Tuesday, October 15, 2013

1993 Vince Gironda Interview - T.C. Luoma

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Interviewing gym owner and trainer Vince Gironda is sort of like trying to defuse a bomb. You never know when he's going to blow up over your stupid questions. Unfortunately, I cut the wrong wire several times during our interview. It's not that he's inherently crotchety, it's just that he's got better things to do than talk to some punk reporter. After all, this guy has worked on more movie stars than a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon. He has also trained and fine-tuned a lot of famous bodybuilders at his gym. 

Vince Gironda started Vince's Gym in 1944 in Studio City, California, before most of America even knew that people had muscles. He's watched bodybuilding evolve from its amoeba-like stage of evolution to its current state, and you know what? He doesn't think much of the sport of bodybuilding today. Come to think of it, he probably wouldn't think much of you either, until you were able to gain his respect. That's something you could probably do by either having some intelligence, being a gentleman, or having the courage to train with him. Does meeting Vince Gironda have to be some sort of trial by fire? Maybe not, but like lift itself, nothing good comes easy.

TC: Where were you born?

VG: In New York City. I lived there until I was eight years old and then I moved to California because my father was working in the motion pictures.

TC: I understand your father was the original Ben Hur.

VG: He doubled for Raymond Navarro (in the original Ben Hur made in 1907). He was a stunt man.

TC: Your father also trained horses, didn't he?

VG: Yes, he was a race horse trainer. He trained for the Aga Khan. They weighted the Aga Khan every year and they matched his weight in gold in his country (as a purse). Ali Khan was his son. He married Rita Hayworth. Needless to say, the Aga Khan was an immensely wealthy potentate.

TC: Were you athletic as a child?

VG: I broke a ten-year-old shot-put record in high school. A pole vault record. Ran high hurdles. Relays. I was born into a horse world and I rode in horse shows every Sunday. My father, and this would mean nothing to you, built the original Pickwick Riding Academy. I taught movie stars to ride when I was 16 years old. I also used to toss the caber. It's a 16-foot pole that they use in the Scottish games. It's about six inches thick and you lift it by the end. You run with it and throw it -- tossing the caber.

TC: What did you want to be when you grew up?

VG? I wanted to be a bodybuilder.

TC: Even back then?

VG: Yeah, when I finally did decide what I wanted to do. the thing that turned me on originally was a picture of John Grimek in a Strength & Health magazine, but then I met the Eason brothers on the state beach in California and they taught me what they knew about bodybuilding. They were geniuses -- they were years ahead of their time.

TC: Did you ever want to become involved in the movies yourself?

VG: I've been in hundreds of movies. I know that I appeared in my first movie in my mother's arms when I was six months old in New York. I don't remember the name. Later on, I did whatever they needed a guy with a build to do. I never had any big roles, though.

TG: How come you never got offered any Steve Reeves-type roles?

VG? I was too short. I interviewed for one of those with an Italian producer who was a very cultured, sensitive man. He said I looked too intelligent, but what he really meant was that I wasn't tall enough.

TC: I imagine your childhood was filled with Hollywood-type people coming in and out of your house.

VG: Constantly.

TC: Can you drop a few names?

VG: That's going back a long time. I don't think anyone will remember those names. They remember people of today. How about if I read you a list of some of the most recent (Hollywood celebrities) I've trained? Let's see, there was William Holden, George Hamilton, James Garner, Lou Ferrigno, Erik Estrada, Clint Eastwood, Tommy Chong, Cher, Johnny Carson, Keith and David Carradine, Joe Campanella, Maud Adams, Brian Keith, Michael Landon, Sean Penn, Roddy Piper, Burt Reynolds, David Lee Roth, Richard Roundtree, Kurt Russell, John Schneider, Arnold Schwarzenegger, O.J. Simpson, Randy Quaid, Clint Walker, Carl Weathers, Denzell Washington, Marty Feldman and Dudley Moore. Those are some of the more famous names.

TC: Were you tough on those guys?

VG: I have a reputation for getting results. That's why I get business from the studios. I get results faster than anybody.

TC: Do any of them stick with you, as far as training?

VG: No! Nobody sticks with me. Do you work out?

TC: Why?

VG: Do you work out?

TC: Yes! Yes. Five or six days a week, for over 18 years!

VG: Well, how many people are around that you started training with?

TC: Point taken. Starting a gym must have been a revolutionary thing to do in the 1940's. Was it tough going in the beginning?

VG: My gym was the first gym in the Valley. There were only about half a million people here back then. It was tough going in the beginning. People who were bodybuilders were considered to be fags. So, we didn't tell people we were bodybuilders. We pretty much hung around with our own group.

TC: I read in Wendy Leigh's unauthorized biography of Arnold Schwarzenegger that when he first came to the United States he came to your gym to train with you. According to the book, he introduced himself as Mr. Universe and you said, "You look like a fat fuck to me." Is that true?

VG: I wouldn't say anything derogatory about Arnold. I'm too smart for that. She tried to get me to give her information, which I refused to do.

TC: I'm not looking for any dirt on Arnold. I just find it interesting that you didn't bow down to him

VG: All I saw was a fat guy standing in front of my desk. And I told him so.

TC: Was he offended?

VG: Oh, yes. But he came back two weeks later after Zane beat him at a contest and he said, "I see what you mean."

TG: You never won any shows. Most experts say your physique was too advanced for its time.

VG: Yeah, I couldn't win anything. I was too defined.

TC: Did you ever make a compromise?

VG: Yeah. Biggest mistake of my life. That's what lost the Mr. Universe contest for me. I smoothed out. That was in 1963. You slow your metabolism when you try to gain weight for the sake of gaining weight. Once I got to where I wanted I didn't like what I saw. I've been on a diet ever since.

TC: Does it make you feel bad that you never won?

VG: No, I was more interested in getting a trophy for most muscular. That would have meant more to me. But hey, I was down at the Los Angeles Athletic Club with Steve Reeves and we were awarded trophies for our lifetime contributions to the business, so I guess I wound up okay.

TC: You were the first to extol the benefits of a high fat diet to build muscle, and now it seems to be coming back. Does it make you smirk to see a lot of your old training methods coming back?

VG: I laugh when I see everything coming around -- eggs, red meat, certified raw milk.

TC: Most doctors would say that kind of diet is unhealthy. What do you have to say to them?

VG: I don't argue with doctors. You know what I'd say to them? "Take your clothes off and let me see what you look like." I don't argue with them, because what do they know? They don't get any formal nutritional training in medical school.

TC: You're also famous for never advocating squats to build up the legs. Why is that?

VG: The squat is about 90% gluteus maximus, the way they do it. I have a whole list of squats I do for different reasons. The ones that they do, I use to tighten up and reduce women's derrières. Just open a book on kinesiology. That's not hard.

TC: You've always been extremely anti-drugs.

VG: (pause) . . . Aren't you?

TC: Did you ever experiment with steroids?

VG: No.

TC: You never had the slightest inclination to?

VG: I have a 150 I.Q.! Don't you think I could figure out that if it was a drug, it wasn't good for me?

TC: Sorry. You must have trained people who were taking them. Did you ever talk anybody out of taking them?

VG: No, I didn't.

TC: What's your opinion of bodybuilding today?

VG: Whatever happened to it? It's a drug cult. You don't have to know how to work out any more. I laugh at the exercises I see them doing in the magazines. They don't know beans.

TC: Do you ever go to contests anymore?

VG: Absolutely none. Why should I? It' a drug cult.

TC: What do you think of women's bodybuilding?

VG: I think it's going to disappear. They are now interested in natural women's bodybuilding contests. I have a picture of one (a natural woman bodybuilder) hanging up right here. She's married to that movie star. What's his name? His father was also a very famous movie star. Kirk Douglas. She's married to Kirk Douglas' son. (Michael Douglas).

TC: Are you still married?

VG: No.

TC: Any children?

VG: I have one son. He's a personal trainer at my gym.

TC: Is there anything you're afraid of?

VG: I can't think of a single anything . . . Yeah, I am. Winding up living under a freeway with no money. Winding up on the street. Yeah, I'm afraid of that.

TC: What's the most amazing thing  you've seen, history-wise, in your life?

VG: Well, my father thought they'd never walk on the moon. he just couldn't digest that. So I'd have to say that.

TC: Were you in World War II?

VG: No comment.

TC: You seem like a tough guy to get along with. Are you?

VG: I can't handle foolishness. if you're in the gym to work out, you've got a job to do. And you're supposed to do it to the best of your ability. If you don't . . . those are the people I ignore. I'm outspoken. If I've got something to say I usually say it.

TC: Do you like movies, since you grew up in the industry?

VG: No way. Not at $7.50 a ticket.

TC: How about TV? Any favorite programs?

VG: I'm an avid TV watcher. I like action/adventure programs.

TC: Do you have a favorite actor?

VG: William Holden. He worked out here. He was a real gentleman. He was quiet. You didn't know he was in the room and he did his job.

TC: How about a favorite actress?

VG: I like that gal -- that red-headed movie actress (struggling to remember her name). An Irish woman. She's 50 or 70 now. She was in The Quiet Man with John Wayne. Maureen O'Hara!

TC: Do you like to read?

VG: Yeah, I'm a science fiction buff but I don't have a favorite writer. The famous ones don't seem to titillate me at all.

TC: Do you ever read bodybuilding magazines any more?

VG: Yeah, I look for my picture. I get them free. Well, actually I don't get all of them free.

Joe Weider wouldn't ever give me a free magazine. He's afraid of me. He wants to be the man who takes credit for training the stars and Arnold. Isn't that ridiculous? he could buy and sell me 1,000 times over. He used to laugh at my training methods but, sooner or later, what goes around comes around. Here he is using them, or trying to, and getting them all wrong.

TC: What's your main criticism of the bodybuilding magazines today?

VG: Drugs.

TC: In your opinion, are there any pro bodybuilders who are not on drugs?

VG: (long pause) . . . Hmmmmm, no.

TC: Is there any period of history that you would have liked to live in?

VG: I'm intrigued by the musicals of the 1920's and 30's. That might have been a nice, comfortable time to live. I love those old-time movies.

TC: What is the best thing that ever happened to you?

VG: I was born.

TC; By the way, when was that?

VG: No comment.

TC: Do you follow politics at all?

VG: No. I'm a little more involved in politics now that I've gotten older because I didn't have time for it before. Basically, I think they're all a bunch of con men. The clergy and politicians are all highway robbers, liars, cheats, thieves. I did admire that guy who had the atom bomb dropped on Japan (Truman). Not because he did that but because of his attitudes.

TC: Do you ever get depressed?

VG: Noooo. I have no time for depression. That's a fool's trip. Sitting around feeling sorry for yourself.

TC: Have you always felt that way?

VG: No. You learn it because, at one time, I was a manic-depressive. I just grew up. I was 30 at the time.

TC: Any favorite foods?

VG: Filet mignon, whenever I can afford it.

TC: You keep saying things like that, about ending up on the street or not being able to afford a steak. You sound like you're destitute.

VG: First of all, I don't deal in bullshit! You're asking me questions and I'm giving you answers and you're drawing some kind of conclusions that only you have! I'm considered a success! I've been here 49 years! I've seen gyms come and go but I'm still here!

TC: No, no, I apologize. You said a couple of things about ending up on the street . . .

VG: You want me to be truthful, don't you? Aren't you used to people being truthful to you? Why should I try to bullshit you? You don't mean that much to me. I don't have to b.s. anyone! If you want to find out how successful I am, you should be interviewing people I know! Why don't you find out what my friends think of me, since you don't like my answers!

TC: Of course I like your answers. I find you extremely interesting!

VG: I'm not used to this sort of think. I don't like it. I really don't want to do it! Let my reputation speak for itself!

TC: I don't think enough of our readers realize your contribution to the sport . . .

VG: Well, Jesus! I've been in the magazines more than anyone else!

TC: Well, MuscleMag International gets new readers all the time. Look at the average 18-20 year old who . . .

VG: You look at them!

TC: Okay (nervous laughter). You've had a very interesting life. Have you ever thought about doing a book?

VG: I've got a girl who's interested in writing my life story but I'm not interested.

TC: Are you still discovering new ways to train?

VG: Oh yeah. My experimenting never ceases. I discover things. I see things I've never seen before. Suddenly, there they are. They appear to me.

TC: I know that over the years you have developed many very specialized training principles. Have you ever managed to crystallize them down to a simplified formula that the average gym trainer could understand?

VG: You think I can't write?

TC: No, not at all. I didn't mean that. What I meant was, has all your knowledge of how to build a great body ever been presented in one form, at one time, so that all your followers could benefit from it?

VG: Yes.

TC: When was that?

VG: Now, damn it! The Wild Physique. Ever hear of it? (not waiting for a reply) It's been in print for a while. In fact, I had a new shipment delivered only last week. It sells like crazy -- it's now in its 17th printing! The Wild Physique -- you never heard of it?

TC: Yes, I'm sorry, of course I've heard of it. It's just that it's been around for a while. I guess I never thought of it as containing all your training ideas, and your latest thinking on muscle growth and development as well.

VG: It does.

TC: Did you ever learn from other people?

VG: (pause) No.

TC: Are there any good trainers out there?

VG: Nope. They don't know kinesiology.

TC: What should a person do to be a good trainer? Should they study nutrition and kinesiology in school?

VG: How can you go to school to learn what has never been written down? Who knows anything about bodybuilding? Study kinesiology. Study nutrition.

TC: How do you study that kind of stuff if it isn't in books?

VG: I observe.

TC: What kind of things would you recommend to someone who wants to put on mass.

VG: I don't want to train people like that.

TC: Would you ever advise anyone to compete nowadays?

VG: No. Look at what you're dealing with. Guys that are on death's doorstep. They're so full of drugs . . . and who likes that kind of body anyway? Is bigger better?

TC: If you had the chance to do it all over again, would you do anything differently?

VG: No, I'd have done it all over again. But you can't worry about yesterday (whispering). Yesterday's gone. You're only as good as you are right now. You can't live on past laurels.

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