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12 Solid Facts About Pumping Iron

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Originally released in 1977, the bodybuilding docudrama Pumping Iron is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year—and has lost none of its original appeal. Bodybuilding is still a fringe sporting activity, and the film still serves to help humanize the athletes and clarify their pursuit of physical perfection. They’re both the sculptor and the marble, carving works of art from their own gigantic frames.

While the film will always be best known for helping to introduce Arnold Schwarzenegger to movie audiences, there’s a lot more to Pumping Iron. Check out 12 facts about the film’s origins, credibility controversies, and the unlikely political icon who helped promote its release.

1. THE MOVIE ORIGINALLY CO-STARRED A WIMP.

When photographer George Butler was dispatched by both Life magazine and The Village Voice to cover the burgeoning bodybuilding scene in the early 1970s, he was fascinated with its abundance of charismatic participants. Feeling one of the sport’s star attractions, Arnold Schwarzenegger, could carry a full-length film, Butler decided to pursue a feature-length project with collaborator Robert Fiore that he began shooting in 1975. The problem was that Butler was focused on the mass monsters of the Mr. Olympia scene; to balance it out and offer audiences a more relatable subject, he enlisted slightly-built actor Bud Cort (Harold and Maude) and shot a lot of footage of him working out and marveling at the well-developed bodies all around him. The footage wound up being cut from the finished film.

2. NO ONE BELIEVED ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER COULD CARRY THE MOVIE.

While Butler was trying to raise funds, he shot a 10-minute test sequence of Schwarzenegger making a guest posing appearance in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Screening the footage for investors in New York, Butler was dismayed to see that they seemed more horrified than intrigued by the sight of the massive Austrian flexing his deltoids. After the footage ended, playwright Romulus Linney stood, turned to Butler, and said, “I think I speak for all of us when I say that if you make a movie about this Arnold person, we will laugh you off 42nd Street.” (Butler turned to another approach, piecemealing his budget together by petitioning more than 3000 separate financiers until he got the money he needed.)

3. SCHWARZENEGGER’S NAME ALMOST KILLED THE MOVIE BEFORE IT GOT STARTED.

And not because it was hard to pronounce. According to Butler, cash was so tight during production that he once visited a film development lab hoping to get some work done on credit. When the employee asked him what he was doing, Butler told him it was about bodybuilding. Suddenly, the man turned icy and asked if it had anything to do with Schwarzenegger. When Butler told him he was the star, the lab turned him away. The reason? The actor’s first movie, 1970’s Hercules in New York, had burned his business. “I won't give you any credit,” he said. “I had a movie in here … Hercules in New York and they never paid a bill and they owe me thirty grand."

4. IT INSPIRED ANOTHER CLASSIC 1970S MOVIE.

For contrast, Butler decided to focus on Schwarzenegger’s rival for the 1975 Mr. Olympia title, a soft-spoken Brooklyn native named Lou Ferrigno. Unlike Schwarzenegger’s bombastic confidence, Ferrigno was depicted as being browbeaten by his domineering father. According to Butler, screenwriter Nik Cohn saw the scenes of the Ferrignos arguing over the dinner table and used it as inspiration for a project of his own: His story, "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night," was turned into 1977’s Saturday Night Fever, the disco melodrama that made a star out of John Travolta.

5. LOU FERRIGNO PREDICTED HIS OWN FUTURE.

The nature of raw footage means that hundreds of hours of film were left on the cutting room floor, but according to Butler, one sequence in particular has never left his memory. Talking to Ferrigno about his future hopes, the actor told the director that “all I want to be is the Hulk.” He got his wish just two years later, starring for five seasons on CBS’s The Incredible Hulk.

6. SOME SCENES WERE STAGED.

According to Schwarzenegger, some of the events depicted in Pumping Iron were orchestrated to the point where he no longer felt comfortable calling it a documentary. “It’s a docudrama,” he said. Citing investor concerns over endless training footage and not enough interpersonal drama, the actor said that he played up his arrogance for cameras. “We wanted to sell the idea of how cold I am, how I have no emotions,” he explained. In one famous scene, Schwarzenegger said he declined to go to his father’s funeral because it would interrupt his training cycle. In reality, the actor said that he “stole” the story from another bodybuilder because he knew it would create attention. “It never happened. My father never died before any competition.”

7. FERRIGNO WAS SUPPOSED TO BE THE VILLAIN OF THE MOVIE.

According to Schwarzenegger, producers originally felt that Ferrigno would wind up becoming the adversary of the film, a six-foot-five giant who would topple the Austrian from his dominant position in the sport. But as time went on, Ferrigno revealed himself to be more vulnerable and less capable of pulling off the upset, leaving Schwarzenegger to play up his role as an instigator. “We actually made him the victim and made me the guy who pulls the tricks on him and wipes out guys year after year,” Schwarzenegger said.

8. YES, ARNOLD WAS ON STEROIDS.

Speaking decades after the fact, Schwarzenegger acknowledged that one of the most common questions regarding both Pumping Iron and his bodybuilding career was whether he was taking now-vilified performance-enhancing substances like anabolic steroids. “The answer is yes,” he said. “It was just in the beginning stage. Bodybuilders in those days just experimented with it, but it wasn’t illegal. We talked about it openly.”

9. JACKIE KENNEDY HELPED THE MOVIE BECOME A HIT.

A week before Pumping Iron premiered in January of 1977, the film’s press agent was able to stage a press luncheon in New York featuring an impressive list of the city’s notables like Andy Warhol and George Plimpton. But the most significant guest was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who appeared as a favor to a mutual friend of hers and Schwarzenegger’s. Her presence at an event meant to promote a bodybuilding movie was so unique that it received a considerable amount of press attention. “She certainly gave Pumping Iron a big publicity boost,” Schwarzenegger would later write. Onassis even attended the film’s premiere with her son, John F. Kennedy Jr.

10. BODYBUILDERS HATED IT—AT FIRST.

Having been given no breaks before, during, or after filming, Butler figured he’d find a receptive audience by filling a test screening full of the bodybuilders he had profiled in the movie. When the lights went up, Butler noticed that none of them was making a sound. “You really f*cked it up, George!” one of them screamed. “That was the worst piece of crap I’ve ever seen!” Fortunately, critics and mainstream audiences disagreed: Pumping Iron prompted an explosion of popularity in bodybuilding and helped usher in the fitness craze of the 1980s.   

11. THE SEQUEL BOMBED.

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Nearly 10 years after beginning work on the original film, Butler decided to film a follow-up. Pumping Iron II: The Women was a 1985 release that focused on the growing female segment of the bodybuilding scene. While it was warmly received by Sports Illustrated and other outlets, audiences seemed disinterested in an Arnold-free feature—and it has since been largely forgotten.

12. THERE WAS A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE DOCUMENTARY.

For the film’s 25th anniversary in 2002, a documentary titled Raw Iron was released. Intended as a meta-reflection on the original, it combined deleted scenes—like the abandoned Cort footage—with contemporaneous interviews featuring the principal bodybuilders and Butler. In it, Schwarzenegger makes a curious, ironic confession: He was initially hesitant to appear in the film because he was ready to give up bodybuilding and pursue acting full-time.

All images courtesy of Getty Images unless otherwise credited.

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15 Heartwarming Facts About Mister Rogers
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Though Mister Rogers' Neighborhood premiered 50 years ago, Fred Rogers remains an icon of kindness for the ages. An innovator of children’s television, his salt-of-the-earth demeanor and genuinely gentle nature taught a generation of kids the value of kindness. In celebration of the groundbreaking children's series' 50th anniversary, here are 15 things you might not have known about everyone’s favorite “neighbor.”

1. HE WAS BULLIED AS A CHILD.

According to Benjamin Wagner, who directed the 2010 documentary Mister Rogers & Me—and was, in fact, Rogers’s neighbor on Nantucket—Rogers was overweight and shy as a child, and often taunted by his classmates when he walked home from school. “I used to cry to myself when I was alone,” Rogers said. “And I would cry through my fingers and make up songs on the piano.” It was this experience that led Rogers to want to look below the surface of everyone he met to what he called the “essential invisible” within them.

2. HE WAS AN ORDAINED MINISTER.

Rogers was an ordained minister and, as such, a man of tremendous faith who preached tolerance wherever he went. When Amy Melder, a six-year-old Christian viewer, sent Rogers a drawing she made for him with a letter that promised “he was going to heaven,” Rogers wrote back to his young fan:

“You told me that you have accepted Jesus as your Savior. It means a lot to me to know that. And, I appreciated the scripture verse that you sent. I am an ordained Presbyterian minister, and I want you to know that Jesus is important to me, too. I hope that God’s love and peace come through my work on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

3. HE RESPONDED TO ALL HIS FAN MAIL.

Responding to fan mail was part of Rogers’s very regimented daily routine, which began at 5 a.m. with a prayer and included time for studying, writing, making phone calls, swimming, weighing himself, and responding to every fan who had taken the time to reach out to him.

“He respected the kids who wrote [those letters],” Heather Arnet, an assistant on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2005. “He never thought about throwing out a drawing or letter. They were sacred."

According to Arnet, the fan mail he received wasn’t just a bunch of young kids gushing to their idol. Kids would tell Rogers about a pet or family member who died, or other issues with which they were grappling. “No child ever received a form letter from Mister Rogers," Arnet said, noting that he received between 50 and 100 letters per day.

4. ANIMALS LOVED HIM AS MUCH AS PEOPLE DID.

It wasn’t just kids and their parents who loved Mister Rogers. Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who understands 2000 English words and can also converse in American Sign Language, was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watcher, too. When Rogers visited her, she immediately gave him a hug—and took his shoes off.

5. HE WAS AN ACCOMPLISHED MUSICIAN.

Though Rogers began his education in the Ivy League, at Dartmouth, he transferred to Rollins College following his freshman year in order to pursue a degree in music (he graduated Magna cum laude). In addition to being a talented piano player, he was also a wonderful songwriter and wrote all the songs for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood—plus hundreds more.

6. HIS INTEREST IN TELEVISION WAS BORN OUT OF A DISDAIN FOR THE MEDIUM.

Rogers’s decision to enter into the television world wasn’t out of a passion for the medium—far from it. "When I first saw children's television, I thought it was perfectly horrible," Rogers told Pittsburgh Magazine. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous medium to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."

7. KIDS WHO WATCHED MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD RETAINED MORE THAN THOSE WHO WATCHED SESAME STREET.

A Yale study pitted fans of Sesame Street against Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watchers and found that kids who watched Mister Rogers tended to remember more of the story lines, and had a much higher “tolerance of delay,” meaning they were more patient.

8. ROGERS’S MOM KNIT ALL OF HIS SWEATERS.

If watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood gives you sweater envy, we’ve got bad news: You’d never be able to find his sweaters in a store. All of those comfy-looking cardigans were knitted by Fred’s mom, Nancy. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Rogers explained how his mother would knit sweaters for all of her loved ones every year as Christmas gifts. “And so until she died, those zippered sweaters I wear on the Neighborhood were all made by my mother,” he explained.

9. HE WAS COLORBLIND.

Those brightly colored sweaters were a trademark of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but the colorblind host might not have always noticed. In a 2003 article, just a few days after his passing, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that:

Among the forgotten details about Fred Rogers is that he was so colorblind he could not distinguish between tomato soup and pea soup.

He liked both, but at lunch one day 50 years ago, he asked his television partner Josie Carey to taste it for him and tell him which it was.

Why did he need her to do this, Carey asked him. Rogers liked both, so why not just dip in?

"If it's tomato soup, I'll put sugar in it," he told her.

10. HE WORE SNEAKERS AS A PRODUCTION CONSIDERATION.

According to Wagner, Rogers’s decision to change into sneakers for each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was about production, not comfort. “His trademark sneakers were born when he found them to be quieter than his dress shoes as he moved about the set,” wrote Wagner.

11. MICHAEL KEATON GOT HIS START ON THE SHOW.

Oscar-nominated actor Michael Keaton's first job was as a stagehand on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, manning Picture, Picture, and appearing as Purple Panda.

12. ROGERS GAVE GEORGE ROMERO HIS FIRST PAYING GIG, TOO.

It's hard to imagine a gentle, soft-spoken, children's education advocate like Rogers sitting down to enjoy a gory, violent zombie movie like Dawn of the Dead, but it actually aligns perfectly with Rogers's brand of thoughtfulness. He checked out the horror flick to show his support for then-up-and-coming filmmaker George Romero, whose first paying job was with everyone's favorite neighbor.

“Fred was the first guy who trusted me enough to hire me to actually shoot film,” Romero said. As a young man just out of college, Romero honed his filmmaking skills making a series of short segments for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, creating a dozen or so titles such as “How Lightbulbs Are Made” and “Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy.” The zombie king, who passed away in 2017, considered the latter his first big production, shot in a working hospital: “I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made. What I really mean is that I was scared sh*tless while I was trying to pull it off.”

13. ROGERS HELPED SAVE PUBLIC TELEVISION.

In 1969, Rogers—who was relatively unknown at the time—went before the Senate to plead for a $20 million grant for public broadcasting, which had been proposed by President Johnson but was in danger of being sliced in half by Richard Nixon. His passionate plea about how television had the potential to turn kids into productive citizens worked; instead of cutting the budget, funding for public TV increased from $9 million to $22 million.

14. HE ALSO SAVED THE VCR.

Years later, Rogers also managed to convince the Supreme Court that using VCRs to record TV shows at home shouldn’t be considered a form of copyright infringement (which was the argument of some in this contentious debate). Rogers argued that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family. Again, he was convincing.

15. ONE OF HIS SWEATERS WAS DONATED TO THE SMITHSONIAN.

In 1984, Rogers donated one of his iconic sweaters to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

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5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

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