IRON CINEMA: CHARLES GAINES SPEAKS THE TRUTH BEHIND ‘PUMPING IRON’

V: So when the movie came out how soon did you notice the change in the landscape as far as muscles being accepted in the mainstream? Did you see that change and when did you see it?

CG: It started very quickly after the movie came out and I saw it to some extent after the book came out. The book came out maybe 2 years or so before the movie. So that change already began to happen almost entirely due to the fact that Arnold was so acceptable to the general public. He was the acceptable component of bodybuilding and of weightlifting and such an attractive figure head for it. It would have been hard to find somebody who was intelligent enough, articulate enough, attractive enough, and acceptable enough to the main stream medium to have been able to break bodybuilding out of its shell.

That required someone who was palatable to the general public, and really there wasn’t anybody… Steve Reeves tried but in a way those Hercules movies… they promoted the culture but it never really drove the sport out. It required Arnold to do that and George Butler and I, through the course of doing publicity for the book Pumping Iron, we enlisted a lot of writer friends, photographer friends, actor and actress friends, political friends, and we enlisted a lot of these people.

I remember one night taking Kurt Vonnegut down to see a bodybuilding show, the first one he had ever seen. We took Norman Malo, Gor Vidal, we took all kind of interesting people. We introduced Arnold to Jackie Onassis, Jacqueline Kennedy, we made a point of trying to glamorize our point of bodybuilding in order to not just do bodybuilding service – but in order to help sell books.

The same thing was true with the movie. We made a conscious effort to glamorize the sport by glamorizing Arnold – so we had parties at Elaine’s, a famous restaurant in the 8o’s, in New York where Woody Allen and all the movie stars and actors and producers and so forth hung out at the time. Elaine was a great friend of mine, the woman who owned the restaurant, and a great friend of George’s. So she allowed us to bring Arnold and any bodybuilders we wanted in there and got us great tables and introduced us to George Plimpton and countless numbers of movers and shakers in NY at the time. All of them were captivated by Arnold and it was impossible not be captivated.

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V: On the original Pumping Iron movie poster… that wasn’t actually Arnold. That was Ed Corney, right? Why did that happen?

GC: Well because the cover of the book was Ed Corney. The cover of the original book was a wonderful picture of Ed Corney standing on the stage in Baghdad Iraq – where he won the Mr. Universe contest beating Mike Katz in the year that we wrote the book. It’s a fabulous photograph, it shows everything there is.

First of all Ed was a consummate bodybuilder and arguably one of the best posers who ever lived. He was a wonderful man and George and I both love him. He had a tough life, he was a bouncer for his profession, he had a bunch of women kick him out, he just had a tough life. And this was his one shot and he won it. The expression on his face of just absolute triumph… we just thought it was a better cover for the book than a picture of Arnold, which we thought would be very predictable, and George had lots of great photos of Arnold – but if you look back to that first edition of Pumping Iron and look back at that picture I think you’ll know what we mean. It expresses everything we wanted to get across in the book about how bodybuilding was rising out of the ashes and going to become triumphant.

Generation Iron Pumping Iron Poster

V: So Charles did you follow bodybuilding through the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s? Were you a fan?

GC: I followed it. I was an IFBB judge for a while so I was required to go to competitions and judge them. And I followed them for a year or two after Pumping Iron came out and then I got into other preoccupations. I started a thing called Paintball. Two friends and I began paintball, and we started a company which was the first paintball company – so I was travelling around the country during paintball exhibitions and on national TV and in national press trying to promote it. Trying to run the company that we started. I got interested in mountain climbing, did a lot of rock and ice climbing I just moved on to other things.
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V: Paintball as in shooting, right?

GC: Yeah the shooting. It’s gotten to be a huge industry now, off the wall, but when we invented the game Hayes Noel, Bob Guernsey, and I invented it and played the first one. It’s now an 8 billion dollar industry in something like 40 countries. Not at all what we started out thinking it was going to be… but then again nothing ever is.
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V: So bodybuilding right now is also a big industry, but it’s still not mainstream. It’s still very much a niche sport. Why do you think that is? Why do you think bodybuilding never became like other sports in this country?

GC: I think the answer to that is pretty self evident. It has to do with the use of drugs. When the average person looks at Arnold at his peak, he was a beautiful example of the male body. Normal people could look at him and say I really would love it if my body looked like that. That would be great. These guys now… nobody wants to look like these guys, nobody I know. I mean they’re freaky. With all that vascularity and all those cuts… I mean a normal man is turned off by that and I know a normal woman is too. I mean, I know you’re so close to it that maybe you’re not conscious of that but now people who I know who are seeing these bodybuilding magazines – the use of drugs and whatever else it is these guy are using… have allowed these guys to get so big and so monstrous that nobody can even relate to it.

That’s my theory of why bodybuilding hasn’t broken out. Frank Zane, Dave Draper, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sergio Oliva, and Franco Columbu – those guys all looked human. They were much more muscular than most people but they look human. These guys today look like they’re from another planet. You look at the cover shots of these magazines… I just see them sometime going through the supermarket and I don’t even pick them up anymore. They turn me off and I’ve been involved in this since I was 16 years old. Now they make me want to shriek. So you can imagine what they do to the normal person.
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V: Well that’s a very interesting theory Charles. I definitely appreciate the conversation; you definitely have created an amazing book and an amazing film that has changed the landscape of bodybuilding. 

GC: Well thank you Vlad I enjoyed talking to you and good luck with everything.

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