INTERVIEW BY PETER McGOUGH
Edited by: Strength Oldschool
From boy to man: over a 40-year period, Arnold Schwarzenegger went from being an 18-year-old kid with a dream to Mr. Olympia to Hollywood megastardom to the governorship of California. Close friend Albert Busek was there every heady step of the way. This is his story of that incredible journey.
Albert Busek was born in Munich, Germany, on October 11, 1943. Shortly before his 16th birthday, he and boyhood pal Erich Janner visited a local cinema to see Hercules Unchained, starring Steve Reeves. It changed the lives of the two German teenagers forever. The experience hooked them on bodybuilding for life. The duo found a local sauna club with a small adjoining room that housed a few free weights. Undaunted, Albert and Erich had their first workout on October 14, 1959. (You’ll learn that Albert is very good with dates.)
Bit by bit, Albert (pictured above in 1993) became more immersed in the bodybuilding scene. In 1960, he helped out with the organization of the first German Bodybuilding Championships. He also was hired as an assistant at the only real gym in Munich at that time. In tandem with those duties, he was studying to be an economic engineer. In 1963, the 20-year-old (shades of Joe Weider) was cofounder of the magazine Sport Revue.
After completing his studies in October 1964, he became the full-time manager of the gym and the editor of Sport Revue. He was 21 years old. Albert Busek went on to become an international force in bodybuilding as an official, contest organizer, writer and photographer. He promoted 30 German championships, the 1983 Mr. Olympia in Munich and many other contests and events. He was the founder of the German Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation and its president from 1966 to 1993. Sport Revue has been in existence for 42 years, and this past February at the Ironman Pro Invitational, Albert received the Artie Zeller award for photographic excellence. He also ran his own successful gym, Busek Sport Center in Munich from 1983-99.
Erich Janner is general secretary of the German federation and a highly respected international judge and official. Since 2002, Janner has been chairman of the judges committee of the European federation. I have known Albert for 20 years and, in my experience, his passion for the sport is unrivaled. His resume is accented with class, dignity and good-natured humor. Yeah, I like the guy. Today he stands uniquely as the man who has known Arnold Schwarzenegger longer and more closely than anyone in the sport. The two are tighter than Shawn Ray’s wallet.
On a rainy afternoon in Pasadena, California, shortly after the prejudging of the 2005 Ironman Pro, Albert and I met to discuss things Schwarzenegger, particularly his early days in the sport.
FLEX: When was the first time you became aware of the name Arnold Schwarzenegger?
ALBERT BUSEK: In early 1965, I began to hear that there was a guy in Graz [Austria] who was an outstanding bodybuilding talent. In October 1965, I coproduced a contest in Stuttgart called the Best Built Man in Europe. Arnold didn’t apply to enter the contest, he just showed up. In those days, you could do that. He was in the Austrian army and came to Stuttgart without permission, and when he returned, they disciplined him for it. He was 18 and, immediately upon seeing him, I knew everything I had heard about him was true. He won the contest easily, beating the best German guy we’d had in years, Franz Dischinger.
After the show, I took Arnold to a restaurant. I already knew that, physically, he had the greatest potential I’d ever seen. As we talked, his personality and sense of fun made a deep impression on me. He had a hunger for success and a drive for improvement I’d never experienced in anyone before or since. He told me he was looking to make the next step in his bodybuilding career. He told me his ambition was to eventually go to the United States, become the best bodybuilder in the world and be a movie star.
Even at 18, he had those ambitions?
Yes. Right from the beginning, he had this incredible drive to be on top–to be number one. To make that “next step,” I convinced him to come to Munich and work in the gym I managed, Universum Sportstudio. Thal, near Graz, was a village and Munich was a big city, and he saw the move as being a major step forward in his plan to go to America.
Our meeting was October 31, 1965, and Arnold had to go back to the army. They let him go at the end of July 1966, and two days after his 19th birthday, he came to Munich on August 1, 1966.
[Pic above:] Young Arnold in 1966 Training in the Army.
You remember all these dates, Albert?
Yes, 1965 was a big year for me. I got married, our son was born, and I met Arnold.
What was Arnold’s life like when he first came to Munich?
He worked as a trainer at the gym. At that time, I was running the gym, producing Sport Revue and working for the federation. Arnold lived in the gym in a small room until he eventually got his own apartment.
[Pic above:] Young Arnold Schwarzenegger Gym Coaching in 1967
At that time, you were 23, he was 19. Were you his mentor?
No. From the start, the relationship was based on friendship. Even though I was older, I wasn’t his mentor. He was, is, very independent. I think any other 19-year-old coming from a village like Thal to a large city like Munich would have maybe taken a year to settle in–Arnold took a few weeks. He adjusted very quickly. In those days, weight training was not fashionable. The people who trained in the gym were strictly bodybuilders, powerlifters, wrestlers and some boxers. One wrestler who trained in the gym, and who Arnold came to know well, was Harold Sakata, famous for playing Odd Job in the James Bond movie Goldfinger (see photo below).
With bodybuilding not being common, did Arnold, at his size, get noticed when he was out and about in Munich?
Yes, within no time he was like a personality in the city. Everywhere he went, he stood out, and in accepting the attention with fun, he engaged everyone he met. Even in those days, he was a natural leader–a leader who led with friendship and example. I always say that Arnold acted as a locomotive for pulling other bodybuilders into new areas. They would see what confidence he had, what he achieved at a young age, and he would tell them “If I can do it, you can do it.”
There was another bodybuilder in the gym who, like Arnold, had come from a small village. The two struck up a friendship, and Arnold, through his understanding of the similarity of their backgrounds, was able to encourage this young bodybuilder to a level he would have never reached alone.
Arnold came to Munich in August 1966 and the NABBA Universe was in London in September that year. What are your recollections of Arnold entering the contest?
There was another gym in Munich owned by Reinhard Smolana, who won the first Mr. Germany title. His gym had some equipment that was different from the Universum, so now and then Arnold would train there just to work some muscles from a different angle. Arnold told Smolana he was entering the 1966 NABBA Universe and Smolana told him, “You can’t go there, Paul Nash [ 1963 Mr. Britain and 1965 NABBA Universe tall-class winner - see pic below ] is competing. He’s so big, he will wipe you off the stage.”
Nevertheless, Smolana organized a fundraiser in his gym to pay for Arnold’s plane ticket to London. I was supportive of Arnold and always believed in him. I told him, “The ’66 Universe is your first big international test. You must enter and then you will find out where you stand in the scheme of things and how good you are.”
Arnold went to London for the Universe without any prior publicity. Nobody knew who he was, but he was a sensation. From the moment the fans saw this new giant onstage, it was like a thunderstorm had struck. They began cheering “Arnold! Arnold! Arnold!” like crazy. With his charisma, Arnold, who was always comfortable onstage, connected with the fans and they couldn’t get enough of him. They swarmed after him for autographs when he came out of the theater. In the tall class, he finished second to Chet Yorton, who was vastly experienced.
Yorton went on to win the overall. Some thought Arnold could have beaten Yorton, but anyway, it was a terrific showing for 19-year-old Arnold. Paul Nash was fourth [in the tall class].
Did Joe Weider know of Arnold at that time?
I made sure he did. I told everybody, including Joe, to get ready for the “Schwarzenegger Era.” After the ’66 Universe, Arnold came back to Munich. He started to prepare for the 1967 Universe. In ’66, he had come in second as a complete outsider, but he didn’t compete for seconds. His hunger was so huge that the only thing that really counted for him was winning. For ’67, he had that extra push, that extra drive, to be better than ’66 so that there would be no doubt he was the winner. He won the tall class, beating Dennis Tinerino [1967 Mr. America], and then won the overall. [See pics below].
What was Joe Weider’s response to that win?
He replied positively, but still no offer to come to the States. It was a different age then. People just didn’t jump on a plane at the drop of a hat; there wasn’t an Internet where news and photos were transmitted instantly. Joe was very busy building his business and the timing was not quite right.
The truth was there never had been a superstar bodybuilder from mainland Europe. All the top guys were Americans. I knew that Arnold would not only be a challenge for the best bodybuilders in the world, but that he was destined to be the best. He himself was prepared to wait. He would say “I know one day I will get the invite and when I do, I will take it with both hands and never look back.”
In early 1968, Joe and I met in Dusseldorf and I had told him again about the Schwarzenegger Era. I realized immediately that Joe was a true bodybuilding fan. When you sit in front of him, the discussions about body building go from one aspect to another. I shared that same sort of love, and I think my passion for Arnold’s potential made an impact on him.
In 1968, Arnold entered the NABBA Pro Universe, and he won easily. Before the contest, I had sent Joe pictures of Arnold. It was clear he had made remarkable progress from 1967. He weighed 110 kilos [about 240 pounds], which today would be like a guy weighing maybe 150 kilos [about 330 pounds]. Joe could see the potential, and when Arnold won the ’68 Pro Universe (see pic below), he sent a paid invitation for Arnold to go to Miami to compete at the 1968 IFBB Mr. Universe.
Was anyone else trying to sign Arnold?
What no one knows is that Arnold had a terrible problem in getting to the 1968 NABBA Universe contest in London. A few days before the contest, the owner of our gym presented Arnold with an endorsement contract, which Arnold would not sign because the guy would have owned all sorts of rights for life. The owner owed Arnold 1,000 deutsche marks for a guest appearance he had made at the European Championships I had organized in Munich two weeks earlier. Because Arnold would not sign the contract, the owner refused to pay him the 1,000 deutsche marks. Arnold was counting on that money for his flight to London. In front of the owner, my boss, I gave Arnold 500 deutsche marks for his plane ticket and risked losing my job.
Anyway, he went to London, won the contest and Joe invited him to the Miami contest. Of course, when Arnold competed at that contest (1968 IFBB Mr Universe - Arnold Losing to Frank Zane - see pic below), he lost to Frank Zane, who was approximately 50 pounds lighter.
Joe saw that Arnold was still developing and that Zane’s symmetry and sharpness gave him the edge. He knew that when Arnold refined and chiseled down, he would be unbeatable. He invited Arnold to California for photo shoots and gave him a small contract to enable him to live there.
Could the loss to Zane have devastated Arnold’s confidence?
When anything bad happens to Arnold, he turns it into a positive. Losing to Zane was hard for him, but it brought home to him the fact that although he was bigger than anyone, to be the best, he had to start carving in all the details and improve his overall balance. Losing only made his hunger greater. OK, he was number one in Europe, had won the NABBA Pro Universe at 21, which nobody had done before, but here he was in the USA where the best bodybuilders were–now he had to improve to win against them. Looking back, losing to Zane was maybe the best thing that could have happened. It lit Arnold’s fire even more. In any case, he had made the journey from Thal to Munich to California, and now his sights were firmly set on being Mr. Olympia.
When he moved to California, how did you keep in touch with him?
By airmail. He would write page after page. I still have his old letters, which I treasure dearly. He would tell me in his letters about how he was settling in. It was tough for him, being 21 years old and unable to speak English, but being one step closer to the Olympia was all that mattered. Joe Gold at the original Gold’s Gym became a kind of father figure to Arnold and would help him out. Dave Draper was another who was very kind to Arnold when he first went to California.
[Photographer] Artie Zeller (see pic below) took Arnold under his wing and helped him learn the language. Artie was a big influence on him and they were very close. When Artie died in 1999, Arnold visited him on the last night and held his hand for hours, even though Artie had slipped into a coma. [In earlier times,] Arnold would tell Artie of his ambitions to be a movie star, and Artie would say, “You cannot make it in the movies. Look at you, you’re a monster, you have that accent and that unpronounceable name.” [Film mogul] Dino De Laurentiis, who produced Conan the Destroyer [and Conan the Barbarian], told Arnold the same thing.
When and how did Franco Columbu join Arnold in California?
Arnold was the first one to talk to Joe Weider about it. I wrote to Joe and told him that it would be really good if Franco, Arnold’s training partner from Munich, could join him in California. I told Joe that Franco was a short guy with an immense talent. Although weighing 75 kilos [165 pounds], he could deadlift 330 kilos [728 pounds], which was phenomenal in those days.
I told Joe that Arnold would settle down better if his friend was there. Joe agreed. Franco went across, and he and Arnold started their own bricklaying business to supplement the wage Joe gave them.
Today, when people think of bodybuilding endorsement contracts, they think of figures way above the average household income. It may surprise many to learn that Arnold had to do bricklaying to supplement his income.
He had to do it to live. Arnold’s attitude has always been that you have to be active. Even when working out, he’d never sit down between sets. He’d always move about, keeping active. I don’t think he could have just worked out twice a day and then done nothing else. He had to be active when he was outside the gym: be it physically doing another job or, as he did later, studying at college in business administration and looking after his mailorder business. For him, action is mandatory to success. You can’t stand and wait for success to come to you–you have to make it happen.
How did you, Franco and Arnold first meet?
Franco and I met before either of us had met Arnold. Franco had come to Munich from Sardinia to further his boxing career. He was already there working out in the gym to improve his strength when Arnold arrived. They became friends immediately. Arnold was the big guy; Franco was this short but immensely powerful guy. Arnold would crack jokes about Franco’s height and Franco would reply. At that time, Franco was still learning German and sometimes the things he told Arnold didn’t come across in the right way and Arnold would have fun with that. They were friends from the start.
The three of you have been friends for nearly 40 years. What’s the secret to the friendship?
We always supported each other in whatever one of us got involved in. We have similar senses of humor. We went through lows but mastered them, coming out stronger and closer than before.
Did you visit Arnold and Franco in California?
Not until 1974. I couldn’t make it because of my personal situation. You and I have something in common: we both lost a son. My son, who was born in 1965, became ill with bone cancer and, after a long illness, he passed away in 1972. During his illness, I couldn’t travel far. Arnold, being the good friend he is, was constantly in touch with me. After my son died, I couldn’t get anything else into my head. I gained a lot of weight, went up to 105 kilos [231 pounds], which is a lot for me. In 1973, Arnold visited me in Munich and told me I was a fat pig. He said I must come and visit him in California in 1974, and I had to be lean. That year, I did visit him for the housewarming party he was having for his new home on 19th Street in Santa Monica. Arnold came to the airport to collect me and didn’t recognize me–I had dropped 30 kilos [66 pounds]. That was my first trip to California, and I stayed four weeks. In retrospect, next to my home state of Bavaria, I consider California my second home state.
From your perspective, tell us about the rivalry between Arnold and Sergio Oliva.
When Arnold entered his first Olympia  against Sergio, the reigning champ, he felt he could beat him. But on the day, Sergio won. And that was OK. Sergio was a freak of nature with his 27″ waist, massive thighs and 21″ arms–he was unbelievable. Arnold accepted it like an athlete, and again took that defeat as motivation to come back even better the next year. Of course, in 1970, Arnold defeated Sergio, and then never lost another contest. When Sergio lost to Arnold again at the 1972 Olympia in Essen, Germany, it caused a lot of controversy. All I have to say is that bodybuilding is a sport that is decided by a judging panel. You have to make that judging panel look upon you as a winner. Your every action onstage must say “Hey! I’m the winner!” You have to employ strategy to pull that off–Arnold did that, Sergio didn’t.
In their battles, I wouldn’t say Arnold tricked Sergio, but he made him unsure of himself. In Essen, Sergio as he had become famous for–pumped up backstage for an hour. He just grew before your eyes. I saw him and thought he was unbeatable. When he got onstage, the pump deflated and he shrank. The judges saw that. That was the wrong strategy for Sergio. In that respect, whatever you think of their physiques, Arnold was a much better competitor, a much better strategist, than Sergio.
What was Arnold’s relationship like with Joe Weider at that time?
There have been stories they had a love-hate relationship.
They had their moments, but to call it a love-hate relationship would be totally wrong. I think Arnold exemplified everything–physique- and personality wise–that Joe looked for in an athlete. He probably felt that with Arnold, who had such tremendous drive, his own dream for the sport could come true faster. As for the fruits of the relationship, everybody got his share. Arnold got his, Joe got his. Who got the biggest share is not the issue; they both gained from it. And Arnold learned a lot about business from Joe. Today, Arnold thinks the world of Joe, and Joe thinks the world of Arnold.
If someone had told you 40 or even 20 years ago that Arnold would become governor of California one day, would you have believed it?
I would answer the question this way. In 1992, at the Great American Workout at the White House [an event organized by Arnold in his then role as chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports], I did an interview with Cory SerVaas, editor-in-chief of Saturday Evening Post magazine. She is a doctor, very bright, and a great lady. One of her questions was “When do you think Arnold is going into politics?” I told her, it would be any year after he turned 55 [ Arnold turned 55 in 2002 ]. I always knew that the next step in his career after the movies would be in a political role, in some form of government, but essentially in a role in which he would serve the people. As Arnold always goes for the top, it was no surprise to me that he ran for governor of California, but the circumstances were a big surprise to me.
That need to serve is the drive? Not that it’s another arena in which to be famous?
Some people may be cynical, but he really wants to serve the people, to give back, because his life in America, and particularly California, has been so great. Being governor for him is like coming home–it’s what he wants to do. I’ve spent days with him on the campaign trail and in his office. His schedule wipes you out. You spend several days with him and you need a vacation. He just goes on day after day, enjoying it, enjoying the fact that he is achieving things for the people of California. He has all these meetings, briefings, speeches, press conferences, talks with politicians, consumer groups and lobbyists. His day never ends, and he wouldn’t be doing it if he didn’t absolutely want to do it, if he wasn’t happy to give back–if he didn’t have the hunger to give back. That is the simple truth.
With all he’s accomplished, what do you think is Arnold’s greatest talent?
His greatest talent is his ability to learn new skills, to search and find the people who can teach him or advise him on how to attain those skills. Then he masters these new skills and uses them when he goes in a new direction. Whether it be how to win a bodybuilding contest, become a successful businessman, make it big in movies, and now in the political arena. He just adds, adds, adds to his fund of knowledge and skills all the time. Most people can add a little bit here and there, or in only one direction, but he has added in all directions. He’s learned from everything he does and has become a better all-around person for it. Believe me, I never thought Arnold would rise so high in certain aspects of his personality, but he did–he surprises me all the time. Arnold is the Arnold he is today because of the learning process he has gone, and continues to go, through. His ability to learn is unparalleled by anyone I’ve ever known.
Have you ever seen anything shake him?
I think for him the deepest, saddest moment of his life was when his mother [Aurelia Schwarzenegger] passed away in August 1998. He didn’t show it too much on the outside, but inside he was suffering. As a lifelong friend, I could see that his mother’s death really got to him on a deep level.
Of all the times you had with Arnold, what memory stands out?
It has to do with the heart operation he had in April 1997 to correct a faulty aortic valve. He had the choice to have the surgery or be on medication for the rest of his life and getting weaker on an unforeseeable level. As always, Arnold took a calculated risk and had the surgery. I spent some time with him before the operation. I flew to New York, 10 days before the surgery, to be at his side when he received the Simon Wiesenthal award [the National Leadership Award].
In June, after he had recovered from the operation, we went to Schladming in the Austrian Alps, where his mother used to vacation. We were in rooms next to each other and on the morning of June 29, which is St. Peter and Paul’s Day and means a lot to me, we got up at about 4 AM to watch the second Evander Holyfield / Mike Tyson fight–the one where Tyson bit off part of Holyfield’s ear. We were so pissed at what happened, we decided to go out for a walk to get the fight out of our system. It was a Sunday morning at about 6 AM, when we decided to walk a route we hadn’t done before. We walked down into this valley as the sky was getting lighter.
We walked up the hill on the far side of the valley as dawn started to break. We got to the top and down below was another valley and this great and beautiful scene of a freshly cut meadow. Behind it, the Alps were reaching up to the skies, which were now becoming bright. It was like a painting. Arnold looked down at the meadow for some moments, and then he stumbled into the meadow, which was covered in newly cut hay, and as he did, he bent down and with both hands scooped up a bundle of hay. At that moment, the sun came up over the Alps, and this man who had just recovered from serious heart surgery pressed the hay into his face, smelling its freshness, and he looked up into the air and gasped, “Life!” That unforgettable moment of thanks sums up the lust for life that Arnold has and is a memory I will cherish until my dying day.
INTERVIEW BY PETER McGOUGH
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ALBERT BUSEK
COPYRIGHT 2005 Weider Publications
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