IRON MEN

IN 1977, ARNOLD SCH­WARZENEG­GER AND LOU FER­RIGNO WERE MERE BODY­BUILD­ING CON­TES­TANTS, JUST A COU­PLE OF BIG BLOKES COM­PET­ING IN A FRINGE SPORT. THEN CAME PUMP­ING IRON — AND EV­ERY­THING CHANGED

Empire (Australasia) - - On Screen - WORDS HAY­LEY CAMP­BELL

1. NO­BODY CARED ABOUT BODY BUILD­ING IN 1977

In the early 1970s, am­a­teur body­builder Charles Gaines wrote Stay Hun­gry, a novel about a guy who be­friends a group of iron-pumpers. Sports Il­lus­trated then com­mis­sioned him to write about the sport, which was about as main­stream as mid­get wrestling. Af­ter a cou­ple of ar­ti­cles, Gaines knew there was a whole book in it: he would be like David At­ten­bor­ough re­port­ing on some strange an­thro­po­log­i­cal phe­nom­e­non. “Body­build­ing was a non-sub­ject,” he tells Em­pire now. “No­body knew any­thing about it and the few peo­ple who did had a lot of mis­con­cep­tions; that they were all mus­cle­bound ho­mo­sex­u­als. It was relegated to the back closet of Amer­i­can sub­cul­tures.” Watch­ing Pump­ing Iron in 1977 was like watch­ing Tod Browning’s Freaks, only these men had built them­selves. We got to see how they did it and what they or­dered in the restau­rant to main­tain it (a big steak, six eggs, three ham­burg­ers).

2. FER­RIGNO WAS THE UN­DER­DOG

The through­line of Pump­ing Iron, which was co-di­rected by Robert Fiore and Ge­orge But­ler, is the David-and-go­liath ri­valry be­tween Lou Fer­rigno and Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger. Fer­rigno, who had been left par­tially deaf by a child­hood ac­ci­dent, was de­ter­mined to best his gar­gan­tuan ri­val. “I knew Arnold was plan­ning on re­tir­ing,” he re­mem­bers. “I wanted to beat him be­cause to be the best, you have to beat the best. He was my idol.” In Gaines’ 1974 book Pump­ing Iron: The Art And Sport Of Body­build­ing, Fer­rigno was a mi­nor char­ac­ter the writer de­scribed as hav­ing “one of the best un­fin­ished physiques in the his­tory of body­build­ing”. In the movie, while Aus­trian ex-pat Sch­warzeneg­ger was at his peak, hav­ing al­ready be­come the youngest-ever Mr Uni­verse in 1967, Fer­rigno came off as a hulk­ing neo­phyte. “It’s im­pos­si­ble not to like Louie,” says Gaines. “He was a bit of a dolt at that time, though not as much of one as he is por­trayed in Pump­ing Iron.

A sweet man, very gen­er­ous to other body­builders and every­body he came in con­tact with.”

3. ARNIE WASN’T JUST MUS­CLE

Sch­warzeneg­ger’s charisma was a rar­ity, says Gaines. “Our great gift was Arnold’s in­tel­li­gence and his adapt­abil­ity and his metaphor­i­cal ca­pac­ity. With body­builders, it’s not that they’re un­in­tel­li­gent — it’s just that they’re in­tel­li­gent in a very fixed and lim­ited way.” The star him­self be­lieves this is what the sport needed: some­one to hype it up from the in­side. “I think the time was right for body­build­ing to have a per­son­al­ity like I have,” Sch­warzeneg­ger tells Em­pire. “It was just a vac­uum there. And so all of a sud­den it was, ‘Wow, Sch­warzeneg­ger can be out there pro­mot­ing body­build­ing and talk­ing about it elo­quently.’ That’s what was needed.”

4. N AROET EAQLULATLRAINING REGIMES

World-class body­build­ing com­peti­tors usu­ally pre­pare for at least a year. But Fer­rigno — who had been work­ing in a sheet-metal fac­tory in Ohio — only had three months to train. The movie, which was shot over the 100 days lead­ing up to the Mr Olympia com­pe­ti­tion, por­trays its two stars’ very dif­fer­ent prep ses­sions: Fer­rigno lifts weights in a dimly lit base­ment in Brook­lyn, while Sch­warzeneg­ger flexes his co­pi­ous mus­cles in the leg­endary Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach, Cal­i­for­nia, or on Mus­cle Beach, glint­ing in the sun like a god and in­vari­ably sur­rounded by beau­ti­ful women. “When I saw the film I was dis­ap­pointed be­cause it was show­ing me go­ing against him and I wasn’t in my best shape,” says Fer­rigno. “Later on, I re­alised that peo­ple re­ally sym­pa­thised with both of us.”

5. DADDY IS­SUES WERE RIFE

Fer­rigno’s main beef with the movie was the in­clu­sion of his fa­ther Matty, his on-screen trainer, a con­fi­dent, grey-haired guy who came off like a Scors­ese char­ac­ter. Re­calls Fer­rigno: “When the movie first came out, a lot of peo­ple said, ‘I wish I had a fa­ther like yours. He was the great­est sup­porter.’ It was all bull­shit. He was never in­volved be­fore, ever. He only did it be­cause he wanted to be in the film. I was in­tro­verted and he wanted to dom­i­nate me. It was a tough ordeal.” Years later, Fer­rigno wrote him a let­ter about it, too up­set to con­front him face-to-face, and their re­la­tion­ship re­mained frac­tious un­til his death in 2003. “We rarely spoke. I couldn’t talk to him about it be­cause he was a very de­fen­sive per­son. I kind of for­gave him and moved on. I just kept my dis­tance.” Dave Mcveigh, who watched 100 hours of Pump­ing Iron cut footage while pro­duc­ing the ‘mak­ing of’ fea­ture Raw Iron with his brother Scott, says, “It came across to me like Lou’s dad was just en­am­oured of Arnold. So not only is he a stage fa­ther, dom­i­nat­ing his kid, he’s also a fan of his kid’s op­po­nent. That had to be rough for Lou.”

6. B FORRE APKSFYACSHT-OISUAT SGOOD TIME

Fer­rigno ad­mits that he lacked the mo­ti­va­tion he needed to beat his idol. “To be a cham­pion you have to be hun­gry and I wasn’t as hun­gry when

I was in Pump­ing Iron.” Sch­warzeneg­ger sensed this and pounced, cheek­ily psych­ing him out at break­fast by telling Fer­rigno he was not in the right frame of mind to beat him, that he hadn’t trained as hard as he needed to train, that Sch­warzeneg­ger had al­ready phoned his mother in Aus­tria and told her he’d won. “Arnold was al­ways smarter than all of his com­pe­ti­tion,” says Gaines. “Al­ways psy­cho­log­i­cally acute and ruth­lessly will­ing to ex­ploit any weak­ness he felt a com­peti­tor had, par­tic­u­larly in the warm-up rooms be­fore com­pe­ti­tions. He’d go over and say, ‘Ah, too bad you didn’t get those bi­ceps up a lit­tle bit more than you did.’ Those things re­ally ac­crete, es­pe­cially in body­build­ing where you’ve got to show your­self off. A big part of the pose-offs, which are the fi­nale to the com­pe­ti­tions, is an ex­hi­bi­tion of con­fi­dence.”

7. B FOURT ATHPESRYEC’HS-NOOU TB AD TIME

In 1970, Mike Katz, one of Pump­ing Iron’s star body­builders, was in New York City on the day Sch­warzeneg­ger first won Mr Olympia, steal­ing the ti­tle from favourite Ser­gio Oliva. Katz tells Em­pire that the vic­tory was down to an­other bit of world-class mind-mess­ing. “The crowd was cheer­ing, ‘Ser­gio! Ser­gio!’ They’re pos­ing and pos­ing and Arnold looks over to Ser­gio, and Ser­gio is get­ting tired. So Arnold whis­pers to Ser­gio, ‘I’m tired, let’s get off and rest.’ Ser­gio goes to the right of the stage, Arnold pre­tends he’s go­ing to the left. When Ser­gio is three­quar­ters to the back­stage, Arnold jumps back on the stage and starts pos­ing. He hand-ges­tures, ‘Ser­gio quit! I’m the win­ner!’ and all the peo­ple changed from chant­ing, ‘Ser­gio! Ser­gio!’ to ‘Arnold! Arnold!’ Poor Ser­gio got psyched out.”

8. T SHNEERAEK YWEADSISTOINMGE

Dave Mcveigh, di­rec­tor of Raw Iron, 2002’s doc­u­men­tary on Pump­ing Iron, says that crafty edit­ing shaped how Sch­warzeneg­ger comes across in the film. “Arnold was def­i­nitely a trash talker, but I don’t think he had any mal­ice to­wards Lou,” he says. “Taken out of con­text, you can make any­body look any way in a doc­u­men­tary. It wouldn’t have been as in­ter­est­ing if ev­ery­one was hold­ing hands and singing Kum­baya. That was But­ler’s point: to make up ri­val­ries.” Fer­rigno ad­mits that he was up­set about how he came off when he first saw the film. “In the be­gin­ning I took it the wrong way,” he says, “be­cause I thought I was be­ing ex­ploited, look­ing like the loser.”

9. T

W HAES I FNAFKAEMDOEUNSTTI-RSEHLIYRT SCENE

Mike Katz ob­jected to one of But­ler’s fab­ri­cated sce­nar­ios in which body­builder Ken Waller steals his lucky blue T-shirt, with Katz left wan­der­ing the back­stage cor­ri­dors look­ing for it. It never hap­pened: six months af­ter Katz mis­placed his T-shirt, But­ler filmed Waller say­ing to cam­era that he was go­ing to steal it, then edited the footage to tell a funny story.

Katz was so an­gry he walked out of the New York City pre­miere. “It wasn’t edited right, it made me look like a loser,” he says. “It took me years to get over it. They made me sign the re­lease [be­fore I saw the movie] and I got a stupid 600 bucks — at the time a lot of money, be­ing a teacher. I wasn’t go­ing to sue any­body, be­cause that’s not the way I am, but I was hurt be­cause they promised me I’d be the hero.”

Waller didn’t come out of it well ei­ther: he was booed at body­build­ing shows for years af­ter, for what the film claimed he did to Katz.

10. ARNIE DIDN’T DO EMO­TION

In a deleted scene, Gaines walks through an amuse­ment park with Sch­warzeneg­ger, try­ing to get him to open up emo­tion­ally in­stead of be­ing his usual cocky self. Mcveigh tells Em­pire: “It’s very ob­vi­ous when you watch all the footage that he was a nice guy, but not what Gaines wanted him to be, which is a ’70s nice guy — y’know, touchy-feely. Gaines says, ‘Don’t you think it closes you off to hu­man con­nec­tion?’ and Arnold’s like, ‘So what?’ He’s laugh­ing. But­ler and Gaines are both smart, sort of in­tel­lec­tu­als, and they tried to get to the core of these body­builders. But some­times peo­ple are just what they are.”

11. P

T HUEMHPUINLGK IRON CRE­ATED

The suc­cess of Pump­ing Iron caught the eye of TV ex­ec­u­tives and gave Fer­rigno a job out­side of his old fac­tory. “It re­ceived tremen­dous at­ten­tion, and six months later I re­ceived

a phonecall to au­di­tion for The In­cred­i­ble Hulk,” he says. “Since then I’ve done stage plays, five TV se­ries, over 40 films. I’d al­ways wanted to be an ac­tor but never told any­one. The film put me on the map, and now I’m very proud of it. The only part I didn’t like was my fa­ther.”

12. AND THE TER­MI­NA­TOR, TOO

Un­like Fer­rigno, Sch­warzeneg­ger, who wins the Mr Olympia ti­tle at the end of the film and cel­e­brates with fried chicken and a joint, had voiced his de­sire to act to Gaines and But­ler. Gaines re­calls a car jour­ney where the Aus­trian laid out his whole life plan: “Arnold was in the back, Ge­orge and I were in the front and we asked him what he planned to do next. He said, ‘Well, I’ve got a life chart made out for my­self. I want to be the world’s best body­builder, I want to win Mr Olympia seven times and then I want to get into the movies, marry an Amer­i­can princess and get into pol­i­tics.’ All of that turned out to be ex­actly what he did.”

13. IT CHANGED THE SHAPE OF A-LIST STARS

In the 1970s, lead­ing Hol­ly­wood hard men were Steve Mcqueen and James Caan: not your reg­u­lar guy in the street, but not far off ei­ther. But in the run-up to Pump­ing Iron, the mak­ers of Stay Hun­gry needed some­one to play body­builder Joe Santo, and Gaines sug­gested Sch­warzeneg­ger. It wasn’t an easy sell. “I took Bob [Rafel­son, di­rec­tor] over to Gold’s Gym,” he says, “and in­tro­duced him to Arnold. He said, ‘It’s never gonna work: the guy’s got this aw­ful Aus­trian ac­cent, he doesn’t know any­thing about act­ing.’ We read a dozen guys and they were all hope­less, and fi­nally Rafel­son said, ‘Maybe we should at least bring your buddy in for read­ing.’ He wasn’t a great ac­tor, but he had a won­der­fully de­vel­oped sense of him­self and the cam­era was good to him, so Bob said, ‘Okay, let’s give it a shot.’” Sch­warzeneg­ger won a Golden Globe for New Male Star Of The Year, and when Pump­ing Iron was re­leased his film ca­reer re­ally took off.

14. GYM OWN­ERS OWE IT A MA­JOR DEBT

In Stay Hun­gry, which co-stars Jeff Bridges, there’s a scene where Sch­warzeneg­ger and dozens of body­builders — in­clud­ing Pump­ing Iron’s Franco Columbu, Ken Waller, Ed Cor­ney and Robby Robin­son — spill out of the weights room and run through the streets of Birm­ing­ham, Alabama, in their brightly coloured un­der­pants. When it was re­leased, a year be­fore the suc­cess of Pump­ing Iron, be­fore a painted green Hulk was on TV screens, be­fore Co­nan The Bar­bar­ian swung his sword, this scene was a com­edy freak-show. Now? Now that’s just a fit­ness In­sta­gram on a Tues­day af­ter­noon.

Clock­wise from left: Arnie im­presses the lo­cals at Mus­cle Beach in 1976; Lou Fer­rigno, set to Hulk up af­ter the suc­cess of the film; Lou Fer­rigno holds Billy Crys­tal over his head on the set of TV’S Bat­tle Of The Net­work Stars in 1978; Scenes from Pump­ing Iron, with Sch­warzeneg­ger and Fer­rigno to­gether and in op­po­si­tion. “That was the point; to make up ri­val­ries...”

Clock­wise from top: Sch­warzeneg­ger be­came friends with Stay Hun­gry co-star Jeff Bridges; Arnie psychs out Lou at the 1975 Mr Olympia con­test; Fer­rigno as The In­cred­i­ble Hulk in 1978; Arnie flexes his stuff at Mus­cle Beach, Santa Mon­ica, Cal­i­for­nia; The Aus­trian Oak is pretty clear who’s num­ber one; Fer­rigno’s fa­ther Matty ap­pears in Pump­ing Iron.

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