“The Early Days”

By Jim Bryan

In 1969 I was working out in Al Christensen’s gym in Winter Haven, Florida. A friend and sometime training partner, Dr. Craig Whitehead had recently placed third in the Mr. America contest. 1970 was supposed to be his year. We kept hearing about this young bodybuilder that was  outstanding. I didn’t pay much attention  because I had heard this stuff before, so I forgot about it. The Teen Mr. America was coming up and a young guy from our gym was considering entering. His name was Dennis Woods and he was a hard rock of muscularity. He had to be a natural 5%  body fat. A long story made short is a businessman from our gym decided to send Dennis to the contest. Al asked him to send me with Dennis, because of my experience. I would help Dennis get ready. Craig Whitehead found out we were going and had Al tell me to be on the lookout for the “KID”. The “KID” was Casey Viator. It was felt that he might be competition for the Mr. America, if he did well in the Teenage. I was to report back.

We got to York, Pa. And settled in our rooms. I was excited because to me this was the center of the training world as I knew it! That night we met some of the local girls and toured the town of York, Pa.  I found it odd that the girls knew nothing of Bob Hoffman or the York Barbell Club. They didn’t even know about the Teen Age Mr. America Contest! We forgave them. Uh huh! The next day we headed straight for the York Hall of Fame. I was expecting this great place and nice gym that was world famous, hold that thought. We got there and talked to an older woman that was in charge of the place. She hadn’t a clue. Didn’t know about the Teen Mr. America contest, never heard of it. We paid our money to get in the Hall of Fame. It wasn’t big but it was inspiring, especially the life sized statue of John Grimek. The gym itself was very small, with little to no equipment. That’s right, zilch! We went to the shipping department and one of us bought a lifting belt. We were in the lobby talking and the phone rang. The lady was talking to someone “ No I don’t anything about the contest” I heard her say. She asked me to talk to the man on the phone. Guess who it was? It was Arthur Jones, the most important man in modern exercise. I didn’t know it then though. We talked and I told him where the contest was and what time the pre-judging was to be. He said he was bringing Casey Viator. Remember him? The “KID”. Arthur told me how fantastic Casey was, and I told him about Craig. Arthur was tickled to hear about the fact I was to report back. Actually, I wasn’t expecting much out of Casey. We had some good bodybuilder’s back in Florida. Jim Haislop, Frank Zane, Ivor Butcher, John Schliker, Bill Hilton, Craig Whitehead, Harry Smith, Bob Harrington, Robby Robinson, Bill Lemacks, and Dennis Woods. You get the idea. Show me!


Frank Zane

We get to the pre-judging and wait. Arthur said he would meet us there with the “KID”. We looked at the competitors and tried to figure who was who.


Joe Abbenda

I remember Joe Abbenda was there, I think he had just won the Mr. “U”. All of a sudden everyone moved forward and started talking. I heard someone say it was Casey. I leaned back against the wall waiting for a glimpse. I saw who everyone was fussing over. He wasn’t very tall. He was wearing dress pants and a xxx short sleeve sport shirt. The sleeves were past his elbows, he did fill it out but you couldn’t tell much. To me he looked like a fat bodybuilder that missed his peak. The shirt wasn’t tucked in so he just looked fat. I noticed a man standing off to the side watching me. He was dressed in a sport coat, I’m not sure if he was wearing a tie. He looked like he hadn’t slept in a week. If he was sleeping, it must have been in his car. He had a way of looking straight through you. Very intense. I walked over to him and asked if he was Arthur Jones, and he said yes. We talked a bit and got separated for a while. I helped Dennis get his things together and waited. Arthur asked if I wanted to meet Casey. I said OK  We went into the pre-judging room and waited for Casey to find us. He came out wearing posing trunks and a sweatshirt. Fat kid my ass! He had the biggest, most muscular, most powerful looking legs I had ever seen. Arthur introduced us and Casey went back stage. Arthur asked me what I thought. I told him if Casey’s upper body looked ANYTHING like his legs, Craig Whitehead was looking at # 2 at the seniors. The pre-judging started and they kicked us out. Yes, Arthur too. (I bet that was the last time he ever was asked to leave.)


Arthur Jones

Arthur and I left and went to the coffee shop upstairs. Arthur bought us something to drink. He was always generous to me. We started to talk. Next thing I knew, I was starting to feel like the dumbest s.o.b. that ever picked up a barbell. Arthur would ask me a question, I would answer and he would point out what an idiot I was. I think he even called me an Idiot. Several times! After about two hours of this I was ready to split. The other people in the shop were getting uncomfortable hearing him yell at me. I excused myself and went back to the room and took a nap, boy I felt stupid! I found out later that he was pissed because I left.

That night the main show was on. I saw Arthur again, helped get Dennis ready and went to watch the show. Casey won the title and ALL body parts except abs, he should have won that too. He was un-frickin believable! I think Casey weighed 210 lbs. Or so, At about five foot six or seven.


Casey Viator

Later on Arthur and Joe Abbenda had some words. Arthur made the statement that Casey would be 225 by the Mr. A. Contest. Joe said that was impossible, “Casey would be fat at that weight.” Arthur said he’d be even leaner then. You see, Joe always had trouble with fat around his waist, I guess he thought Casey would too. He basically said Arthur was full of shit. Guess who was right? Arthur, of course. Casey did win the Mr. America, the youngest so far, and at 225.

Before we left Arthur invited me to Lake Helen (to Deland High School gym) to train with him. Nautilus hadn’t started yet and all he had thus far was the pullover machine and many revolutionary ideas. Ideas that would change training forever. Arthur was the most important man in modern exercise history.

I saw Arthur again at a National powerlifting meet in Winter Park, Florida. I was asked to judge by my friend Mike Stone. When I ran into Arthur he was screwing up the heads of some of the muscle guys there. He would measure their arms hanging down and then measure them flexed. There was very little difference in the two measurements for most of the ones being measured. They wanted to know why? Arthur told them it was because “you can’t flex fat!” That’s the way Arthur was. He told you straight out.

I figured out that I liked him, my soon to be wife wasn’t sure. He also had a picture of Casey (before Mr. A.) He said Casey was very close to 225 lbs. He was HUGE! I knew then that Arthur had something that I wanted to learn. He invited me again and I accepted.

In the meantime I sent two guys from the gym up to see Arthur. They trained under Arthur and heaved up just outside the Deland High School gym’s door, and fell to the ground for about a half hour. They came back to our gym after resting for a few days. One was convinced and showed me what they had learned. The other hated Arthur and never went back. I knew then I had to go. That weekend My future wife and I went to see Arthur again.


Sergio Oliva

I went through the most pain I had ever endured in a weight room. It took about 30 minutes and I was dead. Even Arthur’s yelling couldn’t get the dead man (me) to move. He insulted me, questioned my manhood, and made fun of me. You know what?  He could get momentary muscular failure, maximum inroad, or whatever the hell you want to call it, like no one else. He wouldn’t let you quit! I was dizzy as hell and Casey and Dan Howard pushed and pulled me to each exercise. My Wife just stared in horror! I drove back to Arthur’s house in my Datsun 2000 and my wife sat in Arthur’s lap. Hell I didn’t care, I could barely see or move.

 TAKU’s NOTE: Thanks to Jim Bryan for sharing some of his experiences from the original days of Nautilus, Arthur Jones, and Casey Viator.

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