Entire Series Courtesy of Liam Tweed.
The First Three Installments are here:
Super Star of the 60's
Bill returned home feeling on top of the world, as indeed he was. His overwhelming victory in London firmly established him as being the world's leading bodybuilder beyond any shadow of a doubt. He hadn't been back but a few months when a stroke of good fortune befell him in the manner of a business opportunity. He had spent seven happy and successful years in Sacramento, but Bill often longed for the sunnier climes of Southern California. He heard that George Redpath was contemplating selling his famous gym on Manchester Avenue in Los Angeles. Bill made his move and 1962 saw him firmly entrenched in the "city of the angels."
Photo of Manchester Avenue Gym courtesy of Bill Pearl
This also meant that he and Leo were within two hours driving distance of each other and could get together more often as they were deeply involved in a business partnership.
A change of scene seemed to do wonders for Bill and as soon as he was settled he threw himself into his workouts with renewed vigor. He was as enthusiastic as he had been during his early years.
Around this time Bill was in constant demand as a guest poser. He also had a fabulous strength act which included blowing up how water bottles until they would burst, spike bending, and tearing auto license plates in half with his bar hands. He had some very interesting experiences during these tours.
Once when he was near the end of a tour which had lasted a few days, Bill was feeling pretty beat. Anyone who travels will readily attest to the fact that traveling in itself is very tiring. Imagine then, how weary a person would get putting on a strength act at the same time. Bill was giving a show in Louisville, Kentucky, and he recalls feeling very tired this particular night. Came the moment to bend a few spikes, Bill took the spike in his left hand as usual, gripped as hard as he could with his right hand and commenced to put pressure on the spike. Nothing happened! He thought, "I can't be this tired." Determined not to disappoint his audience, he mustered every last ounce of strength he could find to bend that spike. But something went wrong. He was concentrating so much on exerting enough force that his usual technique somehow evaded him. The result? He pushed the spike through the palm of his right hand! Bill almost passed out from shock and pain, and for a moment didn't know what to do. He held up his hand to show the audience why he could not continue. The spike was sticking out of his hand and blood was pouring down his arm onto his chest. The audience saw what had happened and went wild cheering for Bill. He was unable to remove the spike himself and the people who had rushed onto the stage had to pull it out for him. There is a humorous side to this story though, because Bill told me through all the pain as he strode back to the dressing room he had to go through the audience and they were still on their feet cheering like crazy. He thought, "Wouldn't it be something if I could work this into my performance every time!"
For many years John Grimek had been receiving invitations to appear in India, but always owing to business he was unable to go. He suggested to the sponsors that they approach Bill.
So it was in April 1963 Bill found himself on a plane on his way to spend some time in mystic India. It was to be an unforgettable part of his life. He was to see things that would leave a deep impression on him. He would also experience things that he finds hard to believe even to this day.
He arrived in Bombay weighing 239 pounds of the finest quality muscle to be found anywhere in the world. He left for home weighing 198 and what happened in between left memories indelibly etched forever in Bill's mind.
Body culture had long been held in high esteem in India and has a tremendous following among the masses of every class and caste. The people of India huge clubs in which all the various aspects of physical culture are taught. These include weightlifting, weight training, yoga and wrestling, etc.
When Bill arrived he was surprised to see posters and advertisements all over Bombay announcing the fact that he would be giving exhibitions. He hadn't seen posters as large as these before . . . they were gigantic! He also wasn't quite prepared for audiences so large as he performed in front of, many of them being as large as 25,000 people. I have in front of me as I write, a poster used to advertise one of Bill's appearances in Bombay. it is quite unique! It shows a large picture of Bill, and I would like to quote from the poster the manner in which the sponsors of the show described him.
The Iron Club Presents The
Spectacle That Will Hold You
The Biggest and Mightiest
American Ever --
FABULOUS BILL PEARL
His Strength Will Stagger You
His Dexterity Will Dazzle You
His Toughness Will Terrify You
His Health Will Hypnotize You
His Fitness Will Fascinate You
Most Amazing Muscular Marvel
All Roads Will Lead To The
On Friday 26th April at 9 P.M.
The Colossus of California
THE WORLD'S SALUTE TO
UNCLE SAM'S SHOWPIECE
Quite an image to live up to as I'm sure you'll agree! I doubt if Liz Taylor or anyone else ever had a publicity write-up quite like that.
Due to their meager and limited diets and the fact that most Indian people possess very light bone structure, most of the men weigh in the vicinity of 100 pounds or so, even the tallest ones. In fact, Bill was amazed to find the women were usually larger physically than the men.
These people had never seen anything like Bill Pearl and as body culture is almost a religion in that part of the world he was very often treated like some sort of a God. People would come right up to Bill on the street and just stare at him with mouths agape. They would gather round him in crowds and everyone would be trying to touch him. Bill will never forget the expressions on the faces of some of these people. It was almost as if he was an alien from another planet.
The first exhibition Bill gave was at the Bombay Cricket Club and he drew a tremendous audience of 20,000 or more. Bill was told later that some of the people in that crowd were so awe-stricken that they actually fainted s they just couldn't believe that a person could get so huge.
I would like you to hear in Bill's own words a few things about that trip:
"I stayed at a nice place called the Cricket Club. It was a real exclusive place for the elite because the general living conditions over there must be seen to be believed. The first exhibition I gave was at the Bombay Cricket Club and I was amazed at he size of the audience. People over there idolize the body almost religiously, and I got the idea that they were looking at me as if I were God-like, if you will pardon the expression. I will admit to you right now George, I found it rather frightening at times. It was the first time I had ever experienced that type of mass hero worship so to speak, and I'm sure this is the type of thing entertainers like the Beatles and Frank Sinatra and others get wherever they go. It's a pretty scary thing when you're not used to it.
"I did my usual strength feats and posed, and at one show there was a film making group of people from Italy who were touring the world filming oddities of the world. They paid me some money to allow them to film my performance and the crowd's reaction to it.
"I toured all through India and my usual mode of travel was by train. I couldn't believe some of the things I witnessed. There are people who are born, live their entire lives, raise their children, and die right there in the railway depot. They just never leave the place.
"To give you an idea of how bad the living conditions are out there compared to the standards we are accustomed to, unpolluted water is one of the most important things in the lives of these people. I can recall one time about three in the morning, a friend and I were walking around because it was just too hot to sleep. It was a kind of half light, in fact it always seemed to be that way to me, night and day. There was a small line of maybe 40 or 50 people at the public water hole. One young man had his big jar balanced on his head and when he was about third in line from the big well, he did something that just astounded me. He removed his only item of clothing, a loin cloth, and proceeded to have a bowel movement not two paces away from the line. When he reached the well, he casually cleaned himself with the water from the well, then filled his jar, placed it on his head and nonchalantly sauntered on his way. I couldn't believe it had actually happened. Not very hygienic, but maybe it just hit me harder because I wasn't used to seeing that type of thing."
I asked Bill how he managed to eat under conditions such as these: "I had no choice. I had to eat! It's amazing the diets these people followed. Most of them are vegetarians and rice is a staple part of their diet. I did manage to get some water buffalo meat, but didn't find the taste to my liking. I had to have some protein and I had a real stroke of luck. I got to know a pilot who flew a governmental plane. He was a special pilot who flew out of the country every few days. He would bring me in canned cheeses and salted pork, and I really needed it as my bodyweight was dropping rapidly. I will be honest with you, at times I thought I was really going to be violently ill!
"I think the thing that disturbed me most of all was the fact that everyone out there spits everywhere continually. Add to this the fact that most of them chew on something which I think is called beetle root, which is red in color and you can imagine the mess on the restaurant floors. Most people including the waiters walk around barefoot and they are forever picking at their feet. It's really something to see and I can vouch for the fact that it can kill an appetite real fast no matter how hungry one might be.
"That trip to India was one of the most fascinating experiences of my life, and I've always longed to go back as the people were so nice to me in so many ways. They would share with me anything they had, and believe me these people don't have much in the way of material things. If I were to go back I would have to arrange it so I could follow a diet a little closer to that which I am used to."
One of the amazing things Bill has done over the past 20 years or so is keep a ledger of ALL his workout routines. Every set, every rep, every poundage gets jotted down. It may seem like an awful lot of work, but in fact Bill says it only takes a few minutes each month. Weight losses or gains are recorded against each workout schedule and it sure comes in handy. For instance, if he wants to pack on 25 fast pounds, he just thumbs back through his ledger and finds a course that gave him that result and he's in business. Bill reckons it's time well spent and would advise all serious minded bodybuilders to do the same.
For the past 10 years Bill has worked out about 5:30 a.m. each morning so that he can give his full attention to his gym members when they come in during the day. He will let people come in at 5:30 in the morning if they want to but with the strict understanding that this is his time to train -- his only time to train! Bill puts in more hours than any man I know. As well as running his gym full time, he is a physical training consultant for the executives of a huge corporation in Los Angeles.
Bill likes to work out with a partner whenever possible. Especially some eager beaver, as he finds this usually keeps his drive up high too. Alas not many can stand the pace of a Pearl workout for long. Bill burns them out like candles, but everyone usually profits from the experience. I can remember taking a "light" workout with him at Stern's gym way back in 1964 and he almost killed me! Bill would say to me and Al Berner (my training partner), "Now you guys take it easy, you don't have to do as much as me if you aren't used to it." Al and I gritted our teeth and fought like devils to follow Bill through that workout. We often laugh about it now though as we both wanted to cry "enough" but didn't want to be the first to do so.
By now the Pearl physique was legend and he was still improving every year it seemed. However, a new crop of stars were appearing on the scene. Men like Larry Scott and others who were laying claim to being the best built men in the world. It wasn't so much the men themselves, but a certain magazine with the "trainer of champions" at the helm. This magazine would each year try to provoke people like Bill, Reg Park and John Grimek by running phony (I think) polls to determine who was the world's greatest bodybuilder. In the final rating Pearl, Park and Grimek would appear way down low on their lists. I mean it was ridiculous! They would be rating guys who would look like little boys standing next to these three giants, way up on their top 10 or 20 or whatever. Bill knew the only way he could compete against these guys would be on neutral ground with fair judging. In other words, the British Mr. Universe Contest.
Thus it was in 1967 Leo and Bill, after much preparation, made the long journey once again to London. Bill again took Britain by storm and won hands down. Most people admitted he was the world's number one by far. He was in the greatest shape of his life at that time and some of the pictures published of Bill around this time were simply fantastic and that's putting it rather mildly.
The following are Oscar Heidenstam's comments taken from the British publication Health and Strength dated 26th October, 1967. "Let us be honest, focus was on the amazing Bill Pearl, and who, if anyone, could in any way match up to him . . . Surely the news that someone like Pearl must inevitably deter those who come from a long way and at considerable cost. Class I -- All the way it was Pearl, here we saw the supreme. Physique, posing, personality, the man himself, everything a champion should be. No superlative could describe this man, he was perfection itself, the master, It was easy for him yet so inspiring. Who could be second to such a man? The overall Professional Mr. Universe 1967 just had to be BILL PEARL AND WAS THERE EVERY A BETTER ONE?"
Next, the fifth and final installment: