Joe Weider comes on strong. Watch him help two workmen hang an $8,000 Louis XV mirror in his midtown Manhattan apartment. They hoist the mirror into place. It slips from their grasp. Weider (pronounced Wee-der) muscles in, saving the antique in midair.
Listen to Weider talk: "Tomorrow? Hell, survive today, then bring on tomorrow."
Watch him write an advertisement with typical Weider wallop: "I don't care if today you own the scraggiest, flabbiest or funniest body—whether you're tall or short, young or not-so-young. If you send, under no obligation, for my absolutely free 32 pages of musclebuilding information, I guarantee you that virtually overnight you will experience a musclebuilding miracle; before your eyes, you will see handsome muscles bursting out all over you."
Or sample an ad for "Muscle Up" and Make Out, an instruction booklet: "In just 30 days you'll be a new breed of wildcat. You'll be a muscularized 'take charge' blaster—full of power and rugged vigor to help you perform like a tiger and drive 'em [the chicks] crazy this summer—from dawn to dusk!"
April 6, 1970
Weider, who has replaced Charles Atlas as the world's leading bodybuilder, writes 99% of his ads which, in turn, comprise 99% of the total advertising in his three magazines (combined monthly domestic circulation: 300,000), in which a substantial percentage of the articles are written or ghosted by Weider and his brother Ben. The magazines are Muscle Builder/Power ("The Advanced Muscle and Power Building Magazine Champions Believe In"), All American Athlete ("The Magazine for Fitness and Athletic Conditioning") and Mr. America ("The Fitness Magazine for Virile Men"). The first two publications are crammed with articles such as Watching Arnold Schwarzenegger Build His Incredible Biceps! and My 'Sock it to Me' Wednesday Training Routine by Sergio Oliva. Schwarzenegger is the present International Federation of Bodybuilders' Mr. Universe; Oliva is the IFBB Mr. Olympia. Both have 21½-inch biceps. Mr. America is more catholic. It runs stories on the order of Don't Be a Casualty of the Sexual Revolution.
Weider, whose headquarters are in Union City, N.J., grosses $4 million annually from his magazines and by selling weight-training courses, food supplements such as Muscle Density RX7 and bodybuilding equipment—60,000 sets of barbells, 12,000 007 Power Twisters, 15,000 German Iron Horsehoes and 15,000 Killer Karate Krushers. These and other products are unabashedly plugged in boldface in the editorial matter of the magazines. One ad for the Krusher reads: "DO YOU HAVE THE GUTS to use this 'Killer Karate Krusher' for just 30 days—and turn your hands into arsenals of incredible destructive power?" Train with it, says the ad, and you will "give your hands the power to tear chains apart...rip tennis balls asunder."
Weider is himself a living advertisement for his products. As he says matter-of-factly, "I'm 48, 5 feet 11, 190, can lift 200 pounds with one hand and 300 pounds overhead with two hands."
This, then, is Joe Weider, Builder of Champions since 1936 or 1938—depending on which ad you read—and tutor of "2 Million Successful Students." Or is it? The first inkling one gets that there is more to Weider than muscle comes from his voice. He is not his voice's master; it tinkles like so many pieces of glass and it is slightly high-pitched. Then there is the Weider accent, described by one associate as "a Russian-Jewish-French-Canadian twang with a Lawrence Welk echo."
If one asked the real Joe Weider to stand up, no one might arise. He aims at disparate goals, uncertain whether to concentrate on building his bank account or his brainpower. His museum-apartment is stuffed with antiques: a $2,000 Louis XVI clock, a $7,000 Clodion statue, a collection of English silver, early Western paintings and bronzes, a vase filled with $6,900 worth of porcelain Meissen and Vincennes flowers. In these elegant surroundings Weider will discourse on Nietzsche one minute and the next bat out copy for ads that picture well-stacked chicks embracing the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger. (In issue after issue of Weider's magazines the same handful of bodybuilders appear in both ads and articles.)
Says one former Weider employee: "Two of us wanted to write a play about Joe called Muscle-lini. But even though both of us had worked for him for years, we realized we didn't understand him well enough to put him in writing."
"He is a cross between Christ and Hitler," says another.
"He is," says a third, "the quintessence of unfathomability."
"Wrong," says Leroy Colbert, a onetime Mr. World, who worked for Weider for a dozen years. "Joe's easy to understand. You don't try to 'figure out' Joe. You just look and you see that he lives by patterns. Joe likes to play games. Before he'd go to Europe he'd go around the office and ask people what size clothes they wore, and he'd even use a tape to measure people. Everybody thought, 'Boy, Joe's going to bring back all kinds of nice things,' and while he was away they'd work harder and faster because he got 'em all stirred up. Then he'd come back—and there'd never be gifts for anyone.
"He makes me laugh," says Colbert, who himself laughs with so much gusto that he all but topples a statuette of Weider off a shelf in his Englewood, N.J. home. "You win a trophy at a bodybuilding contest and you look at it and you recognize it's Joe Weider himself.
"He means no harm. It's all games. Joe's too soft to hurt anybody. But I can see how business people could hate his guts. One guy hired a karate expert to beat up Joe. But this guy who was hired didn't know the Joe he was supposed to beat up was Joe Weider. So this karate expert comes to beat up Joe, and he looks at him and he's shocked and says, "Joe Weider? I'm one of your pupils. What a thrill to meet you.' The guy worshiped Joe and never laid a hand on him.
"I like Joe. I've seen ruthless people, and he's not one of them. He's really got heart. All this stuff he does is a facade because he's so shy. Joe's a softy. He couldn't even fire anybody."
Another former worker substantiates this claim. "One of Joe's employees was going to start a magazine of his own to compete with Joe and had even arranged to steal some of his key personnel," he says. "Joe found out, but he couldn't bring himself to fire the guy. Another guy stole so much of Joe's food supplement that he was able to supply Army posts all along the East Coast, but even though Joe knew what was going on he didn't have the heart to can the guy."
One guy who has no use for shy, softhearted Joe Weider is archrival Bob Hoffman, founder of the York (Pa.) Barbell Company, editor and publisher of Strength & Health (circ: 100,000), and five times coach of the U.S. Olympic weightlifting team. "He's a louse," says Hoffman, who has feuded with Weider for 23 years. "He's the worst man ever to be connected with a sport." Hoffman, however, declines to amplify.
Weider doesn't let detractors get him down. "I have great excitement and enjoyment in life," he says. "When I was 12 I read Nietzsche. I admired him for his truthfulness and because he stressed the total importance of the individual and the intellect. The trouble with men is that when they shed a little light on mankind they want to turn it into a religion, a philosophy, an ism."
Weider's beginnings may have been exciting but they weren't very enjoyable. "I was born and raised in the slums of Montreal," he says. "I always remember struggling against poverty and environment, and I remember being skinny. Especially, I remember being Jewish and the abuse I took. And I remember having to quit school after the sixth grade to go to work. My father was a pants presser, but during the Depression he worked only three months a year. My first job was 80 hours a week for $2 delivering groceries. When I left school at 11 I felt very inadequate. When I tried to go to trade school, they said I didn't have enough education. But I always read. I walked 2½ miles to the library."
Although Weider was improving his mind, his body was frail. No one kicked sand in his face at the beach, but that was only because he was too embarrassed to go there. Kids got at him in other ways, though: they insulted him about his ancestry, his shabby clothes, his see-through body. By now Joe knew that Nietzsche wasn't going to help him here, so he saved up for a bodybuilding course. While he saved, Weider lifted weights he made out of old flywheels he found in junkyards. Weider's exertions paid off when his brother Ben came home bloody-nosed after a fight with a local bully. Joe put his homemade muscles to work and scored a one-punch knockout.
On a farm in St. Lin, 40 miles northeast of Montreal, where the Weiders summered, Joe alternated between freeing rabbits from traps set by the farmer's son ("Go. Be free. I want to save you") and beating him up. Time and again the farmer threatened to kick the Weiders off the farm. "One day," Ben recalls, "the farmer's son was beaten up by another boy. He told Joe, and Joe beat the boy up. The farmer came to see our mother, and she thought he was going to kick us out and she said, 'No, no.' But the farmer said, 'I just want to tell you what a wonderful son you have, what a fine boy he is.' "
As word of Weider's prowess spread, he began getting mail from boys who sought his advice on how they, too, could build themselves up. "I was 17, was working as a short-order cook in Montreal and didn't have time to answer all the letters," Weider recalls. "So I thought about putting out a magazine about bodybuilding."
He knew that his writing, which reflected his sixth-grade education, needed editing, so he recruited a waitress in the restaurant, and when she had time she would wipe the pie crumbs and mustard off the counter, shove aside the salt and pepper shakers and rewrite him.
Then there was mother. "She didn't want me to publish," Weider says. " 'You can't write,' she said. "You haven't finished school. You haven't got money. Be sensible. Be a pants presser.' " Relatives chimed in: "Learn a trade." And his friends: "Musclehead. Hey, Weiderschnitzel the muscle man. Make me a beautiful body."
Within six months Weider's strenuous schedule as cook, bodybuilder and author of a small mimeographed magazine wore him down. He wanted to go into publishing full-time, but might never have made a go of it had it not been for a gypsy fortune-teller.
"My mother went to see her," Weider recalls, "and the gypsy said, 'You have three sons. The middle son is pale [I worked day and night and never saw the sun], but he's ambitious and you're against him. Leave him alone and he'll make the name of Weider famous.' "
Thus a Jewish mother was overruled by a gypsy fortune-teller and Weider cooked his last hamburger. Newsstand dealers, however, refused to stock his magazine. Weider got an audience with an American News Company official and talked on and on, until the man pounded on his desk and said, "If you'll shut up, I'll take your magazine."
Weider next arranged for a Montreal foundry to produce barbells, which he sold through his magazine. He made forays into the U.S. and got photographs and stories from prominent bodybuilders and weight lifters. Circulation rose. Business boomed. So did opposition from his competitors. "They said I had entered the country illegally," Weider says. "And they told weight lifters that if they worked for me or wrote for my magazine or posed for pictures, they would never win an AAU contest."
In 1949 Weider retaliated by teaming with Ben (brother Louis died at the age of 31) to form the IFBB. Weider's enemies call it a front for his business, and with some justification; there is no denying that the Weiders have profited from the growth of bodybuilding that has been fostered by staging some 1.000 IFBB contests annually in 68 member-countries.
The rivalry between bodybuilders and weight lifters resembles that between roadrunners and rattlers. They both train with weights, lifters in an attempt to hoist as much poundage as possible and bodybuilders to develop the most impressive physique. As Bob Hoffman says scathingly of the latter, "They want to look like self-propelled triangles."
Weight lifters consider bodybuilders eccentric and narcissistic and are convinced that many are homosexuals, a charge that makes Weider bristle. "Men downgrade others to try to uplift themselves," he says. "It's a curse. Since the beginning of mankind, man has needed a devil. Even God has His."
"The abuse we take is a shame," says Mike Katz, an offensive guard with the New York Jets in 1966 and now one of the world's best-built men. "Bodybuilding takes more dedication and work than football. With the Jets, I worked an hour and a half a day to be in shape. Now I work out six, seven hours a day. Bodybuilding deserves to be recognized as a legitimate sport."
Adds Weider, "Man has searched his mind, explored the realms of music, literature and all the forms of art, and yet he has never stopped to measure himself as a physical specimen. I don't believe men should overindulge in building their bodies the way some have. A person who overdoes things like that is not well adjusted. But I suppose the same can be said for those who climb Mt. Everest. Men simply do what they feel will help fulfill themselves."
There is no doubt that people are leery about muscles and that there is what might be called a "level of muscle tolerance." One bodybuilder attests to this, saying, "When I was a kid I was skinny and couldn't get a date. So I lifted weights, developed my body and built muscles on top of muscles—and still I can't get a date, but I see 98-pound punks with a girl on each arm."
"Prior to the Weider System, men were not really well built," says Weider. "They were fat. Their muscles lacked size because they didn't know about the value of protein. Muscles are 99% protein, and if you don't eat enough of it your body cannibalizes that which you have stored up."
Under the Weider System, bodybuilders began spending far less time on technique, more on actual lifting. They abandoned rigid schedules and adopted Weider's Instinctive Training: they worked when and how they fell like it. This method reflects Weider's own philosophy of working hard but not so hard that one cannot enjoy the labor. Realizing that working against heavy weights can become drudgery, Weider jazzed things up by dubbing workouts with such titles as Super Sets. Continuous Tension and Split Systems. And he expounded the virtues of "cheating," or swinging the weight a trifle to help raise it.
"I didn't think much of the souped-up names Joe gave things," Leroy Colbert says, "but I've got to admit they did a lot to glamorize the sport."
Weider has had his share of setbacks, too. In 1958 the American News Company, which handled the 16 magazines Weider was publishing at the time, collapsed. It cost him $2.2 million. Two years later both Weider and his wife Diana sued for divorce on the grounds of adultery. The resultant trial enlivened the pages of the New York Daily News for weeks. It seems that Joe had hired a $75-a-day detective to spy on Diana in Haiti. He testified that he had been witness to a more-than-casual relationship between Mrs. Weider and a diminutive native sightseeing boat operator. He said his own sightseeing had been enhanced by a "golden spotlight" that shone on a hotel patio, where he saw the Haitian and Diana, who was clad only from the waist down, embracing. Then the spotlight was flicked off, alleged the detective, and the two entered "a walled-in love nest." Diana denied the charges, adding that her sacroiliac condition would have prevented any such activity.
As for Weider, three months later a 270-pound detective hired by Diana barged into his Montreal hotel room. With the detective were four henchmen, and they allegedly found Joe, wearing only a T shirt, and one Betty Brosemer, clad in what is known as scanty attire. It was 3:05 a.m. Weider's attorney maintained that the couple were both fully clothed—Betty in a two-piece black suit and galoshes—and that her intent had been compassion, not passion. She was, Betty said, running a tubful of hot water so that Joe, who had caught cold, could soak his feet.
The jurors sympathized with Diana's sacroiliac and Joe's cold, and acquitted both. Since then the Weiders have been divorced. Joe is now married to Betty, who appears on his magazine covers as well as in his ads, though hardly attired in a two-piece suit and galoshes.
By this time—1960—Weider's financial status was shaky. He decided that now was the hour to apply Nietzsche and see if self-assertion would lead to progress. It did. His General Health and Fitness Corporation will soon be traded over the counter to help finance the proposed transfer of Weider's enterprises to California.
Wherever Weider winds up, he will continue to promote bodybuilding contests. And when Weider promotes a contest, he promotes a contest. Like last September, when he put on his annual IFBB Mr. America, Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia show.
"He's made a real production out of this," says Mike Katz, a runner-up in the Mr. America voting. ' "The AAU has its contests in some little room at a Y. Joe Weider hires an orchestra and an auditorium and stages it well. Every bodybuilder is proud to be a part of it."
There were 80 contestants from Canada, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Japan, Australia, England, Singapore—and Brooklyn. This biggest of all IFBB muscle-ins was held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's opera house.
Among the prizes were those for best legs, best chest and best abdominals. Preparing for the afternoon's prejudging, contestants donned swimsuits and slicked their shaved bodies with baby oil or olive oil to highlight their muscles.
"O.K.," the head judge said, "give us your best chest."
Everyone flexed. Veins bulged. Muscles snapped to. Contestants turned red-faced as they strained and held their breath.
"Enough," the judge said, and when they all exhaled, the whoosh almost peeled the paint off the balcony walls.
That night a standing-room crowd of more than 2,500—at $10 a ticket—jammed the opera house. As the contestants came out to flex, the audience cheered and applauded. When Arnold Schwarzenegger, the 21-year-old Austrian Oak with a 56-inch chest, and Sergio Oliva, the Concrete Cuban, strode forth, the reception was tumultuous: cheers, applause, foot-stomping, cries of "More! More!" Then came the verdict and $1,000 in cash from Joe Weider to Mr. Olympia 1969—Sergio Oliva.
Schwarzenegger was only slightly disappointed. "I go all over the world for exhibitions and contests and get $500 at least for each exhibition," he said. "Always I find Joe's magazines and his friends. In London I even got to a party at the house of Mr. Getty, the richest man in the world. A friend asked if he could use the phone and they said he could—a pay phone."
"Arnold's going to be in a movie," Weider said proudly. "It's called Hercules in New York. They've changed his name to Arnold Strong. It's about Hercules wanting to come to earth. He was born in heaven but got bored up there. His old man says, 'The last time you were on earth you had trouble with the Romans." They get mad, a lightning bolt flies out of heaven and Hercules lands in the Aegean Sea. He is picked up by a boat and comes to New York, where he is befriended by a dwarf...."
What on earth Hercules docs remains to be seen. If this were a true story, though, he would probably check in with Joe Weider to find out how to be a take-charge blaster and rip tennis balls asunder.