On March 23, 2013, Joe Weider –-- who went from being a scrawny kid whom bullies knocked around with impunity in the mean streets of Depression-era Montreal, to the master of an empire of body-building magazines, nutrition supplements and muscleman contests, as well as owner of an enviable physique of his own – died, at age 92.
Joseph Weider (pronounced “Wee-dur”) was born on November 29, 1920, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants to Canada Louis Weider and the former Anna Nudelman. Louis worked as a presser in clothing factory.
When Joe, who grew up in the Plateau district of Montreal’s East End, reached seventh grade, he left school to work as a grocery delivery boy. He was of small stature and, according to the legend, was unable to defend himself when bigger kids preyed upon him.
According to the website joeweider.com, Joe went to the local Young Men’s Hebrew Association to join the wrestling team, only to be turned away by the coach, who feared he would get hurt. Next, he picked up a second-hand copy of Strength and Health magazine, where he learned the why and how of body building.
That was his salvation. Joe built himself a set of barbells, fashioned from an old car axel and wheels salvaged from a scrapyard. Soon, says his website, “his scrawny physique was rewarded with sprouting sinews of muscle.”
By age 16, Joe was bench-pressing 330 pounds (150 kg). A year later, he won a local weightlifting contest.
Naturally, he wanted to share his newfound knowledge with others. So, in August 1940, Weider began publishing a magazine, Physique, out of his home.
In under two years, Physique was profitable; it was joined over the years by such titles as Shape magazine, Muscle Power, Fit Pregnancy and Flex – in all, 16 different periodicals, at the company’s peak. In 2003, Weider sold it for $357 million.
Guess who found Arnold
Part of Weider’s formula for success was to fill his magazines not only with informative articles, but also with ads for products that he developed and sold. These began with Weider Barbells, which Joe and his brother Ben began marketing in 1942, and simple nutrition supplements.
The boom really began after World War II, during which Weider served with Canadian intelligence. In 1946 he and Ben organized the first “Mr. Canada” competition, and the same night, founded the International Federation of Body Builders, which went on to oversee all of the world’s major bodybuilding contests.
It was Joe Weider who introduced a young bodybuilder named Arnold Schwarzenegger to American audiences in 1972, when he brought him to Los Angeles, where Weider himself had moved a few years earlier. Initially, Weider paid the Austrian to write regular articles for his magazines, in which he plugged other Weider products.
The fact that Schwarzenegger kept winning IFBF competitions didn’t hurt sales either.
Weider also helped his protégé move into movies, when, as Arnold himself told The New York Times after the older man’s death, he “once bizarrely claimed I was a German Shakespearean actor to get me my first acting role, in ‘Hercules in New York.’”
With great success come great challenges. The Weider kingdom did face a variety of these, with a number of accusations of misleading advertising and mail fraud during the 1970s and ‘80s. The company had to give refunds, for example, to purchasers of a course that didn’t deliver on its promise to make the buyer “a terrifying destructive self-defense fighter in 30 days." It was also compelled to drop its claim that its food supplement Anabolic Mega-Pak -- which included a special ingredient, montmorillonite, that was said to have been scraped from the floor of the Pacific Ocean – actually caused the pituitary gland to secrete extra growth hormone.
In 1961, the Master Blaster, as he was sometimes known, married his second wife, Betty Bromser, who was at the time one of America’s top-earning pin-up models, and who became his co-author on a number of books.
He maintained his buff physique into his final years, and continued to work deep into old age. His death, in Los Angeles, on this day three years ago, was caused by heart failure.
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