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
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.”
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.”
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.