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Every revolution in history is a byproduct of the times in which it occurs. From the French, American and Russian revolutions to the felling of the Berlin Wall, each event was essentially a bold manifestation of an overarching cultural movement. Such was the case of the bodybuilding revolution.
The mid-late 1960s was a time of unrest in America. Between the assassinations of JFK, MLK and RFK and America’s participation in the Vietnam conflict, there was more than enough turmoil to create the kind of social unrest that spawns revolution. Rather than a military revolution, however, ours was the cultural kind (although, as with most revolutions, some blood was shed).
The peace movement was America’s way of saying “Enough!” to the bloodshed, to the authoritarianism, to the postwar brand of social conservatism that was aching to be overturned. A seminal year in this nationwide cultural revolution was 1968. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, Abbie Hoffman and the rest of the Chicago Eight invaded the Democratic National Convention, President Lyndon Johnson announced he wouldn’t seek reelection due to the unpopularity of the Vietnam conflict, the Beatles made a trip to India . . . and Arnold Schwarzenegger arrived in California.
Truly, change was in the air. If the world were ever to be ready to begin embracing bodybuilding to any degree, the late ’60s was the time, and if ever there was to be a place where it would first take hold, Southern California had to be it. For generations before Schwarzenegger reached its golden shores, Los Angeles had been a magnet for bon vivants and dreamers alike, drawn like metal filings to the magnetic pull of its sunny climes, rolling surf and starmaking potential.
Driving all of this was bodybuilding mogul Joe Weider who, although his offices were based in Union City, New Jersey, had the belief that to successfully promote bodybuilding to the masses he couldn’t just sell muscles: he had to sell a lifestyle. And that lifestyle, to his way of thinking, had to include sun, sand, beautiful girl. . . and bodybuilders. Another Jersey resident who relocated to the left coast at Weider’s urging was Dave Draper in spring 1963. Draper had been the face of Weider’s bodybuilding publications to that point as well as an employee at his Union City warehouse. Big, blond and boyish, Draper looked as if he’d been borne straight out of the Venice surf, and Weider sailed that ship as far as he could, creating an image that fueled the imagination of young men from Nottingham, England, to Peoria, Illinois.
Still, for all of Draper’s physical appeal, Weider believed that a piece of the puzzle — the one that would truly popularize bodybuilding — was still missing. Unquestionably, he had the looks and brains, but Draper was a fairly shy, self-deprecating sort. What was needed was a bold, largerthanlife personality who would help shout bodybuilding’s virtues from the rooftops.
Frank Zane’s arrival on the scene in 1967 meant another handsome, heroically built athlete who could be added to the Weider stable, thus solidifying Zane’s grip on bodybuilding’s image. Zane had been a highschool teacher in Florida before moving west, and he took to California’s Zen aesthetic like a bodybuilder to a barbell. He was intellectual, wellspoken and precise, yet even he wasn’t quite the emissary Weider was seeking for bodybuilding, not to mention for Weider publications, Weider Barbell Co. and Weider Nutrition.