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Reminiscing: Back in the Day

I wasn’t the star type nor a muscleman groupie. Thus, I didn’t submerge myself in the developing bodybuilding world of the ’70s. I performed my delicious muscle building out of sight of crowd and crowd-pleasers.

I  was sitting on a bus the other day on the way to the gym when some guy comes up to me and says, “Hey, you Dave Drapeless?” To which I respond, “Yes, pretty much.” He then asks me if it’s okay to sit down and ask me some questions, to which I respond, “Sure, it’s a free country.” We get talkin’, and this is how it went (I missed my stop; boy, was I mad):

Q: What was it like at Gold’s back in the 1960s and ’70s?

A: It was in the shadows of the Muscle Beach Dungeon’s spare lighting that I learned all I know about building muscle and power. There the seed I brought from the streets of Jersey in ’63 took root, grew deep and bore a decent yield. I won Mr. America and Mr. Universe.

I then joined Joe Gold’s gym in Venice in 1966 and continued to lift the weights with quiet passion. But for an occasional burst of training when a special occasion prompted me to work out twice a day (posing exhibitions, inner urges, the ’70 Mr. World), I was in and out of the gym by 8 a.m. Those two hours, six days a week, were major events internally, but on the outside they were as ordinary as toast.

In the mid-to-late ’60s Frank Zane made his home in Venice, and our workouts conveniently overlapped. Arnold appeared in California and made his way to Joe’s original Gold’s in ’68, with Franco close behind him. Ken Waller joined the group at a corresponding time, and various seasons of the year brought champs from the corners of the world for a plunge in the West Coast bodybuilding scene. Rick Drasin, Denny Gable, Bill Howard, Dan Howard, Chet Yorton, Bill Grant and Superstar Wayne Coleman are some of the tanned and sand-dusted faces I see fondly in my memory.

Zabo ran the place and became known as the Chief. Eventually, Eddie Giuliani headed the gym’s secret service department.

Q: What was the atmosphere like?

A: I offer a narrow picture of “training at Gold’s” during the ’70s. For all intents and purposes competitive bodybuilding was behind me. In fact, I resumed the role I never abandoned—lifting weights for muscle and might and the fulfillment and pleasure it offered. In ’n’ out, like the hamburger, and off to make odd, oversize furniture from pier wood. That’s me.

The best times I recall at the original Gold’s were the summer days of 1970. There was a series of competitions in the fall, and five of us were preparing for the shows: Frank, Franco, Arnold, Katz, Zabo, Holland’s Serge Jacobs and me. We trained twice a day, and at least one of those daily sessions was together.

The days were exciting yet serene. The workouts were focused and intense, yet loose and easy. The gym floor was some 2,000 square feet of benches and platforms, pulleys and racks, iron and bars. No radio. The sounds came from moving bodies, shuffling benches, jangling weights, groaning lifters and muted thuds. We conversed; no one chattered. We laughed; no one sniveled. We barked; no one bit. The weights moved in the direction they were urged, and we grew.

One July evening stands out above the rest. Artie Zeller, one beautiful guy, carried his camera around the gym like a stealth pilot. He was there, but under the radar, silently exposing film at just the right moment. The gym was simmering, each of us off in different directions. Frank was benching, Mike Katz was doing pulldowns, Franco was doing barbell rows, and Arnold and I were squatting. Not a false move was made. We appeared like moths around a night-light, moving tons of iron like cranes, and we encouraged each other with authentic and willful persuasion and a strong arm when needed.

And the best part—besides the fact that it’s in black and white—we never viewed each other as competitors, challengers or rivals. No revolting egos. No one wore designer gear, carefully torn sweatshirts and look-at-me low-slung tank tops. We were all unique, with strengths and weaknesses to overcome, aches and pains to endure and hopes and dreams to realize. We were friends of an unusual cut. Not that we considered it a very special thing, but we were a rare breed of muscle builders yet to be displayed, yet to be archived and yet to be imitated.

Time moved on, the gym’s location and ownership changed, and the core dispersed, lost cohesion and became diluted by the crowd. That’s what time, people and things do.

Q: Sounds like a great time. Why’d you drop out?

A: The early ’60s were a mild time in bodybuilding. I trained hard in the Dungeon and worked regularly for Weider in his pint-size office and shipping department. I had a young wife and daughter, no dough, lots of promise and promises and was busy with daily survival. There was some TV, a few side jobs to pay the bills, and I had some friends in both Vince’s Gym (Howorth, Scott, McArdle) and the Dungeon (Zabo and some neat local lifters). We had lifting in common. It was the bond, but we didn’t talk about training or nutrition or muscles—shop talk—when we hung out and played and explored.

At the same time there was a sharpening rise in bodybuilding interest as the ’60s progressed. Three or four big Weider shows in New York smack in the middle of the ’60s set things off: the Mr. America, Mr. Universe shows and the Mr. Olympia. The zealous New York audience started a stampede. Sergio arrived on the bodybuilding scene, Arnold was in California toward the end of the decade, and the launching pads were ready.

In the ’70s we saw bigger mags, more coverage and greater participation in the gyms, contests and audiences worldwide. Muscle building became an industry overnight. Hello, “Pumping Iron.”

At the stir of this phenomenon I resisted and returned to lifting for the same reasons I’d begun 15 years earlier as a snot-nose kid: for its calm truth and simplicity, pain and fulfillment, muscle and might. I wasn’t the star type nor a muscleman groupie. Thus, I didn’t submerge myself in the developing bodybuilding world of the ’70s. I performed my delicious muscle building out of sight of crowd and crowd-pleasers.

With that, my newfound friend says, “This here’s my stop, Drapster,” and jumps off at the unemployment office, leaving me in a rage because I’ve missed my stop at the gym a mile before. I’m walkin’ back the way I came, thinkin’ there’s a lot more to tell. If that dude doesn’t get a job, maybe I’ll see him again and we can talk some more.

So this is aerobics…


Editor’s note: For more from Dave Draper, visit and sign up for his free newsletter. You can also check out his amazing Top Squat training tool, classic photos, workout Q&A and forum.

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