Pumping Iron: Exclusive, Rarely Seen Photos and Stories of The Film That Built Arnold Schwarzenegger!

Could you believe that it has been over four decades from the moment when the wider audience all over the world has begun watching the real-life Hulks from the world of sports, like our personal hero, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and numerous other great bodybuilders like Lou Ferrigno and others, on the big screen? And with it, that became the moment when these professional giants have entered the overall world of pop culture! It happened with the help of the director, George Butler, and his awesome documentary film (better known as docudrama) from 1977, named “Pumping Iron”.


And when it comes to the very beginnings (of pretty much everything) that are directly connected with Arnold, would you be surprised if we tell you that the story, and with it, the film itself, started its life as an utter underdog?! Just as with his first acting attempts, the director Butler’s idea also wasn’t greatly accepted by the producers, and furthermore, even when he began making it, the suspicions about it went even higher. The major reason for it was lying in the fact that George was going into huge lengths of time to get the final deed done. In other words, people who invested their money in it weren’t impressed that this director was planning to spend their finances on a flick in which everything revolves around a muscle guy from Austria, who was totally unknown in the world of movies.


But George Butler and his partner ‘in crime’, Robert Fiore, were not the type of guys who were giving up easily, or letting things get off their hands when there is a pressure. And thanks to their diligence, not just Arnold, but also Lou Ferrigno, became powerhouse names.

That’s how Schwarzenegger’s long path of success, not just as a bodybuilder, but also as a major Hollywood star, and later on as a politician, made its first step. All of it thanks to his iron will, gigantic work ethics, and the proper use of his intellect – but that’s not something that should come as news to those of you, who are familiar with this great man’s life!


The photos that you have a (rare) pleasure to see now, had been taken by George Butler and Charles Gaines for the purposes of the book that followed the process of making the movie, which had the same title. And as you could see, the pictures themselves are telling quite a story themselves, wouldn’t you agree? But of course, the main thing was the film, when it was released three years later, which became a cult classic amongst everyone who’s following Arnold’s footsteps, in the bodybuilding world. Last year, it was its 40th anniversary, and in order to commemorate it properly, the movie “Pumping Iron” was shown last August, the 17th, at the prestigious Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, along with other classic flicks from the same year, that were honouring the world of cinema.

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According to the director George Butler, back in the days of making the film, there was no lack of stigma. But thanks to their endurance in the wish to portray everyone as he truly is, with Arnold Schwarzenegger at the center of it, “Pumping Iron” became a film with a recognizable character, which didn’t pass unnoticed.

But the fact that Arnold was the figure around whom everything and everyone else revolved, didn’t mean that George Butler wasn’t interested in the supporting characters just as equally. He wanted to show the individuality of each and every person from the world of bodybuilding that mattered at the time. For example, people had the chance to see how it was for Serge Nubret, the black bodybuilder from France, during the Mr. Universe contest in 1975, that was held in South Africa, the country in which the apartheid was at its peak, when he came out second at it, right after Schwarzenegger! However, the director didn’t want to ‘go too far’ (and get into major clashes with the producers), and didn’t put the emphasis of the film on it.


His initial idea was to portray the other famous bodybuilder, Lou Ferrigno, as the bad guy in the story, opposing Arnie, in the role of the hero. But even that didn’t happen, mainly because Arnold was insisting, having previously (and during the process) seen that Lou was not really a villain, but actually quite an emotional person, who could end up being ‘wounded’, if that idea was to become the main notion of the documentary. Soon after that, the director George Butler saw this side of Louie as well, and made the decision that he won’t be shown as a bad fellow. He says, that’s why he decided to portray him as a villain who would be ‘mocked’. And that was shown in the following ways. For example, Schwarzenegger would be the one bodybuilder who would be putting his training bench out on the sun and working out outdoors, while Louie would be inside, ‘enjoying’ the trainings in the shadow, inside the gym. At the end, this idea, this contrast in the portraying method of the main characters turned out to be awesome, mainly because he was darker and bigger, whilst Arnold was the opposite of it (if you could believe it).


After “Pumping Iron” became a big success, receiving numerous positive reviews by the critics, as well as being greatly accepted by the (wider) audience, all kinds of stories started to appear – some of them, not so worthy to be mentioned. But that’s only understandable, when a product becomes a huge hit, and eventually, a cult classic, which it is nowadays. However, in reality, this documentary was fulfilled with numerous scenes that were making the viewers feel their hearts melting (as you could see in the photos we’ve prepared for you), like when Arnold poses with an elderly lady, having emotional moments with other people, and numerous others.

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One of the interesting stories which the director George told the media last year (during the anniversary) was how “Arnold the Oak” made a habit of having lunch in Venice, Italy, at the Brown Bagger, where afterwards he used to lying down on a small grass patch, accompanied with the rest of the fellows who were competing, in order to improve his tan. Then there’s another story about him, asking a certain cheerleader from the U.C.L.A, to come and make a photo session with him and the rest of the biggest giants in the world of sports, which ended up as a very cool scene in the movie, and so on…

That’s why if you (still) hadn’t seen it, and you consider yourselves as bodybuilders (regardless whether professionals, or just enthusiasts), we hope that our article about it will help you set things straight, and watch it the first chance you get!

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