as they always used bodybuilders. Many good bodybuilders of the ’50’s and ’60’s did films in Europe in those days, such as Reeves, Reg Park, Gordon Scott and, a few years later, David Prowse, who played Darth Vader.
DRAPER & FRIENDS
In 1964 Muscle Beach Party came out and brought a lot of attention to the bodybuilding scene in California. It featured Peter Lupus, who later became a regular on Mission Impossible. Other bodybuilders in that film were Larry Scott, Steve Merjanian, Chet Yorton, Dan Haggerty (later to play ‘Grizzly Adams’ on TV), Gene Chuey, and a few muscle girls as well.
There weren’t many bodybuilders on TV in those days as they were looked upon as freaks, and really didn’t fit any roles unless they were specific to bodybuilding or mythology. But there was a short-lived series called The Gladiator, in which a host would introduce a different sword
and sandal film each week. That host was none other than bodybuilding legend Dave Draper. He was an awesome sight, and there was no one else like him on TV. That gig would bring Dave a lot of future film roles.
In 1967 Dave had made a movie called Don’t Make Waves, with Tony Curtis. There was an array of bodybuilders in that film, like Chet Yorton and Reg Lewis, to name a couple. The film really began to put bodybuilding on the map in a public way. I must have watched it a dozen times, and would be inspired to train each time I watched it. I had to have traps, delts and arms like Dave.
I never would have guessed that years later that he and I would be training together, but that’s the magic of bodybuilding.
Back in the late-50’s to early-60’s there was a group of guys who trained on the beach in Santa Monica and lived in an apartment building right on the boardwalk that was called ‘Muscle House’. It was owned by a woman who also cooked their meals for them. One of the bodybuilders was an actor who came from New York to live the Hollywood dream, but he wasn’t having much success at the time.
As he was preparing to go on another audition he told the guys in the house that if he didn’t get this one he was packing his bags and heading back to New York. He’d had enough of fruitless auditioning and was just about finished. Well, he apparently was prepared for the rejection at the audition and so projected a somewhat cocky, dismissive attitude. Much to his surprise, it was just what they were looking for! He wound up landing the gig, as the lead in a series that would last six years. That man was Vince Edwards and the show was Ben Casey.
THE EASTWOOD CONNECTION
So, you never know where things may lead to when you get involved with bodybuilding. While Clint Eastwood wasn’t a competitor, training was in his blood and he was always around the gym crowd, and we all know how he’s done since his ‘Spaghetti Westerns’ of the ’60’s.
Robert Duranton, who was a French bodybuilder who later went into Pro Wrestling, landed a film with Shirley Maclaine, but in the film never even showed his body. He wore a suit and tie, and he had a pretty decent role with her.
William Smith was an arm wrestler and bodybuilder who trained with Vince Gironda and was featured on the cover of one of Joe Weider’s magazines in the 50’s. His first big TV gig was as a cowboy in the series Laredo. He went on to do over 100 films and TV shows and played the character Falconetti on the 1970’s series Rich Man Poor Man. Bill was also the badass in that memorable fight scene with Clint Eastwood on Every Which Way but Loose.
As time moved on and I finally made my own move to Southern California, I too decided to try my hand at acting. I figured that the pro wrestling circuit taught me how to act in way, like theater-in-the-round, so I should be able to handle it.
I looked around for agents like everyone else and found one who decided to take me on. He did warn me that I might be too big for a lot of roles. Doctors, lawyers and other ‘average people’ at the time were small and untrained, and so he told me that it would be too difficult to explain why one would be muscular if I were to play them. I disagreed, but it was true that casting directors didn’t have a clue how to cast anyone like us other than as dumb meatheads.
The legendary Mae West liked to use bodybuilders in her Vaudeville-styled act of the 50’s and 60’s. She used five or six bodybuilders and Joe Gold, of Gold’s Gym fame, was one of them. He also at that time tried his hand at pro wrestling—something very few people know about. Zabo (Mr. Abs) Kozewski and Reg Lewis were also favorites of Mae.
Well, years later—in the mid-70’s—Mae West made her last film, Sextette, and many of the bodybuilders of that generation, myself included, worked in it. It was a terrible film, but a lot of fun to act in, and almost every old-time superstar at the time was in it.
Bodybuilders were commonly used in background scenes as bodyguards or security. That’s pretty much all that was expected of us at the time. I was submitted by my agent to play just that on the FBI series with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. This was a very popular show and got me into SAG, the Screen Actors Guild, which was really hard to get into. If you wanted a union job—and most TV and Films were union—you had to belong to SAG. This guaranteed you certain daily rates and with a certain amount of income for the year, as well as health coverage.
Shortly after the FBI show I read for a film called Ben which was the sequel to the rat movie Willard. They had me read for a gay gym instructor. Most bodybuilders didn’t want to play a gay character, for fear of promoting a stereotype, but I didn’t mind. It was a role, and I was an actor. Actors play roles onscreen or on a stage, and then leave that character behind when they get off work. I read for it and got the part, and it’s a good thing I did as it paid residuals for many years to come. Even today, I’m on the jacket cover of the video.
I hadn’t done any TV commercials yet, but one day soon after Arnold and I were walking on the beach when we were stopped by some people from a production company. They asked if we’d be interested in auditioning for a Chevy commercial the following Monday. Of course we would! So on that Monday we drove over to the audition and brought a few friends. We were all hired. The commercial showed us all trying to lift a Chevy into the air, without success, when along comes a wimp, who lifts it with one finger (they used a crane). This was a SAG job and it paid very well.
Also at this gig were some of the people from the earlier on movies I had mentioned, such as Steve Merjanian, Reg Lewis and Don Chuey. Finally, I’m working with all these guys whom I had trained with for so many years. This was the first TV commercial that Arnold and I ever did. Things just took off from there for both of us.
Arnold went on to do Conan and other films. I continued to do over 50 TV commercials and several movies as well. During that time we had a pay phone on the wall in Gold’s Gym Venice, and many studios would call looking for bodybuilders for a show. We’d all run down and audition for the roles and some of us would get it and a few wouldn’t but back then there were a lot of variety shows on TV and they ‘d use us to fill in where there was a need for big, muscular guys.
The Incredible Hulk came out and put Lou Ferrigno on the map as a superstar while inspiring many kids to start working out and build their muscles. I was lucky enough to play the ‘Demi-Hulk’ on the show, which has brought me a lot of fans , even to this day.
The Terminator showed Arnold off to the maximum and also created a huge interest in bodybuilding. The public was finally beginning to see that there was a place in this world for good bodies and not just freaks.
Today’s actors all work out and many of them have great bodies. They take pride in themselves and always go for the six pack. Look at Harrison Ford, who showed his abs recently in a magazine. This was pretty impressive.
I’d say that bodybuilding has definitely come a long way in films and should continue to grow. Even today I’m submitted for so many things through my agent, just because I’ve stayed in shape. But it’s not just the dumb musclehead roles any longer: today it’s the men with the good bodies have major acting roles.
I have my own show in development as I write this and still train six days a week. At 67, I have to show my peers that we can still hang in there, stay in shape, and get film work. Now I can play a grandpa with abs!