1953 - Hollywood Blvd.
Bert Goodrich Gym
As a kid, I was a skinny runt who was the last to be selected when players were being chosen for a ball game and, not surprisingly, I was also generally overlooked when high school girls would check out their male classmates for ones they hoped would ask them for a date.
I used to read the Charles Atlas ads in comic books, and thought about signing up for a course — but could never afford the fee.
When I joined the army in 1949 I thought maybe military life would put some weight and muscle on me, but I got out in 1952 weighing the same scrawny 130 pounds I weighed when I joined.
Back in Hollywood, I toyed with the idea of signing up at Bert Goodrich's Gym, but couldn't really afford the membership fee. Then I heard that Steve Reeves, 1954's Mr. America and star of several Hercules-type movies, had signed on as an instructor at the gym. I also heard that he was a very personable guy and a good teacher.
Well, I thought, if I could build my body into anything even remotely resembling Steve Reeves,
how could I not sign up at the gym?
The first day I was there I changed into gym shorts and went hopefully onto the exercise floor to get started on the transformation. I quickly spotted the celebrity body-builder doing bench presses at the other end of the room, and went over to get a closer look.
When he finally sat up between reps, I introduced myself and asked how one signs up for his classes.
He gave me an annoyed look and said, "Can't you see I'm busy here? Go ask somebody else."
One of the regulars had taken this all in and came over as I looked around, wondering what to do next. He took me aside and said, "Steve doesn't actually give instruction here - he just comes to work out. The owners let him use the gym for free as long as he lets them use his name in their advertising."
Well, so much for celebrity instruction. I thanked the fellow for the information. He introduced himself as Blake and offered to show me around and acquaint me with the various weight machines and how to use them properly.
The experience was a general disappointment, but at least I had met a new friend and learned a little about using the weight equipment. I continued coming to the gym about three times a week. Reeves was always there, but I never saw him doing anything but pumping iron — I never saw him talking to anyone.
One evening I was chatting with Blake at closing time as we were getting ready to leave. Suddenly I saw a strange sight as several guys were heading out the door.
A young man who looked totally out of place in a gymnasium had come in and was standing near the door as if he were waiting for someone. He was even skinnier than I was; and wearing a bow tie and horn-rimmed glasses that made him look for all the world like Wally Cox's Mr. Peepers.
In fact, he was kind of a caricature of the last person one would ever expect to see in a gym. So I asked Blake, "Who's the strange-looking guy in the bow tie?"
"Would you keep your voice down?" Blake quickly replied, "that's Steve's little boyfriend. He comes by for him every night about this time."