By David F. Gentle, Internationally Acclaimed PC Historian & Author
The name Weider comes from an old Russian/Jewish word meaning the man who lived near the willow trees. For bodybuilders, it means anything from “The Master Blaster”, “The Maker/Trainer of Champions“, Weedy” or just “Uncle Joe”. Even Joe used nom de plumes or alias, when it suited him. But as the bard says “What’s in a name?” “A rose by any other name is just as sweet.”
Joe Weider’s origins are a little nebulous to say the least. Reputed to have two licenses, his actual date of birth, although generally agreed or settled as January 29th 1922, sometimes his date of birth is shown as earlier. In an interview with a former employee Dr. Fred Hatfield, Joe offers the information that a “Scoundrel of a Rabbi” had failed to register his actual birth, leaving it to his illiterate mother to guess by how many weeks after a certain holiday it was he came into the world. Let’s stick with 1922.
Joseph Edwin or Earl Weider’s, father Louis was the romantics tell us (Jowett) a “Former soldier in the Czars army, who fled the revolution” and with his wife Annie, settled in Canada where they had three children. The two brothers in particular being Joseph and Benjamin. Ben was born on Feb 1st 1924. Their early life on Colonial Avenue a suburb of Montreal was frugal.
Short of work, Louis had to call on Joe to leave school early to support the family. This Joe did, taking on manual tasks, ”pushing a wagon for 10 hours a day” we are told (Jeff O’Connell, Muscle & Fitness) and later worked in a restaurant washing dishes and as a short-order cook.
They lived in a somewhat rough neighborhood, and Joseph Earl Weider whose initials didn’t do him any good at that period of anti- Semitism, was also teased because of his frailty.
Leaving school at the age of 12 years, his burning desire was to build up some size and power, being inspired by purchasing a couple of muscle magazines of the period. According to the source you choose, these were either two issues of Strength & Health from York (as Hoffman would like to quote) or the old MILO strength journal publication. Either way, Joe was inspired by the physiques, such as a young John Grimek.
Unable to afford a barbell, or pay subscriptions to the Y.M.C.A. gym, he made his own make-shift training set from old fly wheels and an axle he found on a junk site.
George F. Jowett advertised barbells in the muscle magazines, so Joe wrote to Jowett, explained his financial situation and fixed a deal where he bought a real set of weights from Jowett via installments. However, Jowett, waited until all the monies had been paid before handing over the barbells, hence giving Joe an early lesson in economics and Weider ending up with a fine 110lbs set and full instructions from his new mentor.
Jowett in then what was the main source of future biographers of Joe Weider, listed Joes’ measurements as height 5ft 6ins, and bodyweight 110lbs, recalling “he was just a wisp of a lad”. Joe meanwhile trained in his back yard and later, circa 1933 joined his local weightlifting club.
The Verdyn Weightlifting Club was on the outskirts of Montreal and Joe unable to afford the street car fares walked the long journey every time he trained. At the age of 14 years he could press 145lbs which was his bodyweight, at the Harvey Hill weightlifting club. When around just 15 yrs of age, in front of strength judge Donat Plourde in Montreal, he jerked 225lbs overhead at 150lbs bodyweight and when 16 yrs of age he also won the Montreal City Championships and came runner up in the Provincial Championships.
In 1938 his increasing poundages were listed by George Jowett in a Your Physique magazine 1947 article, other lifts quoted were press 224lbs, snatch 220lbs and clean and jerk 300lbs at a bodyweight of 165lbs. Jowett by the way was then working for Weider. Rick Wayne, fondly known as the “Merchant of Menace”, wrote in Muscle Wars that Joe had a 725lbs Olympic total at that period.
Deciding weights could be put to better usage to develop the body, rather than the more usual emphasis on how much a person could lift, Joe set his heart on publishing his own magazine. His mother was strongly against the idea, said he should join his father in a factory His father had opposite views, encouraging him to seek a better way of life. Here’s the real beginning. From a capital of $7 and with no loan available; with World War 2 breaking out and Hoffman’s Strength and Health no longer available in Canada, the time was right for a new magazine, this time putting the priority on muscular development.
Joe collected via S&H letters columns, the names and addresses of 800 potential subscribers (some sources say 400) to a new magazine, mailing them out penny postcards with his plans soliciting support for his dreams. Subscriptions were to be $2. a year. With over $500 dollars rolling in he set to work, buying up an old typewriter and cheap copy machine. He compiled the first issue at work, and printed them out and dried the pages, later stapling them at home.
Your Physique magazine was born on Colonial Avenue, price 75 cents and published October 1940 the cover man being Barton Horvath, who later worked for Joe. First issue had 24 pages and six photos, including one of Joe.
The second issue had just 12 pages, but improved print and some photos. Ironically, it is alleged that Hoffman paid much of Welders’ printing costs by Joe running adverts for YORK.
During the following eighteen months, it is reported he made $10,000 profit on his $7 investment. By 1942 Weider had brought out the Weider Barbell Company, cheaper by 15 percent than YORK.
Jowett said “What a great idea Joe to print a magazine, which is also your own equipment catalogue”.
Entering the Mr Montreal show in 1943, Joe placed a respectable second, beaten by his own “pupil” Marshall Grenuck.
Meanwhile back at the York camp, they decided to publish an old photo of a certain Joe E. Weider who it appears to their delight, had “Taken the York Barbell Course and found it very result producing as well” (Strength and Health March 1946). Joe we are told had been a pupil of York for two and a half years (see photo next page).
Back on friendlier territory George Jowett listed Joe’s measurements in a 1947 issue of Weider’s own magazine as having a “47-inch chest, neck 17 inches, biceps 16 inches and a half, thighs 25 inches at 5ft 11ins height and bodyweight 193lbs.The article Meet Joe Weider, Your Physique, May 1947 is the one most subsequent sympathetic biographies of Joe are based upon. By 1952 he had 20 different magazine titles.
Amongst the many supporters of the new Weider magazines was the acerbic Vince Gironda, who said “Weider magazines were definitely more colorful and innovative” Gironda also used the words. “Charisma and glamour can be applied to Weiders publications.” One good reason being that Joe from the beginning used the best most authoritative writers, e.g. Jowett, Doc Tilney, Earle Liederman, David Willloughby etc., and art director George Quantance.
Gradually, the journals were enhanced by photographers such as Lon Hanagan and Russ Warner who supplied the aesthetics in all the journals to make his magazines look the best. Despite the hyperbole, my personal opinion, taking all available muscle magazines of the era, was Weider’s magazines were all at that period, the most attractive and educational with Earle Liederman being my all time favourite writer.
Bodybuilders who shot to fame in those early years, include the wonderful Canadians Ed Theriault and Leo Robert. By 1946 Clancy Ross had become King of the Bodybuilders for Joe Weider and most of the muscle world agreed. The muscle beach phenomenon had begun and some amazing physiques emerged, via various shows promoted by people like Vic Tanny, Leo Stern, Bert Goodrich and Vic Tanny, also names like Delinger, Ross, Eiferman and Steve Reeves.
The first bodybuilding show the Weider brothers attempted to run was the 1946 Mr Canada show in Montreal. First given the A.A.U. blessing, for them to pull out at the last minute, bringing about the formation of the IFBB by Joe Weider and his brother Ben. Also along with the idea was Prof E. M. Orlick. The ancient tycoon Bernarr McFadden also appreciated Weiders business acumen and told him so. Meanwhile Hoffman had in fact shot himself in the foot. As Joe’s better and more popular approach to bodybuilding helped to develop the modern muscle show and contest, introducing bodyweight classes and pose downs, with constant personal involvement with the champions throughout the years. The Weiders name became the most active and influential promoters in the world.
Muscle Power was published in 1945 with the late Jack La Lanne cover man, and the famous Weider principles were well on their way to being invented and collated. In 1946 Joe helps Dan Lurie to take on York and challenge John C. Grimek, an event which never took place, over arguments as to who was professional or otherwise. In 1947 he moves his publications, then having up to 16 different publications from Montreal, having outgrown the capability of his publishers to Union city New Jersey, having the legendary Steve Reeves grace a cover in 1948. The title Your Physique changed to Mr. America.
The year 1947 was also the date when a 23 years old Joe married Diana Ross, whom later gave the newspapers great headlines i.e. “Two bodies linked in wife suit” proclaimed the Daily News, New York Jan 1960, when the marriage ended in divorce. Diana sought $350 a week and $10, 000. alimony from Joe who was then earning $100,000 a year from publishing and for Joe to marry the super model Betty Brosmer in April 24th 1961.
Joe expanded his empire to the UK not without comment from the usual anti bodybuilding press. On April 8th Cassandra a famous columnist for the Daily Mirror wrote a vitriolic piece about Weiders advertising techniques in particular his follow up “threats” to a non-paying pupil. The headlines were, “You may force me to turn your account over to my collection agency” and it gets worse. Consolation must have come to Joe when the same British “hack” was sued by American piano icon Liberace for calling him a “Poof” resulting in the near bankruptcy of that esteemed newspaper.
Wars should not be fun, but this one was. Muscle Wars. As a neutral and highly interested side liner, it was indeed great fun to be a part of this great period of bodybuilding and its resultant development.
The main contestants were of course Hoffman/York versus Joe Weider. All others were just minor players in the big game. Being English/ British made it even easier not to take sides, but it was hard at first not to be brainwashed by other interested parties. One good reason for the name Weider becoming so engraved in the average readers mind was the constant repetition of “Weider”, almost like a mantra, at least 200 times in each and every magazine. Some people with nothing better to do would count the number of times it occurred. Scary eh? Wendy Leigh says in her book Arnold…
”If Machiavelli were ever to return to earth, he might well meet his match in Joe Weider.” Back to the battle.
Muscle Wars by Rick Wayne, illustrates a lot of the era, but you really had to be there to appreciate it. Like Joe, my early life was tough, and I had commenced training at 11 or 12 years of age, with the usual home made weights. Although Health and Strength was my main journal, I also borrowed, bought and if I had to, stole, ALL the other available magazines devoted to bodybuilding, including Strength and Health, Iron Man and various lesser journals.
At one period, I WROTE to Hoffman, who ignored me, mind you I did say his magazine was lousy. I wrote for Dan Lurie of Muscle Training Illustrated who never paid me and then wrote to Weider who did ANSWER ME. Guess who got my vote? I also corresponded with Joe Weider’s editor, 1950 to 1970 the late Chas Smith a British ex sailor, who gave me more than a little insight into Joe’s workings. These were the times of the MUSCLE CLINIC. The font of all the Weider Principles.
About who did invent all those principles, Joe supports his own argument as follows.” To say that I didn’t invent these principles is like saying Newton didn’t invent gravity.
Sure, everyone alive knew that if you threw something it would fall to the ground. But he was able to take what he observed and turn it into a science”
The best summing up of the famous Weider principles is made by David Webster O.K. in his book. An illustrated History of Bodybuilding 1980. Dave says “Weider disseminated the information, the training principles adopted by enthusiasts’ world wide. Refinements start from the 1940s like cheating, flushing, super sets, muscle priority, forced reps, split workouts, burns, giant sets etc.
While some people have claimed that the Weiders did not personally invent these systems principles it can honestly be said that they collated them, made them systematic, published them on a very wide scale and then followed them up regularly so that they become more or less permanent features in bodybuilding schedules.
“The Master Blaster’s early interest in weightlifting quickly expanded to encompass the embryonic sport of bodybuilding as well. At far right of above image (top to bottom), Joe engages in some outdoor weightlifting with friends in Montreal, demonstrates letter-perfect technique in the snatch, and hits an early pose that shows his growing interest in physique development and posing.
Charles Smith who despite his late in life antagonism to Weider late in life, (won the IFBB’S highest award for services to that body) said that the clinic was “a broom cupboard”. So it may have been but the ideas originated from there. Chas who delighted in putting down his ex-employer called Joe, whom amongst other titles, called Joe, ”The Maharajah of Muscle”, by saying things like “He’s just had liposuction” or a “hair transplant” did concede, a lot of good came out of that “broom cupboard”.
He also supported Joe’s lifting prowess, saying Weider could clean and jerk 300lbs when he was already 35 years of age. Chas was also present when Weider, in my view, with courage did enter the 1951 Mr. Universe in London, won by Reg Park. Joe came 5th in his tall men’s class.
Critics remind all who will listen, of the poor effort Joe made with a 200lbs barbell which he pressed after three attempts. Then did some squats with same weight. Joe in defense reminds us that he had just suffered a horrendous journey on the Queen Mary cruise liner, with no sleep, and rough storms injured 35 people. He also said the food was stodgy, hence he put on weight and lost definition. See Why I Entered the Mr Universe Contest in Your Physique Vol 16, no 5, page 7. In that article Joe suggests he also had poor apparatus to train with, and that his bench press “normally 235lbs for 10 reps did not come up to his more usual 270lbs for 6 reps.” He also had very slippery hands due to posing oil. He phoned me one time, on a Boxing Day I remember, over remarks Sig Klein had made regarding his poundages. Example 350lbs bench press. I asked him “Was that correct Joe?” “Could he really bench press such a poundage? knowing it was tough, my best being 320lbs. He said “Sure David, easy” Franco Columbu can be quoted in a Weider mag as saying “Joe could “make 3 reps with 600lbs in the dead lift.” That one I do doubt!
The reason Joe had phoned me, was in response to an article I had written actually portraying him in a positive light, which was severely criticized by his arch enemy Oscar Heidenstam from Health and Strength. Oscar who hated Joe with a venom, told me in a letter that Joe had offered him, Oscar five times the chance to work with him (Weider) and that he had refused. I asked Joe for “back up” and he responded. Although Heidenstam and Weider had plenty of minor skirmishes, with Oscar in the main supporting Hoffman and his sending over current champions i.e. the latest Mr. America to enter the NABBA Universe show, the real fight was always in the USA and against York. Both contestants had now entered the supplements business. York first, but Joe soon followed.
In an article “Joseph Weider as I knew Him “by Sig Klein, Sig lists Weider’s measurements at age 34 as Chest normal 51 inches, arm 17.3 inches, thigh 25.2 inches, and bodyweight 206lbs. Sig said Joe could curl 3 x 8 x 70lb dumbbells and a 185lbs barbell for reps bench press 355lbs and standing press 245lbs with a one arm snatch of 150lbs and rep squats using 400lbs. Oscar Heidenstam did not agree and told me so in no uncertain terms. As mentioned above (Letter Oscar Heidenstam 5th Dec 1985). As well as disputing the weights, Oscar said “Joe Weider entered the NABBA Universe in 1951, I should know, I was in it, and NOT working for H&S then, so no need to take any side. I remember certain things very vividly and one of his greatest ambitions was to beat me. I never knew why he hated me so much, maybe because he though I may be Jewish and was not”. He goes on, “ But I thought you might like to know some truths, though no doubt you prefer to include Joe Weider as one of your many P.C. friends.” Ouch!
For once the victim, in 1955 Weider had a great setback when his distributor crippled the company by failing to pay back $7 million, so that Joe was left for a while with only one magazine, Muscle Builder. In competition with NABBA, Joe ran his own Mr Universe in 1959 won by Eddie Silvester. To annoy Hoffman he had earlier put on an IFBB Mr America back in 1949 won by Alan Stephen. The IFBB Mr. World in 1962 was given to Jose. C. Lence and its common history that the first Mr Olympia went to Larry Scott, who was literally crowned with a card board crown in 1965. But we digress. Before this was the heat of the battle for muscular control of the world.
For those who seek negativity, or have too much time on their hands for their own good, any internet search engine, e.g. Google, if asked about “court cases against Joe Weider” will come up with a whole heap of detailed info of the Weider legislative years. You will discover problems not only with Hoffman but also with his methods of selling apparatus or supplements. Search for “Ergogenic aids” or gloat over who had to pay what for the miscellaneous misdeeds of the musclemen. One thing for sure, the lawyers had a field day. Nor was Joe always the villain.
Several times Hoffman won pepper corn settlements. In 1965 Hoffman received a nominal award of just $1. from a court case that had originally aimed for $800,000 back in April 13th 1959. One person advised me “Always count your fingers after shaking his hand”. On one occasion he had his distribution ripped off, see above. Armand Tanny who worked for Joe said “Joe is just a business man” that’s some understatement. John Grimek in a personal conversation with me said of Hoffman and Weider, “neither is better or worse that the other”. In 1967 Joe also gets challenged by Dan Lurie for a contest, which like the Hoffman debacle never came about, but the coverage was interesting. What is true to say is that Joe was no arm chair athlete, and he always did train heavy and hard and consistently, using his own principles and nutritional aids, training most times on equal basis with the current champions. He insisted on full concentration and also gave great hands on help to many champions with their posing routines.
Joe certainly had an eye for art and beauty. Of dubious delight was the in-fighting over Joe’s various magazines, not only did he have Mr America and Adventure and Wrestling magazines, he also ventured into then unknown waters with his Young Physique, Demi Gods, Body beautiful, Adonis and other obvious gay journals. Hoffman who himself had been publishing for years pictures of nude, semi-nude or posterior shots of strength athletes, (i.e., Sansone, and the many photos by Lon), attacked Joe through his writer Harry Paschall (aka originator of Bosco), in an abusive article Tell Me A Fairy Story. Published June 1957 page 17 Strength and Health. If you want to read this in full log onto www.dolfzine.com page 398. This is from a guy who used air brushed pictures himself to lose obesity and gain head hair. Instead of using valuable page space to publish articles, both muscle magnates instead exposed word for word the current mud slinging and slander, leading to the eventual challenge by the bigger Hoffman against Joe for a fist fight. Joe preferred the normal lifting contest or physique showdown. Neither ever came about. The real bottom line was after Hoffman’s death a flowered wreath came with the legend “Flowers deepest sympathy” from Joe.
In 1972 Weider moves his publishing operations, to Woodland Hills California, making his headquarters a monument to bodybuilding, with its bronze statuary, marble fittings and valuable paintings, life size physique paintings and original bodybuilding statues. By now Joes magazines were published in every main language and the IFBB had most countries affiliated. In 1985 Joe reaches a $400,000 settlement with the Federal Trade Commission for according to them, “making false claims over his Anabolic Mega Pack pills”, Despite the award, Joe doesn’t even then believe he made false claims.
By 1998 the IFBB had become recognized by the IOC and had 169 membership states. Joe’s theories had by then reached 32 and the Weider principles were genuinely world famous. As for making money, he made more dollars with his invention the Body shaper, than he had the previous 15 years. More praise for Joes business acumen comes from former Olympic hammer thrower George Frenn, who sued Weider some years ago in a dispute over a magazine article “Frenn: The guy will sell you your own suit”
Joe Weider and Arnold Schwarzenegger are irreversible linked. You could sum it up by saying they were good for each other. Facts are facts. Joe Weider saw the potential in Arnold and financed his first visits and later stays in the USA.
Again Hoffman had missed the boat. Grimek told me that he, on recognizing what a great physique Arnold had, on seeing him at the NABBA Mr Universe had tried to get Bob to give Arnold a job. Hoffman refused. Joe, always a visionary did the opposite, after recommendation from his emissary Lud Shusterick. He paid for his flight to the USA and he employed Arnold in late 1968, in exchange for his imbursement of Weider courses and apparatus. Paid for his apartment, gave him a car and taught Arnold how to appreciate art and beautiful objects, how to invest in “real estate”, and most of all the true art of business as practised by the master.
For both of them things only got better. Arnold appeared for the first time on Weider’s magazines as cover man on July 1971. the movie from the 1974 book Pumping Iron from Charles Gains and George Butler, being the next stepping stone for further greatness for both.
Arnold became a film star and Joe received even greater recognition throughout the world. Despite an article in 1974 Sports Illustrated where Arnold attacks Joe, the two settle differences; Joe was then still paying for Arnold’s apartment and taking him around art galleries. Arnold said in M&F July 1999 “When I lived in Austria your magazine informed and inspired me to build my body Whenever I travel these days I see your inspiration and advice”
Joe thereafter appeared in several cameo parts as himself in training videos and also in the short movie with his brother Ben in Men of Iron. Arnold of course was not Joes only film star. Lou Ferrigno for example as the Hulk was making money from his muscles. Most other male stars trained one way or another, doubtless using Weider principles to advance their movie careers.
Often remarked upon is Joes unique sounding voice. Descriptions vary from the tougher macho “cross between a French Canadian Jewish professor and a lumber jack” to gangster and stand up comic” Joe’s comment, non concerned is that “Sure it may be funny, but they also imitate the president, so its OK. (In an interview with Dr. Fred Hatfield or Dr Squat.).
By 1980 The IFBB had 112 National bodybuilding federations affiliated. By 1984 the L.A.Times in its business section states “The Weider enterprise made (grossed) 84 million dollars”. October 1988 the California Business News said “Weider and brother Ben, President of the IFBB almost completely control the bodybuilding game” In March 2nd 1989 Los Angeles Times, Weider Empire Now in an article by David Farell, its noted that “The Weider empire now boasts of 2000 employees world wide and gross revenues of $250 million a year”.
The Los Angeles Weekly also published an in-depth, and not always flattering article on Weider Feb 1st, 1996 by David Davis, which you can probably re-read via the internet.
In the July issue of M&F, its 60th anniversary, Joe predicts “bodybuilding will one day become one of the greatest forces in existence and may be hailed as the activity that actually saved civilization from itself.” A little above training just not to have sand kicked in your face then.
Into the millennium and Weider Nutrition International shares traded on New York stock exchange selling 1,400 products and generating an annual world wide revenue of approximately $350 million. Eventually Joe sells (see No Joke on the web) for that sum to The National Enquirer Empire.
Despite sale, Joe maintains both interest and some control, and never relaxes his personal involvement in bodybuilding. On April 15th 2004 he donates a million dollars to the University of Texas. He continued to support the Arnold Fitness Extravaganza despite some lack of mobility, having trouble with his feet and back, later having to visit hospital as reported in Muscle Mag International under “Joe’s back problems” Aug 25th 2004.
The Joe Weider list of champions would read a Who’s Who of bodybuilding having touched so many lives. His own list of achievements and awards would fill a large book, from the various bodybuilding associations to the cut throat world of business and more personal the International Jewish Hall of Fame Awards. He made cover man, from October issue of Your Physique in 1944 to the 1999 Vol 60 issue of Muscle and Fitness. Always a fan of histories great men, like Karl Marx, Gandi, Churchill, Moses and yes villains such as Hitler and Mussolini. Joe said on retirement. “I am tired of reading books on power lifting. I want to read some good literature.”
My personal opinion of Joe is that he was neither saint nor sinner, simply a consummate marketing genius, brought up the hard way, with a genuine love of bodybuilding and bodybuilders. Joe was just like the rest of us, just a human being. If I express a bias, it is because when I wrote to him, back in the days, he responded and helped me. His magazines and writers inspired me, and his love of bodybuilding right to the end amazed me. One man who knew Joe Weider better than most his old editor from 1950 to 57, Charles Smith, despite his outspoken criticism and at times hostility, said. “If sheer enthusiasm for weight lifting and bodybuilding was all that a man required to be a star, then Joe Weider would outshine almost anything this sorry world of ours has ever seen.”
© Joe Weider “A Personal View” By David Gentle