Interviews Randy - Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors Interviews Randy

November 11, 2013

Q: Muscle, Smoke and Mirrors – Volume Two – has been described as the most extensively researched text on bodybuilding history ever published. As with Volume One, it leaves no stone unturned in providing detailed back-stories on some of the most intriguing and, in many cases, controversial bodybuilding events to have occurred over the past century.

What were some of the difficulties/challenges you experienced in compiling such a weighty tome?

A. I think “weighty” pretty much sums up most of my difficulty. Sure, I had some moments with the eyesight hindrance, but I have squawked about that enough in other interviews. It was the size of Volume II that surprised me and also gave me challenges. All the way up to about 2010 it was supposed to portray both the 1970s and 1980s. I had spent almost the entire summer of 2009 writing the prologue which was to encapsulate and serve as a prelude to the whole volume. The sub titles were:

The Glory Years of Modern Bodybuilding…

and the Great Challenge to its Nutritional Legacy.

I remember talking to Wayne DeMilia in one of our numerous discussions about the extent of content I would have in Volume II regarding these two decades. He said, “You can’t cover those 20 years in just one volume!” I had gone through a bit of this with Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale a few years earlier when he told me that my project would be two or even three volumes. I laughed at three volumes at that time. However, his words were ringing in the back of my mind when Wayne, as adamantly as Mauro was, made the same proclamation.

I thought I’d best stop and conduct a word count to see where I was sitting in terms of size at that point. Sure enough, Wayne was right. There was no way I could fit what I had and what I needed to add in only one more volume. So, I broke Volume II off with just the 1970s. However, I then became concerned about having enough data to bump that one decade alone up to at least the size of Volume I. I figured I could put one or two of the four women’s chapters in there since I already had them drafted for the 1980s.

When I went back to pick up on the Arthur Jones chapters, it wasn’t long before I realized I wouldn’t need any padding from my 1980s material as Jones was turning into a book within a book. By the end, the publisher had a number of difficulties with the size of the publication coming in at 728 pages in total. In fact, it wouldn’t fit into their standard format and the margins had to be adjusted.

From July 1, 2011 right through to October, I worked every day, all day on the publishing preparation process and that was stressful. The stress continued until the book’s actual release. I had a lot of help from my friend and editor, George Harrod and it gave him his share of stress as well.

Getting data also proved to be tedious, but that was the case for both volumes and will no doubt be similar for the third. Even just covering one individual such as Jeff Everson was painstaking at times since I had to go through dozens of emails putting together what all he had done. Probably neither one of us realized at the time how much he was involved in before he even went to the west coast. It is a very informative chapter called, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?”

It was also tricky covering the homosexual and gay hustling underpinnings of bodybuilding and to put it in proper perspective. However, I needed to cover all aspects of the game to be taken seriously. My friend whom I often confided in, Steve Speyrer, probably said it best when he told me, “Randy, I do like what you are doing and how you are diving deep into everything, but without sinking the ship!” He was correct. I had to be careful not to go so far as to break the tone and pattern I had set in Volume I.

Q: What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

A: Although I just mentioned the tedious aspect of collecting data, it wasn’t as bad for the second volume. I liked writing this one more because I had so much more access to first hand information, a good deal of it never disclosed before. I also had others doing leg work for me such as Ron Koeberer, Ken Sprague, Jeff Everson, Boyer Coe, Wayne DeMilia, and others. These men were all knowledgeable in their fields, sincerely interested in what I was doing, and were in possession of their own documentation that helped nail down timelines.

Q: How does this book differ from volume one?

A: Although the two books are in a sense the same since one is a continuation of the other, yet they are quite different in scope and focus. I wrote two prologues for Volume II, the first to give an overview of what was coming in Volume II and the second prologue served as a refresher of all the characters, organizations, and the varying relationships between those continuing on in the story.

Volume I spanned primarily the first 70 years of the 20th century with some historical background dipping back three to five thousand years ago, then giving additional attention to the 19th century. The scope was broad since I was setting the stage for bodybuilding’s Physical Culture roots and how it was intertwined with the struggling fields of healing, the burgeoning nutrition knowledge base and exploding food industry. On top of that was the birth and growth of modern bodybuilding and how it, too, developed its warring factions.

Volume II was zeroed down or we might say zoomed in on just one decade: the 1970s. There was so much in the Iron Game and our modern Western culture that changed in that decade following the turbulent 1960s. I primarily focused on the emergence of bodybuilding along with all of its tools of the trade and stereotyping into a piece of society’s mainstream.

Q: Was there an event you particularly enjoyed writing about? What was it, and why did it appeal to you personally?

A: There were a couple of sections I enjoyed doing simply because they always fascinated me. The first was Pumping Iron. Those projects really did do much to elevate bodybuilding into the mainstream. Their timing was perfect nearing the mid-1970s. Bodybuilding is fortunate to have two such daring professionals in George Butler and Charles Gaines who put their careers on the line for a sport that was so socially snubbed. It is actually quite amazing what they had to endure while trying to dissolve some long forged stigmas.

Of all the sections in the book, the biggest and my favourite is that on Arthur Jones and Nautilus. Arthur, love him or hate him, always fascinated me. He had no problem speaking his mind and very few have matched the amount of writings on training that Jones put out in the 27 years or so that he wrote.

There was a period of time that was always nebulous to me regarding Arthur and that was from about 1975 through the early 1980s. He involved himself in a number of wars that led to law suits and a battle for equipment supremacy specifically with Universal Athletic Sales. This war expanded into other fronts and it was a realm never well documented within the Iron Game media.

Arthur had written on it himself several times, but those were just his versions. Arthur Jones was not necessarily a liar. However, he told his renditions with a very myopic perspective leaving out pertinent details and taking no prisoners in his accounts. Often the way in which he disclosed his contentious business encounters, one is left to think Arthur had actually engaged the devil and his legions.

I always wanted to learn more about that period of time and what Jones was up to and I didn’t care how much room it would take. I knew I might be criticized for the amount of material expended on this subject, and I have by some, but I chose to do so. Arthur was a huge impact player of the 1970s with his training ideology and equipment technology. He was the foundation from which most all other machines would derive.

Q: You interviewed many people for this book. Was it, in general, easy to gain information from your interview subjects? What challenges did such fact gathering present?

A: Remaining with Jones and Nautilus, information was both plentiful and scarce or limited in its availability. As mentioned, Arthur wrote loads of material over roughly a 27 year span. Compounding this, his former associates and friends such as Kim Wood, Ellington Darden, Jim Flanagan, Jim Bryan, David Lisken, Ron Koeberer and others made themselves available over several years disclosing whatever they could. It was obtaining information from the other side of Arthur’s battles, primarily former employees of Universal Athletic Sales that posed the problem.

I had actually spoken to the creator of Universal, Harold Zinkin, back when the project was still an article for the Weston A. Price Foundation’s quarterly magazine, Wise Traditions. That was probably around 2003. I only spoke to Harold about his days on Muscle Beach since I had no intentions at that time to go so deep into his struggles with Nautilus. Unfortunately, Harold passed away just a few years later.

Ron Koeberer really stepped up here for me. Ron is a professional Hollywood photographer and was a friend of Arthur’s going back to the 1970s, but was closer to Arthur and his wife, Inge, in Arthur’s retirement years. He spent a lot of time looking after Arthur during Inge’s illness and after her death.

Ron was in possession of a lot of material few had seen before. He also had contacts for a large number of people who had interacted with Arthur over the years and this included some of Universal’s former personnel. He had tried to make contact with a few of them over 10 years ago with limited success. Some just wanted nothing to do with Jones or to speak at all about their encounters with him, at least while he was still alive anyway.

This made me somewhat leery over contacting them myself. However, Ron pushed me hard in that direction and sure enough I had success. In the meantime, Ron also flew across the country on a fact finding mission and helped me track down some court documentation through the National Archives and United States District Court for the Central District of California. David Lisken had supplied me with additional court records several years earlier thanks to Kim Wood.

I had other interesting data collecting encounters writing these volumes. Both Ken Sprague and Jeff Everson, who are strong characters in Volume II, shared extensive private information often from documentation without ever speaking with me. We exchanged hundreds of emails over a several year span. I had never communicated so much with anyone before without ever speaking to them. Now, I have spoken with Ken a few times over the past couple of years, but never to Jeff as of yet.

Although I utilized the standard books, magazines, articles etc. from that era, Volume II is referenced to a good degree with primary (first hand) resources.

It was fun talking to George Butler and Charles Gaines. Charles I understand had not given any interviews for sometime, but George nudged him to do so. They both liked Volume I and fortunately they also very much enjoyed Volume II. They gave me great reviews.

Q: What can readers expect, content-wise, from Volume Two?

A: Well, one might guess by now that there may be something in there about Arthur Jones, Nautilus and Pumping Iron. However, before I introduced Arthur there needed to b a foundation on which to unleash him.

Volume II of “Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors” is broken into six sections:

Part 1: Pumping Iron

Part 2: Control of the Game

Part 3: Sex, Drugs…And More Drugs

Part 4: Arthur Jones and Nautilus

Part 5: The Strength Coach

Part 6: 1970s Bodybuilding Nutrition

It was the era that saw the arrival of Arnold Schwarzenegger late in 1968. His entrance coincided with the dawning of the fitness boom. Bodybuilding had found its crack in the social wall that had barricaded it from the general public for decades. Charles Gaines and George Butler, using the Pumping Iron projects and Arnold as their battering ram, smashed through the crack and ingrained bodybuilding into Western culture.

Certain key figures simultaneously were moving Joe and Ben Weider into position of power after decades of warring with Bob Hoffman and his York gang. I ended Chapter 16 with:

“With such a heightened fitness awareness sweeping America, the success of the ‘Pumping Iron’ projects, and the popularity of physique stars such as Arnold and Lou, the industry was looking as though it finally had its ducks in a row…and just when the Iron Game thought it was safe to go back into the public waters…” Then I begin the next chapter with:

…And Along Comes Jones!

From there Arthur does his Mexican hat dance on the entire Iron Game industry. There are 15 chapters dealing with everything Jones engaged. His section naturally led into the whole strength training and coaching for athletics to which he held his strong opinions. These are interesting chapters.

The book concludes with the three chapters on nutrition for the 1970s.

Q: So far, what kind of response has Volume Two attracted?

A: Well, this is kind of a double-edged question. The initial response from those who have read it is much better than I thought it would be. The first Volume had garnished a large number of fantastic reviews with many calling it the best book ever written on the industry. Now, you would think that hearing things like this would be all good and it was, but it also stress me to some degree. Coming down the pike I was worried that Volume II wouldn’’t stack up. There are still some who like Volume I better probably, including me. However, more are actually liking Volume II more than my first.

Paul Solotaroff of Men’s Journal called Volume II the “definitive” book on the industry. I have received already a number of great reviews from Joe Roark, Brian D. Johnston, John Kiiha, Mike Brown, David Chapman, Jim Bryan, and a number of others. They are posted on my site with the endorsements. Muscle & Fitness, Planet Muscle, Iron Man,and the UK’s Health and Strength all gave me really great reviews. However, that all came early then it just seemed to drop off the map. None of the bigger, commercial bodybuilding websites have shown any interest in it until now and I do thank you for this; it is greatly appreciated. Even Boyer Coe has told me more than once that he can’t understand why there seems to be a lack of interest. Perhaps the price or the sheer size of the book has been a detriment, I don’t know. What is surprising though is that Volume I is still selling neck and neck with Volume II and that book has been out since June of 2008, three and a half years before Volume II. I really thought Volume II would be more popular due to the era of the 1970s.

Q: Are you currently working on Volume III of Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors?

A: No, I have not written anything on that volume since late spring of 2012.

Q: What have you been working on?

A: Well, I figured if the industry is not interested in its own history then I would write on a subject that does definitely captivate their total focus – how to build muscle with or without drugs! It is primarily aimed at the natural bodybuilder, but any steroid using athlete would benefit tremendously from this as well. I have been collaborating on this smaller book project with Josh Trentine of Renex on a book on raw food eating and bodybuilding. Josh is a 2006 Natural Mr. USA who just competed 20-25 lbs heavier since turning to primarily raw foods in his diet. And Josh is 42 years old. I have been experimenting with training and raw diets for almost 12 years now and we have some good stuff.

Q: When will that book be out?

A: Next year some time.

Q: Will you return to Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors or have you been discouraged away?

A: I will have to wait and see. I would like to, but I want to see how the book moves along in sales. That project is big. The whole trilogy in fact is huge and was a hell of a lot of work going back to 2002. I have spent a lot of money on the whole thing but I have made it back plus some. Nonetheless, for the amount of work that goes into each volume, I have to justify my time. I do feel obligated to all who have read it and have encouraged me to finish the project. It is roughly 55% drafted since much of that had been written several years ago when I foolishly thought I could do it in one or two volumes. Like I said, I will see where I am and how I feel about it next year. If this Rawmnivore guide goes over well and we believe it will then I may continue down that avenue for a while longer. I am having fun on this project and currently writing the most politically controversial chapters I have ever worked on but have wanted to for some years now.

Q: Okay, if you do get back into Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors what can we expect from volume III?

A: Honestly, I feel if I can carry out what I have planned in mind for Volume III, it can be the best of the three. It will be a combination in terms of format of the first two volumes. There will still be lots of bodybuilding storylines, drugs, and power struggles, but the nutrition will ramp up again along with social and global politics and how it is impacting the fitness industry and general public.

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