Mr. America Magazine, Vol 5, No 5, Page 36, November 1962
I SAW THE FIRST MR. AMERICA CONTEST in Schenectady, New York on December 1st, 1938. The Mr. America contest was the brain child of John Hordines, sponsor and bodybuilding instructor. John had hoped to make Schenectady to Mr. America what Atlantic City is to Miss America. It was to be an annual event in that city but somehow the idea didn't jell.
That first Mr. America meet was held in "Pink" Gardner's Reducing Salon and Gymnasium. The place was too small to hold the crowds that jammed in to see what a perfectly developed male looked like. Bert Goodrich of Hollywood, Cal., managed to nose out Elmer Farnham of Shamokin, Pa. for the title.
While Schenectady didn't become the Mecca of muscle men, Hordines started the ball rolling and the following year the AAU got into the act and staged a Mr. America contest in conjunction with the Senior National Weightlifting Championships. A new idea was added - aspiring Mr. Americas had to compete in the weightlifting contest to prove their muscles were good for something else than just to look at.
The '39 affair was sponsored by Chicago Parks Department; was held outdoors and about 10,000 people saw Adonis-like Roland Essmaker of Richmond, Indiana crowned the winner.
The next contest was perhaps the biggest and best of all time. Under the guidance of AAU Weightlifting Chairman, Dietrich Wortmann, it was held in Madison Square Garden and John Grimek won that one.
I was sitting close to Bernarr MacFadden, one of the ten judges, and he took one look at Grimek and said, "Tat man is perfect!" He marked down 100 points on his score-card and didn't bother to look much at the other entrants. Unfortunately his enthusiasm did not benefit Grimek. Wortman had introduced a rule tha the highest and lowest scores were to be thrown out. It was a good rule for it prevented any judge from showing excess favor (or disfavor) to any one contestant. So MacFadden's 100 points didn't count on Grimek's score but he won anyway.
In 1941 Philadelphia hosted the meet and again John Grimek won, the only man ever to win twice. it can't happen again for after the meet a pow-wow was held among the powers that be and it was decided that a man could win in the title only once. They had the feeling that Grimek might go on winning forever!
Big Frank Leight of New York City took the 1942 crown in a very close contest in Cincinnati. Frank just edge out Dan Lurie, another New Yorker. Jules Bacon won in '43 and in those days he had incredible separation. That affair was held in Los Angeles. I saw Steve Stanko cop the title in Chattanooga in '43. Steve had injured himself weightlifting and turned to bodybuilding.
To refresh your memory let me give you a list of winners over the past 24 years.
It is interesting to note that the early Mr. A. contests were dominated by York trained men. From the time Clarence Ross won and newer training methods began to take hold, the winners have been predominately Weider trained men.
Clarence Ross is a member of the Weider writing staff and has contributed many bodybuilding articles to both Mr. America and Muscle Builder. Stephan, Reeves, Delinger, Pearl, Shaefer and Sansone have all contributed articles to both magazines. Eiferman is at present our West Coast editor and Farbotnik is a feature writer.
I recall a few sidelights of past Mr. America contests. Leight and Lurie were actually tie in '42 and both were called out on the stage for final judging. Leight won because he was a much bigger man.
Steve Reeves and Eric Pedersen were tie in '47. A closer examination by the judges gave Reeves the nod as Pedersen's skin was marred by a few pimples probably picked up in his last few days of training. Reeves and his clear skin went on to fame and fortune while I haven't heard from Pedersen for a long time.
Roy Hilligenn was the only foreign entrant to ever win the Mr. A. Ttitle. No Canadian has as yet won although there have been many fine entrants. So much for the past, now for the present.
THE 1962 EVENT was held at the Highland Park High School Auditorium. Highland Park is a separate community inside the city limits of Detroit. The Most Muscular Man contest was staged on Saturday, June 2nd. In the past there were awards for the best arms, best legs, best chest, best back, best etc., etc. and there were also height division awards. They had Mr. little America, Mr. medium sized America and Mr. big, economy sized America. It was all too confusing. To streamline the contest now only two events are held - the Most Muscular Man and Mr. America. While the contests are not dragged out as they were in the past this new method deprives the audience of seeing more of their favorites. However, the 1962 event went off well.
Immediately after Joe Puleo of Detroit won the middleweight weightlifting title with a Clean and Jerk of 340 pounds, the stage was set for the judging. The posing dais was made by one of the contestants, Bob Herzog of Iron Mountain, Michigan.
There were 28 entrants and each man gave a series of his best poses. No one man gained advantage over his competitors through superior posing ability. Actually all the posing routines were amateurish but that's the way it's supposed to be in an amateur contest.
Of the 28 posers, Harold Poole of Indianapolis, Kenneth Hall of Brooklyn, Hugo LaBra of Los Angeles, Joe Abbenda of Long Island and Joe Simon of Sewell, N.J. received the most applause from the audience. I felt sure one of these five men would win the Most Muscular title. So who won? Ah, there was the rub! Who won?
The Master of Ceremonies announced that the winner's name would be given the following night - the night of the Mr. America contest. There were some sighs of despair, some boos, some catcalls and general dissatisfaction among the audience at being kept in suspense one night later and three bucks more.
ON SUNDAY NIGHT, right after Schemansky's unsuccessful attempt to clean 440 came crashing to the platform, the contestants lined up for the judging. The judges were seated at one end of the stage making it impossible for them to see the men at the other end of the line. It was then that I learned that the men had been "pre-judged" that afternoon. The winner had already been selected!
There is nothing wrong with this method, both Ben and Joe Weider employ it in their contests. It is virtually impossible for the judges to judge a man correctly in the few minutes he is on the posing dais so "pre-judging" is the way to compute points. Furthermore, the calibre of the contestants was so high that only split points separated them. It requires a lot of time and close study to properly evaluate a man's physique. Joe Raymond of Cleveland was in charge of the judging. He is an old hand at it and always does a good job.
The panel of judges were: Dave Matlin, AAU Weightlifting Chairman; Joe Raymond, Lake Erie area Chairman; Bob Hise of Georgia; Rudy Sablo of the Metropolitan District; John Terpak of York; Owen Olsen of Minnesota and Perry Rader, editor of Iron Man magazine.
The stage was not large enough for the entire 27 entrants so they came out in two groups. (All the contestants who entered the Most Muscular entered the Mr. A. with the exception of Floyd DeSirito of Union, N.J.) I saw two line-ups of the most perfectly developed men in America. Picking a winner from such an imposing array of physical perfection was a well-nigh impossible task. I was most anxious to learn who the judges had chosen. (No one except the judges knew the winner).
The black velvet curtain was lowered and a brilliant spotlight hit the posing dais placed in front center of the stage and one by one each man came out, mounted the dais and went through his posing routine. The first man up to flex his muscles under the bright light was Billy Lemacks of Johnson's Health Studio, Chicago, a weightlifter who placed fourth in the lightweight class with a 720 pound total.
Chester Yorton of Milwaukee, the biggest man in the show. He stood 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed 220 pounds. He had both legs broken and has steel plates in his thighs!
Kenneth Hall of Brooklyn, the most popular man with the audience. Ken was willing to pose for any amateur photographer and gave several exhibitions of muscle control off stage.
Robert Girard of Windsor, Ontario, only Canadian in the meet although there was a large contingent of Canadians in the audience. Bob can run 100 yards in 11 seconds!
Mike Ferraro of Buffalo, N.Y., a lifter who made a 775 pound total and a very muscular young man.
John Schubert of the Olympic Health Studio of Cleveland, very symmetrically proportioned with a good posing routine.
Vern Weaver, York Barbell Club, of Dover, Pa., a big man who can run 100 yards in 10.3 seconds. Extremely handsome, a fine poser and an actor by profession. (He has played "Lil Abner.")
Jerry Doetrell, Buffalo-York A.C., Buffalo, massively built with a cheer raising posing routine.
Hugo LaBra of Los Angeles, one of the most muscular men in the contest. He was born in Peru, South America. Hugo has terrific trapezius muscles. From the applause he received I knew he would be right up there at the top.
Joseph LaPorte of Connecticut YMCA, a former football player with a whole backfield of muscles.
Lewis Wolter, Milwaukee Health Studio, Milwaukee, a man with good separation and very deep pectorals.
Henry Koehler of Milwaukee, a favorite of the Wisconsin fans in the audience.
Bill Stathes of San Francisco YMCA, a policeman and the oldest man in the meet. If there were more cops like Bill there would be a lot less juvenile delinquency. Bill was terrific.
William Seno, Sayre Park W. L. Club, Chicago, a former weightlifting champ who has totalled 815 pounds as a light-heavy. He had very good definition, won Most Muscular Man title at Jr. Mr. A. contest.
Gary Stever of Cincinnati, Ohio. There were plenty of Ohioans in the audience and Gary got a good hand.
Tuny Monday, Tulsa YMCA, Tulsa, Okla., winner of a Junior Mr. America title and a water skiing champ. Tuny is 37 but looks better than most 21 year oldsters.
Carl Stelzen, Bates Barbell Club of Paterson, N.J., one of the best light-heavyweight weightlifters in the country. He has totaled 850!
Joseph Lazzaro of Buffalo, N.Y., definitely one of the most muscular men in the meet. Joe is working on his M.A. degree.
Norman Bedell, Bates Barbell Club, Paterson, N.J., a former football player and now a police officer.
Harold Poole, Hofmeister's Studio, Indianapolis, who received the loudest ovation up to this point. This all-round athlete is only 18 years old and had the most phenomenal musculature I have ever seen. I knew he was going to be darn close to winning.
Joe Abbenda of Long Island, N.Y., who was very good looking with amazing symmetry. His applause was equal to Poole's and I marked him on my score as being right up there at the top.
Joe Simon of Sewell, N.J., a baseball player with the most incredible separation in the thighs I have ever seen.
Jack Allen of National Health Studio, Washington, D.C. A bodybuilder with a routine that was well praised.
Robert Herzog, Iron Mountain, Michigan, performs at winter ice carnivals and can handbalance on ice skates. He's a speed skater and a good jumper. He made the posing stand and did the art work on it.
Ralph Kleiner, Triumph Health Studio, Chicago, winner of Mr. Illinois title and an instructor of bodybuilding. About this time there were shouts from the audience of "We want Shaefer" and "is Ray in the audience?" Ray had a lot of buddies from out Chicago way but there was no Ray.
Steve Sakoulos, Irving Park, YMCA, Chicago, 36 years old and former Central AAU weightlifting champ.
The last man to take to the posing dais was popular Victor Seipke of Detroit. Vic, as a light-heavyweight lifter made an 830 total. He is a fireman.
By having the afternoon "pre-judging" there was no time lost in the first elimination. The 27 competitors were narrowed down to 10 and presented in this order:
Kenneth Hall of Brooklyn; Mike Ferraro of Buffalo; Vern Weaver of Dover, Pa.; Hugo LaBra of Los Angeles; William Stathes of San Francisco; William Seno of Chicago; Joseph Lazzaro of Buffalo; Harold Poole of Indianapolis; Joe Abbenda of Long Island, N.Y., and Victor Seipke of Detroit.
Each man was greeted with rousing cheers and it sounded like Harold Poole and Vic Seipke getting the most with Joe Abbenda and Hugo LaBra only a few decibels behind.
The judges then made their second .elimination, reducing the field to five. The five men presented were:
Vern Weaver, Hugo LaBra, Harold Poole, Joe Abbenda and Victor Seipke.
While the judges were confering (or pretending to confer) the long awaited announcement as to who was the Most Muscular Man came. Joe Abbenda was called to the posing dais and there were loud cheers. Had Joe won? No, it was then announced that he had placed third! (The M.C. was coy, he was keeping the suspense right up to the bitter end.)
Next man called to the dais was Hugo LaBra and to him went the second place trophy for most muscles. Then came the great moment. The Most Muscular Man was - Harold Poole! Boy! he deserved it. I have never seen a man with such amazing shoulders. He was the winner beyond a shadow of doubt. Everybody was pleased with the verdict.
Now to find out who would be the 1962 AAU Mr. America. Again the suspense of introducing the third place man first. Hugo LaBra was third place! Hugo has an enormously powerful upper body but he is not very tall. I had a feeling that, in spite of his terrific musculature, his height would make it difficult for him to take the title. Hugo was well pleased and gave the crowd a short muscle control routine.
The second place trophy went to Harold Poole. Perhaps the audience thought Harold should have won but actually he has too much muscle if such a thing is possible. His arms, shoulders, pectorals and upper back are beyond compare for sheer muscularity.
A hush fell over the hall as the M.C. was about to pronounce the new King of Muscle Men.
"Will Joe Abbenda come to the stage?" Cheers, cheers and more cheers. Joe Abbenda of Long Island was the new AAU Mr. America! This young, good looking college boy took the center of the dais amid a brilliant burst of a hundred flash bulbs. Every photographer pressed forward to get his picture. Soon the stage was overrun and it was with difficulty that order was restored.
A lovely young lady, Miss Highland Park, crossed the stage with the big Mr. A. trophy and presented it to Joe. From the crowd came a dozen shouts of "Kiss her, Joe, kiss her." The young lady giggled and Joe blushed. But Joe is a man and a man that couldn't resist a beauty like the trophy donor. He kissed her. Harold Poole and Hugo LaBra looked on in envy. The cheering was terrific but I don't know whether they were cheering Joe's gallantry or his muscles.
Harold and Hugo left the stage to Joe and again there was the mad rush of photographers, friends and fellows who just wanted to shake the hand of Mr. America. Joe took it all in good stride. He shook hands with everyone who could get to him and he really appreciated their congratulations. Somehow Joe's father managed to get on the stage and through the crowd and he gave sonny a bear-hug and looked as pleased as though he had won the title himself.
JOE ABBENDA is a Law student at St. John's University and passed his first year's exams with honors.
He started out as a weightlifter when he was 15 years old; he wanted to be bigger and stronger and have a better physique. Then he was 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 140 pounds. After competing in a number of lifting meets around the New York City area he switched to bodybuilding because, as he put it, it offered a greater challenge.
In 1958 he entered his first physique contest, the Mr. Junior Metropolitan, and won it. Last year he was second in the Junior Mr. America and that, more than anything else, spurred him to train harder. This year Joe won both the Junior and Senior AAU Mr. America titles.
Judges at the AAU Mr. America shows allow additional points for athletic ability. Joe was awarded the maximum 5 points for his performance on the Three Olympic Lifts. He can press 280 pounds!
Joe normally trains three times a week but worked out every day for three weeks before the Mr. A affair. To achieve all-round muscular perfection he follows an all-round bodybuilding program and does not specialize or try to over-emphasize any particular part of his body. Joe has superb symmetry.
Joe Abbenda is a swell guy. He speaks effectively and has a million dollar smile. I doubt they could have picked a better man to wear the mythical Mr. America crown for the year 1962.
- Winner of the 1962 AAU Mr. America title is law student JOE ABBENDA of Long Island, New York.
- 1939 ROLAND ESSMAKER of Richmond, Indiana.
- 1940 JOHN GRIMEK of York, Penna.
- 1941 and 1942 Grimek again won in '41. Runner-up was FRANK LEIGHT of New York City who won in '42.
- 1943 JULES BACON of York, Penna.
- 1944 STEVE STANKO of York, Penna.
- 1945 CLARENCE ROSS of Los Angeles, Calif.
- 1946 ALAN STEPHAN of Chicago, Ill.
- 1947 STEVE REEVES of Los Angeles, Calif.
- 1948 GEORGE EIFERMAN of Philadelphia, Penna.
- 1949 JACK DELINGER of Oakland, Calif.
- 1950 JOHN FARBOTNIK of Philadelphia, Penna.
- 1951 ROY HILLIGENN of Johannesburg, South Africa.
- 1952 JIM PARK of Chicago, Ill.
- 1953 BILL PEARL of San Diego, Calif.
- 1954 DICK DUBOIS
- 1955 STEVE KLISANIN of McKeesport, Penna.
- 1956 RAY SHAEFER of E. Chicago, Indiana.
- 1957 RON LACY of Lexington, Ky.
- 1958 TOM SANSONE of New York City
- 1959 HARRY JOHNSON of Atlanta, Ga.
- 1960 LLOYD LARILLE of New Orleans, La.
- 1961 RAY ROUTLEDGE
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