Bill Pearl is a bodybuilding pioneer and star. He won the Mr. Universe title with the age of 40. At this time the world’s richest man ‘Paul Getty’ was a fan of the Mr. Universe and used to visit those contests. He was so impressed about Bill Pearl’s muscle size and willpower that he invited him to visit his huge property.
Bill is a great athlete and known for his pride and honor. He hated posing but loved to work out. Furthermore there were times he thought about quitting bodybuilding. Back in those days the famous Muscle Beach was filled with dubious people. Bill as a youngster didn’t like them, “Some of these kids were on an evil kick that wouldn’t quit and I never was like that and didn’t want any part of it.”
But first here’s Bill Pearl’s story.
William Arnold “Bill” Pearl was born on October 31, 1930 in Pineville, Oregon. As a youngster he started reading books about old-time strongmen. He was fascinated about their strength acts like bending steel bars or tearing telephone books. Strongmen were accepted by the society. The theaters were filled with thousands of people cheering and applauding them.
Bill admired their strength and reputation as Strength Stars. Thus he ordered a York Big Ten Special weight set in hope of becoming strong and well-built.
The York Big Ten Special consisted of 80lb weight plates, a five-foot bar, two dumbbells, collars, two kettle bells, a pair of iron boots and a wrist-roller.
Due to the war effort iron was in short supply and he had to wait two whole years for that set. When his Bill hands first touched that iron set up a chain reaction that would change bodybuilding history.
He began working out in his basement with his friend ‘Al Simmons’. They started working out 3 days a week. As Bill was in the ninth grade he was able to one-arm snatch with 100 pounds.
One day a friend of his came to his house all excited and said, “Bill, I finally got the answer.” In his hands he had a copy of Strength and Health magazine. Bill couldn’t believe his eyes when he looked through it and saw pictures of John Grimek. He figured this is it, this was the way!
Bill trained harder and put more determination into his workouts.
As his size and strength increased, his desire to improve his mental attitude also increased. Thus he played football. It was not his passion, but was a sure way of getting a higher education. He had offers from University of Washington and Washington State University.
He admits he wasn’t a natural athlete and everything came only after much hard effort. In fact, the only two sports he made rapid progress in were wrestling and body building.
Bill can remember taking pictures when he was a young lad of 17 or 18 and his arm hanging at his side measured 11 3/4″, which is a pretty good measurement for a young kid.
After Bill had been training for a while his one goal in life was to get his picture in Strength and Health magazine; in fact in any magazine.
In 1950 Bill entered the service and consequently had very little time to work out.
Bill Pearl: “The Navy was just wonderful to me at this time. They gave me military transportation across to England. In fact, they assigned me to the American Embassy in London so I could take part in the contest. The man who was largely responsible for all the Navy’s help was Captain Ralph Styles who later became an Admiral.
He asked me to boost the U.S. Navy and let it be known how the Navy feeds its personnel. It was easy for me to say these things because in my case they were perfectly true”
Bill worked his cans off in those days, and he trained as best he could on the Navy bases and he never really got any help at all until he went to Leo Stern’s gym as he was stationed in San Diego.
Who is Leo Stern?
This gym is one of the oldest gyms in San Diego. It’s named after the owner Leo Stern. Now you’re wondering ‘who is Leo Stern’?
Leo spent his nearly 4 year enlistment as a physical training instructor (PTI) in the U.S. Air Corps.
In 1946 he first opened his gym and used to work up to 90 hours a week. Even later in his gym career he worked 11 hrs. a day 6 days a week.
Leo Stern was a fine friend of Bill Pearl. He put a lot of money and helped Bill when he was young kid in the service. He fed him for months and putted out a lot of money to help him to travel.
Many stars of bodybuilding, lifting and strength world passed through the portals of Leo’s gym including Lou Ferrigno, Arnold Schwarzenegger and of course Bill Pearl.
Leo influenced the world of bodybuilding and powerlifting. In the golden era bodybuilding he was well known. Oldtimers will be familiar with the name ‘Leo Stern’. Arnold Schwarzenegger visited Leo and proved that he hasn’t forgotten his roots. Hat’s off.
Ok, back to 1950 and Bill Pearl’s story. Bill entered the service and after working he went to Leo’s Stern Gym and trained.
The owner Leo Stern didn’t pay attention to Bill Pearl. He was just another well built kid who seemed to be interested in becoming stronger to improve his wrestling. Bill was the wrestling champion of the 11th Naval District and has high hopes of representing the United States in the Olympic Games.
Bill Pearl: “I was training at Leo Stern’s gym at this time and Muscle Beach was going full blast. I can recall I had gone up there a few times just to see what went on and at that time things had gotten really bad. There were a lot of new Kids coming out from New York and other parts of the country and some of the things these guys were doing down there were absolutely degrading to the sport. These antics they were pulling on the boardwalk and some of the comments made to the young girls – in fact most of the things that were taking place were just a little too much.
I recall going to a physique contest one time and there were so many vulgar comments from the audience at the people up there posing. They were so loud and rude I was disgusted at the whole affair. I remember going back to see Leo and I told him I was going to quit training. He couldn’t understand why and I told him I just wasn’t raised that way and I was just going to continue on with my wrestling. In fact, I was doing so well at my wrestling I was hoping to make the Olympic Games team in 1952.
Leo came up and saved the day by telling me that just because some of these clowns were acting this way it didn’t mean that I had to be like them or get involved in any way. Leo said to me, “Let them play their games; divorce yourself from these people. You don’t have to associate with them.
I haven’t even to this day, and I have never really been accepted by the crowd at Muscle Beach and while I’m not on the “outs,” I’m on the other side of the tracks, so to speak.
Not that I’m a “goody goody boy,” it’s just that my attitude toward the sport is entirely different from theirs. Some of these kids were on an evil kick that wouldn’t quit and I never was like that and didn’t want any part of it.”
Bill Pearl’s personality
Leo Stern: “Bill surprised me by coming along as quickly as he did. When he had first set foot in the gym I can recall him having a large boned, rugged type of physique that had possibilities, but at that time he was nothing more than a sturdy individual. He told me he had worked out at home and at the Y.M.C.A and anywhere else he could locate weights. His main interest at that time seemed to be his wrestling, at which he was very good.
Bill responded very quickly to coaching; he was an excellent pupil I had only to tell him once how to perform any exercise and when I outlined his programs he followed them to the letter. It’s always been a practice of mine when working with anyone that they follow the workout exactly as written, and do as instructed or there isn’t any point in my coaching them.
Bill got along well with everyone as he is an extremely likeable person although he was prone to be rather shy and lacked confidence in his own ability. He made remarkable progress in those first two years. Let’s face it, you just don’t come out an unknown and win everything in the state of California in your first year of competition unless you are outstanding, and that is exactly what Bill did
Normally it takes time to develop a reputation, and although the judges look at everyone, human element being what it is, they are usually inclined to observe more fully an individual who is known and has been around for some time.”
Bill Pearl vs. Irvin “Zabo” Koszewski
In 1953 Bill Pearl took the physique world by storm. Leo by this time had taken a deep interest in him and was helping him all that he possibly could. Bill just went wild that year. He took the Mr. Southern California, Mr. California, Mr. America and Mr. Universe titles all in one year.
It was during this year that Bill first came into contact with “Zabo” Koszewski. He got to know him really well at these contests and they have been good friends ever since.
Bill Pearl: “Zabo is about six years older than I am. When I won the Mr. Southern California title Zabo placed second. When I won the Mr. America title Zabo was third. At that time he was hard on my heels all the way and I think he would have done a lot better if I hadn’t been on the scene. Zabo is about as remarkable a man as you could find anywhere. He’s 46 years old and has been in really fantastic shape all the time, year-in, year-out. He’s devoted virtually his entire life strictly to the game. I really admire the man and I feel he is another one of those people who have given much, much more then they have taken from the game.
Bill: ” I think it’s a shame that Zabo never won the Mr. America title as he wanted to so very much. To continue on year after year in great shape as he has done really takes a lot of will power, believe me.
I know, I think Zabo is like me in one respect; if he can’t beat them on stage he will beat them in age. He is a real nice person and has been a good influence on a lot of kids down around the beach area over the years.
They look upon Zabo as “the King”; in fact that’s what they call him, and believe me, he is the King, Zabo’s words are never ignored and what he says is the gospel. He has done a great deal for these young kids and he tries to keep them all on the right path. I see him every now and again and I can honestly say I’ve always liked the man. I hope he will be around for a long time yet.”
Bill Pearl and posing
Bill always used to hold a serious and tight face because he hated to pose!
Bill Pearl: “I always looked at it as a job, never as fun. I don’t like to pose. I like doing the best I possible could at it. But I never enjoyed posing, and still don’t. I’m not an exhibitionist. I’m an introvert in a lot of ways. I didn’t like getting up on the stage and doing it, other than the fact it was a job that had to be done. So that’s why I probably came over as I have. But I’m really not like that. I’m a very congenial guy when I’m doing things I enjoy doing. But if I’m not at ease, and feel the least bit uncomfortable, then I draw within and that sometimes comes out.”
1971 Mr. Universe
After winning the 1967 Mr. Universe title Bill retired but Leo Stern persuaded him to enter the stage. And an another reason for competing was in the fact the downgrading comments from some bodybuilding magazines. Those magazine credited some newcomers as the world’s greatest bodybuilders. Pioneers like John Grimek, Reg Park and Bill pearl appeared at the bottom of their top 10 or top 20.
Furthermore there were articles claiming Bill was afraid to compete against the current top bodybuilders. Bill knew that the only way he can compete fairly against anyone was the 1971 Mr. Universe Contest.
Bill Pearl decided to enter the Mr. Universe contest at 40. He took pictures of all the top men that were expected to compete in the contest and placed them on his mirror in his bathroom for him to look at every day.
Along side he placed a photo of himself, taken on his 40th birthday and placed it beside these.
Bill Pearl: “The contrast was so bad, at not times was it hard for me to muster up the energy to train, watch my diet and think of little else but the contest. I knew a day of reckoning was coming and I had committed myself and others. It was sink or swim.
Leo and I planned every aspect of the contest from the type of training we felt would give the necessary size, shape and muscularity that was needed. I wrote to Chuck Amato and asked for advice on diet. I also wrote and asked advice from others I felt would be able to answer some of our questions. We left nothing to doubt or chance. We worked proper stance, tried to guess what the judges would have us do and to be prepared for anything. It was a 24 hour-a day job of training, proper eating, mental concentration and continual preparing.”
Arnold and Bill Pearl
The contest was the company of big wolves. The judges were known as fair, strict and neutral.
Every top bodybuilder in the world was competing. Sergio Oliva, Frank Zane, Reg Park, Tony Emmott, Kassem Yazbek, Roy Duvaland and Chris Dickerson.
But where was Arnold Schwarzenegger???…
Some of the top men who were training for the contest decided to drop out. A couple of weeks before the contest was to be held in London, it was rumored that the top contender would not be allowed to enter because of other commitments. Bill cited he had nothing to do with this personally. He is a fine fellow and a real competitor.
Bill Pearl was one of the bodybuilders that Schwarzenegger had not defeated. Schwarzenegger was in top condition and was hungry to compete against Bill but he (or Joe Weider) decided to skip the Mr. Universe and to compete in the following 1971 Mr. Olympia in Paris. Arnold won the Olympia but the line up was poor.
In Iron Man Magazine (May 1972) Wayne Gallasch wrote, “The Olympia 1971 was something of an anti-climax, with Arnold winning in a ‘one horse race’ against two other men I had never heard of”.
The 1971 Mr. Universe was the toughest competition Bill had ever taken part in. The crowd enjoyed a fabulous show then waited for the results. The announcement was as followed:
“Ladies and Gentlemen the 1971 N.A.B.B.A. amateur Mr. Universe winner is Ken Waller of the United States.”
According to Bill this was a very popular decision and the theatre rang to resounding applause.
The next announcement:
“Ladies and Gentlemen the 1971 N.A.B.B.A. professional Mr. Universe winner is…BILL PEARL!”
The crowd went wild cheering!
Bill Pearl and the World’s Richest Man
Jean Paul Getty was a fan of NABBA and attended lots of shows. He was so impressed about Bill Pearl’s muscle size and willpower that he invited him to visit his huge property.
Bill and Leo Stern drove in a 20 year old Cadillac limousine to Getty’s three-storey 16th century castle. Getty proved to be a very friendly and modest host!
Paul Getty personally guided they through the estate and the castle and then spent hours asking and answering questions. Every room and hall of the Getty estate was furnished with priceless art work from the 16th and 17th centuries.
After retirement Bill opened his own gym, wrote books and coached.
Bill was a huge supporter of Pat Casey, the first powerlifter to officially total 2000lbs as well as to bench 600. Bill also coached Mr. America Jim Morris.
And World’s Strongest Man Bill Kazmaier credited Bill’s Book “Keys to the Inner Universe” having a significant impact on his training philosophy. Hat’s off to Bill Pearl’s dedication and work!
Today he is 88 years old and still living an active life.
Editor’s note: Of course this is not Bill’s full biography. Writing about Bill’s colorful life would fill over hundred pages. This article should only give a short overview how great he was.
If you were intersted to read Bill Pearl’s full story then I would suggest to visit his homepage. He wrote books about training and his life with over 300 pages. Have fun and keep training! – Mr. Berg
He is also on facebook.
The Bill Pearl Story, Iron Man 1971
Bill Pearl: Master of the Universe