Mar 25, 2013

Joe Weider: My Bodybuilder Boss

When I moved to West Hollywood in 1985, I landed a job as a "contributing editor" for Muscle and Fitness.  It was actually a part-time job fact-checking and proofreading articles, but it looks good on my resume.  Besides, I got to hang out with the sort of guys who work for muscle magazines, and meet bodybuilding legends like Lou Ferrigno (not to mention Ivo, the Bulgarian bodybuilder who was insanely jealous of Michael J. Fox).

  And I met publisher Joe Weider, the father of modern bodybuilding.  He was rather gruff.

Born in 1919, Joe Weider grew up when the epitome of male beauty, as far as Hollywood was concerned,  was sophisticated and skinny, like Cary Grant.  Bodybuilders were usually assumed gay, and muscle magazines were published primarily for gay men (would you really buy this magazine for muscle-building tips?).

Although Joe began his career publishing Your Physique (later Muscle and Fitness) for a similar audience, he wanted to make bodybuilding "respectable," by which he meant heterosexual, and so he began a life-long crusade to re-brand the muscleman as an object of female desire.

In spite of his homophobia, Joe Weider was instrumental in bringing bodybuilding into the mainstream.  He published many fitness magazines (one edited by the Grandfather of Bodybuilding, Earle E. Liederman), and books (plus some other titles, including softcore hetero porn), and invented nutritional supplements like Tiger's Milk.   His self-help pamphlets, covering everything from bodybuilding to nutrition to confidence building to how to be heterosexual (a "he-man," left), were advertised everywhere, even in comic books.

He founded the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness, which emphasized symmetry, grace, and beauty rather than the weight-lifting ability of the AAU (Amateur Athletic Association).  He mentored a generation of young bodybuilders of the new "body beautiful" school, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bob Paris.  When Bob came out in 1989, Joe was reputedly furious that a gay person had sneaked into the ranks of his beautiful heterosexual bodybuilders. I wonder what he thought about gay employees.

Joe Weider died on March 23rd, 2013, at the age of 93.