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An Ethos Developed in the Gym

Times Staff Writer

Bit by bit, Arnold Schwarzenegger chips away at his myth. The stories he told in the 1970s of orgies and pot smoking and cruel tricks were fantastic fibs, he now says, a way to draw attention to himself and his beloved sport of bodybuilding.

But the men who sweated beside him in those years -- fellow Mr. Olympias and Mr. Universes -- say Schwarzenegger is tidying up his past as he eyes a new crown, the California governorship. The Schwarzenegger they knew was extreme in everything, from the weights he pounded to the anabolic steroids he consumed, from the merciless tricks he played on lesser men to the women he stole from friends.

“If he wanted your girlfriend, he’d take her. If he wanted your bodybuilding crown, he’d grab that too,” said Bob Delmonteque, an 84-year-old psychologist and bodybuilder whose physique has graced muscle magazines for 65 years. “Whatever it took to win and stay the center of attention, Arnold did.”

Schwarzenegger, 56, still boasts about his grueling two- and three-hour workouts at the old Gold’s Gym in Venice. But like many champion bodybuilders, he rarely speaks about the pharmaceutical shortcuts he took.

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In his books and interviews, Schwarzenegger mostly skirts or downplays his use of steroids while conceding their health risks, which can include liver and heart damage. “I took them under a doctor’s supervision once a year, six or eight weeks before competition,” he told Playboy magazine in 1988. Schwarzenegger said he began taking steroids when he arrived in the U.S. at age 20 because “all you want to do is be a champion and you take what anyone else is taking.”

But Schwarzenegger’s old gym mates say he consumed far more muscle-building drugs over a longer period than he has acknowledged. They say Schwarzenegger told them that he began taking Dianabol, a popular steroid, at the age of 17 in Germany and routinely injected other testosterone-like substances after arriving in America in 1968.

“I was in Munich in the 1960s, and Arnold gave me my first bottle of Dianabol,” said Rick Wayne, a former Mr. Universe who has chronicled bodybuilding in magazines and books. “He was 19 at the time and said he had been taking them for several years.”

Without steroids, Wayne and others say, Schwarzenegger would not have surpassed his greatest rival, Sergio Oliva, the one bodybuilder who made the “Austrian Oak” look small.

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On Sunday, Schwarzenegger would not respond to assertions that he relied more heavily on steroids than he has acknowledged. His spokesman, Sean Walsh, would say only that Schwarzenegger has publicly admitted using steroids at a time “when the impacts and health concerns were not well known.”

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Out of the Basement

From 1970 to 1980, Schwarzenegger won seven Mr. Olympia titles, the last one decided by judges who were his business partners and close friends -- a contest that to this day stirs heated debate. More than anyone, he took lifting weights out of the basement of the local Y and turned it into an integral part of America’s fitness craze.

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Back in those early years, Schwarzenegger could take over a room with his heft and humor, his former gym partners say. But often he could be mean-spirited. According to several of those workout partners, Schwarzenegger played a particularly cruel joke on his now-deceased bodybuilding friend Don Peters.

At the time, Schwarzenegger was single and made no secret of his attraction to Peters’ girlfriend, a beauty contest winner. One day after a fight with Peters, the girlfriend went home with Schwarzenegger. That night, Schwarzenegger told her he needed a favor. Would she mind calling his lawyer to reschedule an appointment? Schwarzenegger dialed the number, but it wasn’t to the lawyer’s house, according to several bodybuilders familiar with the incident. Instead, he had phoned Peters.

It took only a moment for the ruse to become clear. As Peters and his girlfriend discovered each other’s voices, Schwarzenegger shouted into the phone. “I just [made love to] her. I just [made love to] her,” recalled Gene Mozee, a bodybuilder and muscle magazine editor who was friends with both men.

“Peters drove over and banged on Arnold’s door, but he wouldn’t answer,” Mozee said. “All he heard was Arnold laughing.”

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Mozee said that Schwarzenegger told him the story and that he confirmed it through Peters. When contacted by The Times, the old girlfriend said she did not want to discuss the past.

As for Schwarzenegger, he could not recall the specific incident, according to spokesman Walsh. “Don and Arnold were longtime friends, and there was no conflict between them about any of the women the two men dated,” Walsh said.

Sometimes, Schwarzenegger enjoyed disgracing his targets in full public view, veteran bodybuilders said. Gold’s Gym regular Norman Williams recalled the time an earnest young man walked in seeking advice from his hero. No matter how hard he worked, he told Schwarzenegger, his muscles wouldn’t grow.

Schwarzenegger told him to remove his shirt and slather his body with oil used to lubricate the weight equipment. He then ordered him to start flexing and to bellow louder with each pose. Only then, Schwarzenegger said, would the muscles bulge.

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“Pretty soon, the gym was filled with this guy screaming,” Williams said. “The guys were turning their backs trying not to crack up, but Arnold kept a straight face. He loved making a fool out of people.”

The young man, exhausted, wanted to wipe off the oil. “Oh no,” witnesses quoted Schwarzenegger as saying. “It needs to saturate the muscles. It’s the only way to get bigger.” The guy walked out with oil bleeding through his shirt.

When asked to respond, Schwarzenegger’s spokesman chalked up the incident to “locker room humor.”

Today, the 21-inch arms are gone, and the massive chest has given way to gravity. But bodybuilding remains Schwarzenegger’s implicit metaphor. His message to voters, boiled down, is that he would turn the state’s flab into muscle and apply his legendary work ethic to make California flush again.

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“Bodybuilding is my roots,” he wrote in his recently updated Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. “I credit bodybuilding with giving me not just physical attributes but also with laying the foundation for everything else I’ve accomplished.”

It began with a pair of biceps that seemed to grow whenever he looked at a weight, and a set of calves so stubbornly puny that back in Germany, he used to pose for pictures in a pool of water to cover his lower legs.

That he then turned those calves into behemoths has spawned all sorts of legends, including that he resorted to silicone calf implants. The truth, according to his workout friends, is that Schwarzenegger walked into the gym one day with his arms, chest, shoulders and thighs -- every body part he was proud of -- covered in sweats. Only his calves were exposed.

The shame, he said, drove him to perform an unheard-of 1,400 sets of calf exercises a week. As he marked each set with an X on the wall, he said the Xs began to resemble “an invading army crushing all opposition.” His calves, he wrote, came “to resemble huge boulders.”

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The Sport’s Future

By 1968, Schwarzenegger owned every bodybuilding title in Europe and caught the eye of Joe Weider, who published a slew of U.S. muscle maga- zines and was bodybuilding’s most influential voice. Weider flew Schwarzenegger to Florida for the Mr. Universe contest, watched him lose and pronounced him the sport’s future.

“After the contest, I found Arnold backstage sitting next to the winner’s trophy. He was petting it,” Weider said. “He told me he wanted to win that title more than anything.... I asked him, ‘Would you like to come to California and train with the champions?’ He said, ‘That’s my dream.’ ”

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Schwarzenegger stood more than 6 feet tall, a rarity in bodybuilding. He was massive, but each muscle stood in proportion to the other.

“I had never seen a human like that before,” said Melvin Sokolsky, a celebrity photographer at Harper’s Bazaar magazine. “I found out right away that there was a brain attached to the body.”

That body was the product of relentless drive in the gym but also reflected a growing arsenal of steroids and super-protein powders formulated by a doctor, the same one shared by several top competitors.

Six of the world’s greatest all-time bodybuilders interviewed by The Times acknowledged their own steroid use, saying it was impossible to build that much mass without a significant push from drugs. They said the only difference with Schwarzenegger was that he started at a young age.

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“When I first saw Arnold in Europe in 1967, you just knew the kid was going to be a champion,” said Bill Pearl, a three-time Mr. Universe who took years to build his body without steroids in the 1950s. “It was also obvious to me that he had been taking steroids. You don’t make the night-and-day gains he did without them.”

Even Weider, who all but ignored the drug issue in his magazines, said steroids accounted for 10% of Schwarzenegger’s physique -- an estimate considered too low by the former champions, who put the figure at 20%.

“A competitor like Arnold is interested in one thing: to win. What does he do to win? Everything he possibly can,” Weider said. “To expect anything different is to be naive.”

Unlike the myriad growth hormones and diuretics used in the underground of today’s bodybuilding scene, the handful of substances used in Schwarzenegger’s day were easily obtained through friendly doctors.

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Dianabol was passed around like Rolaids, according to the champion bodybuilders of that era. Everyone knew who was popping Winstrol to harden the muscles and injecting themselves with Deca-Durabolin to bulk up before a contest. They could tell by the puffiness of the muscles and the changes in the skin, including telltale acne.

Without steroids, they said, Schwarzenegger never would have closed the gap on Oliva, the Cuban exile thought to be invincible in the 1960s.

“Arnold wanted to beat me, and he knew he couldn’t do it without drugs,” Oliva said. “I don’t blame him. We all did it, and it wasn’t the little amount that Arnold says. We took it all year long. It gave me tremendous growth, but it’s no good. I’m having health effects.”

By 1970, Schwarzenegger was the darling of the Weider em- pire. Weider promoted the legend of the Austrian Oak, while Schwarzenegger promoted Weider’s barbells and protein powders and supplements.

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“They were a great match, a perfect pair,” said Win Paris, who owned a dozen Jack La Lanne fitness centers in California.

Weider paid Schwarzenegger’s rent and gave him a car and a weekly allowance of $100 to lift weights and lie in the sun. “I was like a father to him,” Weider said. “I created him.”

The relationship bred re- sentment among bodybuilding’s other top stars. They had to take jobs and train on little sleep. Oliva, who worked at a foundry in Chicago, believed the spoils should have gone to him. After all, he was known as the Cuban Myth, the reigning Mr. Olympia.

“I was the champ, and I had to work in 500-degree heat making sinks and toilets,” he said. “I was of no promotional use to Weider. He could never come out with this baloney that he created me. I was already ‘The Myth.’ ”

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Three Epic Battles

Like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, Oliva and Schwarzenegger waged three epic battles for the Mr. Olympia crown. Oliva won in 1969 in Brooklyn, N.Y. Schwarzenegger won in 1970 in Columbus, Ohio, and again in 1972 in Germany.

“I knew I was a winner. I knew I was destined for great things,” Schwarzenegger wrote in his 1977 autobiography. “People will say that kind of thinking is totally immodest. I agree. Modesty is not a word that applies to me in any way.”

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Oliva’s supporters attribute his defeats to the Weider machine’s control over the international committee that ran the contests and selected the judges.

Schwarzenegger’s fans, for their part, say he may have been smaller than Oliva but that he was a superior poser with more defined muscles. He also was able to psych out opponents with pointed barbs that played on their insecurities.

“I will pull one trick after another on my competition to wipe him out, you know -- because it’s my living and I have to win,” he once told an interviewer. “I will do as much as I can to make him look bad and me look good.”

Mozee, the former editor of Weider’s Muscle Builder who befriended Schwarzenegger while ghostwriting his training manuals and magazine columns, said he admired Schwarzenegger’s drive and focus. But he could be too flip for his own good.

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Mozee recalled the time Schwarzenegger posed for a photo with Mozee’s godson in the mid-1970s. As the session broke up, Mozee said he heard Schwarzenegger tell the boy, “I want you to always remember this. You just took a picture with Jesus Christ.” Looking back, Mozee saw a pattern. “Arnold thought he could say anything and get away with it. He had a kind of Teflon attitude.”

Schwarzenegger’s spokesman said the candidate could not recall the incident but did like to “push the envelope” when he was in the mood to boast.

By the mid-1970s, Schwarzenegger was making a nice living off bodybuilding, selling his training courses and holding seminars. He had a great eye for real estate and saved enough money to buy a 12-unit apartment building in Santa Monica, the first of many holdings. Some friends thought he would eventually take over Weider’s flagship magazine. But Schwarzenegger told them, “Joe Weider is just a bridge for where I am going.”

The course was set when the movie “Pumping Iron” came out in 1977. The film chronicled a group of top bodybuilders training and competing for the 1975 Mr. Olympia title. But the screen seemed only big enough for Schwarzenegger. He hijacked the movie with his antics and outrageous comments about muscles and sex. The movie ended with him winning a sixth straight crown and smoking a fat marijuana joint.

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He retired to pursue his dream of Hollywood stardom. As he began landing roles, he started giving the cold shoulder to his old muscle buddies. Mozee said he encountered Schwarzenegger on the beach one day after he had finished shooting a movie.

“He told me, ‘Gene, I can’t talk to you. You’re beneath me now.’ He was dead serious. A week later, I was out to lunch with Joe Weider and we saw Arnold. He greeted me and said, ‘Gene, you’re my main man.’ He was a bit of a chameleon like that.”

Before landing the lead role in “Conan the Barbarian,” Schwarzenegger surprised the bodybuilding world by entering the 1980 Mr. Olympia contest in Australia, determined to prove that even after a five-year layoff, he was still the best.

Competitors said the contest was a fiasco. Several of the judges had business ties to Schwarzenegger. The affair was promoted by his good friend Paul Graham. Onstage, it became apparent that Schwarzenegger had trained hard enough to regain his upper body, but his legs lagged far behind. Most bodybuilding experts agree he should not have won.

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“Arnold was a phenomenal competitor onstage, but that contest was a gift to him,” said Pearl, who by then had retired from competition and was a judge. “I’ve never seen a Mr. Olympia contest rigged, but that one came the closest.”

As Schwarzenegger the candidate makes his way around the state, the old bodybuilders hardly recognize him. It’s not the body gone soft that throws them, they say, but the way he is backpedaling from the past.

Still, many of them plan to vote for him. They say his confidence is so outsized that he would not allow the state’s problems to overcome him.

“When Arnold was a young bodybuilder, he once asked me if any man can achieve whatever he wants. I told him every guy has his limits,” recalled former champ Rick Wayne. “Arnold told me, ‘You’re wrong, Rick. Any man can get what he desires provided he’s willing to pay whatever price.’ ”

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