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by Frank Zane
In the summer of 1965, I was between teaching jobs and found myself in Norfolk, Virginia where I took classes in astronomy and geology and trained 6 days a week at American Health Studio. It was there that I met Jim Haislop, then in the Navy, who trained at the gym. I couldn’t believe his leg development. He was from Florida and we became friends. I visited him over Easter vacation and trained with him in Tampa, Florida. Things were sure a lot better there than in New Jersey: the sun, the gyms, and beautiful girls on the beach. After the New Jersey school year finished, I moved to Florida, got an apartment in Tampa, a job teaching math, and began training at Harry Smith’s Health Club a few blocks from my apartment. Training was never better...I dropped the excess bodyweight I’d gained in New Jersey and trimmed down to a muscular 190.
It was hot and humid, but air conditioning was everywhere and I stayed cool. It was better than the frozen Northeast. After school I trained every day at Harry’s. One day at school, as I was going to my next class, a 15-year old girl walked in with a muscle magazine that had an article about me in it. “Will you sign my magazine, Mr. Zane?” she asked. “OK,” I said. “By the way, how would you like to meet my older sister?” the young beauty asked. I said, “If she looks anything like you, then sign me up.” The next Sunday we had a date for the beach. I was in heaven. Christine was tall and had a darker tan than me, which was important because going to the beach was a major pastime of mine. She had also won several local beauty contests and was interested in exercise.
So I signed her up at Evelyn Smith’s Gym right next door to where I trained in Tampa. Every day, I’d pick her up after school, work out, and then go out on a date.
Christine was an artist and was enrolled in St. Petersburg Junior College, but didn’t seem too concerned about studying. We went on simple dates (I had taken a salary cut from New Jersey and still didn’t have much money) like walking through malls and department stores, watching the planes take off at Tampa airport, and eating at the Sweden House Smorgasbord where you could get a lot of food for a couple bucks. All the bodybuilders ate there. On weekends we’d go to the beach after attending St. Petersburg Baptist Church with her family. I was making a little less money teaching in Florida than in New Jersey, but I finally had some kind of life, a steady girlfriend, and a good place to train.
I had my eye set on winning the 1966 IFBB Mr. America, so I wrote several articles for Joe Weider who paid my airfare to New York to compete. I made a good impression by placing second and told myself, “Next year I’ll win.” Christine and I became part of the Florida bodybuilding community. I even had a regular training partner. As 1967 rolled around, Christine had gotten into such good shape that we decided to go to New York together—she’d compete in Miss Americana and I’d win Mr. America.
Although Christine won her show easily, Weider had already taken all the publicity photos with the girl from California they expected to win. She wore the sash that said “Miss Americana,” so Christine never really got credit except for a small photo in Muscle Builder Magazine. The other girl from California got to be in all the ads. It was the first of several political injustices that Christine experienced in women’s bodybuilding in the late 1960s and early 1970s. None of it seemed to faze her though. She just loved traveling with me.
I was quite irritated by this event however, compounded even more by not winning Mr. America. I lost to Don Howorth from Vince’s Gym in North Hollywood. He was a mile wide with great delts and arms, no real leg development, flat from the side, and had no cuts in his back. On stage in the evening competition he only did five poses, but it was enough for the judges. Next year had to be my year.
Christine and I got married the following December and we moved into a nice apartment near the gym. I continued teaching school and Christine worked at the women’s health studio for $1 an hour. A few months later we bought a house in St. Petersburg not far from where I taught for $17,000. I thought it was a lot of money with mortgage payments of $135 a month, but it featured three bedrooms, two baths, and a patio pool. I built a home gym in the spare 250 square foot bedroom off the pool.
I lost my job at St. Pete Middle School when the teachers went out on strike, so I had to take a job teaching math at Tarpon Springs High School. It was a nice place, but a 25-mile drive each way. I trained from 4 to 7 pm doing back, biceps, forearms, thighs, and calves three days a week, and chest, shoulders, triceps from 4 to 6 pm the other three days. On weekends I drove to Tampa to train at Smith’s Gym and ate smoked mullet on Tampa Bay beach afterwards after sunbathing.
During the teacher’s strike, I interviewed with recruiters from Los Angeles City Schools and was offered a position. I turned their offer down since I didn’t feel ready to move. Instead I signed on for another year to teach math at Tarpon Spring Middle School. It was the only school that I ever taught where I really liked the principal. The kids were poor but friendly, and even though the school was run down and had no air conditioning, I felt good teaching there.
Shortly after the school year started, Christine and I flew to New York where I finally won Mr. America and this 6’ high trophy. The next weekend the IFBB Mr. Universe contest was being held in Miami. I wanted to save that competition for the following year, but the promoters insisted I enter. Arnold Schwarzenegger was also at the contest fresh from his Mr. Universe win in London the week before. Jim Haislop had been in London and told me not to worry about Arnold. “He’s big, no tan, and smooth,” he confided in me. To tell the truth, I was more concerned about Rick Wayne, but he didn’t show up.
I was ready for that show—tanned and defined. I posed well. I won. Standing on the victor’s dais with Ben and Joe Weider holding my hands overhead in victory, Joe said in my ear, “Oh Frank, always remember to praise me.” “What?” I thought, “I can’t believe someone is actually saying this to me.” I later came to realize that Joe was telling me exactly how to treat him if I wanted to get the most from the relationship. I should have listened. Arnold sure did. He went on and told me how Arnold was going to be the greatest bodybuilder of all time and was bringing him to California to do nothing but train and pose for photographs for his magazine. “But Joe, I just beat him,” I said. “I want a job like that too. I’ll move to California right now.” No deal.
So Arnold and Joe flew to California. I went back to teaching math. I got really depressed for the rest of the year, with nothing left to train for having won both Mr. America and Mr. Universe. I was a long way off from Mr. Olympia I thought. I ate candy bars, gained 15 pounds, got smooth, but still trained regularly. Right before the school year ended, Weider sent me a ticket to California. He wanted me to stay with Arnold, train and take photos on Santa Monica beach with Betty Weider, Dave Draper, and Arnold. So I went.
While in California, I landed a job teaching math in Venice, just a mile from the gym and two miles from an apartment I’d found near Arnold’s. A month later I sold my house in Florida, drove to California in three days, spent the summer training with Arnold, and won the Mr. World title in Belgium. He proved to be a good friend. Christine enrolled in California State University, graduated and got a job teaching elementary school in Santa Monica. We were all enjoying bodybuilding’s golden years and there was so much camaraderie among us training at Gold’s Gym. I miss the good old days.
Photos: Frank and Christine, summer 1969. Shots taken of Frank on the beach in Tampa, summer of 1968, several months prior to IFBB Mr. America contest.
Frank Zane, M.A., Mr. America, Mr. World, 3-time Mr. Universe, 3-time Mr. Olympia