Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Breakfast with Arnold

In the summer of 1980, I met with Arnold Schwarzenegger for breakfast at Francescos Restaurant in Oakland, California.  Arnold was there to give a presentation on his secrets of bodybuilding.  I was there to be his "follow-up" act.  Just one year before, I had won Mr. USA Masters in Bodybuilding.  13 years prior I had taken silver at the 1967 US Power Lifting Championships in Pennsylvania.  However, my confidence waned as I contemplated the challenge of following in the wake of some one like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Here is that story....

My phone rang early one morning in 1980,  Joe Corsi's voice was urgent, "Paul, I need a big favor.  I contracted Arnold Schwarzenegger for a 3 hour presentation on his secrets of bodybuilding and I've paid him $5000.00 in advance!  He's in the middle of filming "Conan the Barbarian" right now and something came up, I just got notified that he'll only be able to speak for one hour, instead of three.  I've already sold 350 seats at $75.00 each.  I have to fill in the time somehow, everyone is expecting a 3 hr. event.  Can you fill in for Arnold after he leaves?"  Joe was a local California promoter of bodybuilding and bodybuilding competitions.  Before I had realized it, I had agreed to Joe's request.  But, soon enough I began to ponder the potential disaster that was confronting me in just 7 days.  How would I ever follow-up after someone like Arnold?

 Just two hours before the presentation was to begin I found myself sitting at a table across from Arnold, having breakfast at his hotel.  He was in loose-fitting gray sweats covering his massive physic.  His dark brown hair was long, grown out for his part as Conan.  It covered his face as he bent forward at the table eating his huge plate of scrambled eggs and bacon.  We sat for a while not saying a word.  I kept thinking, "How did I get myself into this?".  Struggling to find something to say I finally said, "Arnold, I'm so nervous.  How do you do it?", he was silent for about 30 seconds.  Then, still eating his breakfast, came an answer with his famous deep voice inflected with a heavy accent, "Your the expert, what the hell do they know?  Their the ones that should be nervous, not you!"  His incredible self-confidence was infectious.  I immediately felt energized by his comments and his presence.

The presentation was to be given at  Francesco's Restaurant in Oakland, California.  When we arrived the conference room was packed with over 350 people.  They sat eagerly waiting for Arnold to make his appearance.  Many were disappointed that Arnold would only be staying for the first hour and would not return for the final two hours after the lunch was served.  I expressed my worry to a good friend Bob Perata who owned "Bob's Athletic Club" in Fremont where Arnold trained when he was in the Bay Area.  "Bob," I started "these people came to see Arnold for the full 3 hours, not me.  How are we going to keep them here?  I'm afraid most of them are going to leave after lunch."  Seeing clearly my apprehension  Bob said calmly, "I have an idea."  I followed him to the back of the room where we could talk privately.  "Listen Paul," he began "since you just won Mr. USA, are you up to giving a  posing routine after lunch?"  I looked a bit puzzled and responded, "Yea, but I don't have music or anything with me."  Bob cracked a smile, "Don't worry about that, I've got a plan."

 Arnold took the stage in the same gray sweats he wore during our breakfast.  Even though everyone was eager to hear his secrets of bodybuilding, Arnold spoke mostly about his career in the movies and his current role in Conan the Barbarian.  Everyone seemed to pay rapt attention as he spoke.  With 15 minutes left Arnold took off his baggy sweatshirt.  It is hard to describe the audiences reaction to his sheer size as he stood there in a tank.  He took a few questions from the crowd and then agreed to demonstrate a few poses.  The audience cheered and applauded as Arnold defied the imagination as to what the bodybuilding champion of the world actually looked like in person.  It was all over far too soon, Arnold said "thank you" and disappeared off the stage.

Bob entered on stage after Arnold left.  After waiting for the crowd to quiet down he began, "We're going to break now for lunch, but after lunch we have a incredible bodybuilder, Mr. Paul Yazolino, Mr. USA 1979, who is going to perform a posing routine for you and answer questions on how, if you're over 40, you can still compete in bodybuilding and look amazing.  You're not going to want to miss this!"  When Bob left the stage I tried without success to read the crowds response to my introduction.  Where they going to come back after lunch?  I was still worried.  Through lunch Bob found all the items I needed for a posing routine.

After lunch was over I peeked into the room and was immediately rushed with excitement and adrenalin when I saw that ALL 350+ people had filed back into the room awaiting my presentation.  I was pumped and ready.  My posing routine went off perfectly and the crowd was excited.  I took questions and gave answers for more than 2 hours.  People stayed long after the program was over to meet me and thank me for such a great presentation.  In the end Bob said to me, "Paul, you didn't have anything to be worried about in following after Arnold.  Sometimes you just have to be a little creative."  Bob was right, of course.  This was one of the best experiences of my career, something I'll never forget.