Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Bill Pearl Story Part Three - George Coates

Entire Series Courtesy of Liam Tweed. 
Thank You!  

Part One:
Part Two:

Part Three
Two Trips to London:
Vanquished, Then Victorious

 To be away from the hustle and bustle of the city felt good to Bill. It was nice to be with his family again as he hadn't seen his father in a while. The beautiful Yakima Valley is particularly attractive in the spring and early summer, and Bill was able to forget for a while the clanging of weights and the never-ending stream of questions such as, "Bill, how about a new routine?" or "Say, Bill, how about helping me specialize on my arms?" 

It was wonderful to be able to just relax and take it easy for a while and renew old acquaintances whom he hadn't seen in years. All vacations must end, however, and when Bill returned to Sacramento and work once more, he was determined to make his gym the best equipped one could possibly find anywhere. He decided to rest up a while longer from his training and really concentrate on doing all the things to the gym he wanted to. He did take an occasional workout, but most days found him repairing or building new equipment.

Then one day he received a phone call from the York Barbell Company. This happened about two weeks before the "big one," the annual Mr. Universe event to be held as usual in London, England. The York Company offered to pay his expenses if he would fly over to London and compete. Poor Bill was in a dilemma, as he hadn't worked out in over three months after winning the Mr. USA title.

I was living in England at that time, and it was known for a long time that Jack Delinger was coming over to represent the Weider organization. In fact the publicity buildup Jack had received was fantastic! I am going to let you hear Bill's own version of what happened that year.

"Well, George, what happened at the Mr. Universe contest was this. About a week or so before the big event in London, I received a phone call from York, Pennsylvania, and they offered to pay my way over, hoping I could beat Jack Delinger, as he was representing the Weider organization. In a way it wasn't fair to me, and I should have been smart enough to realize that I wasn't in condition for it. Although I guess York didn't know before they approached me that this was so. You see, after winning the Mr. America contest I decided to rest up a while as I had really worked hard for that one. In other words, I had really let up on training. This is where youth takes over, and maybe 99% of my ego made me think I hadn't been beaten in so long, maybe I could beat Jack. I hadn't been geared for it and Leo advised me definitely not to go. I thought, however, I might just make it on past reputation which was a big mistake. I'll tell you right now those judges at the British Universe contest are the fairest and best in the entire world." 

Leo Stern put it this way: 

"John Terpak contacted Bill on behalf of the York Barbell Company. They wanted him to represent York in the London Mr. Universe contest. Bill called me and asked me what I thought. I told him to forget it, as he wasn't in shape for such an important event. He didn't realize how important a figure he had become in the sport. He was one of the top men in the world and I told him why risk that hard earned reputation by not being fully prepared? As outstanding as Bill is, I feel that adequate preparation must be made before a person competes in any contest, because when you place yourself on that pedestal it's anybody's game. Bill thought he could whip himself into top shape in a couple of weeks, but I finally convinced him he should definitely not go! About a week later he called me again. He told me he had been training hard and they still wanted him to go. We discussed the matter on the phone for about a half an hour but I couldn't seem to convince him that York would understand and they would probably offer to send him again when he was better prepared.

"I told him, however, if he really wanted to go it was up to him." 

I was at the London Palladium that year, and like the rest of that capacity crowd, was amazed to see Bill Pearl onstage during the opening presentation. Bill has always been popular in Britain, when he took the rostrum to pose, I think he got a bigger cheer than anyone else including Jack Delinger. It was clear from the start that the outcome had to be between Bill and Jack.

Jack Delinger looked tremendous and seemed to ooze confidence. He marred an otherwise perfect performance by having all the lights turned off on him during his posing routine, as it seemed he wanted to go into a rather lengthy routine even though the contestants had been briefed beforehand as to how many poses they were allowed . . . no exceptions! 

The timing of the contestants posing routines are accurately worked out to the last second, as the theater has to be cleared and cleaned in time for the evening's theater performance. Although to be fair to Jack, I must say his many fans in the audience were egging him on somewhat.

In the final placings Bill won the professional class one for men over 5 ft. 8 in. His nearest rivals were Reub Martin and Arnold Dyson of England. In class two Jack Delinger emerged victorious over John Isaacs, who, incidentally, is Reg Park's brother-in-law, and Jim Saunders, an outstanding English bodybuilder. Jack was also declared the overall winner and Professional Mr. Universe of 1956! 

I would like the readers to hear some comments by Dave Webster, the very well known and respected British writer, taken from his Mr. Universe contest report in Vol. 16, No. 2 issue of Iron Man magazine. "The last minute entries from Pearl and Schaefer caused a sensation and upset all predictions. The surprise appearance of the formidable American entry caused a terrific stir and these worthy representatives of the Unites States received a terrific ovation from the crowd . . ." "The win by Delinger over Pearl will probably surprise many who did not see the two side by side. "Bill Pearl wasn't at his best and knew it. Who could be 100% after a three day trip across half the world? This popular bodybuilder showed his sportsmanship for he went straight from the airport to the judging venue and took part in the exhausting routine without complaint . . . Bill's a grand fellow, with a muscular build." 

Bill speaks further of the contest: "I can honestly say that Jack Delinger looked real good. That defeat changed my attitude about a lot of things and was to be a major turning point in my career. Being beaten by Jack made me determined to train harder and do better. Let me explain. I have never stopped training since, except in the case of an occasional injury. So my defeat resulted in one of the biggest spurs of enthusiasm toward training I ever had! From that day on I told myself that I would never go into a physique contest or even give an exhibition unless I was 100% sure that I could do my very best. If I get beaten because I'm not the best man I don't mind, but if I get beaten because I'm not in condition then I've only got myself to blame. When I go to any contest now as a contestant or as a guest poser, I'll be in the best condition I can possibly be in or I'll just not go." 

Leo sums it up: "Bill came back and said to me, 'Well, Leo, I had a nice time and the people were wonderful to me. It was a good lesson and I'll train harder now! I found out there's just no way you can compete in a contest unless you devote plenty of time in preparing for it. Jack looked real good and he deserved to win. It was definitely a big mistake on my part to have gone.'"

Bill returned to Sacramento and made up his mind to sell the chain of gyms he was running which numbered about seven at this time. He employed a staff of almost 40 people to run the gyms but nevertheless the wear and tear on himself was just too much. In fact, most of his friends including Leo were pleading with him to give up this big operation as his health was definitely beginning to suffer. He proceeded to sell or close down most of his operations and retained just one, his favorite, the original Bill Pearl Gym on "P" Street.

All this took time and Bill was once again forced into a period of physical inactivity. This was most frustrating to him because after his defeat in London he was raring to once again get going and get into top shape again.

In the Spring of 1957, with all his business affairs in order, Bill started to work out once more. He followed a training program which was to result in a physique that was to stun the physical culture world. To say his progress was fantastic would be a gross understatement.

In fact, very few people know of the amazing physical transformation that was taking place. In the same way that Reg Park had begun on a new era in the standards of physical excellence a few years earlier, Bill Pearl was to raise that standard to undreamed of heights in the writer's opinion, which have not been equaled by anyone to this day! At this point I would like the readers to hear Bill's comments on two very wonderful people who each in their own way has done so much for the iron game.

When the question arises, Who's the greatest of them all? The name Steve Reeves is invariably brought up. I have always admired Steve and I think if he hadn't quit so many times to pursue an acting career he would have achieved a physique hard to beat anywhere. Bill has an interesting little story concerning Reeves and I would like to let you hear, in Bill's own words, what happened one day in 1958. 

"I don't know Steve Reeves as well as some do, but I can honestly say that Steve has always been nice to me. He was always a gentleman, extremely respectful and a really likable person. Steve came to see me at my gym in Sacramento in 1958, I think it was, or maybe it was early in 1959. He had just arrived from Florida and looked like a million dollars, in fact he was the handsomest man I have ever seen He was in fabulous condition, tanned, and he had about a 19" arm, wide shoulders and a small waist. In fact he looked better than I had ever seen him look before.

"He wanted a job in my place as an instructor, working the floor. I told him to begin with I could only pay a couple of dollars an hour, and I didn't know how long a time I could even keep him there. He said to me, 'Things are bad, Bill. I'm too old to become a plumber or an electrician and my wife wants me to carry a lunch bucket. I'm not interested in that because I want to become an actor. I have a small thing going in Italy, and maybe if this thing pans out I'll be alright.'

"Steve and I then went out to lunch and talked about the weight game. Then we wished each other luck and he drove away in his little sports car and I've never seen him since, except on the screen or on television. I'm happy to say the man has done very well in his chosen profession as an actor. It was a happy ending for Steve, as he has had some tough breaks as well as good ones. He sure was one of the great ones." 

Bill speaks very highly of Peary Rader, editor and publisher of IronMan magazine, generally accepted as being the best in its field. "I have the highest respect for both Peary and his wife (Mabel). They have been awful good to me over the years, and in fact have given me better publicity and kept me in the limelight much, much more than any other magazine. They are extremely fair with everybody. I never hear them "chop" anyone as far as their ideas are concerned. They give everyone an equal chance to be heard in their excellent magazine. Peary is a true Christian. The man has scruples that won't quit, and I can't say anything but the highest praise about him and and it's just a shame that his fine magazine hasn't done better. I mean it's a real tragedy that this wonderful publication doesn't enjoy the circulation that some of the other magazines do, but he's catering to the more honest and sincere types of people. Unfortunately, this honest policy doesn't seem to help in the sale of magazines. I have no axe to against Joe Weider or Bob Hoffman or any others. I've tried to stay on the fence all along and not become involved. I can honestly state I consider both Peary Rader and his IronMan magazine of the highest quality it's possible to find anywhere." 

Bill kept in constant touch with Leo all the time he was in Sacramento, and about 1959 the various magazines started publishing pictures taken by Stern under his skylight studio which is part of his gym. Nobody could believe their eyes as Bill's arms were now hitting around 20.5" cold and the rest of him had rounded out into unbelievable size and shape! 


I can remember seeing the way out cartoons of muscle men that the late Harry B. Paschall and others would draw. They were "Supermen" and now here was Bill Pearl looking just like one of those unbelievable cartoon supermen.  

Note: For 15 or 20 articles by Harry Paschall search this blog. 

In 1958 Reg Park had entered and won the Mr. Universe event for the second time so Bill and Leo thought it would be fair for Bill to have another crack at it. 1961 was the year they chose. By now the British "Health and Strength" magazine had been running pictures of "The New Bill Pearl" and everyone of the lucky people with tickets for the show were eagerly awaiting to see "the man." I was working out with Arthur McKenna and John Citrone who were competing that year, and went to London with them as I had booked months ahead for the event. This show is always a sellout, with spectators as well as contestants coming from all over the world. At the judging of the Friday, Leo Stern offered to sportingly stand down as a judge of the professional event in which Bill was competing as he thought people might feel he would be prejudiced toward his own man. Such is the respect that the British have for Leo, they insisted he stay with them on the panel of judges. The result was never in any doubt. Bill received 100% of every judge's vote in the Pro event. 

I was present at the judging that day and almost felt sorry for Bill because he was obviously extremely embarrassed at the attention he was getting and the stir he was creating. Believe it or not, to this day, Bill just hates to pose, even for Leo's camera when there's nobody else around. The amount of modesty this man has about his build, no amount of words could adequately describe. As well as I know him, I have never seen him dress or act in any way to draw attention to his physique. In fact, the only time he poses up a storm is out on the rostrum which is as it should be! 

To get back to the contest, I remember Bill was giving away some pictures at the judging. He was sitting in his robe chatting to people and being so friendly to everyone. Somehow one always gets the impression that when a person becomes a star at anything they become aloof. Not so with this man. I recall I was one of the lucky ones to get a picture that day, and I was pushed and shoved by a lot of people all with the same idea. I laugh at it now as Leo let me have access to all of Bill's pictures and I feel honored because the only other person granted that privilege is Bill himself. 

Note: If you enjoy looking through Iron Game photos, and the history of the Game, I think you'll enjoy Bill Pearl's Legends of the Iron Game in three volumes. 

With his usual "perfect English cool" Oscar Heidenstam got things under control and I would like to say here that Oscar deserves a gold medal for the work he has performed all these years on the physical culture scene. 

There was a buzz of electric excitement in the air just before the pros were to be judged. The noise level increased, and suddenly they appeared . . . with each and every eye in that room fixed on one spot . . . Bill Pearl! 

Bill was trying to appear cool but one could sense the apprehension within him. This was a thing that simple amazed me. Here was this giant, so far ahead of the rest of the field yet he looked the most worried and nervous man in the contest. 

The pre-judging of the Mr. Universe event is a wonderful setup. It's all done in the huge Royal Hotel and runs like a Swiss watch which is a tribute to Oscar Heidenstam and all the other men who work do hard to run this event. The contestants and guests stay at the hotel all weekend and the judging and dinner are held there. A corner is set aside for official photographers and top lensmen such as Gregor Arax, George Greenwood and Paul Hawker who take those wonderful photos we see in the magazines.   

On the Saturday afternoon, the big show is held at a major London theater and in the evening a celebration dance is held. There is a longstanding tradition at the dance that the winners take off their shirts and give an impromptu posing exhibition. I remember being with Earl Maynard and a friend that evening and Earl who was and still is one of the world'd best built men was going into raptures about Bill's arms. "I've got to see those arms again," Earl kept saying to me. A wrestling friend was at the door and wanted to talk to Earl. We both went and were talking when we heard a great roar from within. We both guessed what was happening and dashed in just in time to see Bill Pearl putting his shirt back ON! I thought Earl was going to weep. "I missed them, George, I missed them!" Earl himself won the same title three years later, so I hope no fan of his missed his posing that night, as believe me, he is one of the world's best posers. 

The following are Oscar Heidenstam's comments taken from Vol. 21 No. 3 of IronMan magazine: 

"A capacity crowd roared its approval when Bill Pearl, Sacramento, California, was announced Pro Mr. Universe. With the massive Pearl in great shape and smiling with pleasure, the story behind the success if revealed. Bill admitted he had been training solidly for a whole year in order to win this contest. This statement can be believed when he goes into a breathtaking posing routine. Opinion had it that he has the solidarity of Reg Park and the flexibility of Bruce Randall. Yet behind the mountains of muscle, golden tan, the man is quiet and restrained even in victory. One interesting point emerges from the contests. It is illustrated by the reception the audience gave Bill Pearl.

"Throughout the short time on the plinth, the audience applause drowned out the orchestra in the pit. And so popular was Bill that he almost was bludgeoned into another posing routine at the Universe dance after the show. This time the boys who didn't get into the show got a glimpse of him.

"The point in question is what is the Universe title worth? It is easy to see that Bill won more than a statuette; he got a lot more fans and friends too. The actual value of the prize in terms of hard cash would not amount to more than a few dollars. But the whole point, of course, is that like the Olympic Games medals and film Oscars, the value of the Mr. Universe trophies cannot be computed in terms of money.

"A man does not travel from America, Germany, New Zealand, or Norway to win a trophy because it happens to be worth a few dollars. He travels and competes to win a title which means more to him than anything else in the world. The trophy is the proof that he has won that title. It is the same honor in the homes of men like John Grimek, Mickey Hargitay, Reg Park, and many others. It is a trophy that cannot be bought for money. That is the value of the Mr. Universe title."   

After his triumph in the 1961 Mr. Universe contest, Bill took a short tour of Britain and Europe appearing as the guest star in shows which played to capacity crowds. Then the newly crowned Professional Mr. Universe returned to California, recognized by one and all as being the world's leading bodybuilder and already many were saying he was the best built man in the world! 

In Part Four of this series read how Bill was "put down" by the "trainer of champions" and how he again put his title on the line at the 1967 Mr. Universe contest. Also read about his amazing experiences on tour . . .      

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