There was a time, before most of you reading this were even born, when bodybuilding wasn’t the culturally entrenched ubiquitous activity we enjoy today. You didn’t have a choice of gyms to join in your town, and after traveling miles to the nearest store that happened to sell Joe Weider’s MUSCLE BUILDER magazine, you often found yourself the subject of sideways glances at the cash register.
Even names like Steve Reeves, Bill Pearl and Reg Park — as popular and influential as they were within the bodybuilding community — weren’t enough to spark the revolution that turned their sport from sideshow to main event. What bodybuilding needed was a kind of “perfect storm” of people, place and timing that equaled more than just the sum of its parts — to transcend other niche activities such as sword swallowing and move it into the realm of mainstream cultural phenomena. Fortunately for us, such a confluence would occur, in the late 1960s in Southern California, under the Machiavellian influence of Joe Weider, without whom it’s doubtful the amazing events taking place would ever have made their way beyond the sunny shores of the Pacific at Venice Beach.
The men at the epicenter of this groundswell would all go on to establish themselves as certified legends in bodybuilding. Between Dave Draper, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbu and Frank Zane, there are enough magazine covers to fill to the rafters the tiny concrete box on Pacific Avenue in Venice in which they worked out.
That place, of course, was Gold’s Gym, and the story of how these men and a handful of others helped turn it into the epicenter of bodybuilding reads like one of the screenplays piled atop a movie exec’s desk just a few miles inland.