From acting as a training partner for the former Mr. Universe, Kal Szkalak, to acting in Conan with Arnold, this bodybuilder has made some giant strides.
JAKE STEINFELD: Movie-Making’ Muscleman
Written by Irene L. Hause
Photos by Michael Neveux and others
Muscle & Bodybuilder
Volume 3, Number 11
“I was standing back behind the first wall I had to go through, and I was so nervous I was shaking. I was really psyched! I was thinking, ‘All right. I’m doing a movie—I’m Wamba.’ The stunt coordinator was telling me, ‘Jake, go through the wall like this,’ because there really are different ways of going through a wall. They were cueing me on my lines — makeup people were smearing red on me — I had Cheech and Chong standing beside me. ‘Come on, Jake, let’s go, man, do it up!’ Then all of a sudden, two seconds later, everyone left. I was behind the wall all by myself, and they yelled, ‘Whenever you’re ready, Jake!’ Then it suddenly dawned on me. All the talking has got to stop, all the showing off has got to stop, telling everyone you’re going to be a big star. This is it, man!’ My heart was pounding. I was taking deep breaths. I was getting nuts! I was thinking, ‘Holy shit, man! You’ve got to do it! You’ve go to do it now! The party’s over! Concentrate!’ Then I went through the wall.”
Jake Steinfeld has been reenacting the scene, complete with sound effects, as he crashes through an imaginary wall in the middle of his living room in Studio City, California. He is describing his role as “The Amazing Wamba,” the bright-red superhero in Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie, his fourth theatrical film. By coincidence, Jake, who won second place in the 1979 Mr. Southern California contest, was spotted for the role of the bright-red superhero while he was playing a bright-green superhero. He is one of two bodybuilders who presently play “The Incredible Hulk” for the Castle Dracula show which highlights the famous tour of Universal Studios. (Toby Hoffman has also been behind the green paint on occasion.)
“The kids go nuts for the Hulk! But then so do the parents – even the foreigners love him. After my act for the tourists is finished, the announcer says, ‘The Hulk, Mr. Jake Steinfeld!’ Then the kids rush up to me, ‘Louie, Louie! How’s it going, Louie!’ But I don’t mind. If it weren’t for Lou Ferrigno’s TV success as the Hulk, I wouldn’t have that job. I figure my time is coming.”
Jake Steinfeld, at age 22, has come a long way from his first on-stage performance at a talent contest sponsored by the Temple his family belonged to back in Baldwin, Long Island, New York. Jake, in second grade, and his twin brothers Peter and Andrew, who are two years younger, pantomimed to a Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass record. They won second place.
“We weren’t much older when our grandmother used to make us sing at upstate New York hotels. Man, we couldn’t sing worth anything! We’d be so nervous, staring at the floor, rolling and twisting our shirt tails, singing ‘Bye Bye Blackbird.’ But the old ladies loved us. They’d say, ‘Oh, they’re so cute! They’re great!’”
Jake’s on-stage career went into limbo for a few years. It was revived by his first bodybuilding contest, the 1977 Mr. Teenage Delmarva (Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia). He’d started bodybuilding when he was playing lacrosse for the State University of New York at Cortland. “Although I was six feet tall and weighed 180, I was a little light for lacrosse, and I knew I had to get stronger or I’d never make it. So I started to go to the gym every other day and started pumping some iron. When I saw my arms getting a little bigger, I said, ‘This is great. I really enjoy it!’ I stopped playing lacrosse and focused on becoming a bodybuilder. I’m up to 237 pounds now.”
Jake gets sentimental as he recalls the Teenage Delmarva. “I dragged my mom, my grandma, my brothers, and a friend to Maryland in the middle of the summer so I could enter this competition. Around your own family and friends you’re the biggest, you’re the best, so you start to believe it, right? The contest was outdoors on a blistering hot day. I had never been in a contest before, and I didn’t know how to pose. I figured I’d draw maybe Number 15 in the lineup so I could at least watch and see what was going on: I drew Number 1.
“There was no posing platform. I swear on my life they used a park bench. So I climbed on top of the bench; there must have been 300 people watching me. The first thing I did was a double lat spread, and you know the main thing is to keep your thumbs tucked in at your sides. I had on too much oil, so my hands kept slipping. The faster I could have gotten off the park bench, the better I would have liked it. I’d always played team sports. This was the first time I had been on stage all by myself. It was such a scary feeling knowing, ‘Wow, I’m up here all by myself and don’t have another guy to pass the ball to, to bail me out.’ When I got down, I was so dejected, but my family and friend were saying, ‘You were great, just fantastic!’
“The Mr. Apollo and powerlifting meets were afterward, so we were there from nine in the morning until close to six at night, and we didn’t know how I’d done. I thought I’d done terrible. My heart was in my throat when they started announcing the winners. Then they called out, ‘Fifth place, Jake Steinfeld!’ It was the most thrilling thing that happened to me in my whole life. You should have seen me: I was jumping around going crazy. Fifth place in the Teenage Delmarva – wow! Next year, Mr. America!”
That contest precipitated Jake’s move to California. Jake’s father, who owns a large advertising agency, had already been planning to move his business from New York to California. Jake preceded his family by six months, leaving behind one year as a physical education major at Cortland to enroll in California State University at Northridge.
Not finding southern California’s mild climate very conducive to studying, Jake spent more and more time at World Gym in Santa Monica. “It’s such a different atmosphere out here than back East. Back East everyone’s into screaming techniques—grunting, yelling, dropping weights. You don’t drop weights at World Gym!”
Jake got to know Kal Szkalak at World Gym, and they became friends. Eventually Jake got up the courage to ask Kal if he could be his training partner. Kal’s reply was less than reassuring. “Yeah, why not? But I don’t think you’ll last.” Jake did last. He lasted for one-and-a half-years until Kal moved south to Fountain Valley, California, to manage the second World Gym. Says Jake, “It’s too bad Kal doesn’t get the recognition he deserves just because he is a little radical and likes to speak out on things. He comes off like a ‘real wild face,’ but he really is a great guy. He took me under his wing when I was only nineteen and had only been into bodybuilding for six or seven months. He and his wife Joan used to invite me over to their house all the time and, let me tell you, Joan is one heck of a cook!!”
Training with Kal that year and a half wasn’t easy. “I took some time off from school because I figured it wouldn’t be every day that I’d get a chance to train with Mr. Universe, and I knew Cal State at Northridge would be around for a long time. Kal demands and gets every last drop of sweat and energy you have. I used to get pissed off when he’d look me in the face and say, ‘Come on, let’s go five more, you bastard!’ I’d be dead, but my arms would do five more. That’s the way I got big, and I feel that’s the way to do it.
“I have that ‘Kal instinct’ in me now, and I train just as hard as he does, and anyone who trains with me does the same. Right now I’m training with John Casino. He’s a Hollywood stunt man who lives in the apartment below mine. He came up at five o’clock one morning, complaining that my alarm always woke him up. I solved that problem by taking John to the gym with me. He’s doing great. He gained sixteen pounds in a month and a half. He’s feeling stronger, like a wild man. He’ll start to bench, putting 275 on the first time. It’ll go ‘boom,’ and he’ll eat it, and I’ll leave it there for three seconds, like Kal used to leave it for me on 315. Kal would be doing 405 for ten reps. He would give me a cold look and say, ‘See what that feels like? You don’t want that feeling anymore, do you?!’ Then he’d pull it up. It may sound a little sadistic, but I remembered! To get ahead, you can’t always hear, “You’re doing great!’”
After only one year as a bodybuilder, and with no real leg work prior to his move to California, Jake entered the 1978 Mr. Teenage Los Angeles. “I trained very hard, but was discouraged to know that guys my age were taking steroids, because I just don’t believe in it. What’s the sense in looking great on the outside if you have all that bad stuff inside you deteriorating your system? Anyway, I came in fifth in the Teenage L.A. I was all upper body, no legs yet. Back East they always wear sweatpants and tank tops, so nobody ever trains their legs hard.”
He placed second in his next contest, the 1979 Mr. Southern California. “Dave Zelon, an old friend from New York, was my training partner for the Southern Cal. He was up at five every morning, watched my diet, and really pushed me. We put into practice everything I’d learned from Kal. I trained for that contest in the way I believe bodybuilding is all about – putting on a couple pairs of sweats, getting in there at 5:30 in the morning, training my head off, and feeling dead tired when I finished. I didn’t use any steroids, not even any vitamins – just hard work and dieting.”
While all this was happening, another important door was opening for Jake. He used to accompany Kal when Kal was doing commercials and movie work, and it was Kal who turned Jake on to show business, California style. “My first job was with the Village People at a concert in the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. I was up there in front of 4,000 people, no inhibitions, posing, wiggling my butt, singing ‘Macho Man’ right along with the Village People. After the show, my mom and my kid sister Nancy came back stage. My mom was stunned! She said, ‘We thought you were a shy little kid! Just how shy could you possibly be?’ Whenever I get on a stage or in front of a camera, I just tend to loosen up and be myself. I guess that might be the key to acting.”
Someone in the audience took note of Jake and gave him his next job – posing for Power Productions’ Macho poster. Next, through his own and Kal’s efforts, came bit parts in FM, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Americathon, plus a co-starring role in a student movie. He also did bodybuilding posing routines for “America Tonight” and for two Jerry Lewis telethons.
Sandwiched between all this was his selection as one of the bodybuilders who take turns portraying the Hulk for the Universal Studios tour. “My friend Bob Fol was originally doing the Hulk for the tour, and the other guy, Duke Butler, had just been picked for the role of ‘Tiger Man’ on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. So Bob suggested that I try out for Duke’s replacement. I went to the studio and talked to a few people and got the job. It was that simple.
“It takes two hours to do a complete Hulk makeup, what with gluing on the mask parts and all. In the summer, the green had to be reapplied after each of the twelve daily shows – I sweat off every single coat. People tell me, ‘Jake, even when you do the Hulk, you never look really mean because you’re always smiling.’ They say I have this little half-grin on my face.” This grin caught the eye of Cheech and Chong who were in the audience during one of Jake’s performances. After the show they started talking and invited Jake to a party. “I told them a bunch of stories about what happens on the tour, like how the girls come up and ask, ‘Is it all green?’ They were practically rolling on the floor from all the stories. Next thing I know, a few weeks go by and they call and tell me they have a part for me in their new movie. They got the idea for the ‘Wamba’ character from what I had told them about my life as the Hulk.”
With logic incomprehensible to anyone but Hollywood movie makers, all but a few seconds of Jake’s “Wamba” scenes ended up on the cutting-room floor, and the reasons had nothing at all to do with his acting skills. He had no time to mourn his loss of screen time, though. Script writers and producers who had the opportunity to view Jake’s uncut “Wamba” scenes were so impressed with his work that he received offers for starring roles in two other movies! The first of these, Home Sweet Home, has been completed and will be released to cable TV and foreign markets in the spring of 1981. The second, in which Jake will star as “The Amazing Wango,” is in developmental stages. The movie is planned as a satire on superheroes, and Jake describes Wango as ‘the son of aliens who ends up in Hollywood, fighting crime. He wants to do good, be tough, but he doesn’t do anything but get in the way.”
Home Sweet Home is anything but sweet. Jake plays the lead, a psychotic drug addict who goes around annihilating people, a total of seven throughout the film. “I got the role of ‘The Killer’ because the producer wanted a big-bodybuilder type who could look both awesome and menacing. Because of my work in Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie, I didn’t even have to audition! At first I didn’t know if I could handle a part like that because it was so different from anything I’d ever done. But I figured, what the heck, I’d give it a try. I had to walk around with my eyes bugged out and learn how to do this horrible cackling laugh. I thought I’d have trouble getting into that role, but you really get into character once they start squirting blood and sweat all over you. The special-effects man, who’s been in he business for longer than I’ve lived, told me my death scene was chilling, one of the best he’s seen in his career. Hearing that from an old-timer in the industry made me feel really proud!”
With Home Sweet Home completed and negotiations continuing on the “Wango” film, Jake will soon begin work on National Lampoon Goes to the Movies, a Universal film in which he plays a biker. Next he’ll fly to Spain for yet another role. This time he has the part of a barbarian, one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s henchmen, in Conan. “Conan is really big-time, a Dino DeLaurentiis production. It will be a major credit for me, and I’m really thrilled about it. Universal Tours have been just great about giving me time off for my movie roles. They’re pretty realistic about my life as an actor. They know I want to advance my career, and they give me the freedom to do it.”
Trying to find an agent who will really take an interest in him as an individual talent is proving to be a challenge. “It’s hard to get agents to take you seriously when they see you are a bodybuilder. Many of them don’t look past the first impression. I’m looking for someone who will recognize that I can do more than take off my shirt and flex. Arnold Schwarzenegger has helped to break the stereotype. He’s a well-liked guy and he’s made it a lot easier for us, so they’ll sometimes give us a chance instead of looking at us and saying, ‘Oh, boy, what a bimbo! What do you want to do, pose? Go ahead, roll up your sleeves.’ I really want to get into comedy, and I know I can do it. I did get the opportunity to do a scene for Loni Anderson’s (“WKRP in Cincinnati”) agents, a nice, light, corny scene. They literally gaped at me. ‘Hey, this guy is funny! Unique! He’s big and funny!’”
Jake has many close friends in the entertainment industry and spends much of his leisure time with them. He plays basketball with a group of producers and directors each Saturday and jogs three times a week with Paul Pape, who co-starred as “Double J.” in Saturday Night Fever; Steve LaPorte, a makeup artist who does “The Incredible Hulk”; and Paul Carafotes, the star of Headin’ for Broadway. It wasn’t long ago that Jake met his girlfriend, Barbara, when he, Paul, and Steve were having dinner at a Mexican restaurant. “I’d noticed Barbara sitting with a group of girls not too far from us, and I thought, ‘I just have to meet that girl!’” He did, and they’ve been dating ever since.
Jake leans back in his chair, stares out over the swimming pool which is the focal point of his apartment complex, and says, “I guess I could have been happy too if I’d never left New York and gone ahead with my plans to teach physical education at my old high school and eventually run my own gym. But now I see all sorts of things becoming possibilities, and I’m really excited about checking them all out.
“But I’ll always be a bodybuilder. Getting up and going to the gym in the morning is as natural to me as brushing my teeth. And I have to train six days a week anyway to stay in shape for ‘The Hulk.’ For the time being, I won’t be training for a specific contest, but if I think I’m in shape when a contest comes along, I’ll enter. I take things lightly: none of this karma business or digging in and analyzing things to death. I figure what happens, happens, and I hope to God that it’s good. If it’s not, I just pick myself up and start again, and my family is right there behind me.”
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Note by neckberg.com: Irene Hause sent me the article and did a great deal for the world of bodybuilding! She wrote many cool articles. Use my tag-system and click Irene Hause for more.