It gradually dawned on me. I would have to leave Idaho if I was ever going to get anywhere in bodybuilding. I needed to make my way to California, the mecca of bodybuilding, if I was going to continue to make progress. I just had to have some excuse for going, besides just wanting to learn more about bodybuilding. My dad was already fed up with my obsession with training. "Get out there and get that lawn mowed," he would say.
"I've got to work out, Dad. I'll do it when I get back."
"What do you need all that working out for anyway? I never worked out and it turned out alright.."
I couldn't argue. My dad had farmed most of his life and was used to hard work. His forearms were still bigger than my upper arms after almost two years of training. "If you don't stop all this nonsense with the workouts you are going to end up being a bum," he promised.
With all this "super" support for my bodybuilding efforts, I had to have some "legitimate" excuse for heading south. It came one day on the back of a book of matches. "Earn big bucks in the rising field of electronics," I read. "Enroll now in California Air College and assure your future." The school was located in Hollywood, California. It was perfect. My Dad and Mom had no idea that California was perfect for bodybuilding objectives. I could continue my education and, at the same time, pick up training tips from the championship bodybuilders.
After a good selling job on my parents, I started to work on my friend Don. Before long I had him interested in heading to California to learn a new trade. I finished the summer washing dishes at the Pocatello Country Club, and various odd jobs. I didn't care if I was washing walls and cleaning yards for $1.75 an hour, I was saving for something I really wanted. After a 17-hour train ride we ended up in Hollywood, California, on Vine Street at the Elaine Apartment Hotel right across from the Hollywood Ranch Market. It was HEAVEN. This was actually Hollywood California! I dreamed of being "discovered" and becoming famous.
We didn't have any wheels but we were within walking distance of the school and just a half mile from Bert Goodrich's Health Club on Hollywood Boulevard. As soon as we unpacked, I headed for the gym. The place was jammed with people of every description. There were lots of impressive looking guys who had obviously been training for years. Many who were just training to keep fit. Quite a few bit-part actors and a few of an entirely different species known as fags (my first encounter with homosexuals).
But the guy that really took my breath away was a fellow by the name of
Lou trained in a large pink dress shirt which was unbuttoned down the front and a pair of sweat pants which were soon drenched with sweat. He had dark curly hair and even in his exercise agony he looked attractive.
Here I was, fresh in from Idaho spud country with a funny looking flattop haircut, weighing in at a not-so-fabulous 150 pounds, training alongside Lou Degni.
Other than Steve Reeves, Lou was and still is the most impressive bodybuilder I have ever seen. Oh yes, I have seen lots of guys that were bigger, but when you add up all the attributes of physique and facial characteristics and total impact, Lou was hard to beat.
His back was not V-shaped but actually came out heart-shaped from his waist before it started up. His pectorals were so thick it took almost the full length of your finger to hit his sternum bone. He was way ahead of his time. Indeed, his training knowledge was so far ahead of everybody that, even now, many of his training concepts are misunderstood.
Lou must have seen something in me similar to the Zen master who selects a young student from amongst the many aspiring novices. He could see I was devoted. I couldn't have shown much promise at this stage. But there was no doubt, I was dedicated.
For me, every pound was a stubborn battle. My lack of shoulder width continued to plague me. Lou took me under his wing and began to teach me things which I had never read or even considered. Things like how to get the most out of back work by hanging on the bar with the wrist, rather than the fingers, so as to almost completely deactivate the biceps and work only the back (chinning straps work even better today). He showed me the secret of his incredible lower latissimus with an amazing Hanging Scapula Rotation exercise which is so effective you can get a lip under the lower lats from just doing a couple of sets. He introduced me to lower biceps and how to work them in a way that, while posing, one could display a stunning arm even when the arm was in a straight out position which no one would dare.
Bob Delmonteque, the famous staff photographer from Weider, came by Goodrich's club one day and offered to take a few photos of me and Don with a couple of the other guys on the roof of the building next door. One of the fellows, Don Howorth, later became a good friend and also won Mr. America.
I was ecstatic. This was big time. I knew Bob from the Weider magazines. Bob said, "I think we can get your shots in a book called Tomorrow's Man. It was a sort of semi-gay magazine, featuring models who were a mixture of serious bodybuilders and delicate looking guys. I didn't care, so long as I could get my picture in a physique magazine.
Note: Before any of you get all high-and-mighty about this kind of posing, do some research on just who posed for these mags and when. Thanks to Joe Roark's IronHistory website and David C. New
I learned that Arnold, yes that Arnold posed for several as a young man. Body Beautiful, Manual, Tomorrow's Man, and others. Par for the course, just in case you didn't know it. The main thing here is . . . Check Out IronHistory . . . there's more info, data, photos, members' very rare weightlifting equipment on display, etc., than you'll be able to assimilate in ages.
The article continues:
I didn't expect to start right out in the Weider magazines anyway. A couple of months later, sure enough, there I was - the little kid from Idaho on the pages of a physique magazine. It was heady stuff for me at the time.
My heart set on training rather than schooling made it difficult to concentrate on electronics. I soon ran out of money and had to quit school after one semester and return home to Idaho. Frustrated as I was at having had to return to Idaho, now that I was home again I had to find a place to train. I didn't want to go back to the YMCA, so I made friends with a former classmate by the name of Roger Pugmire, who lived over on the rich side of town. Roger had a workout room in his basement, which was a big improvement over the Y. Gradually Roger and I grew into good friends and training partners. His home gym was okay but it lacked much of the equipment to which I had now become accustomed.
About this time a wonderful thing happened. The Sillowette Health Club group came into town and converted an old carpet discount house into a Health Club. Both Roger and I switched over the the Health Club. What an improvement! They had all kinds of machines and lots of weights. Roger and I soon settled into a steady training program and began to give advice to the other trainers. After all, I had been to California and had been in a magazine! After a time, the owners offered me a job as a salesman/instructor. Things weren't going so bad. I was training hard and had a job, but my heart was still set on getting back to California. After several months the owners announced they were going to hold a Mr. Idaho contest in Boise, Idaho.
I received the news with a lot of excitement. I wanted to compete but I wasn't sure I was ready for a physique contest. I didn't know the first thing about posing, but as the date of the show drew near everyone's training picked up. The idea of being on stage and flexing in front of an audience laced my training with more intensity.
My lifelong friend Don and I had since parted company. He decided it was time to get on with life. He gave up bodybuilding and began to get serious about his career. Don returned to California after semester break and left me in Idaho. About this time he also developed an interest in a new girlfriend. I couldn't believe he would ever desert bodybuilding. It was inconceivable to me. I was not only bugged at him giving up training, I was bugged at his new girlfriend for coming between us. We finally quarreled and stopped spending time with each other. I was sorry to lose a long time friend, but he had found his woman and I had found my mission in life.
I was going to become Mr. America.