February 5, 2014

Legend of a bodybuilding photographer

Posted by WARREN PERLEY – Editor, BestStory.ca
Writing from Montreal

Photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger before defending the title for his fifth Mr. Olympia contest in 1974.

Still active as a trainer of bodybuilders, Montreal’s Jimmy Caruso is once again being lauded as a “legend”, both as a poser and as a photographer, for his classic shots of seven-time Mr. Olympia Arnold Schwarzenegger whom Caruso first photographed in 1969, two years after Arnold arrived in New York City as a 19-year-old and won the Mr. Universe title.

The high praise for both Caruso and Schwarzenegger comes in the March 2014 issue of New York-based Muscular Development magazine which features one of Caruso’s most famous photographs of Schwarzenegger on its front cover, a side view with his right bicep flexed at shoulder level and his left arm flexed with hand and fingers touching waist.

The magazine’s centrepiece foldout features the best-known photo ever recorded of Schwarzenegger, again taken by Caruso, showing the bodybuilder posing with his back to the camera, arms flexed with elbows pointed towards the ground.

Steve Blechman, publisher and editor-in-chief of Muscular Development, states in his Editor’s Letter in the March 2014 issue that Caruso taught Schwarzenegger how to pose. “Both men soared to iconic status, with Arnold becoming the greatest bodybuilder of all time and Caruso being named the greatest physique photographer” by the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB), he writes.

Early in their careers, both Caruso and Schwarzenegger's paths crossed with the founders of the IFBB, brothers Joe and Ben Weider, who overcame impoverished Depression-era childhoods in Montreal to found a global bodybuilding empire that included multiple health and bodybuilding magazines, exercise supplements and equipment, as well as Olympia bodybuilding contests.

[As an adolescent in the 1960s, I used to save my weekly allowance for a yearly visit to buy bodybuilding equipment at the Weiders’ international headquarters on Bates Road, six blocks from my home in the Cote des Neiges area. I remember getting goosebumps every time I saw the large-format posters of famous bodybuilders which adorned the walls in the reception area.]

Now Caruso has been hired as a consultant for a Hollywood movie on the lives and careers of the Weider brothers to be produced by Steve Lee Jones and directed by Brad Furman. Jones produced the acclaimed 2011 film on right-to-die pathologist Jack Kevorkian titled You Don’t Know Jack and starring Al Pacino, Susan Sarandon and John Goodman. Furman directed the 2011 film The Lincoln Lawyer, starring Matthew McConaughey. That film grossed almost $100 million.

Jones, who has been nominated for Golden Globe and Emmy awards, told journalist Dan Solomon, senior features editor at Muscular Development magazine and founder of the popular Pro BodyBuilding Worldwide online radio show, that the working title of the new movie is Bigger, with a projected production budget of $30 million and shooting scheduled to begin in 2014. In fact, Solomon was hired as co-executive producer for the film after he introduced Jones to Eric Weider, Ben’s son and Joe’s nephew, who will share the title of executive producer with Solomon.

Eric Weider was so impressed with Jone’s plans to produce a first-rate biopic on the lives of his father and uncle that he granted Jones “exclusive rights” to the life story of his famous father and uncle who passed away in 2008 and 2013, respectively. Ben died at age 85 and Joe passed away at age 93.

Jones told Solomon that his film will focus on the story of Joe and his younger brother, Ben, starting with their childhood growing up on Coloniale Avenue in the working class Le Plateau area of Montreal near famous St. Lawrence Boulevard, known as The Main and the unofficial dividing line between the mainly French-speaking east end and the predominantly English-speaking west end of Montreal.

The film will focus on the brothers fighting to overcome “rampant” anti-Semitism as they worked to organize a global bodybuilding movement which they converted into a multi-billion-dollar empire.

Both Schwarzenegger and Caruso have warm memories of the Weider brothers. Joe Weider took Schwarzenegger under his wing after he arrived in America from Austria in 1967, moving him to California, where he supported him with an apartment and salary while supplying him with the most advanced bodybuilding equipment and training. Joe Weider, himself a weightlifter, became Arnold’s official sponsor and used his influence to gain him entry into the movie business.

I remember Jimmy Caruso from an article I assigned one of our reporters, Leanne Murray to do in July 1989 for our west-end Montreal newspaper called The Weekly Herald. At the time, Caruso was about to launch a gym in Decarie Square in west-end Montreal in partnership with Ben Weider.

Leanne quoted him as saying of the most famous photo he took of Schwarzenegger, which appears, once again, in the March 2014 centrefold of Muscular Development magazine: “We worked for hours on that one pose. Arnold knows how meticulous I am.”

The gym, equipped by Ben Weider but operating under the management and name of Caruso, opened later in 1989. Now under a different owner and name, the gym is in the same spot, and so is Caruso. In his late 80s and still lean as a Whippet, he continues to train both weekend athletes, as well as serious bodybuilders, such as 20-year-old Max Garneau-Pillet, who Caruso recently told me has the potential to be one of the best bodybuilders in the world.

(You can see a photo of Caruso with his protege, Garneau-Pillet, on our FaceBook Page.)

Garneau-Pillet will be the surprise guest poser at the Cobourg Naturals bodybuilding and fitness contest in Cobourg, Ontario on March 29, 2014. Jimmy Caruso will undoubtedly be nearby directing his charge and snapping photos, much as he did 45 years ago for another aspiring bodybuilder from Austria, capturing on celluloid the most memorable poses in bodybuilding history.