We have never felt that it was necessary for our writers to match muscles with their subjects, but a few months ago when we assigned Dick Johnston to do a story on bodybuilders, one of his friends said, "I know the theory—but this is ridiculous!" That is the sort of overused phrase Johnston would have excised when he was copyediting this magazine—he was our executive editor until he retired four years ago—but he agreed that it was a quite understandable reaction. In fact, his working title for the piece on Arnold Schwarzenegger that begins on page 106 was: "A 175-pound Weakling Interviews the World's Most Perfectly Developed Man."
Johnston's lack of muscularity was first noted nationally in a TIME magazine story by Robert Sherrod in 1943 describing the assault against Tarawa atoll in the Pacific. They were among eight war correspondents who waded ashore with the Marines, and Sherrod described our man as "tall, pencil-thin Dick Johnston." This was something of an understatement; Johnston, who is 6'3", weighed 138 pounds at the time. The intervening years have added a good many pounds to "old pencil-thin," as some of his wartime colleagues still call him, but most of them have accrued around his waistline.
"I've never found being skinny much of an impediment," Johnston said the other day, "though I don't exactly strut down the beach at Waikiki. [Johnston has lived in Hawaii since 1970.] Actually, I'd like to lose a little weight. My abs aren't much help in holding my belly in." Abs is bodybuilder slang for abdominals, muscles Dick assumes he has in at least vestigial form, but has never been able to locate.
Johnston has been associated with SI not only from its birth but almost from its conception. It was a near-thing, though. In 1953 the still unnamed magazine was in the project stage, and was known colloquially—and somewhat skeptically—to members of other Time Inc. publications as "Muscles." Dick was then an editor of LIFE. When his phone rang one day and a cheery voice said, "How would you like to work on Muscles?" he politely replied, "You must have the wrong number." Sid James, SI's first managing editor, finally persuaded him that he was serious. "Me on Muscles?" Johnston said unbelievingly. He inspected his biceps and was not reassured, but after a fishing trip to Mexico to test his sporting instincts he joined up. When publication began in 1954 he was named assistant managing editor and, in 1964, became executive editor.
October 13, 1974
Sad to say, working on Muscles did not develop Johnston's, and to some degree diminished those few in residence, since his responsibilities left very little time even for fishing, golf or tennis, sports he had once enjoyed. He says, a bit defensively, "For a man with my build—none to speak of, that is—I was a pretty fair athlete when I was in high school. I played a lot of baseball. I don't think I ever hit a home run, but I almost never struck out. I had a pretty good eye."
He still has a good eye, as friends who play billiards with him in his Honolulu home quickly learn. It has focused on more than 20 stories for us since his move to the islands.