The Man Who Transformed Bodybuilding & Fitness

There are lots of legends. Joe Weider was one of a kind.
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FEDERATION

Bodybuilding contests in the ‘40s and before were mere adjuncts to weightlifting meets, and, in North America, were under the control of Bob Hoffman and the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). In 1946, Joe and Ben Weider promoted the AAU Mr. Montreal. Unlike other AAU events, which were typically held in high school auditoriums, the Weiders’ contest was staged in Quebec’s best theater. The brothers hired musicians and a popular guest poser, and they printed programs. The 1500 tickets sold out, and over 80 bodybuilders entered. But minutes before the first pose was to be struck, word came from the AAU that the show’s sanction had been revoked.

Joe was livid, but as the audience clamored for a contest, he and his brother made a monumental decision. Forget the AAU. “As of this moment, we have our own governing body,” Joe told the assembled bodybuilders. “We’re calling it the International Federation of Bodybuilders, and it’s going to make bodybuilding bigger and better than ever.” Not one competitor withdrew. The show went on without a hitch. The IFBB was born, and bodybuilding took a giant leap forward, freeing itself from weightlifting’s shadow.

EXPANSION

Joe’s business outgrew not just his parents’ house but his native country. The circulations of Your Physique and Muscle Power outpaced the capacities of Quebec printers, so, for more than a year, Joe regularly journeyed across the border to have his magazines printed in America. In 1947, he moved near the worldwide capital of publishing, New York City. (Ben stayed in Montreal and focused on expanding the IFBB.) While Joe lived in Manhattan, Weider Publishing was nearby in New Jersey. “An office is beautiful because you do beautiful work in it,” he explained. “In that sense, the dump in Jersey was a palace. The magazines got better and better.”

He worked for 10 hours or more daily, so it’s little wonder his first marriage was strained. But that wasn’t its only problem. Joe remembered, “Just a few weeks after the [1947] wedding, I knew the marriage was a mistake. I think my wife [Diana] knew it, too. But our misery went on for years and years.”

Your Physique stopped in 1952 to make way for Muscle Builder the following year. Fighting for attention on crowded newsstands, Muscle Power and Muscle Builder screamed out with such jarring headlines as “STOP BEING A PHYSICAL DWARF” and “HEY SKINNY! Are They Laughing at You?” Covers dared you to not turn the page. The formula worked so well that Joe branched out into other areas, launching Boxing and Wresting, Inside Baseball, and Inside Sports. Then came men’s adventure magazines, including Fury, Safari, and Outdoor Adventures, which sported attention-snatching cover lines like “I WATCHED MYSELF BEING EATEN ALIVE!” There were groundbreaking women’s exercise magazines, and there were cheesecake and beefcake pulps. By the late ‘50s, Weider Publications was producing more than a dozen titles monthly. “In some respects, a magazine is a magazine is a magazine, whatever the subject matter,” Joe stated. “And my hands-on touch, which pulled in readers for my muscle magazines, worked in every genre I got into.”

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