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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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