Want to make your muscles pay off, build courage and confidence, and get what you want out of people? Mordecai Richler on what makes the Weider brothers the Barnum & Bailey of body-buildingMORDECAI RICHEER December 3 1960
Want to make your muscles pay off, build courage and confidence, and get what you want out of people? Mordecai Richler on what makes the Weider brothers the Barnum & Bailey of body-buildingMORDECAI RICHEER December 3 1960
“YOU’LL FIND this is a good story for you,” he said. “A real Canadian success story.” The party at the other end of the line was Ben Weider. He is president of the International Federation of Body Builders, and was sponsoring the Official Combination Contests to Select Mr. America and Mr. Universe at the Monument National Theatre, in Montreal. The competition, according to advance publicity, was going to be the “Greatest Physical Culture Contest ever organized any place in the World!” I didn’t want to miss it.
“I’ve been to eighty-four countries in the last six years,” Weider continued, “including Red China. But I’m not a Communist, you know.”
“Neither am I.”
So Weider and I had something in common even before we met for lunch a couple of days later.
Weider is a man of many offices. He is, with his brother Joe, the Trainer of Champions, with outlets in cities as farflung as Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, and Vienna. He is president and director of Weider Food Supplements (makers of Super Protein 90 and Energex) and the Weider Barbell Co. (they’ll ship you a complete home gym for $98.90), and managing editor of Mr. America and Muscle Builder, among other magazines. He is the author of such books as MANGEZ BIEN et restez svelte and JEUNE toute sa vie. In one of his many inspirational articles, The Man Who Began Again, he has written, “True sportsmen always cheer for the under dog ... for the guy who has come from down under — the hard way,” and that’s certainly how Ben Weider rose to his present eminence as manufacturer, publisher, author, editor, world traveler, and No. 1 purveyor of muscle-building equipment and correspondence courses in North America.
At the International Federation of Body Builders’ gathering, no entrant came in last; at worst he placed fourth in his class. Thus there was a medal for everyone, just as Ben Weider, barbell entrepreneur and promoter of the rally, had promised.
Weider is only thirty-six. His brother Joe, who runs the American end of their various enterprises from Union City, New Jersey, is thirty-nine. They were both brought up in Montreal’s tough, working-class ghetto of the Thirties. Skinny, underdeveloped boys, they first took to body development as a form of self-improvement. Then, in 1939, they began to write and publish a mimeographed magazine that would tell others how they could become he-men. To begin with, the magazine had a circulation of five hundred copies. Enthusiasts began to write in to ask where they could get the necessary equipment to train themselves. And so, from their modest offices on Colonial Street, the Weiders began to supply the desired equipment and correspondence courses until today, Ben Weider says, they are the acknowledged leaders in the field. Muscle Builder and Mr. America, no longer mimeographed, now appear monthly in ten languages with, Weider claims, a total circulation of a million copies.
In May 1960, Ben Weidcr moved into his own building on Bates Road, from which he overlooks his widespread empire in the comfort of a most handsomely appointed office. For inspiration, perhaps, there hangs behind Weider's desk a painting of a resolute Napoleon, sword drawn, mounted atop a bucking horse. It was here, amid trophies, diplomas, and the odd bottle of Quick-Wate (Say Goodbye to Skinny Weakness) that we had our first chat.
I let on that I had never been very big with the muscle-building set. Weider looked at me severely. Later, once I had read some of his correspondence courses, I realized that he had probably spotted my inferiority complex. I was not thinking BIG, positive thoughts. ("DONT BE ENVIOUS OF SOMEONE ELSE’S SUCCESS.” brother Joe advises people who feel inferior. "MAYBE SOMEONE ELSE ENVIES YOU! They are bald . . . you have a head full of hair. They are fat . . you are building a he-man body.")
Weider is a soft-spoken, courteous, ever-smiling man (“YOUR TEETH," Joe writes, "ARE THE JEWELS OF YOUR FACE.”), with a high-pitched voice. He’s a conservative dresser. And, just as brother Joe advises us in BE POPULAR, SELF-CONFIDENT, AND A HE-MAN, he has surely grasped that it is necessary to MAKE YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION A GOOD ONE! Why? Because, as Joe says, your packaging is your appearance. Another thing is that Ben has chosen his hair-style wisely. It fits his face! He’s not the sort of birdbrain Joe complains about who wears his hair in, say, a Flat Top Crew Cut, just because “it’s what everybody else is wearing now.” ("If you expect to be a 'big wheel’ in business, a ‘whiz’ with the girls,’" Joe writes, “if you would be known as a real ‘personality kid’, check every one of our grooming points.”)
Weider, married in August 1959, recently became a father. His boy, he told me, weighed 10 pounds 11 ounces at birth. He was also 23 inches long.
“Congratulations!” I said, grasping his hand firmly. And, even as we parted. I made a note to remember his name for. . . . "People like to be called by name .... You can make yourself a real somebody by being known as the one man who never forgets names.
At home, I had time to read only one of Weider’s correspondence lessons before going to bed. My choice was SECRETS OF A HEALTHY SEX LIFE.
Choosing the right girl, brother Joe writes, is vitally important. “Is she sports-minded?' he asks. "Has she a trim, beautifully-contoured figure? Does she like working out with you? .... Would she frown on you having your own home gym?” Weider also suggests that young couples should pray together, use a good deodorant and positive thinking, and keep their weight normalized. He offers the following tidbit to young husbands. “Wear clean pyjamas each night . . . and be sure that you have a variety of patterns in pyjamas. You would not expect her to retire in a torn night gown with cold cream daubed over her face .... hence you should make yourself just as attractive as she.”
All in all, SECRETS gave me plenty of food for thought. It seemed a good idea to absorb its message before plunging into other, more advanced lessons, like HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF PEOPLE, although this particular pamphlet looked most intriguing. The illustration on the cover shows an assured, smiling young man grasping piles of dollar bills, coins, and money bags. I was keen to learn from him how to use people, but one BIG, positive thought is enough for a day, isn’t it? So, putting the lessons aside. I turned to Muscle Builder. There I read that Chuck Sipes, a recent Mr. America champion, had built his terrific muscles by using the Weider Concentration Principle.
A couple of days later I met Sipes at the Mount Royal Studio, where he had come to train for the fast-approaching contest.
“Been in weightlifting a long time?” I asked him. “Yeah.” “Like it?” "Yeah.” “Enjoying your stay in Montreal?” “Yeah."
Sipes manages a gym in Sacramento, California. He told me that when he started lifting weights eight years ago he was just another puny guy of some 165 pounds, but today he weighs in at 204. I wished him luck in the contest and moved on to chat with Mr. Ireland, Mr. Bombay, and Mr. Hercules of India, all fine, upstanding chaps. But the man who made the greatest impression on me was Mr. Scotland Sr., otherwise known as R. G. Smith, of the electricity board in Edinburgh. Smith, who was to become my friend and informant, had come to Montreal both to visit his children and enter the contest — not that he had the slightest chance of winning. Smith is dedicated, and certainly an enthusiast, but he is also fifty-four. He began to practise body-building at forty-seven.
The body-builders’ exhibition was held on Eaton’s fourth floor on the Friday night before the contest. I was pleased to see that there was a good turnout. Some three or four hundred people, I’d say. An associate of Weider’s introduced me to Dr. Frederick Tilney, who had flown in from Florida to be one of the contest judges. "Dr. Tilney,” the man said, "has seven degrees.”
The doctor, a sturdily built man in his mid-sixties, looked astonishingly young for his years. “Can you tell me,” I said, “at what colleges you got your degrees?”
"What’s the difference what college? A college is a college. Some college graduates end up digging ditches. It’s what you make of yourself that counts in this world.”
"What exactly do you do, doctor?”
“Oh. I lecture on health and success and that sort of stuff. I’m world-famous.”
“Why, that’s just swell. No offense, but can you tell me the name of just one college that has given you a degree?”
Suddenly Ben Weider was upon us. “Sorry to interrupt your interview,” he said, "but the show must go on.”
A voung French-Canadian body-builder mounted the platform to introduce Dr. Tilney. "The doctor,’ he said, "has traveled all over the world and is one of the most famous editors and writers in it.”
Weider led the applause.
“Well, then.” Dr. Tilney said, “I’m sure all you washed-out, weak, worn-out, suffering, sickly men want to renew your youth and delay that trip to the underground bungalow.”
A body-builder came out and struck a classic pose.
“He looks sick to me,” somebody said.
Dr. Tilney beamed at us. "We have assembled here some of the finest examples of manhood in the world. We are building a new race of muscular marvels greater than the Greek gods. We’re doing it scientifically.”
Mr. Ireland assumed a heroic pose. His chest expansion was remarkable.
“You know what that guy needs?” somebody said. "A brassière. And how!”
But, I’m happy to say, only a few had come to sneer.
“You too,” Dr. Tilney told us, “can develop a physique like Bill Cook’s and overcome constipation, hernia, hardening of the arteries, diarrhoea, heart disease, tuberculosis, rheumatism, and so forth.” We were introduced to Ed Theriault and his eight-year-old son, who demonstrated the Weider Chest Expander.
“This man here,” the doctor said, “is the strongest short man in the world. He can do it — so can you! And look at this boy here. Isn’t he sensational? Body-building is one of the finest means of overcoming juvenile delinquency. If the kid’s in the gym you know he’s not in the poolroom. Why, I’m sure none of you here want your boy to grow up a skinny runt — puny! You want him to be a real Weider he-man!" Some other men came out to demonstrate weightlifting.
“And just look at the fine equipment, Weider equipment,” the doctor said. “Guaranteed to last a lifetime. No parts to break. Isn’t it something? And I have news for you. Eaton’s is going to make this beautiful equipment available to you on their wonderful, convenient time-payment plan. Isn’t that something?”
Ben Weider applauded.
“You men out there,” the doctor said, “want to have the bodies the Creator meant you to have, don’t you?”
Mr. Scotland Sr., gentle as ever, asked if he could say a few words.
“I just want to tell you,” he said, “that I’m glad to be in your city, it’s a wonderful opportunity, and I think body-building is marvelous.”
“Isn’t that sensational?” Dr. Tilney said.
Chuck Sipes, the former Mr. America, came out and bent some enormous nails. He asked for a hot-water bottle and blew it up and exploded it just like a balloon.
“He's demonstrating wonderful lung power,” Dr. Tilney said.
Chuck said he’d like to tear a phone book for us.
“You'll notice,” the doctor said, "that he's starting on the real tough end, the bound end of the book."
Chuck pulled, he grimaced, he grunted, he pulled again.
“A lot of you folks have heard bodybuilders are musclebound. Well, you just watch Chuck here demonstrate. ...”
Chuck gave up. He couldn't tear the book. He apologized, and explained that his hands were still greasy from having rubbed so much olive oil on his chest before posing for us.
“See you on Sunday at the Monument National,” Dr. Tilney said.
The crowd began to disperse. Some, however, stayed behind to examine the Weider body-building equipment that was on display. I went home to study Weider’s magazines and correspondence courses, and to read up on Dr. Tilney, in anticipation of the grand contest on Sunday.
The pin-ups and articles in Muscle Builder and Mr. America appear between advertisements for Weider equipment, medicines, and courses. Actually, the publications are more like catalogues than straightforward magazines, but all the same they sell for thirty-five cents each. In one sensational advertisement in Muscle Builder Weider offers his readers $50 worth of personality courses FREE — with each order for $21.98 worth of equipment. Otherwise, these booklets sell for a dollar each. I have already referred to some of the booklets. Others include HOW TO MAKE WOMEN LIKE YOU. HOW TO DEVELOP LEADERSHIP QUALITIES, and SEX EDUCATION FOR THE BODY BUILDER. Most of the booklets shrewdly assume that the student suffers from an inferiority complex. “WHAT YOU DARE TO DREAM,” one booklet says, “DARE TO DO.”
All the personality-course booklets are signed Joe Weider, trainer of Champions, but Dr. Tilney has assured me that he is the actual author. The doctor, who has been in the health business for fifty years, also told me that he wrote the original Charles Atlas courses in the Twenties and, to his regret, sold them outright for a thousand dollars.
Tilney is a doctor of philosophy, divinity, natural law, naturopathy, chiropractic, and food science. I am indebted to Armin-Mitto-Sampson of Trinidad for this information. Sampson, author of Meet . . . Dr. Frederick Tilney, writes, “He stands like a Colossus, a God-propelled Titan, floodlighting the cosmos with his inspirational thunderbolts. He has zoomed up the voltage of more downtrodden souls than most all the Teachers, Adepts, Masters and Leaders of Men put together. . . . Most of Dr. Tilney’s articles are stunners — torrid capsules. . . . His word-arrows are the language of TRUTH, not the piffle of intellectual witch-doctors .... At his lectures truth-starved souls gulp his gems, eager to utilize his Jewels of Thought.”
In Sampson’s absorbing pamphlet, given to me by Doc Fred himself, there is a photograph of the “terrific, tireless teacher" with Sir William Arbuthnot Lane, CB, MB, MS, FRCS, “who was president of the British Medical Association and physician to His Majesty the Late King of England.” We are told, in an advertisement for Dr. Tilney’s books, that he can teach us How to Transform Your Body Into a Majestic Physique of Virile Manhood or Winsome Womanhood.
Next time I saw the doctor we were backstage at the Monument National Theatre on the day of the Mr. Universe and Mr. America contests. “Would you mind telling me,” I said, “the name of at least one college that gave you a .... ”
"Excuse me,” he said, and he went to confer with the other judges, Joe Plaia, of New York, and Tony Lanza, of Montreal.
All around me body-builders were busy rubbing olive oil on each others’ backs and chests, posing for photographers, and trying out difficult postures before a full-length mirror. Ben Weider flitted anxiously from group to group, like a bad-tempered schoolmarm on scholarship day. I spotted my friend, Mr. Scotland Sr., standing alone. He was, like so many of the other body-builders in the contest, an abnormally short man. “If you ask me,” he said, “it’s going to be Mr. Gaudeloupe and Mr. France. They can't be beat.”
Joe Weider had come in from Union City for the contest. He wore a dark suit, a conservative tie, and a pleated dress shirt. A romantic drawing of him appears in almost all Weider advertisements and bottle labels. It shows Joe with enormous arms folded over a massive bare chest, his expression manly, commanding. There is no indication that in real life he alsoh as a nervous twitch.
"You all get into a circle now,” Joe ordered the bashful contestants. “Did you hear what I said?" And he began to walk around them like a ringmaster. Meanwhile, Ben, who was followed everywhere by a sad, near-sighted photographer, grabbed Mr. Guadeloupe. “Take my picture with him." Briefly, Ben smiled. “Got it?” The photographer nodded. "Where the hell’s Mr. France?”
I took a seat in the orchestra pit with the judges and noted that the body-builders had attracted a full house. Ben Weider welcomed us on behalf of the IFBB. The master of ceremonies came out and told us, “I will announce each contestant as Mr. So-and-so from here-here in English and French. Then I’ll tell you his weight, height, and measurements of chest and biceps. That’s biceps,” he said, grinning, “not bisex. I will also tell you where each contestant has flown in from for the contest.”
The man was, I'm sure, accurate on physical points, but on the question of where the contestants came from he erred on the side of enthusiasm. The engaging Japanese boy, for instance, did not come from Tokyo: his father had, perhaps, but he had been born in Toronto. Neither had another boy come from Sicily as announced. He, too, was a Torontonian. Similarly, Mr. Calcutta and Mr. Hercules of India had not, as claimed, flown in by jet from India. It’s less dramatic, I know, but they had come from Britain to compete in the contest.
Anyway, the boys followed each other one by one. The former Mr. Eastern Canada Jr., the Most Muscular Man from the Middle Atlantic. Mr. Hercules Jr., Mr. Montreal, Mr. Northern Quebec, and Mr. Muscle Beach. And the audience was shamelessly partisan, reserving its loudest applause, the wildest cheers, for anybody from the province of Quebec. One after another the boys stepped under the spotlight, assumed a series of manly poses and showed us some muscular control. The latter activity includes throwing the shoulder blades astonishingly far apart, jerking breast muscles, raising shoulder humps, and revolving still other muscles.
During the intermission, between the Mr. America and Mr. Universe contests, I chatted with one of the more intelligent contestants, Sgt. Gerard Gougeon of the Montreal police force. Gougeon thinks highly of the Weider method, though he did say that, in his opinion, training alone at home could be dangerous for a beginner. A man could lift a weight incorrectly and strain a muscle or worse. He felt strongly that the only safe approach to body-building was for a man to go to a gym where there was a qualified instructor.
Meanwhile, there was lots of activity backstage. Flashbulbs popped. Newsreel cameramen got likely winners to pose. Ben Weider, here, there, everywhere, attempted to gather his body-builders into a corner. “Now listen to this! Will you come here and listen please!” Slowly the boys gathered round. “There will be no more gum-chewing or muscle control. And I’m not kidding, guys. Anybody who does chew gum or do muscle control stunts on stage will lose points.” (I was, I must say, taken aback by Weider’s behavior. Only the other day I had read, in HOW TO DEVELOP LEADERSHIP QUALITIES, “Avoid shouting ... BE FIRM —BUT DON'T BULLY. The most commanding people I’ve met were the gentlest and the kindest. Only the weak individual becomes a bully.” But this, I felt, was not the right time for personal reproaches.)
The second half of the program, the Mr. Universe contest, moved along more quickly than the first, and after the boys had done their hit Ben Weider summoned them into a corner once more. "OK, we’re soon going to announce the results. Now listen, you guys. Will you listen, please. Everybody's getting a medal. But you have to be ready to go on as soon as your name is called. Understand? Be ready when your name is called. And just don’t come crying to me afterward and say you didn’t get your medal. Because you won't get your medal afterward."
Before the results were announced Weider, once more composed and soft-spoken, came on stage to present an award to Dr. Tilney for his tremendous contribution to the cause of body-building. “The Doc,” he said, grinning, “is a real OK fella.”
Then, one by one, the boys’ names were called. Nobody came last in anything. At worst, a contestant was fourth in his class. And, just as Weider had promised, there were medals for everybody. Mr. Guadeloupe and Mr. France both won bigger trophies than the rest, but the biggest prize of all, Mr. Universe, went to Chuck Sipes. He burst into tears.
Then, it was off to City Hall in the rain for the official reception. Dr. Tilney and the other judges had already arrived by the time I got there. There were heaps of sandwiches, strikingly reminiscent of British Railways food, and glasses of fruit juice, laid out on long tables. Finally, the boys began to turn up. And, after a short delay, Ben Weider rushed into the hall, carrying diplomas in both arms. Tony Lanza, one of the judges, went to summon the mayor.
Sarto Fournier, then mayor of Montreal, is a small man with a modest smile. He told us how much he admired bodybuilders. "I have been told,” he said, “that you boys have come from twenty different countries to compete here."
Weider didn’t correct him. Instead, he summoned a photographer to take pictures of himself with the mayor. Shuffling through his diplomas, he began to call the boys forward. "And this,” Weider said to the mayor, "is the young man who won the Most Muscular Man in America Award. He's a fine French-Canadian boy. Your Worship.”
The mayor grasped the boy’s hand and smiled. Photographers came nearer. Weider, smiling, stepped between the mayor and the boy. He thrust his wife into the picture, too.
“And this, sir, is Bill Cook. Mr. Ireland.” Cook wore a green jacket.
“I can see,” the mayor said, with a twinkle in his eye, “that you are Irish."
“Ha, ha, ha,” Weider said.
As more and more boys came forward to collect diplomas, the mayor looked anxiously at his watch. Weider began to speed things up. "The mayor," Weider told us, “has taken off valuable time from his work to greet us here. Well, I think everybody will agree he's a jolly good fellow.” And, his smile lavish, he began to applaud.
I did not attempt the sandwiches or a fruit juice, but went to get my coat. Looking back, I saw that the mayor had got out the Golden Book. Ben Weider and his wife, brother Joe, and Chuck Sipes were all gathered round him. They smiled for the sad, near-sighted photographer. “No, no, no.” I heard Weider say, “I want my wife to sign the Golden Book too." ★