The History of Vince's Gym & The Stars He Trained

Vince "The Iron Guru" Gironda Was A Legend

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.

Vince Gironda - The Talking Dictionary On Bodybuilding

I met Vince in 1975 at Vince’s Gym. The very first thing Vince did was cuss me out, read me the riot act.

Once he calmed down we had a very nice conversation in the five or ten minutes he gave me.

Vince was like talking to a dictionary on bodybuilding, albeit an angry one.

One month later I met super nice guy Timmy Leong at Timmy’s Gym in Honolulu. Timmy said Vince was never the same after his best friend, strongman Bert Elliot, died.

Vinces Gym The Greatest Gym In The World by Larry Scott

What made this gym great was Vince Gironda the owner. Larry stated that no man was respected as much as Vince Gironda for his mind and knowledge of bodybuilding.

Vince’s Gym was located in the San Fernando Valley in Southern California. Simplicity was the key to this gym and no fancy equipment was to be found. Even the roof leaked. Now let’s see what made Vince’s Gym so special according to Larry Scott.

1960 Mr. America Ray Routledge would do heavy full squats on a special machine that would build the lower thighs while keeping the butt small.

Hollywood strongman / actor William Smith would do rep after rep of one-arm tricep extensions on an overhead arrangement designed and built by Vince. William Smith had phenomenal tricep development as witnessed in his films and TV appearances.

Actor Clint Walker was also in the gym working out, doing curls on the preacher bench.

Mr. California, Bill McArdle could be seen doing long lat pulls with Mr. America, Don Howorth.

Height class Mr. Universe winner Gable Boudreau could be spotted doing tricep pressdowns with a special V-bar that Vince designed.

John Tristam had great legs and could be seen doing barefoot calf raises on a rubber pad provided by Vince.

Larry said Gold’s and Bill Pearl’s Gym were great but he preferred Vince’s since this is where he became a champion.

What made Vince’s so good was Vince and the champions that trained there, bodybuilders and actors alike.

Vince stressed training without injury. Good muscle building burn type pain was alright but a torn ligament or other similar injury would put you out of action.

Larry said Vince was a training wizard and every piece of equipment was designed to allow maximum exercise without pain. Poorly designed exercise equipment was a major cause of bad pain and injury.

Vince had a specially designed preacher bench to avoid pain and injury. Many preacher benches were poorly designed and caused injury.

Vince had a special EZ Curl bar which took the pressure off the wrist and put it on the biceps or triceps.

Vince also had a perfeclty designed long pull triceps setup with a special v-handle.

The main thing was that if you trained under Vince’s care you were going to do the movements correctly.

We Want Scott - Larry Scott West Coast Bodybuilding Scene

“Scott! We want Scott!” was the yell that rose from the throats of thousands of bodybuilding fans at the latest Mr. Olympia contest. The only trouble was, there was no Scott to be had. At the previous Mr. Olympia Larry told those who had just seen him win his second consecutive Olympia crown that he was retiring. Funny thing about people, they don’t believe what they don’t want to believe. They wanted to see Larry go on forever, so as far as they were concerned Scott would compete again.

“Scott, Scott, we want Scott!” went the chanting. Finally Bud Parker stepped to the microphone to tell them what they already knew—Larry Scott had retired.

Luckily the splendor of the physiques present soon made everyone’s attention center on the contests at hand.

Sure Scott wasn’t there, but where was he? What was he doing? Those and many more questions were on the mind of Joe Weider as he came up to me backstage.

“What’s Larry doing now?” asked Joe.

“Well, I talked to him on the phone last week and he said he’d cut down on his training and had dropped down to about 170 pounds.”

Joe’s mouth dropped open.

“I know,” I said. “It doesn’t sound possible, but several people have told me it’s so.”

“Good grief, what does he look like?”

After winning the first Mr. Olympia title at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Larry warmed up the already blazing crowd with his bright and infectious demeanor and intelligent words of gratitude over the emcee’s mic.

“I dunno,” I shrugged. “The last time I saw him in person was at a posing exhibition he gave around six
months ago.”

“What did he look like?” asked Joe.

“Better than I’ve ever seen him. He had cuts, size and shape. It’s hard to believe that he’s lost all the weight.”

Joe thought for a minute.

“I want you to see Larry when you get back to Muscle Beach.”

“Sure,” I replied. “That’s easy enough, then what?”

“I want you to do a human interest story on what he’s doing now.”

“But if he isn’t training hard or competing, do you think the readers will be interested?”

Joe smiled, “Dick, the only reason I’m in business is to give our readers what they want and you heard them out there, they want Scott. So, okay, let’s give them Larry Scott as he is today.”

As soon as I got back to California I called Larry at work and lined up a day when Art Zeller and I could
visit him at home. It was an overcast Sunday morning when Art and his cameras pulled into my driveway.

“Well, here we go,” he said cheerfully.

I got in his car and we were on our way. Art smiled as he looked at me out of the corner of his eye. “170 pounds. Who are you kidding?”

“Well, that’s just what I heard, but you can’t prove it by me.” In a few minutes we were in front of Scott’s home in Van Nuys.

Now we’d be able to see for ourselves what Larry Scott really looked like.

We went in the backyard and there was Larry, all 168 pounds of him, digging trenches for his sprinklers. His shirt was off, revealing the greatest set of 168 pounds I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe that’s all he weighs. I’ll bet he could enter a contest right now and win against the best. It just shows you that once you’ve built quality muscles with quality methods, they stay even if you try to beat them away.

When I first knew Larry he weighed just a little less than 168, but he didn’t look like that, even though he was quite muscular at the time. Now, at the same bodyweight he looked incredible, so bodyweight means less than you think. Quality is the thing to strive for.

The backyard looks like a small football field. In fact, it’s so large the previous owners fenced off a full half of it because it was too big to take care of properly.

“Where’s the team?” I asked.

“What team?”

“The one that plays football.”

Larry smiled, ”Yeah, I guess it is pretty large, but I like a lot of room to move around.”

Art looked up from the camera he was adjusting. “Why don’t you put in a pool?”

Suddenly, in the midst of our conversation, a giant bear (well, it looked like a bear) leapt at Larry. A struggle ensued as we stood transfixed by the sight. Over and over the struggling forms rolled. At last we could see that it wasn’t a bear but a dog as big as a bear.

“How do you like our pup?” said Larry at last.

Art turned white. “You mean it gets larger?”

I laughed bravely…from inside the house. The minute I saw the beast I hit the trail to safety.

“Larry,” I said, “is it true that you’ve given up all training?”

“Of course not, I’ll train as long as I live. It’s just that I’ve cut down a great deal on my workouts.”

“How often do you train now?”

Larry shrugged. “Whenever I feel like it.”

“Well, how often do you feel like it?”

“One, two, or three times a week.”

“Why did you decide to lose all that weight?” asked Art.

“The weight? Because I want to go into acting.”

“You mean you’ve given up bodybuilding?” I asked.

“For competition, yes. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say I’ll probably never even give an exhibition again. It takes too much time and energy to get in top shape.”

“You’ve won everything anyway,” I said.

“Yes. For a long time I was consumed with the desire to be the best bodybuilder in the world. More than anything I wanted to win. My first Mr. Olympia victory was quite a thrill. When I won the second—the night I announced my retirement—I was happy, but I felt a little hollow. The kicks were gone. The great challenge had been answered.”

“Now, you have another challenge?”

“Yes, acting.”

“Well, why not?” said Art. “After all, look at all the musclemen who have made it big in films.”

“I don’t want to do just a muscleman in films. I want to be an actor. I’ve found that it takes every bit as much concentration to master the emotional techniques of acting as it does the physical ones of bodybuilding.

Right now I’m ready to test the water.”

“And the loss of weight helps?”

“Yes. If muscle is too large it must be explained by the part you’re doing. This, of course, limits you in your choice of roles.”

“Then you don’t believe a good physique helps?”

“Sure it does, but it must be a bonus that can be used when needed. I’ve had a background in gymnastics and bodybuilding that will help me if I’m ever called upon to do my own stunts. I also practice on the trampoline I have in the backyard so that I can keep supple.”

The hours went by and before we knew it, it was time to go. Before we left I took one last look at Scott’s trophy room which was filled with plaques, trophies, scrolls and crowns, testimonies to his immortality in bodybuilding. I couldn’t help but wonder what an Oscar on the shelf would look like.

Life is Mr. Olympia, his dog and his bike in sunny California.

Mohamed Makkawy 1983 Pro World Championship

Mohamed Makkawy 1983 Pro World Championship

Greg Deferro was leading going into the night show, but Vince Gironda and Makkawy's manager changed the oil Makkawy used for the night show and with his brilliant posing, at the end of the show he had won!

Makkawy found it very difficult to pose smoothly on that carpet, since it was more difficult to "glide" across the floor.

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