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I first met Harvey in the early '50s. I was 6'2" and 145, and had ambitions to play water polo when I got to college, but was so thin an opposing player raking me with an underwater toenail might have found that the width of his nail was broader than anything he was likely to scratch. My cousin, who engaged in a relatively bizarre and questionable activity at the time, bodybuilding, took one look at me and recommended Harvey Easton. Bodybuilding in those days was considered cultish the way followers of Aimee Semple McPherson were cultish. It wasn't exactly respectable and came about by indulging in fantasies read on the back of a comic book, where the 97-pound weakling had sand kicked in his face before he flexed and became Charles Atlas, got the girl and got the bully. If you stopped indulging and actually engaged in the fantasy of bodybuilding, you were more likely, so the warning went, to end up "muscle-bound" and staring in a mirror at Vic Tanny's, narcissistic and naked. Along with masturbation and screenwriting, it was considered not healthy and not nice.
(A writer was either a playwright, a poet, or a novelist—a screenwriter was a pimp. While my family didn't find pimps morally repugnant per se, they found unemployed pimps repellent as a practical matter, and this to them was practically the definition of a screenwriter.)
Harvey Easton was a bodybuilder and a screenwriter, a regular Southern California quinella. He'd actually sold a couple of screenplays, though I don't believe they were ever produced. As I recall, one was a science-fiction fantasy that incorporated a couple of musical numbers, sung by Martians, the music and lyrics to which Harvey wrote (the lyrics certainly). He even played the numbers for me on a piano—once somewhere.
He was, however, a serious and superb instructor. He had won national bodybuilding contests and locally was as well known for his physique as anyone outside of Tanny (this was before the days of Jack LaLanne or even Gypsy Boots). He trained actors for movies. He helped his brother, Greg McClure, get in shape to play John L. Sullivan in the movie The Great John L. Greg was a virtual look-alike for Harvey, but as if someone had tried to draw Harvey and hadn't quite got it right. Finally, it was the gently wicked wit that informed Harvey's features and made them so appealing.
When most gyms were in musty garages and had weightlifiing equipment that looked like the barbells in a Popeye cartoon, Harvey had installed an intricate system of weights and counterweights, machinery for lifting, with which he introduced the contemporary concept of progressive weight training. He built and designed those silver vectors of chrome and steel for the purpose of isolating specific muscle groups and working them out—in many instances more efficiently than free weights possibly could. Balancing the weights for the lifter would minimize injury and their very specificity to a muscle group would place uniform and constant stress on it, making it that much more difficult to cheat while doing the exercise.
To my knowledge the design of Harvey's machinery was never patented and most of it has long since found its way into the standard Universal equipment of today. If Harvey didn't invent the Universal system as it currently exists, I think it's safe to say it wouldn't exist as it does today without his contribution.
At any rate, I went off to college and played water polo, leaving Harvey and a thriving gym with Hurrell-like signed photos covering the walls—of stars such as Tony Curtis, Gower Champion, Kirk Douglas among many others—and while he never had an 8 X 10 glossy there, I do remember seeing Christopher Isherwood putting in time on weight machines, which was quite impressive enough for me.
Ten years later, I was struggling as a screenwriter and I found myself working out at Easton's with a close friend, a struggling actor named Jack Nicholson, who enjoyed Harvey's towel flicking tone at least as much as I did.
I'd gone from high school to college to unemployment, but Harvey hadn't changed a bean. His daughter had married and Harvey was a 40-year-old grandfather. When he'd bring the two-year-old towheaded toddler up to the gym, Harvey looked like a young father, hoisting his grandson on his right shoulder like Swee'pea while he continued to bark and banter his barrage of instructions to a wild and polyglot clientele.
Because Harvey was a bodybuilder's bodybuilder, like other forgotten but skilled men from the past—Tanny, Bert Goodrich, Vince Gironda, Joe Gold, Zabo Koszewski—his gym was frequented by serious bodybuilders. It was a muscle pit, a place where serious weight-lifters seriously lifted. It was also immaculate and pleasing and attracted well-known actors because they were unlikely to get pounced on by Main Street thugs or stray Merchant Marines. Being in West Hollywood, for one thing, it also attracted an enormous number of gays. This was at a time when tolerance for sexual preference wasn't a foregone conclusion, in a gym or anywhere else.