Little did they know as so many regulars at Santa Monica's Muscle Beach during the mid-1950s in Santa Monica
that they were standing on the threshold to a fitness revolution that would influence physical culture
around the world. In this scene, famed wrester and sometime Muscle Beach master of ceremonies Baron Leone (far right)
is joined by friends (including actor Ed Holovcheck - a.k.a. screen name 'Ed Fury') enjoying one of Leone's
celebrity moments as the featured star on a wrestling magazine cover.
A view of classic bodybuilding in a time when the term anabolic steroids or human growth hormone would have sounded
like news from Mars to the ears of men and women at Muscle Beach. Carved abs from careful and wholesome diets,
chests and back developed as natural body armor, along with biceps and triceps formed from only hours with iron.
This was what locals and international tourists discovered -- and were inspired by from the lifetime impressions
that launched a worldwide reputation for Muscle Beach in minds and imaginations on every continent of the globe.
With gymnasts, wrestlers and circus performers being among the first athletes to make Santa Monica's Beach Park No. 4
(as it was known prior to being titled "Muscle Beach") popular starting in about 1934, the center of activity for the first decade
was largely what started as carpets laid down on the sand to allow performers a bit of insulation from the hot sand. Here in
this photo taken in the late 1930s shows the next step forward from the early carpets to what the Muscle Beach regulars had
constructed in a slightly elevated platform with a thinly padded surface. By the early 1950s, the platform was destined to
gain in elevation to several feet high and after several variations and slightly different locations of the eventual raised wooden
platforms, it ultimately became one of the most famous gymnastics, hand-balancing and adagio stages on the planet.
This view as seen from the third floor of a beachfront apartment balcony overlooking Muscle Beach in the
early 1950s shows the gymnastics platform as it developed into a stage. With a free, daily show to the public
who came and sat on park benches, the setting was destined to become a one-of-a-kind site that touched the
hearts and spirits of individuals across generations, races and ethnicities and stirred a nation into the fitness
craze that we have today. With the weightlifters beginning to show up in larger numbers by the late
1940s, there was an emerging need for the City of Santa Monica to construct a second platform to be
enclosed by a low wood fence. This was what was ahead for Muscle Beach in building its fame to follow.
Meet Deforest "Moe" Most, the smiling Santa Monica Recreation & Parks employee who was
the dedicated Recreation Director during the most exciting years at Muscle Beach, from 1951 to
1958. Moe was a terrific all-around athlete and a particularly talented gymnast who was known
as a great "bottom man" in being at the base of men and women standing on his shoulders or
waist to build two, three and even four-people high as the top person stretched up arms to touch
the sky. Yet as this photo shows, and anyone who knew Moe would agree, he was best known as for
beingthe best "ambassador" Muscle Beach could ever have -- to the adults and the kids of the beach.
How could any 'beachgoer' or visitor walking along the ocean front sidewalk at Santa Monica Beach,
just south of the famed Santa Monica Pier, not have their jaws drop at the site of this "free show" to the
world? At the top level of gymnastics for both men and women, the advanced step up to what is known
as "Adagio" moves into a synchronized form of humans in flight. While primarily it was the women who
trusted the men to send them up, across, over and even -- as pictured here -- intersecting with each
other in mid-air, sometimes the men were the ones in flight. As one of the most famous females at
Muscle Beach, the woman in the middle/lower position is Pudgy Stockton who sometimes referred to as
the "Venus" of Muscle Beach was active in both adagio and weightlifting/bodybuilding
When a family of athletes joined together to showcase their superb abilities and techniques
at Muscle Beach, it wasn't unusual to find them bringing a whole new meaning to beachfront
playtime activities. Some fathers might wrestle with their kids in the sand while just a few feet
away a dad sets his son into the air with a precisely directed push -- with the son landing
easily after an airborne adventure. Just another snapshot moment at the famous playground.
It really wouldn't be enough to miss an opportunity to show just how powerful the positive and
inspiring nature of Muscle Beach of the 1950s was without a view of how remarkably young
the stars were. Here, looking like he still in diapers, a boy of four or five years old is in the
midst of showcasing his striking talent for gymnastics before a crowd of hundreds of onlookers.
Perhaps what is most notable is that this level of talent was not the exception, but the norm.
Why not make it look so easy that one could think it is simply fun? That was part of the formula for
capturing onlookers into stares and participants into ever-increasing abilities. Here superstar stuntman
Russ Saunders easily clears four confident friends while tumbling end over end over their heads.
Russ told of a time when he did one of these moves spontaneously while walking by a gentleman seated
on a park bench adjacent to Muscle Beach. As Russ was in about the position you see him in above,
he reached down and grabbed the gentleman's hat (easily within his airborne reach) and when Russ
Landed at the other end of his leap, he had placed the hat on his own head and walked away.
Of course, he promptly returned the hat to the gentleman with both of the fellows smiling at each other!
While every athletic event and activity at Muscle Beach reflects sophistication and superior
talents across a broad spectrum of feats, it's hard to rank anything as more breathtaking
than a person flying off of the rings -- especially close to 20 feet in the air. The rings bring
sheer strength into play with disciplined balance, flexibility and above all coordination. In
the case of releasing your grip from the rings while upside down like this? Courage and Faith!!
No summer shows were complete during the 1940s and 1950s without the beauty
contests. The charm, the grace and the glowing smiles of all contestants made every
entrant a winner by the joy and experience of participating. The audience applause
and admiration enabled spectators to offer encouragement for what was a celebration
of bathing suits and heels -- along with a season of life where it was fun to "show off."
For the bathing suit beauties, there were entrants for youth, teenage and the
top-level competition for grown women. All of the contestants knew that there
was one award that was the shinning role for each of the years when these contests
were at their peak in the 1950s. What was the title? "Miss Muscle Beach" of course!
How does it feel to be the star of the show? No doubt she left this day with
special memories, along with her friends and family. Meanwhile, dozens of other
lovely women shared the same excitement and fun as the throngs of spectators
of the free shows at Muscle Beach spread the celebration of fitness and great
physiques for local and international audiences, the media and "us" here in the future!
World-famous weightlifter and bodybuilder Pudgy Stockton (right) serves as
the Muscle Beach representative who hands out the trophies to the winners of
the Muscle Beach bathing beauties contest. Pudgy was the perfect host to
all audiences, as she combined incredible strength with striking good looks
and a level of humility that is as legendary as her athletic abilities.
Whether or not any of the beauty contest contestants had every entered a
beauty contest before was really not important. They were never intended to
have to feel like, or act like, professional models. There was only one thing
they was expected to do for both themselves and the audiences -- and that was
to have a good time and enjoy being lovely and willing to step up on the platform.
Now this gets even more fun. Can you see all of those ladies displaying
smiles that look, in some cases, just short of laughter? There's certainly
laughter going on in the audience! Take a close look at the "bathing beauty"
in the center -- see the one with the stripes? Each year a guy would dress up
and try to get laughs, sometimes wearing even a two-piece bathing suit!
It wouldn't be a complete Muscle Beach in Santa Monica without the
world-class weightlifting. The U.S. weightlifting champions, as well as
many of the best Olympic competition weightlifters were regulars at the
Muscle Beach weightlifting club -- the most famous outdoor gum on the
planet. Again, the cost to attend one of these stunning shows? Free!
Along the way, even though there was the celebration of strict competition
weightlifting at the regular Muscle Beach events, there was always the welcomed
opportunity to show the strength feats. Here a weightlifter holds 135 pounds
overhead with just a slight grimace -- and if you were in bare feet near by, you
might want to stay clear of the next scene after this photo! (That's featherweight
lifter Hymie Schwartz in bare feet just behind this fellow. Schwartz was the
unofficial spokesperson for Muscle Beach to the City of Santa Monica.)
Here's another one-handed 135 pound balancing act. In this case, it's
likely that that weightlifter probably doesn't weight a lot more than
135 pounds himself. Maybe that's why the "spotter" on the left of this
photo looks just slightly uncertain -- and he's in bare feet, too!
Here a young woman remains poised while lifting what appears to be
105 pounds over her head (a 45 pound Olympic bar with two 25-pound
plates, along with two 5-pound plates). She is displaying a notable
power-to-weight ratio as she may weigh just more than 110 pounds herself!
In another display of the incredible poise and athletic prowess that
made him an internationally celebrated stuntman and legendary
athlete at Muscle Beach, here Russ Saunders does gracefully holds
his partner almost floating in midair. Russ was notably more than
one of the best athletes in the world, which no one would contest,
but he was also one of the most giving as a teacher to others at the beach.
Here at once is both a demonstration of the talent of youth
at Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, as well as a celebration
of the coaching and teaching ability of the famed Recreation
Director, Moe Most. Moe was a gifted instructor of
gymnastics and adagio to younger and older students alike.
It must have been more than a "trophy" for Moe to enjoy
the confidence that students like this one obviously had in him.
That's Santa Monica Muscle Beach Recreation Director
Moe Most on the bottom (left) with one adult man on his
strong shoulders while holding up a junior Muscle Beach
athlete, still wearing diapers! When you make it look this
easy, everyone wants to join in the fun. This scene depicts
the platform location and appearance in about 1954 or 1955.
When you're good, you can get carried away - and why not?
Doing a conventional "hand stand" could be done anywhere
and by anybody. When you got into being a part of Muscle Beach,
your regular workouts were to always strive to do things beyond
what anyone had every done before. In every way and just
about every day, Muscle Beach was introducing new ideas,
techniques and new physiques to the legends of fitness.
The moments were clearly priceless for the friends that were made
and forged at Muscle Beach. This photo from the early 1950s
shows the innocence and the joy in the smiles and their eyes, as
these faces radiate a simply beach adjacent to Hollywood and
the booming city the Los Angeles was about to become.
The muscular fellow on the far left (holding the trumpet case) is
George Eiferman, a "Mr. Universe" title holder; the fellow in
the exact center in the back row - looking almost stern (though never
actually stern) is Moe Most, the beach's Recreation Director;
and just to the right of Moe (center rear) is a fellow with the
open shirt and white straps hanging around his neck -- and
that is legendary gymnast Russ Saunders.
(If you can identify anyone else with certainty, please use the e-mail
form on this website. Thanks!)
Here stuntman and Muscle Beach celebrated athlete shows off
the fun and frivolity of being with young women who were very
likely blossoming gymnasts -- and enjoying the charm and
great company that Russ was for everyone. In his work, he
was a professional athlete for Hollywood -- serving as a top-level
stuntman for starts such as Alan Ladd and others whom Russ
made "look good" by taking the stars' falls or their fight scenes.
If you've gotten this far in the photo series here, it should be easy to comprehend
why Muscle Beach has gained international fame spanning across more than 75 years
since taking form exclusively in Santa Monica starting in 1934. Today into the 21st Century,
this exact location still attracts and hosts both youth and adults who enjoy the roots of
the physical fitness boom of the 20th Century. On any weekend today, you will
find gymnasts working out only a few dozen feet from this scene where the crowds
thundered applause in the 1950s. The "best in the world" was free at the beach.
One of the greatest physiques from Muscle Beach, or anywhere
at any time on the planet Earth: This is Armand Tanny who earned
some of the top bodybuilding titles in the world while demonstrating
some of the most inspiring humility and class of any weightlifter or
bodybuilder of his time. Armand discovered the magnetic attraction
of Muscle Beach while in pre-med school at U.C.L.A. When he
moved to California from the East Coast, Armand was already an
award-winning competitive weightlifter. Yet after his developing his
lifelong love of Muscle Beach, he blossomed into a star of the
location and went on as a senior writer for Joe Weider's
Muscle and Fitness magazine. Along the way, he worked with his
also-famous brother, Vic Tanny, who started the nationwide
Vic Tanny gym chain, which became Holiday Spa and now Bally's.
By the way, Armand is exemplifying a physique that showcases lines of
muscularity, form and perfection of symmetry - in a pre-steroid era.
Here's a neat moment in the mid-1950s at Muscle Beach.
Even though the big guys and grown-up men were the main
attraction for the most serious bodybuilders, the young
teenage guys were welcomed and celebrated, too. As
you can see here, they are proud as they take on their
early posing routines in front of their peers, families and
friends. Do you know one of these fellows? With some
good lifestyles and genetics, there's a good chance that
some or all of these guys are still on the planet.
(If you recognize any of these gentleman and
can identify any individual here, please use the
e-mail response form. Thanks!)
Meet Pudgy and Les Stockton, the most celebrated couple at
Muscle Beach. Pudgy got her nickname because of her slight tendency
to be slightly on the more plump side. Yet when she met and fell in
love with her lifetime sweetheart, Les Stockton, Pudgy was smitten
by his love of physical fitness and weightlifting -- along with his love
of Muscle Beach. Out of their partnership, she became known as
one of the best-built women in the world, as well as one of the
strongest, too. The name Pudgy stuck with her, but certainly not for
the original reason for her nickname! She became the first woman
of fitness for the nation and later opened a number of gyms with Les.
Now here's a classic pose and scene. All of the best elements
are working here at once ... handsome guy with well-developed
biceps (and overall physique!) proudly flexing for an admiring
woman ... while small boys and young men in the background
let their imaginations wander. "Wish that were me!" "Wow,
look at how he's got her attention -- she must be impressed!"
"One day I'm going to have biceps like those!"
The best thing about this scene is that it is so authentic in a
simpleand accessible way -- no anabolic steroids needed, no fee
paid for admission, no advertising or promotions, no commercials;
Santa Monica's Muscle Beach was and is first and foremost a "public
playground." And that's all Muscle Beach every has been, except that it
just happens to be the most famous beach playground in the world!
Here's a sample view of an afternoon workout at the most celebrated
and remarkable gym on the globe. Imagine going down to the beach
as a weightlifter and wanting to combine a workout with getting a tan.
Add to that the cool breeze of the Pacific Ocean some one hundred
feet away, while the Santa Monica Pier is also about one hundred feet away
Now lift the weight toward the sky and ask yourself, "How did I every
get so lucky as to have discovered this mix of joy in life?"
Welcome to Santa Monica's Muscle Beach in the 1950s!
Everything looks familiar about this world-class gym, except the ceiling is
the sky and the air conditioning is the sea breeze. The spirit of the people
who are working out in the few hundred square feet of precious space
are at the center of the greatest fitness movement in history.
There was a young Austrian born in 1947 who would hear of this
place and a bodybuilder from Muscle Beach who would later
open his own "indoor" weightlifting gym and end up with their
lives paralleling together. The name of the Venice gym owner
was Joe Gold. The name of the Austrian was Arnold.
How might Arnold Schwarzenegger's journey be different if Santa Monica
never had a beach playground that became "Muscle Beach?"
Muscle Beach Photo Gallery made possible by the one and only CECIL CHARLES, the Legendary Muscle Beach Photographer