Friday, April 1, 2011

PRE- SCHWARZENEGGER----THE REAL MUSCLE BEACH

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photo by Santa Monica History Museum









Long before there was an Arnold Schwarzenegger or the famed Muscle Beach in Venice, there was another Muscle Beach that began its storied journey in the 1930s, in Santa Monica, just steps from the Santa Monica Pier. Known for being the "birthplace of the physical fitness boom for the 20th century," it is also credited for bringing the sport of bodybuilding into mainstream culture.

Over the next 10 years, as more families began to own cars, Santa Monica became a prime tourist destination, prompting acrobats and gymnasts to flock to the beach and perform their stunts in front of giant, rowdy crowds, according to Tom
Viscount, writing in the Santa Monica Daily Press.  A large, raised, wooden platform rimmed with seats was then constructed to better accommodate the sea of spectators.





 
In the 1950s and 60s, writes Viscount,  Muscle Beach began to attract celebrities, such as Kirk Douglas, Hercules Unchained star Steve Reeves, Mae West and Jayne Mansfield, who all reveled in being a part of the circus and  its  larger than life performers. Ms. Mansfield actually found love here, marrying Mickey Hargitay, one of the bulging musclemen. Joe Gold, who founded Gold's Gym, and other future icons of the fitness world, were also a part of the scene. 

By the late '50s, most of the original cast of characters who had built and defined the spirit of the early days of Muscle Beach were gone and so was the fun and lightheartedness..In their place came serious, pumped-up bodybuilders posing in thong-like bathing suits.
 Muscle Beach's image was then severely tarnished by a sex scandal involving underage girls and a couple of the well-known bodybuilders. This scandal and a series of injuries were factors that led to City Hall eventually closing the park in 1959. It would be almost two decades before Muscle Beach would rise again in a place called "The Pit," at Venice Beach.

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