Joe Weider's Story: Bodybuilding, Magazines, and Arnold Schwarzenegger

The man who transformed bodybuilding and fitness.

Joe Weider's Story: Bodybuilding, Magazines, and Arnold Schwarzenegger


The former Betty Brosmer, one of the top models of the late ‘50s, recalls that she and Joe shared a love of philosophy, antiques, and art. At first, there was only a business relationship—she modeled for his magazines. But a friendship formed. “We had a lot in common. And one night we had dinner, and he reached across the table and held my hand and sparks flew,” Betty Weider remembered. Their romance blossomed and grew. Divorces were difficult to attain then, so Joe moved to Las Vegas temporarily to legally terminate his first marriage. There, on April 24, 1961, Joe and Betty wed. (The gambling capital retained a special place in their hearts, and they later purchased a luxury condominium there.)

Rebuilding his business after the distribution disaster, Joe introduced new equipment and nutritional supplements, and he refocused on improving his two muscle magazines. (A third magazine, All-American Athlete, dedicated to sports training, launched in August 1963 and lasted until October 1969.) “With staffing cut back, I was like a publishing one-man band, doing practically everything cover to cover,” he recalled. “I wrote and designed all the ads and wrote a lot of the articles under various bylines. Sometimes I posed for pictures, too. I put Betty’s pictures everywhere—sometimes with dark-colored wigs and disguises so the readers wouldn’t know she was the same model they just saw a few pages back.”


As a Jewish immigrant, Joe Weider knew the sting of bigotry and thus was determined to fight it. One of his most comendable legacies was the groundbreaking colorblind treatment of non-white athletes on the stages of the IFBB and the pages of Weider magazines. This is most evident in the contest placings of African-American Harold Poole, who, despite having the superior physique, was second twice in the AAU Mr. America (no black man won that contest until 1970) before jumping to the IFBB and promptly winning its 1963 Mr. Universe. The following year, he won the IFBB Mr. America.

Poole defeated Larry Scott in the 1963 Mr. U. Absent Poole, Scott took the title in 1964. This raised an obvious question–-which Mr. Universe winner was better? Whatever the federation, the Mr. U was then the ultimate title, and once a bodybuilder attained it he had little reason to continue competing. When 26-year-old Scott dined with Joe and Betty, he lamented his inevitabile early retirement, and Betty began talking about a long-gestating idea for a new professional championship open to all major title holders. “Larry got excited about Betty’s idea, and I knew the time had come,” Joe remembered. “For the likes of him and the future of bodybuilding, there would be a new champion’s championship.”

As fate would have it, Joe was drinking a rare beer at that dinner, and his eyes settled on the Olympia beer bottle. That’s it! Heroic, mythic, celestialMr. Olympia. That moment was a turning point from the confusing titles and scant rewards of the past to the prestige and paydays of the future. Sixteen months before Super Bowl I, on September 18, 1965 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Larry Scott won the innaugural Mr. Olympia. Poole was second. The modern era of bodybuilding began.


Though it moved twice, Weider Publishing headquarters remained in Union City, New Jersey. Still, it had a West Coast office in Santa Monica, California—which, with the opening of the first Gold’s Gym in neighboring Venice in 1965, was at the forefront of muscle. Weider photo shoots occurred at the beach, and throughout the ‘60s, Joe’s magazines became increasingly synonymous with California sunshine and a perpetual holiday in what looked like paradise when viewed on a bleak winter day in New Jersey—or in a small mountain village in Austria.

In that village lived a muscular phenom with a peculiar name. After winning the 1967 NABBA Mr. Universe at 19, Arnold Schwarzenegger was the talk of bodybuilding. In 1968, he adorned his first Weider cover and entered his first Weider contest. On September 28, backstage at the Miami Auditorium, hours before the IFBB Mr. Universe, 21-year-old Arnold Scwarzenegger met Joe Weider, the man he would come to think of as his second father. Arnold didn’t win the show (it was his last loss), but his boundless potential won over the publisher. “He had the mind of a champion, he had the heart of a champion, and I figured that he could be a star and being a star he would help the sport,” Joe said of Arnold.

Arnold recalled: “He always would say, ‘Arnold, I want you to be the best and the smartest bodybuilder of the whole world. I see fire in your eyes. I see the competitive spirit in your eyes. That is what I want. And this is why I’ll help you, and you come to California and I’ll take care of your apartment and I’ll give you some spending money so you can live, and all you have to do is train, train, and train and beat everyone.’”

Arnold was on eight Weider magazine covers over 16 months between July 1969 and December 1970. Articles were penned under his name. (Though that advice was his, a writer—often Joe himself—structured it and typed it.) To get Arnold’s training and nutrition tips as well as photos of his ever-expanding physique, you needed to buy Muscle Builder or Mr. America. Interspersed with the articles, the future seven-time Mr. Olympia appeared in advertisements for Weider training equipment and supplements. Arnold Schwarzenegger has, so far, appeared on the cover of a Weider muscle magazine 68 times. [G.M.: Includes Feb. '13 M&F.]