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You’ve Got to Have Heart

Archive   ·   June 22, 2009

The Legendary Dan Lurie Has Seen it All – 

The 16-year old felt as if his world came crashing down on him all at once. With aspirations of becoming a prize fighter, the last three years of training all seemed for naught when he was turned down at the prestigious Golden Gloves tournament in New York because he had a heart murmur, the result of being born with a hole in the organ.

Totally dejected, the youngster shed a few tears and then had a life-changing moment. He met a man by the name of Terry Robinson who told him, “Kid, I used to be a fighter. There’s always someone else that’s going to beat the hell out of you. You don’t need it. You have a nice body. Why don’t you go into bodybuilding?”

The teenager didn’t even know what that was at the time, but took Robinson’s suggestion to join the Adonis Health Club in his home borough of Brooklyn and began to lift weights. Within one year, he had built up enough confidence to enter the Mr. New York City contest. When he stepped on stage next to a much more experienced group of young men, he realized that he had a long way to go. Finishing in last place may have been a blow back then but in retrospect, he viewed it as the “best thing that ever happened” to him.

‘Him,’ of course, is the legendary Dan Lurie, who used to spend five cents on the subway to travel from his home in Canarsie to East New York where the Adonis Health Club was located. Money and proper nutrition were hard to come by in those days, so after every workout Lurie used to have what he called his “favorite health drink – a malted with pretzels.”

By the time he was 19, Lurie had been named America’s Most Muscular Man but was unable to break the monopoly that Bob Hoffman had on the AAU, the controlling body of all competitions. “They always kept me second,” recalled Lurie, who added, “All of his (Hoffman’s) men became Mr. America.”

An example of this occurred at the 1944 Mr. America contest in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Lurie finished as the runner-up to a Hoffman athlete by the name of Steve Stanko, who had a leg condition that prevented him from walking to the stage platform, which was inside of a boxing ring. For effect – and obviously also to hide Stanko’s limitations – the lights would go out while handlers carried Stanko in and out of the ring.

That same year, Lurie’s photograph appeared in an advertisement in “Your Physique” magazine, the precursor of “Muscle & Fitness.” Hoffman then stripped Lurie of his amateur status on the assumption that he was paid for it, but as Lurie put it, “I didn’t get a penny.” In another case of ‘us versus them,’ John Grimek appeared in advertisements on numerous occasions in “Strength & Health” magazine, but because both were under the Hoffman umbrella, it was overlooked.

Lurie began selling his own weight sets and partnered up with Joe Weider in promoting the products in “Your Physique.” After three years, the relationship deteriorated and by 1950, Lurie had become the first bodybuilder on television when he joined the Sealtest Big Top Show on CBS.

Every Saturday from 12 to 1:00 p.m., ‘Sealtest Dan’ performed feats of strength on the highest-rated children’s program, which was also the first to be shown in color. Although he did receive a salary, Lurie also enjoyed the fringe benefits of working for a company like Sealtest. “I got free ice cream, 20 gallons at a time,” Lurie said with a laugh. “I gave them out to everybody. I went through the toll booths on the New Jersey Turnpike and I gave out a gallon to all of them. I had to unload it because it would only melt, so I made friends with a lot of people along the way.”

By the time the next decade rolled around, Lurie had formed his own federation, the World Body Building Guild, and started a magazine called Muscle Training Illustrated, which eventually branched out into more publications – Fitness & Nutrition, Body Talk, Boxing Training Illustrated, Wrestling Training Illustrated, Karate Training Illustrated and Hot Rock Magazine, which covered music.

“I had a certain formula and the whole thing was to get an editor who was knowledgeable in that field,” said Lurie. “I bought my own print paper and didn’t have any overhead because I used my barbell business as an office. That’s what helped me keep the costs down and to make them grow. I was very proud of it.”

Another thing that Lurie was proud of was his WBBG, which included the Mr. Olympus contest. “I had them all, you name them,” he says now. “I even had Reg Park, who was on the first cover of my magazine in 1965. I had Sergio Oliva, Boyer Coe, Chris Dickerson, Steve Michalik, Harold Poole, Freddy Ortiz, Jim Morris, Lou Ferrigno…you can’t even remember them all.”

After 35 years of publishing, Lurie decided that it was time to retire. “I wanted to enjoy my time with my wife and my family and that’s what my goal was.” Throughout the years, he met some great people, including President Ronald Reagan in the oval office.


Today, Lurie, 86, still works out and has just released a book entitled “Heart of Steel – The Dan Lurie Story.” He is also part of a team that runs the annual Mr. And Mrs. Jones Beach USA contest along with Michalik and female bodybuilder Emy Silvagni.

“We have big plans for this year,” Lurie said of the show scheduled for August 9 on Long Island. “It’s going to be bigger and better. We’re going to have it officially known as the Muscle Beach of the East.”

With a man like Dan Lurie behind it, the show was an immediate success last summer in its inaugural run. The legend himself has given new meaning to putting your ‘heart and soul’ into a project.





Wake Up Call

Archive   ·   January 1, 2009

One of Arnold’s ‘Early’ Training Partners, Leon Brown, Still Going Strong -

The loud knock at the front door of 15 Horizon Avenue one early Sunday morning woke up 20-year-old bodybuilder Leon Brown and his friend Greg, much to their surprise because the two New Yorkers did not know that many people in their new home in California.


When Brown opened the door, it was none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was also 20 at the time. “C’mon, get up,” he said to Brown in his now-famous Austrian accent. After a quick bite to eat, they went to Gold’s Gym to train together, and they would do so for the next year.


They met by chance the previous day back in 1969 when Brown and Greg happened to walk by Schwarzenegger and Art Zeller, the famous bodybuilding photographer, playing a game of chess on Santa Monica Beach.


“My friend said to me, ‘Who’s the guy with the big arms?’ I knew Artie (Zeller) back from New York and he introduced Arnold to me,” recalled Brown. “We started talking and Arnold asked me where I lived, which was a block away from ‘The Pit’ (the original Muscle Beach).”


Brown, 62, moved out west from Staten Island for the same reasons so many other aspiring bodybuilders did, but he had been training for six years already and won two of the six contests he entered. “I started competing at 18,” he said.


He finished as the runner-up in the 1966 IFBB Mr. Eastern America in the Teen Short class in his rookie show. Two years later, he tasted victory for the first time by taking the Medium class of the IFBB North American Championships and followed that up with an overall win at the 1968 Mr. New York City contest.


In between, Brown had competed in the 1967 IFBB Mr. Eastern America (second place), 1967 IFBB Mr. Universe (eighth) and Dan Lurie’s 1968 WBBG Pro Mr. America (fourth). Looking to take that step up to the next level, he packed his bags and found himself in sunny California.


“It was 100 percent different,” Brown remembered. “When I walked into Gold’s Gym for the first time, I had never seen a gym like that in my life. It was my first week out there and Joe Gold said to me, ‘Pay me when you get a job. Just go train.’”


Brown had a friend that attended the University of Southern California and he helped get him find employment at the college as a janitor pulling the 5:00 PM to 1:00 AM shift. “I wasn’t like these other guys that didn’t have a job,” he said. “I trained in the morning with Arnold and those guys and at night I went to work.”


By 1970, Brown didn’t have to worry about paying any gym dues after he more than met a challenge that that Joe Gold made to him. “One day I walked into the gym and this guy named Art Peacock starts posing in front of me,” Brown vividly recalled. “Joe said to me that if I could beat this guy he would give me a free lifetime membership.”


Of course, Brown won the Mr. Western America that year hands down. Peacock? “He came in sixth. Not even in the top five,” Brown said with a laugh.


His four and a half-year stay out west may have been much longer if Brown had taken up an offer from none other than Joe Weider back in the early 1970s. “He offered me a contract if I stayed out there but I came back here to New York,” said Brown. “I messed up.”


Perhaps so, but Brown didn’t miss a beat by winning the 1974 IFBB Mr. Eastern America once he was back on familiar soil. He continued to show perseverance by placing in the top three in the vast majority of contests he entered throughout the rest of that decade and the next one.


After taking the 1990s off, Brown returned to the stage in 2000 by finishing second in the NPC Masters Nationals 50-plus Lightweight division. He also competed in the 2002 and 2003 Masters Olympia.


Still training today, Brown is going to don the posing trunks once again at this year’s Atlantic City Pro, Masters Short Over 60 class. “I still can squat 450 pounds for at least six good reps,” he said proudly, and rightfully so. “No spotter and I don’t even use (knee) wraps.”


It will be Brown’s first show since 2006 and he not only sounds ready, but looks the part, too. Come to think of it, wouldn’t it be fitting for him to win again on the 40th anniversary of meeting the great Austrian Oak? The two remain friends to this day and see one another every year in Columbus, Ohio at the Arnold Classic.


Schwarzenegger may be many miles away in his governor’s office on September 12 as his good friend Leon Brown takes the stage for what may be the final time, but you know that both men will have their mind on each other. 

NY Sports Day

NY Sports Day


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