I first met Vince Gironda in 1985. The fitness craze was picking up in Los Angeles and I had spent some mostly sedentary years in the recording studio. It was time to join a gym. I picked up the San Fernando Valley Yellow Pages.
1985 was before Nautilus Plus and 24-Hour Fitness. Fancy gyms popped up, captured large sign-up fees, then failed, leaving members in the lurch and no recourse for refund. I was determined to find a gym that had some staying power.
Vince’s Gym was nearby in Studio City and offered a $60 for two months beginner’s rate. When I walked in the door, it was like walking onto a movie set of a 1940s training gym.
"No pool. No chrome. No music. Just iron."
That was the handwritten sign on the wall, later to adorn plain gray T-shirts. The slogan was absolutely true of the gym Vince opened in 1948 and was true until his passing in 1997.
The walls were stacked with racks of barbells and dumbbells. Handmade heavy wooden benches with thick leather padding were arranged for various functions around the room, which was only about the size of a large four-car garage. There were no fancy machines but an array of about six custom-made pulley devices personally designed by Vince for things like leg curls and extensions. They looked like something out of a medieval torture chamber.
There was no air conditioning, only a skylight with a circulating fan attached. On hot days, Vince allowed the front door to be cracked a little so air from the baking asphalt of Ventura Boulevard could draw through the gym.
Vince was a cranky curmudgeon, willful and controversial; always his own man.
A Sicilian gypsy, he told me, he had a touch of the mystical and whimsical. People often regarded Vince as gruff, brusque or even rude. But Vince was that way with people he liked as well as those he detested.
If Vince liked you, you knew it intrinsically, no matter how demeaning or derisive he might act toward you. I don’t know if he ever knew my real name because all he ever called me was "Fuzzy". I always assumed it was a hair thing.
Vince was 67 when I met him, still opening the gym every morning at six and pumping iron when the mood struck. In his earlier days, he was one of the premier bodybuilders of all time. Ironically, Vince was ahead of his time and garnered few awards until his senior years. His body style was the kind of ripped, sculpted, chiseled look that we see in bodybuilding now. But in his era, the prevailing style was the almost puffy, circus strongman look.
Vince’s methods and opinions were always considered controversial but his results cannot be questioned. His list of clients was a "Who’s Who" of Hollywood and the bodybuilding world.
Vince’s students included the old, old-school Steve Reeves, Victor Mature and other screen musclemen as well as old-schoolers Larry Scott (the first-ever Mr. Olympia) and Mohammed Makkawy, and the late Kay Baxter.
Movie matinee idols like Clint Eastwood, Clint Walker, Doug McClure, Brian Keith and others flocked to train with Vince. Cher, Denzel Washington, Kurt Russell, Carl Weathers, Lou "The Incredible Hulk" Ferrigno and Burt Reynolds were among those who made the pilgrimage.
And the first place a young bodybuilder named Schwarzenegger went upon arriving in the United States was the leather-bound gym at the foot of the North Hollywood hills. During the five years I knew Vince, I saw everyone from David Lee Roth to Dudley Moore come in the door.
Only recently have some of his writings and methods begun to swarm the internet.