A king of flex appeal

Times Staff Writer

The first time Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger walked into the original Gold’s Gym in Venice, in 1968, its legendary proprietor greeted the young bodybuilder warmly: “Arnold, anything you want, it’s yours.”

But Joe Gold wasn’t done. He quickly added: “You’re just a stupid farmer from Austria and you got a balloon belly. It will take us a year to work on that.

“Hey, you need an apartment?

“You need a car?”

Schwarzenegger -- who allowed he had thought that he had pretty good abs -- recalled that story at a gathering of more than 200 of the late Gold’s friends Friday at the Del Rey Yacht Club in Marina del Rey.


The group included Jack LaLanne, celebrating his 90th birthday with his customary gusto; Mickey Hargitay; Irwin “Zabo” Koszewski; Bob Delmonteque; Leo Stern; Lou Ferrigno; Ray “Thunder” Stern; Pete Grymkowski; Tom Platz; Dave Draper; Bill Pearl; Armand Tanny; Ed Fury; Richard DuBois; Richard Harrison; Gene Mozee; Dick Tyler; Bill Howard; Dominic Juliano; Frank Zane, who sang a song he wrote in Gold’s honor; bodybuilding mogul and publisher Joe Weider; Mike Neveau, co-owner with John Balik of Ironman magazine; and Peter McGough, editor of Flex.

Representing a younger generation were Roland Kickinger, Jerome “Hollywood” Ferguson, and Kevin Levrone, a current Mr. Olympia competitor.

They came together to commemorate a man whose longtime business partner Mike Uretz, chief executive of World Gym International, described as “a tough, tough guy ... but with a heart made of marshmallow.”

Gold, who died last month at the age of 82, even referred to himself as a tough guy, but those who spoke at the yacht club remembered a caring, generous man with a dry wit and an unexpected gift for outrageous mimicry. To spend time with Joe Gold, they explained, was to discover that honor, loyalty and trust were concepts neither obsolete nor abstract.

The memorial was a unique gathering of what Weider called the “golden age of bodybuilding,” which he remarked “could not have taken place without Joe Gold.”

Gold was not only a bodybuilder, gym proprietor (he opened Gold’s Gym in the mid-1960s, sold it and reentered the gym business with the World Gym chain in the 1970s) and mentor to Schwarzenegger and many other athletes. He was also an inventor, who, almost every day drove from his Marina del Rey headquarters to his Inglewood machine shop, where he developed workout machines that enabled bodybuilders to go beyond dumbbells and barbells.


Two friends from Gold’s boyhood in East Los Angeles recalled that by junior high the trio had formed the Dugout Athletic Club in an auto repair shop. Seymour Rosen, who now is press relations officer for the William H. Parker Police Foundation, said that they made their own exercise equipment from coffee cans filled with concrete, old car axles and flywheels. Classmate Harold Zinkin, a champion weightlifter who invented the Universal Gym Machine, surprised the audience by revealing that “Joe” was not Gold’s real first name. “It’s Sidney. One day I thought, ‘I don’t think he’s a Sidney, I think he’s a Joe,’ so Joe it was.”

Lonnie Teper, a columnist for Ironman magazine and the master of ceremonies, invited a select few among the guests to the podium. Bob Kennedy, publisher of MuscleMag International, said the first time he entered Gold’s Gym he found Schwarzenegger, Draper, Koszewski and Franco Columbu working out. “It was magical --and then this guy dropped 140 pounds of weights. Joe slapped money in the palm of this guy’s hand and said, ‘I told you not to drop those weights. Get out!’ Joe didn’t want the man around but wanted him to have a refund.”

Schwarzenegger spoke of Gold as having “such an unbelievable impact not just on bodybuilding but also on so many people” in general and how Gold spread “the news of bodybuilding and how everybody should be interested in the sport.

“This is a guy,” Schwarzenegger said, “who was never interested in promoting himself, who never held a press conference. But they want a World Gym in Iraq -- I swear, it’s the God’s truth! They want one in Israel and in countries that are Israel’s enemies. Joe was very organic. He was real. That was the most important thing about Joe Gold.”

Hargitay, a former Mr. Universe, recalled being one of the musclemen in Mae West’s fabled nightclub act of the 1950s, along with Gold, DuBois, Koszewski, Tanny and Juliano.

Toward the end of the afternoon, Uretz, who scattered at sea the ashes of Gordon Mitchell -- Gold’s recently deceased close friend and also alumnus of West’s act -- along with those of Gold, said:

“They were last seen floating toward Muscle Beach.”