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Dan Lurie was born in Brooklyn, New York City in 1923 and was a founding father of bodybuilding and a physical fitness pioneer. A world-class bodybuilder in the 1940s, by 1949 he had won the Mr. America title of "America's Most Muscular Man" four times.
In 1948, Lurie established the International Federation of Body Builders and he owned the Dan Lurie Gyms and Health Clubs. He died a the age of 90 - 7 months after his birthday.
The following is a closer look at the extraordinary life of Dan Lurie.
All of us who chose a life of health, strength and physical culture had our early heroes. I remember as a twelve year old kid looking at the photographs from the various muscle magazines pinned up on the gym wall in absolute awe. Those who particularly caught my eye were Steve Reeves, Reg Park, Marvin Eder and one of a young Dan Lurie taken around the time he won the title, 'Most Muscular Man in America'.
At left - Dan Lurie won the title, “Most Muscular Man in America.” Photograph courtesy of Dan Lurie
Fast forward to 2010. I bought a large amount of used weights. They were all old brands such as York, Billard, Roberts and Dan Lurie. My mind went back to his photograph and to the first copy of his magazine, 'Muscle Training illustrated', I had purchased. I wondered where he was now. I was pleased to find he has a website and that he was living not far from me on Long Island. After all these years I could finally meet one of my early inspirations. In April 2011 I sent him a letter requesting a meeting. Several days later I received a call. His first words were, “Peter did you do your pushups today?” He spoke as if he already knew me in a warm and friendly manner. We talked for around ten minutes and arranged a lunch date.
Dan Lurie has spent a lifetime in physical culture, has done just about everything in the health and fitness industry, and he has known nearly all the greats of the Iron Game. I would like to present some of his achievements and what we discussed over lunch. I would also like to recommend reading 'Heart of Steel — The Dan Lurie Story', a fascinating chronicle of a life well lived (available from Amazon).
Dan was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. April 1, 1923 into a warm and loving family. His father owned a furniture moving company and was a strong man weighing a solid two hundred pounds at a height of five feet eight. He had trained at one time with famous Coney Island strongman, Warren Lincoln Travis.
Although it was discovered soon after his birth that he had a hole in his heart with a gloomy prognosis from the doctors, Dan thrived under his mother’s loving care. With a good appetite and abundant energy Dan participated in all the usual childhood games and sports. In High School he excelled at many physical activities, including gymnastics, achieving one hundred percent mark each semester. However, it was thoughts of a career in boxing that drew Dan’s attention. Dan trained with his brother Morris at Ferkie’s Gym in Brownsville. Before long he was ready to try his hand in a Golden Gloves Tournament. As fate would have it Dan’s hopes were dashed when at the pre-fight medical he was judged unfit to box due to a heart murmur. Although Dan was despondent it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Soon after, Dan met a man who became a friend and mentor and guided him to what would become his life’s path. This man was Terry Robinson, himself an ex-boxer turned bodybuilder. Terry placed in the top six at both the 1940 and 1941 Mr. America Contests. He was also featured on the cover of June 1942 Strength and Health Magazine. He later went to live in Los Angeles working as a fitness trainer at the movie studios. He became an accomplished artist and raised Mario Lanza’s children after the great tenor passed away.
In 1939 Dan joined the Adonis Health Club in Brooklyn and came under the tutelage of weightlifting coach Hy Schaeffer. At first Dan concentrated on Olympic lifting, but he soon decided it was bodybuilding where he wanted to put his energy.
At the age of eighteen Dan entered his first physique contest, Mr. New York City. He finished last. Far from being deflated, Dan made up his mind to train harder, to achieve greatness and to become a champion.
Dan’s focus was not on just building size, but balance, symmetry and muscularity. His foundation training had left him pretty strong, and at a bodyweight of 162 pounds he could snatch 190lbs, clean and jerk 260lbs, curl 145lbs and prone press 260lbs. He was also able to right hand bent press 210lbs, a difficult lift in which he eventually hoisted 285lbs. However, Dan had an abundance of energy and he loved to do endurance type feats, some of which were 1225 parallel bar dips in one and a half hours and 1665 floor dips in the same time frame.
Dan told me that he preferred to do high rep training but still using the heaviest weights he could manage in good form. He felt this gave him both muscle size and definition. He also liked to be pushed and challenged in his training. He would try to do two reps to his training partner’s one. Blessed with good recovery ability, Dan would rest little between exercises, and he could work out most days even after a hard day’s work moving furniture with his father.
I asked Dan about his training over the years. He told me he would always emphasize the endurance aspect. After he had built up a decent weight in an exercise he would then concentrate on adding more reps at this same weight. He believes this builds good cardiovascular health too. One interesting method he would employ with a training partner was to pick an exercise, biceps curl for example, and do one rep, pass the bar to his partner who would do one rep and then back again for two reps and so on until no more reps were possible. Later, to increase the intensity he would pick five exercises and again start with one rep of each exercise alternating with his partner. Then continue as before with two reps of each exercise and so on.
Prior to his first Mr. America Contest Dan performed what has become known as “drop sets” which goes to show there is nothing much really new in training. For this, Dan would use a weight that allowed him to perform about 10 reps in good form, drop the weight to allow another 10 reps or so, dropping the weight for a third and final set of as many reps as possible.
While this obviously worked for Dan, he is quick to point out that each individual must find the optimum method of training for him/herself. For this, some experimentation must take place and some thinking outside of the box. And, although Dan always endorses and promotes weight training, he believes walking is the best exercise for everyone.
At left - Dan wrote a superb book with David Robson. It can be purchased at Amazon.
Photograph courtesy of Dan Lurie
Besides the obvious attention to training, diet and rest, Dan clearly pointed out that the correct mindset is just as important in order to be successful at any endeavor, whether bodybuilding or business.
The second contest that Dan entered was the 1942 AAU Junior Mr. America placing second as well as winning the Most Muscular Man Award. This, of course, was a great boost to Dan’s confidence after the initial let down, and it had him setting his sights on the 1942 Mr. America title.
Dan went on to compete in the 1942, 1943 and 1944 Mr. America Contests. In each event he placed second overall and won the Most Muscular Man title. He also won many Best Body Part titles at these contests.
It must be understood that body building contests were relatively new at that time. No real criteria for judging had been developed, and some of the judges were not really qualified. Of course, then as now, politics also played a part.
At that time, besides the overall title winner, awards were given for the Most Muscular Competitor and also for Best Arms, Chest, Legs, etc. At another stage in the development of physique contests the most muscular bodybuilder would most likely have won.
At any rate, Dan hung up his posing trunks after being denied entry into the 1945 Mr. America Competition. The reason the AAU, who ran the show, gave was that since Dan’s photograph had appeared in an advertisement in 'Your Physique Magazine' he must be considered a professional. Even though Dan had not been paid, and the fact that 1942 Mr. America Frank Leight worked as a manager at Sig Klein’s gym, and 1943 Mr. America Jules Bacon worked for Bob Hoffman at York, did not sway the decision.
After retiring from competitive bodybuilding, Dan continued to advance the sport, and he continued to promote health and strength for the average person.
He did this in a number of ways: first, as a manufacturer and distributor of exercise equipment via the Dan Lurie Barbell Company. Dan started this company in the 1940’s in the basement of his parent’s home. Eventually, he moved the company to a facility on Utica Avenue in Brooklyn. Finally, in 1980, he moved this enterprise into a two-floor building of 50,000 square feet in Queens.
Many a young man in the New York area started his training with a Dan Lurie Barbell set, including famous T.V. personality and long time friend of Dan, Regis Philbin.
Dan opened his first gym in 1943 in Brooklyn, and over the years he operated eight gyms in the New York area and one in Florida. Many of the early bodybuilding champs from New York got their start in one of these gyms where television and big screen personalities also trained.
At right - Lurie played “Sealtest Dan” on the CBS television series, Sealtest Big Top Show. This show was a big hit with children. Photograph courtesy of Dan Lurie
From 1950 until 1957, Dan appeared every Saturday on a children’s T.V. show called Sealtest Big Top Show aired on CBS. The show was sponsored by the Sealtest Dairy Company. Dan played the part of “Sealtest Dan, the Muscle Man”.
Each week Dan would perform feats of strength and endurance attributed in part to consumption of Sealtest products. This was in fact true as Dan did consume large quantities of their famous ice cream. From obscure bodybuilder, Dan became a household name and his show was watched by many adults too, including the great Steve Reeves. This exposure, of course, helped Dan’s equipment business and helped launch him into the publishing industry.
Dan had always intended to publish a magazine devoted to bodybuilding providing the best instruction available. Although it would feature the big names in bodybuilding, it also had to have routines and training advice applicable to the regular readers. However, due to running his Barbell Company, his T.V. commitments and taking care of his growing family, it was not until 1965 that the first issue of Muscle Training Illustrated (MTI) appeared on the newsstands. The cover features the amazing physique of Reg Park. MTI ran for 180 issues until 1993, and it featured just about every known competing bodybuilder of that time frame.Two young up and comers who would go on to achieve big things got most of their early exposure in MTI. Lou Ferrigno came under Dan’s guidance at the age of sixteen, and his training progress and development were regular features in MTI. Although Arnold Schwarzenegger had been well promoted in British and European strength journals, he was, in 1969 when Dan first met him, a relative unknown in the USA. In fact MTI was probably the first magazine to do a full feature on Arnold. It appeared in the December 1968 issue and was penned by Rick Wayne. In addition, the article was accompanied by six photographs. Even though Arnold had no official affiliation with Dan, he was regularly featured in MTI in those early days, which obviously helped to promote his career.
Besides the aforementioned MTI, Dan also published other sport/fitness related magazines, such as Karate Training Illustrated and Wrestling Training Illustrated. During the time Dan published these magazines he was able to come in contact with many of the new up and coming bodybuilders, helping their careers and forming strong friendships with many that have lasted to present times. Most satisfying to Dan, I feel, is that he was able to reach and provide training advice to the many thousands who weight trained for increased strength, health and vitality in their basement or garage gym.
'Muscle Training Illustrated' also served as a vehicle to promote bodybuilding contests under the banner of World Body Building Guild. Dan actually ran his first physique show in 1944. This was the Mr. Brooklyn Contest. This was followed by Mr. New York City and Mr. East Coast contests.
At left - The first IFBB poster. Dan Lurie, not Joe Weider, came up with the name International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB) and he promoted the first IFBB event.
What many do not know is that Dan came up with the name International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB) and promoted in 1948 the very first physique contest under that banner. A poster of that event reads, Dan Lurie presents “Mr. New York State Contest and Professional Show – Sanctioned by the International Federation of Bodybuilders,” dated January 15, 1948.
Between 1948 and 1965 Dan promoted a number of small local shows, such as Mr. Brooklyn and Mr. Queens. However, it was not until 1966 that Dan would go into contest promotion in a big way. One year after forming MTI Dan started the World Bodybuilding Guild (WBBG) to promote both amateur and professional contests.
Dan realized that, like he had, many competitors were falling victim to
politics. If a bodybuilder competed outside his organization, he could be marked
down in scores. And, to make matters worse, he could be penalized within his own
Dan’s goal was to bring the very best bodybuilders in the world from all
organizations together in fair competition. He certainly seems to have achieved
that goal; at one time WBBG membership worldwide was 25,000. The organization
ran until 1980.
These are just a few of the great bodybuilding champions who graced the stage at WBBG events side by side with other greats of the era. I get the impression that what was most important to Dan was the many lasting friendships he made with many who competed in his shows.
The people Dan has met, from athletes to famous politicians, from boxers to movie stars, reads like “Who’s Who” of the 20th century. Among those in the Iron Game with whom he has had enduring friendships are: Bernarr Macfadden, Jack LaLanne, Charles Atlas, Joseph L. Greenstein, Reg Park, Bill Pearl and Steve Reeves.
However, as bodybuilder, T.V. personality, publisher, promoter, businessman, the most important role in Dan’s life has been husband and father (now grandfather and great grandfather). Dan has always found time for and cherished being with his family. Together, he and his lovely, gracious wife of 67 years, Thelma, have four daughters, one son, ten grandchildren and several great grandchildren. Family life has been his greatest joy.
I asked Dan who he considered the best bodybuilder of all time. He had no hesitation in saying Steve Reeves. He feels he had it all, perfect balance and symmetry, good looks, vibrant health and poise. He was a gentleman and a good role model.
Although they obviously knew of each other, Dan and Steve did not actually meet in person until 1973 when Steve did a guest appearance at one of the WBBG shows in New York. An enduring friendship was formed, and over the years they enjoyed visits to each other’s homes, theatres and restaurants.
Terry Robinson was the cover man on the
June, 1942 issue of 'Strength and Health'.
Terry was Dan's mentor.
Photograph courtesy of Peter Yates
When I asked him about training in the old days he said, “We all learned from each other and stood on the shoulders of those who came before.” In addition, he told me, “We also had to do some experimenting to find what worked best for our needs.”
Unfortunately, Dan does not see a bright future for competitive bodybuilding due to the drug madness. He has witnessed firsthand the damage drug use has done to many an aspiring bodybuilder and athlete, many of whom were his friends.
He said at one time you could pick out any top bodybuilder by physique alone, as each person had developed to their personal potential. These days, all the physiques look pretty much identical due to the distortion created by rampant drug use.
Dan showing a great pair of guns at age 79.
What amazing development - for any age!
Photograph courtesy of Dan Lurie
Meeting one’s boyhood hero may not always turn out as one might expect. However, in this case, Mr. Dan Lurie met all expectations and more. I was happy that he was accompanied by his lovely wife Thelma. The love and mutual respect they hold for each other was evident. It was also evident that they both had a genuine interest in myself, my family and my own accomplishments. I found them both to be warm, genuine and down to earth individuals who have lived meaningful lives and have enjoyed doing so. Mr. Lurie has a very clear memory and is as sharp as a tack. He entertained us with stories of the old days, and by performing magic tricks and by telling jokes. He believes in training his mind as well as his body. At 88 and 87 years young, I wish Mr. and Mrs. Lurie many more years of health and happiness together. I will close with Dan’s famous saying, “Health is your greatest wealth.”
At left - Dan Lurie poses with the author of this article, Peter Yates.
Peter has a great deal of expertise in acupuncture, weightlifting, and the martial arts. Note that President Ronald Reagan can be seen arm wrestling with Dan Lurie in the background picture. Photograph courtesy of Peter Yates
Peter Yates began his training at the age of ten lifting rocks and branches in the local countryside of Darwen, England. Joining the Darwen Weightlifting Club at age twelve, he came under the guidance of Maurice Ainsworth who taught him weight training and martial arts. He spent around fifteen years living in the Far East where he sought out masters of various martial disciplines and also learned acupuncture. He now lives on Long Island, N.Y. with his wife, MaDong, and his son, Robert.
Peter runs an acupuncture clinic, trains in his garage gym, and he has a small group of dedicated martial arts students. In addition, Yates is a contributing author to The Dinosaur Files, and he has also written a book and several articles about Chinese Medicine and Martial Arts.
Article © 2012 Peter Yates - All Rights Reserved - Reproduced
Photographs © as detailed above - All Rights Reserved - Reproduced with permission
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Dan Lurie Apr.1, 1923 - Nov. 6, 2013
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