Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Bill Pearl Story, Part Five - George Coates

Entire Series Courtesy of Liam Tweed. 
Thank You!  

The First Four Installments are here:
Part Five: 

Following his Mr. Universe win, Bill and Leo had a heavy week's schedule of shows in Great Britain. Some of these included shows for Buster McShane in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in London for Wag Bennett, in Plymouth for Bill Jackson, in Manchester for Hal Wrigley and in Wales for Dennis Stallard. One of the highlights of Bill's visit to Britain in 1967 was an invitation from the very famous Mr. J. Paul Getty, who expressed a wish to meet him through Mr. W. Pullum, Jr., the son of the late W.A. Pullum. Mr. Pullum, Sr., was one of the most accomplished weightlifters and strongmen of all time. Mr. Getty invited Bill and his friends to visit him at his wonderful, historic Tudor mansion in Surrey. While most people usually think of oil wells and millions of dollars in conjunction with Mr. Getty's name, few know he has always been a physical fitness devotee and is a frequent visitor to the London NABBA Mr. Universe shows.

Bill, Leo Stern and J. Paul Getty

Bill, Leo Stern, Oscar Heidenstam, Dr. Craig Whitehead and Mr. Bill Pulloum spent a memorable day being entertained by Mr. Getty. 

Bill and Leo also took a short trip to the continent and one of the stops was Paris where Leo told me of the following incident. As in all big cities the hustle and bustle gets to people, consequently common courtesies become less common as cities become more and more crowded. It seems Bill and Leo were continuously being hustled and bustled off the sidewalks by impatient pedestrians. Bill figured "To heck with this, I'd just like to take one walk in this beautiful city without being pushed out into the street." Leo laughingly recalls Bill striding manfully down a crowded sidewalk determined just this once not to get pushed aside. Frenchmen kept bumping into Bill and kept bouncing off him like billiard balls, as the big fellow just kept on moving forward. Whenever Leo recalls this incident, he tells it and laughs until the tears roll down his cheeks! 

While the rest of the bodybuilding world raves about it, Bill Pearl is, and always has been highly critical of his physique. I asked Bill this question: "What does it feel like to see your picture in magazines and to be called the world's best built man, what kind of a reaction do you have?"    

This was his typical modest reply: "Well, George, the funny thing of it is I've heard that said and I've seen that printed and I always thought it was a way to sell magazines. I mean, people want to hear this and they want an idol to look up to, although these idols change just like the seasons. I had my idols and I'm sure you had yours. I can honestly say that I have never been satisfied with any photograph of myself that was ever printed in a magazine. Honest, I can pick them apart like nobody's business. Leo Stern has taken thousands upon thousands of pictures and he edits and screens them so carefully that very few in comparison get published, and I have never been satisfied with one yet. Maybe that's good and maybe it's bad, but that's the way I look at it. One thing about it, though, if people are are going to say these kind things about me I've got to try my hardest to live up to these standards. I wouldn't be any kind of a person at all if I didn't try and feel I owe the public due respect. If a person visits Los Angeles and comes to see me I feel like I should be in as good a shape as possible. I don't think I'll ever be satisfied with my physique, as I always start thinking I should have trained harder. I think if I had to do it over again I would have done it differently and worked at it even harder than I have done. I will be the first to admit I've been extremely fortunate to have done as well as I have. I've averaged 5 or 6 three hour workouts a week for the last 15 years, and there's still certain parts of me in my opinion that lag behind. But I'll continue to work harder and harder to keep these things coming along." 
Over the years Bill had long thought of opening a health club that would have universal appeal. His main idea was to separate the business men and light trainers from the bodybuilders and heavy power lifters. This would mean that anyone regardless of their present physical condition or goals could use the facilities that most appealed to them.

With this in mind he sold his gym on Manchester Boulevard and began looking for property that would be suitable. He searched for months in various parts of the greater Los Angeles area without any luck. It seemed every time he found some vacant property something or other just wasn't quite right. Than at long last he located a building in Pasadena that was large enough for what he had in mind. 
It took many months of hard work to decorate it and install all the things he wanted to, and it wasn't until March 1969 that Bill was satisfied that everything was just the way he wanted. Bill had an official opening party which Leo and I attended. I had never seen anything to compare to the Bill Pearl Pasadena Health Club. To say I was most impressed would be a gross understatement and while I have visited the club many times since, I never fail to be as impressed as I was on that initial visit.

Courtesy of John Corlett

When Wayne Gallasch, the leading writer from Australia visited the club he flipped, which is a visitor's typical reaction. The entrance and main exercise room have a decor that defies description and his heavy training and lifting rooms are the answer to a weight-man's prayers. The whole place is kept spotlessly clean and the atmosphere is such that a person instantly feels at ease. Bill thought of everyone when he set up shop. He has a room which contains passive equipment only. His locker room is spacious and the makeup mirror for the ladies looks like it's right out of a movie star's dressing room. The club has a number of sauna rooms, showers and toilets and the most fantastic Jacuzzi whirlpool bath that one could possibly imagine. Bill even installed a kitchen and dining room where his members can relax and have tea or fruit juices. 

His contest days over, or so he thought, Bill wanted only to stay in fair shape and devote all his time to the business of helping others. 

Then came the bombshell! 

It was rumored that Bill was afraid to compete in contests in which other star physiques were entered. He didn't take these attacks seriously at first, as he didn't think that anyone would expect him at 40 years of age to do battle with these young fellows in their twenties. He had his share of the limelight and anyway it just didn't seem fair as he hadn't worked out for a contest in almost four years. 

However, he hadn't reckoned with the attitude his friend and advisor Leo Stern was to take. Leo talked to Bill and told him that this would be the ideal way to settle the argument once and for all. Bill was very skeptical but Leo kept insisting that not only could he compete with these people but he could get into the best shape ever and beat them all! 

So it was the team of Pearl and Stern embarked on what would be the most vital contest in which Bill has ever competed. The drugs being used more and more in bodybuilding would prove to be a major factor in Bill's decision to have just one more try and compete with these people. It thus became a quest to prove to the same minded bodybuilders throughout the world that resorting to the dangerous practice of using drugs is, in Bill's opinion, sheer madness. 

With the decision made, Bill, with the help of Leo began to prepare himself to do battle with the cream of the present day bodybuilders. It was well publicized in early 1971 that he intended entering the annual NABBA Mr. Universe contest in London. This meant that anyone who wished to compete against him including Mr. Schwarzenegger had ample and equal time to prepare themselves for the event. This then was to be Bill Pearl's effort on behalf of the sport that he loves so well. He was determined to do his bit to help get the game back on an even keel where it belongs. It is possible for everyone to attain a fine physique without the insanity of using drugs and Bill was determined to prove it. 

Over the course of a year Bill Pearl transformed himself from a great physique to the greatest physique ever. There were many times that he wanted to give up but with the ever helpful Leo pushing and encouraging him he persevered. In May 1971 Bill appeared as the guest poser at the AAU Mr. California contest in Log Angeles. Leo purposely had him appear just a little smoother than he normally would have been. With the Mr. Universe contest still four months away Leo didn't want Bill to reach a peak twice. He received a fantastic ovation as he went through a long posing routine. This allowed some of the men who wished to compete against him in London to have a good look at him which is exactly what Leo wanted to happen.

The stories began to circulate, "Pearl will be a pushover, sure he's big but he's too smooth." "He will never get it back again. Once that definition has gone it's gone forever." Leo was elated. This is exactly the reaction he expected. Having convinced these people that Bill wasn't following the current trend of huge size combined with extreme definition, he and Bill could now get to work and obtain the physique that was to astound everyone in London. 

Exercise programs and diets were carefully worked out and from it evolved an absolutely fantastic Bill Pearl that not even his closest friends could believe. A couple of weeks before the Mr. Universe event, Leo wanted to get some crowd reaction to Bill's huge yet streamlined new look. He starred along with Boyer Coe at a contest in Houma, Louisiana and the fortunate people who were in attendance were simply astounded. They gave Bill a roof-raising reception and with it the reassurance that all the hard work of the past year might just pay off in London. 

On Friday, September 17th, the prejudging was held to determine who would be the amateur and professional Mr. Universe winners for 1971. Great physiques journeyed from all over the world in what would be the most hotly contested Mr. Universe contest ever. The great Reg Park came from Johannesburg, South Africa, mighty Sergio Oliva flew in from Chicago, Illinois, and Frank Zane traveled all the way from Santa Monica, California. The one notable absentee was big Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

If anyone has doubts as to the validity and integrity of the judging in the NABBA Mr. Universe contest, I would like you to hear Bill's own comments on the subject: 

"This year's competition was the toughest I have ever taken part in. There is no way in the world a person can buy a contest like this. It is most definitely not for sale! Thirteen judges from many parts of the world ensure that this is the fairest of all physique contests. Arnold Schwarzenegger himself has told me that he was always happy about being victorious in London's NABBA Mr. Universe contest as he was never really sure that some of the other contests he has won were fun on such a fair basis. As to the judging itself, it's the cruelest of its kind as far as the contestant is concerned. You have to stand in a relaxed position front, back and side. There is no special lighting and any flaws you may have are absolutely impossible to hide under these circumstances. Remember also that each and every judge is an absolute expert who knows just what to look for. The contestants are also told as a group to do the poses that they are instructed  to do. Examination as critical as this is hard but let's face it, this is the only fair way to find out what a person has when compared to the other entrants. 

"For instance, if a man has poor calves it's pretty hard to conceal the fact when you are standing facing the judges with your knees together and the fellow on each side of you has an 18" calf!" 

On the afternoon of the next day the famous Victoria Palace was packed to the doors as usual for the 23rd annual Mr. Universe contest. The capacity crowd enjoyed a fabulous show and then waited with baited breath until at last the announcements were about to be made. 

"Ladies and Gentlemen the 1971 NABBA amateur Mr. Universe winner is Ken Waller of the United States." This was a very popular decision and that grand old theater rang to resounding applause. 

You could almost hear a pin drop when the M.C., Cecil Peck went on . . . 

"Ladies and Gentlemen the 1971 NABBA Mr. Universe winner is BILL PEARL!" 

That huge crowd went wild cheering what must have been one of the most popular decisions since the contests began in 1948.

A thing which may be of great interest to the readers is this. I have received letters from friends in England who attended both the show and the prejudging and all without exception told me the following. One could almost see Sergio Oliva deflating as he stood at the prejudging, also onstage at the show. Neither Bill Pearl or Reg Park pumped up as they both know the amount of time a contestant has to stand being judged and onstage at this event. 

Of Sergio, Bill said: 

"He has the biggest arm I've ever seen on any man, and I'm sure they must be 20-3/4" cold." 

And his comments on Reg Park: 

"It was nice to see Reg again and I thought his legs looked as good as I have ever seen them. Being the gentleman that he is, Reg was the first person to congratulate me on my win. This, however, is typical of the man as he is a real professional who took defeat like a true sportsman. There are some people in this game who don't live up to the image that is painted of them by the magazines, and I'm happy to say Reg is not one of them." 

After his 4th Mr. Universe victory, Bill and Leo accompanied by their wives took a short tour of Britain, France and Italy, then tired but triumphant Bill returned to California. A most pleasant surprise was yet in store for him. His club members had taken up a collection and with the proceeds took Bill and his lovely wife Judy out to a celebration dinner and presented him with a valuable old flintlock rifle. The rifle along with a commemorative plaque is proudly displayed in his reception office. He told me, that gesture by his friends at the Pasadena Health Club meant almost as much to his as winning the Mr. Universe crown. 

What of the future? Bill would like to stay in the best shape he is able and give a few exhibitions throughout the United States. He laughed as he told me he hopes to be able to enter and win a Mr. Over 50 contest in nine years time. I asked him why he should find it so funny and his reply was this: 

"Well, George, when I won the professional Mr. Universe contest in 1961 I was 30 years old and I remember hoping that I might be good enough at 40 to enter an over 40 contest. I think I've done a little better than I had hoped! " 

One thing is certain, Bill Pearl will NOT be competing in any more major physique contests. He has had the limelight for over 20 years which is longer than any other physique star. He officially retires from competition as the world's best built man. He has, more than any other star helped spiral the human physique to heights previously thought impossible. Bill firmly believes that the true value of a man's contribution to life lies not in the success he achieves for his own personal satisfaction, but rather in the service he is able to render to his fellow men. An admirable philosophy I'm sure you'll agree! 

Bill Pearl isn't a person who demands or craves attention in spite of his enormous success. In fact, he is a rather shy retiring person who thinks more of the other person's comfort and well being than he does of his own. With that thought in mind I hope all readers will join with me in wishing that Bill's future will be in every way as successful as has been his past. 

I know he would be grateful beyond words if all connected with the weight game would say with me . . . in recognition of his many accomplishments in the sport and for being the great man that he is, 




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