Glenn Sundby, who learned to perform handstands and other acrobatic moves on Santa Monica’s Muscle Beach in the 1930s and went on to co-found USA Gymnastics and establish the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame, has died. He was 87.
Sundby died Wednesday at Tri-City Hospital in the San Diego County city of Vista, according to USA Gymnastics, the sport’s national governing body. He had been in failing health in recent months and lived in nearby Carlsbad.
Born Nov. 4, 1921, in Minneapolis, Sundby moved to Los Angeles with his family in 1932. While attending University High School on the Westside, the slightly built youth became fascinated by the gymnasts, bodybuilders and Hollywood stunt people who honed their skills on the sand in Santa Monica. At a slim 5 feet 5, he was a natural “top man” for human pyramids and hand-balancing maneuvers.
Sundby teamed up with former wrestler and bodybuilder George Long in 1940 for a traveling acrobatic act. Five years later the duo became the Wayne-Marlin Trio -- using the men’s middle names -- when Sundby’s sister Dolores joined them.
The trio toured the country, performing in nightclubs, at carnivals, on television’s “The Ed Sullivan Show” and with Spike Jones and his Musical Depreciation Revue. In the trio’s heyday, Sundby won a mention in the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” cartoon strip after walking on his hands down all 898 steps inside the Washington Monument. The act disbanded in 1955, when Sundby’s sister decided to get married.
Back in Santa Monica in 1957, Sundby started a magazine called Modern Gymnast, which evolved into the current publication International Gymnast:a-tribute-to-glenn-sundby&catid=8:stretching-out&Itemid=130.
In 1962 he co-founded the U.S. Gymnastics Federation, the basis for today’s national governing body. He also founded the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in Oceanside in 1986; it later moved to Oklahoma City.
Sundby is survived by a son, Scott.
A memorial service is planned for March 28 at 10 a.m. at Coastline Baptist Church, 557 Vista Bella, Oceanside. Donations in his name may be made to the Santa Monica Historical Society, P.O. Box 3059, Santa Monica, CA 90403. More information is at www.santamonicahistory.org.