Note: This is an encore post from 2005 and originally appeared on the 1947project.
Muscle Beach began in the early 1930s as a program of the Federal Works Progress Administration, part of the government’s effort to recover from the Great Depression. It was later taken over by the Santa Monica Recreation Department.
Although already well-established, Muscle Beach was first mentioned in The Times in 1946, when a human pyramid collapsed and the young woman at the top suffered a dislocated shoulder.
Bodybuilding—and bodybuilders—didn’t get much good press in the late 1940s. Bob Myers, an Associated Press sports writer, portrayed the men of Muscle Beach as unemployed freaks. “The truth is,” Myers wrote, “the financial careers of beautiful specimens and weightlifters are sketchy.”
Myers wrote in 1948: “Santa Monica’s famed Muscle Beach, where flying torsos play, must be simply wild with excitement today. For one of its Tarzans of the sandpile, a young man of hope, tremendous muscles, wavy hair and no job, has captured the ultimate goal of all surfside acrobats—the title of Mr. America.
“He is George Eiferman, from Santa Monica. He’s a 22-year-old wartime bugler in the Navy, 5 feet, 8 inches tall. He has gray-green eyes, a chest of 49½ inches in full bloom and, unless close scrutiny was faulty, he shaved it just before winning the contest the other night.”
A 1951 story about extras from Muscle Beach appearing with Betty Grable in “Meet Me After the Show” takes a similar tone:
“Since none of the muscle-flexers had any musical comedy experience, it was necessary to rehearse them six weeks for the dance routine. Actually, all they had to do was step around Betty without bumping into her and to flex biceps in rhythm to the music. But it wasn’t easy to teach them—even though they were remarkably docile.” The music for their number? “No-Talent Joe.”
The Santa Monica City Council closed Muscle Beach in 1958 after a handful of regulars were arrested on morals charges. Two years earlier, the self-appointed mayor of Muscle Beach, Eugene “Gypsy Gene” Mariani, was killed by Clement O’Connor, who was found insane after he hit his attorney in the head with a large law book during the trial.
More gymnastic equipment was installed elsewhere on the beach, but not Beef 10 (where the weightlifters performed) and there was no “adagio dancing,” a big draw of the early days. A 1961 Times story was headlined: “Muscle Beach Goes to Flab and Family”
While none of the names seem familiar, Barbara Thomason, Miss Muscle Beach 1954, appeared in several movies as Carolyn Mitchell and was fifth wife of actor Mickey Rooney. She died in a 1966 murder-suicide with small-time actor Milos Milosevic.
Miss Muscle Beach
1953—Not recorded, possibly Marilyn Thomas
1956—Aelina (Eileen) Tuccinardi