STILL ROCKIN’ ON MUSCLE BEACH!
A Conversation with the First Mr. Olympia, Larry Scott
By Rod Labbe
In 1960, American International Pictures released House of Usher, an ambitious, sumptuously mounted horror film “experiment.”
Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s classic short story, Usher paired Vincent Price with director Roger Corman, delivering a Technicolor/Cinemascope knockout that surpassed just about everyone’s expectations. Box-office numbers soared, and Usher also earned kudos for its literary slant. Corman, Price and screenwriter Richard Matheson had struck cinematic gold.
Now, at last, AIP possessed the ammo to challenge upstart Hammer Studios for disposable teenage dollars. Cheap black and white double-bills were passé; crumbling, cobwebbed mansions; basement crypts, and Price’s swooning protagonists ruled.
One bite of the exploitation apple wasn’t enough, however; AIP–specifically, executive producers James Nicholson and Sam Arkoff–wanted more. So, they dusted off the pretty-much-ignored teen musical, stirred in a few spicy ingredients, and out popped a delectable confection called Beach Party (1963).
Beach Party’s potent mix of surfers, bikinied babes, slapstick, gyrating dancers, motorcycles and jammin’ rock and roll hit the right gongs. Disney ingénue Annette Funicello and singer Frankie Avalon were refreshing romantic leads, Harvey Lembeck created a memorable villain in “Eric Von Zipper,” and director William (I Love Lucy; Bewitched, etc.) Asher orchestrated the comedy expertly, moving things along at a lively clip.
And that’s not all…to win over concerned parents, movie vets Bob Cummings and Dorothy Malone shared the wacky shenanigans and added a comfortable, reassuring slice of “old Hollywood.”
Whadaya know. AIP scored another bull’s eye!
Muscle Beach Party (1964) was entry #2 in a very profitable eight-movie canon. No need to change the basic formula, merely up the ante and add musical guest-stars (13 year-old Stevie Wonder; Dick Dale and the Del-tones), a hunky, bulging beefcake brigade, and acerbic comic Don Rickles, as their annoying trainer, “Jack Fanny” (patterned, undoubtedly, after fitness guru, Jack LaLanne).
Fanny’s gleaming muscleboys showed us mortal weaklings how it’s done. Included were Peter (Mission: Impossible) Lupus; Mr. Americas, Chet Yorton (“Hulk”) and Gene Shuey (“Riff”); Dan (of Grizzly Adams fame) Haggerty (“Biff”), and Bodybuilding supernova, Larry Scott (“Rock”). By comparison, Frankie and the other beach bums looked positively anemic!
Larry Scott then reigned as Bodybuilding’s crown prince. Joe Weider’s Muscle Builder and Mr. America magazines featured him endlessly; he won Mr. California (’60); Mr. America (’62); Mr. Universe (’64) and the first Mr. Olympia contest, held on September 18, 1965.
One year later, at age 28, Larry defended his Olympia title, won again, and put competition far behind him. That opened the door for a young Austrian named Arnold
Schwarzenegger, and Bodybuilding would never be the same.
As an observer and participant in AIP’s frothy teenage dream, Larry surfed a pop culture tsunami. Here’s how that madness went down, straight from the studliest Rock on Muscle Beach.
- Larry, give us all the scintillatin’ details about your involvement with Muscle Beach Party!
LARRY: Gladly, Rod. One day, a casting agent from American International Pictures called Vince’s Gym in Studio City. They needed approximately a dozen Bodybuilders for their newest film, starring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon. I was always looking to supplement my income, either by modeling or doing ads…and this opportunity dropped out of the blue. Making a movie and getting big bucks? Wow. No one told us it had a beach theme.
- Frankie, Annette, and AIP–you didn’t connect any of the dots?
LARRY: Honestly, I didn’t. You’re talking to a naïve country boy from Pocatello, Idaho (laughs). I’d never even seen the first one!
- When that fateful break came your way, what happened?
LARRY: I went for it! We showed up at a tiny studio on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, second level. Dan Haggerty drove over with me. Neither of us knew what to expect. I considered it an adventure and kept an open mind.
- Besides yourself and Dan, any other big names try out?
LARRY: Chet Yorton and Gene Shuey, both Mr. Americas, were there, along with the legendary Bill Pearl (Mr. America/Mr. Universe). We all knew one another. The
Bodybuilding community was a small and friendly one, back then.
- Bill’s an icon, a true Bodybuilding pioneer.
LARRY: Oh, yeah, big time! The man’s physical condition can only be described as phenomenal. I’ll never forget what he asked the producers: ‘Is this gonna be one of those movies where Bodybuilders are made to look like morons?’ They quickly answered, ‘no, no, of course not, heh-heh’.
- Which probably explains why Bill isn’t in Muscle Beach Party!
LARRY: I don’t think AIP expected trouble from their Bodybuilders. Nobody else said a word!
- You read from a script?
LARRY: Nope, none of us read. They just had us strip off our shirts, flex (laughs), and sign a three-week contract. Those three weeks almost ruined my career. I’d been employed as an engineer, and suddenly, I was being paid to hang out with a bunch of gorgeous women in bikinis!
- Weren’t you also training for competition?
LARRY: Yes, the 1964 IFBB Mr. Universe. I’d lost the year before and had to eat humble
pie. Hunger is what it’s all about in Bodybuilding. You’re a champ one day and a runner-up, the next.
- I could tell you were close to contest shape.
LARRY: I was focused on the prize–steely-eyed and determined.
- Don Rickles played Jack Fanny, your fitness guru. A subdued soul?
LARRY: Ha, ha! Definitely not subdued! Don spared no one; he even unleashed on poor Annette! Non-stop wisecracks.
- All of the Beach Party flicks were directed by William Asher, then-husband to Elizabeth (Bewitched) Montgomery. You were indeed in capable hands, Larry! His I Love Lucy candy factory episode is unforgettable comedy.
LARRY: Alas, my naiveté prevented me from realizing Mr. Asher’s remarkable credentials. I remember his attitude best: congenial, supportive, and easy-going. No shouting or throwing fits. I’m not one for conflict, so I appreciated the homey set.
- Any acting challenges?
LARRY: The biggest hurdle? We had no talent (laughs)! Mr. Asher drew on what little we could do. It became important for us to watch others. Learning as you go, so to speak.
- Define what little you could do.
LARRY: Let’s see…we stood at attention and moved from side to side. Threw fake punches and marched in formation. When scenes got intense, I chewed gum, flexed my biceps, and puffed out my chest (howls with laughter).
- Pete Lupus, of Mission: Impossible fame, was “Mr. Galaxy,” Jack Fanny’s head Bodybuilder. They’d billed him as “Rock Stevens!”
LARRY (laughs): Yeah! Pete went by Rock Stevens until his run on MI. A great guy, Pete is. We’ve been friends for years and years. I’m very happy he’s had such an amazing career.
- You guys wore pink shorts and matching capes. Yeep!
LARRY (sighing): Tenor of the times, pal. Tenor of the times. The general public in 1964 was clueless when it came to comprehending Bodybuilding as a sport and lifestyle. Back then, muscles had to be functional, not aesthetically pleasing. Lifting weights for looks struck them as extremely odd behavior.
- If you enjoyed taking off your shirt and flexing, red flags went up?
LARRY: Strange to say, but yes, that’s very true. Athletes lifted for football and other endurance sports, but if you lifted to build a great-looking body, people questioned your reasoning.
- Bluntly put, a weight-trained physique without the requisite sports connection meant you
were either incredibly narcissistic or gay?
LARRY: Yep. Thank God perceptions have changed. Arnold Schwarzenneger helped Bodybuilding out immeasurably in that regard.
- Bill Pearl was essentially right then, about the producers’ intent. As a real-life Bodybuilder–and competitor–you weren’t turned off by such blatant stereotyping?
LARRY: To a degree, I was…but I’ve always felt comfortable in my own skin and understood how those perceptions developed. I saw it as satire, more than anything. Up till Muscle Beach Party, the only Bodybuilder who’d ever successfully crossed over into the mainstream was Steve Reeves.
- Yeah, but Reeves presented a positive, masculine image…
LARRY: And he created bigger than life characters. Your average Bodybuilder wasn’t a demigod who fought lions, so the public cut him slack.
- His influence, nonetheless, cannot be underestimated.
LARRY: Steve had a staggering influence, I won’t deny it, but his movies couldn’t touch the Beach Party franchise for popularity. Muscle Beach Party had saturated booking in thousands of theatres across the US. Even today, I’m asked about the film, my weight-training techniques and what kind of diet I followed while shooting.
- Easy to understand why. You were in awesome shape!
LARRY: Thanks. If my example encourages one person to abandon his or her sedentary lifestyle and join a gym, I’ll wear pink shorts and a matching cape every day. Ok, maybe not every day, and maybe not the cape, but you get my drift (laughs).
- What beach was used for exteriors?
LARRY: We shot the outside scenes first, on Mae West’s private beach, next to her house. She’d given us permission.
- I heard a conflict arose between your muscle posse and the surfer dudes.
LARRY: Oh, those guys. They had absolutely no use for us. They were champions and clearly impressed with themselves. Our imposing size created tension so thick, you could cut it with a knife.
- Ever try breaking the ice?
LARRY: Sure. I asked one, ‘hey, how tough is it to catch a wave?’ He sneered at me like I was an idiot and said, ‘man, you just catch it. Get with the program.’
- How rude. He expected you’d know the finer points of surfing?
LARRY: Or he was a jealous jerk. Take your pick.
- Luciana Paluzzi went on to become a Bond Girl. Your impression?
LARRY: Luciana had no body, only a pair of breasts. Other than that, I’ve no lasting memory of her.
- Uh-oh. Let’s hope she’s not reading this.
LARRY: Yipe (laughs)! My apologies, Luciana, if you are!
- Isn’t there a sequence that went awry?
LARRY: Better to ask, what sequence didn’t go awry? Entire scenes were ad-libbed!
- This one involved a helicopter.
LARRY: Oh, yeah, that one! Hmm. Ok, we’re on the beach, acting like lunkheads. Buddy Hackett, Luciana’s manager, warns her about getting involved with Bodybuilders, but she’s stubborn, takes a helicopter off the yacht and flies off toward the beach…
- I dig the set-up!
LARRY: There’s a shot from above as the helicopter approaches. We’re looking up and slowly walking away–as Mr. Asher instructed us to do.
- Not so complicated.
LARRY: Oh, no, not for an experienced group of Bodybuilders like ourselves (laughs). Except sand, helicopter blades and oily Bodybuilders don’t mix! There we were, all in our tight little shorts, and the sand kicked up and blasted us. Someone hollered, ‘who cares about this stupid movie? Run!’ What a riot.
LARRY: Haha! Sand can be very painful, especially on exposed body parts. We were literally running for our lives!
- The Beach Party films used a lot of “classic Hollywood.” What was it like, mixing it up with Greats like Peter Lorre?
LARRY: Wonderful. We met Morey Amsterdam, Buddy Hackett and Mr. Lorre. All of them were gentlemen of the old school–courteous and charming.
- And the beach guys and gals?
LARRY: Aside from the surfers and their nastiness, we were treated respectfully, like world-class Bodybuilders. John Ashley was real nice, very friendly and welcoming. Annette and I double-dated. She had a sparkling personality, sweet and genuine. I also liked Frankie Avalon.
- Annette recently passed away, as you know.
LARRY: Yes. My condolences go out to her family and loved ones.
- Peter Lorre’s cameo turned out to be his next-to-final film appearance–Jerry Lewis’ The Patsy (1964) was the last. He seem unwell to you?
LARRY: I wouldn’t say unwell, as in deathly ill. Short of breath, maybe, but it certainly had no effect on him as a performer. Stars like Lorre knew how to turn it on, once the director said “action.” And what a storyteller! Great tales about Bogie, Sydney Greenstreet and the Warner Brothers days. We loved listening to them. That’s real history.
- Please tell me you had a chance to watch Steve Wonder in action!
LARRY: We were all on-set when he performed. Stevie was just a kid and already an entertainer of the highest caliber. Astounding energy! A very, very talented guy and so self-effacing. Look at the career he’s had! Unbelievable.
- MBP’s climactic bar brawl makes me chuckle. Difficult to choreograph?
LARRY: That fight was the real deal, man. The surfers hated our guts, so Mr.
Asher knew a fight would let off steam. They’d rigged the set with balsa wood furniture; he told us to go for it, and bam! We knocked the beach boys on their backsides and banged heads together. A free-for-all! What’s caught on film is only part of the shenanigans.
- You were sent flying through a brick wall! That had to hurt.
LARRY: They actually pulled me into the wall with a hidden harness. I was supposed to rush out, growl, and charge Frankie. He’s holding a surfboard, and Mr. Asher wanted me to smack the board and stick my head through a pre-cut hole. For comedic effect, I’d turn, face the camera, and cross my eyes.
- All that planning, and it isn’t even seen.
LARRY: I know! My big cinematic moment ended up on the cutting room floor. Oh, well, that’s show biz for ya (laughs).
- Are you pleased with your performance?
LARRY: My performance? As in emoting? You’re kidding me. I strutted, posed, grunted, chewed gum and tossed surfers around. Not exactly Laurence Olivier. I will say this, it was fun to do a movie!
- You weren’t bitten by the acting bug?
LARRY: I gave acting some thought and even attended classes with my buddy and roommate, Bill McArdle (also a Bodybuilder). Their scripts were full of bad language! Being a Mormon, I avoided using four-letter words…but the teacher said we shouldn’t limit ourselves; we needed to grow. I finally let go of my inhibitions, a serious lapse in judgment.
- Lapse of judgment? Explain!
LARRY: On my first audition at Fox, the director asked us to do an emotional scene from Death of a Salesman. In the middle, he stopped me. “Stick to the script and stop using profanity!” he yelled. “This isn’t a stag film!”
- What, you’d ad-libbed?
LARRY: Yes! I very brazenly used expletives, and the director had a fit. Our acting coach wanted us to express emotions fully. Guess I went a little too far in expressing them (laughs).
- At least you didn’t go shirtless!
LARRY: Maybe I should’ve done a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire. Then, I’d finish by tearing out of my shirt and flexing! Stellaaah!
- MPB wasn’t your only movie. What about Project: Power?
LARRY: Project: Power was Dick Tyler’s baby, before Muscle Beach Party. If memory serves me, Dick narrated the film and said something like, ‘you see the weirdest stuff in Hollywood.’ The camera shifts to a convertible, and I’m standing up, doing a double-biceps! Did you know Dick wrote for the early Bodybuilding magazines and played Henry Aldrich on TV?
- Yes, I am aware of that. He was also in The Bells of St. Mary’s and Make Room for Daddy.
LARRY: Dick’s a diversified artist. And a super person. Still sharp as a tack, too.
- Why no more film work, Larry? You had that all-American boy look down.
LARRY: Rod, movies just fell into my lap. My real goal was Bodybuilding. It was my sport of choice since high school. Nothing else kept me half as motivated.
- Ever regret your decision to retire from competition so early?
LARRY: I’ve rarely regretted my Bodybuilding decisions. Wish I could say the same about Life! Bodybuilding stardom is an illusion. I’m a firm believer that true happiness is found in marriage and family. No, I don’t regret early retirement. After my second Olympia win, the kicks were gone.
- You were only 28!
LARRY: Mr. Olympia was a brand-new contest, and I’d won the first two. That put me in the history books. Why climb that mountain again?
- Your physique. A product of its time?
LARRY: 100%. If I competed nowadays, my situation would be very different. I’d get eaten alive (laughs)!
- Whatever happened to Bill McArdle? I’ve seen plenty of his pictures but no movies.
LARRY: Acting didn’t interest Bill much. He loved art and painted gorgeous landscapes and murals. That was his true calling. I knew he had an artist’s soul. We eventually lost touch, and Bill passed away at a relatively young age.
- But you, my friend, have persevered. Thanks for sharing your Muscle Beach Party memories with us. Rock on, Rock!
LARRY: I plan to, pal. From then till now, it’s been a wild ride, one I wouldn’t trade for a million surfboards.
Check out Larry’s website at: larryscott.com
This is the last interview Larry gave for publication prior to his very sad death on March 8, 2014. He was my childhood hero, and we shared many laughs, good times and great conversations over the years. I miss him terribly.
October 12, 1938 – March 8, 2014
Mr. America, Mr. Universe, Mr. Olympia
LARRY SCOTT’S COMPETITIVE RECORD
Mr. California – AAU, Winner
Mr. California – AAU, Most Muscular, 1st
Mr. Los Angeles – AAU, Most Muscular, 3rd
Mr. Los Angeles – AAU, 3rd
Mr. Pacific Coast – AAU, Most Muscular, 1st
Mr. Pacific Coast – AAU, Winner
Mr. America – IFBB, Medium, 1st
Mr. America – IFBB, Overall Winner
Mr. Universe – IFBB, Medium, 1st
Mr. Universe – IFBB, Medium, 1st
Mr. Universe – IFBB, Overall Winner
Mr. Olympia – IFBB, Winner
Mr. Olympia – IFBB, Winner