Armand Tanny, a pioneering figure in bodybuilding who won national titles in 1949 and 1950 and was a popular figure on Muscle Beach in Santa Monica during its heyday in the 1940s, has died. He was 90.
Tanny, the younger brother of gym pioneer Vic Tanny, died of natural causes Saturday at a nursing facility in Westlake Village, according to his daughter, Mandy Tanny. He had been fairly active until last year and was still driving last summer.
Originally a weightlifter, Tanny won the Mr. 1949 title, the 1949 Pro Mr. America title and the 1950 Pro Mr. USA titles in bodybuilding. In the days before steroids, he credited his wins to diet and hard work. He was a firm believer in the benefits of raw foods, including tuna, beef, liver and lobster as well as nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables.
During the 1950s, he was one of the original nine bodybuilders from Muscle Beach who were part of Mae West’s traveling nightclub act. According to the book “Remembering Muscle Beach” by Harold Zinkin with Bonnie Hearn-Hill (Angel City Press, 1999), the nine were known as Mae’s Muscle Beach Men. They included such prominent bodybuilders as Joe Gold, George Eiferman, Richard DuBois, whom Zinkin and Hearn-Hill called “the star” of the group, Harry Schwartz, Dom Juliano, Lester “Shifty” Schaefer, Irvin “Zabo” Koszewski, Chuck Krauser and Tanny.
According to Hearn-Hill, Tanny organized a strike with Gold when West cut their $250-a-week salaries in half to boost the take at a New York club.
“Armand and Joe were ready to board the plane,” Hearn-Hill told The Times on Wednesday. “Mae quickly caved in and they got their full salaries.”
Tanny also turned to professional wrestling in the 1950s. But for much of his life, the quiet and studious Tanny made his living writing about physical fitness and bodybuilding for his friend Joe Weider’s publications, including Muscle Power magazine.
Tanny was born March 5, 1919, in Rochester, N.Y. In his early teens, he was competing in weightlifting competitions. In 1941, he placed second in the heavyweight class in the Junior Nationals competition in Akron, Ohio. In that competition, he managed 230, 250 and 330 pounds in the three Olympic lifts (press, snatch, and clean and jerk). He was able to clean a 300-pound barbell one-handed.
He attended the University of Rochester before moving to Los Angeles in the late 1930s, where he enrolled at UCLA. But World War II intervened, and Tanny joined the Coast Guard and served until he suffered a knee injury. He left the service and went back to school in Westwood, earning a degree in physical therapy. He also had uncredited parts in some Hollywood films, including “Lady in the Dark” (1944) and “Frenchman’s Creek” (1944). Meanwhile, he kept perfecting his body for the emerging sport of bodybuilding.
When he wasn’t at the beach with early bodybuilding pals, including Steve Reeves, Tanny was at the gym in Santa Monica started by his brother, Vic, who years later pioneered the creation of modern health clubs, which were a big part of the Southern California fitness scene in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Vic Tanny’s fitness empire eventually included gyms across the country.
In 1949, Armand Tanny married Shirley Luvin, whom he had met at Muscle Beach. His daughter was born in 1950. Tanny left Santa Monica and Muscle Beach in the late 1950s and lived in Hawaii for a decade before moving to the San Fernando Valley and going to work for Weider.
His brother died in 1985.
In addition to his daughter, Mandy, who is also a bodybuilder and writer, Tanny is survived by his grandson, Mario, a bodybuilder.
Services will be private.