AMERICAN ROLE MODELS; VINCE GIRONDA
Second Article of a Series
By GRANT HALL
Becoming the best in one’s field and being able to influence and teach others along the way is a true measure of greatness. Vince Gironda did just that in his North Hollywood, California gym for fifty years.
It’s difficult to learn something as complicated as bodybuilding from magazine articles and illustrations. And when there are no “real” gyms in your town, it becomes an even greater challenge to learn training routines that work. Unlike today, there were very few good health clubs and gyms-except in certain cities and there were no trainers as there are today. These were challenges I faced growing up as a starving for information, skinny, self conscious kid during the 1970’s when bodybuilding was still in its infancy and considered a subculture of sorts.
I remember mustering up the courage to call Vince’s gym in California as I struggled to copy the routines of Arnold “Somethingorother”-a broken- English speaking, Austrian who was the new west coast superstar. Vince was direct and to the point on the phone and suggested I order his book, The Vince Gironda File. I did and a new door opened as I began to study the true art of physical culture.
Years later, I walked into Vince’s Gym on a Sunday morning. He never looked up as we spoke. I remember his voice being unusually clear-professional diction. His hair was jet black.
Prototype equipment was spread throughout and leather covered the chinning bar and his special V shaped dip bars. The Marcy dumbbells were made for a human hand-without knurling. Leather covered benches, special shaped handles for overhead and horizontal pulley work. It was perfection. An artist’s gym. But the real reason they kept coming-the regulars, the new members, the movie people, the bodybuilders-from other countries and continents-from everywhere and anywhere where a barbell was picked up with a purpose was Vince.
“Do you take instruction?” Those were his first words to me on the gym floor. Soon, I paid extra, humbled myself to learn from his twenty year old instructors and filled the gaps left by unclear magazine illustrations, YMCA myths and improper techniques. It all happened rather quickly.
Vince used to say he learned from the Easton brothers as a young instructor at their Easton’s Gym in Hollywood. I’m sure he had his teachers as all experts do. I’m also sure he developed his talent by working harder than everyone else and persisting and believing in what he was doing-in the face of all the negativity that surrounded bodybuilding for more than half of his business career. And that must have been a difficult time.
Along the way, Chiropractic schools bought his books, MD’s accepted his theories, nutritionists quoted his food plans, students studied his courses, bodybuilding super stars were made and movie moguls sent their stars to Vince’s Gym for the miracle he could create. Everybody learned who spent time with Vince Gironda.
Vince loved dedication. “Just workout,” he’d say when a student complained or couldn’t make sense out of the curve balls life sometimes tosses in our direction. “You’ve got to make a commitment to eat right,” he’d counsel prior to recommending specific food plans.
On Saturday afternoons, we were sometimes the only ones in the gym. We’d talk as I dipped all the way down, stretched and extended to the starting position on his famous, leather covered, V shaped dip bars. “You’re looking great,” he’d say. Covered in sweat clothes from neck to ankle, I’d wonder how he could tell. I noticed his hair was now gray with red streaks.
Time is a double edged sword. Circumstances push us from one endeavor to the next as new priorities lay the foundation for future goals. We all left Vince’s Gym for our own reasons. I left when there were no more questions-only the confidence gained from years and years of his influence.
I returned to Vince’s after being away a long time one weekend afternoon. Only two friends and Vince were there. Fifty years had passed since the ambitious, young gym instructor had hung out his shingle proclaiming himself as an expert in the art of physical culture. “Grant Hall,” he said. We spoke. His hair was white.
Vince died shortly before his eightieth birthday soon after my last visit to Vince’s Gym. His life was spent doing what no one has ever done better. Vince not only helped many, many people achieve their physical goals, he helped shape lives by providing a foundation for positive, human growth and development. Vince Gironda was an American role model for many of us. We miss him.
Copyright, James Clark King, LLC, July 25, 2008