Muscle & Fitness, a colorful and energetic riot of musclemen and muscle-building information, isn’t a recent publication that gained popularity overnight. It has gone by a variety of names over more than 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 mother’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.

Back in those halcyon days, 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…


[ Santa Monica, CA – Summer ]

Hold it there. Back up 20 feet and take another look. There on the beach is 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. They 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 flails 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 occurrence, 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 is a master photographer, and physiques are 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 ol’ reliable Roloflex.

Joe tears at his shirt and performs what appears to be an Indian rain dance, 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 does. Joe is pleased. Another day at the beach.

The pretty models go their way – they couldn’t care less for the muscleheads – and the muscleheads go theirs. The first thing on their minds is protein and then getting in a workout missed due to the fun and frolic at the beach. But it’s worth it, isn’t it? Maybe your mug will be in the mag, and you’ll be famous.

Back in those days, fame and glory in a muscle magazine and 10 cents got you a cup of coffee. Hey, buddy, can ya spare a dime?

To be continued…