THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING
An Interview With Don Howorth
by Nelson Montana
It can be said that bodybuilding consists of two
distinct eras. Before Arnold Schwarzenegger, and
after. Prior to Pumping Iron which brought this once
quirky cult activity to the fore of the public’s
consciousness, bodybuilding was not understood or
accepted. Its participants were freaks and outcasts.
It was an activity that attracted followers not
because it was popular, but in spite of it. No one
rose in the ranks in the hope of having a career as a
bodybuilder. No such thing existed. It was a labor of
love– with heavy emphasis on the labor.
By the early 1960′s things started to change.
Bodybuilding began to slowly develop a larger following
while still remaining small enough to maintain its
“underground” status. The enthusiastic bodybuilding
fans who followed their heroes’ exploits in the pages
of Mr. America and Muscle Builder magazines were well
aware which small select group of men had the very best
physiques on the planet. By the year 1967 rolled
around, it was obvious one of those men was Don
Don had what many believed to be the ideal shape –
similar to Frank Zane in aesthetics but with 20 1/4
inch arms, an unparalleled lat spread and an awesome
pair of shoulders that were his trademark. Yeah, those
shoulders — huge cantaloupe delts that spread so wide
it looked as if he needed to turn sideways to walk
through a doorway. At a time when the slightest bit of
muscle was an oddity, Don Howorth possessed Super Hero
proportions. What’s especially interesting is that it
would be unlikely that any bodybuilder today wouldn’t
say Don had as near a perfect body as can be imagined.
And what may be even more telling is that there
probably isn’t a person alive today, man or woman,
bodybuilder or not, who wouldn’t agree.
Don burst onto the bodybuilding scene as one of the
Weider stable of stars. He, along with such
dignitaries as Larry Scott, Chuck Sipes, Harold Poole,
Bill McCardle and Dave Draper, dominated the top ranks
of bodybuildings’ elite. Much like the aforementioned men, Don had more
than a great physique. He also had the classic good looks that Weider prized when he was still trying to convice a reluctant public that muscles had “sex appeal.”
Howorth started to get noticed when in
1962 he promptly won the Mr. Los Angeles, followed by
the Mr. California title in 1963, and finally, the
coveted Mr. America, where he obliterated the
competition with his ungodly width tapered which into an
impossibly narrow waistline. He was destined for
greatness. Yet instead of cashing in on his fame and good looks, just
as bodybuilding was becoming a national phenomenon, he
walked away from it all, never to return. You won’t find any Don
Howorth training courses or supplements that he
endorsed or even a website promoting his former glory.
And that’s just the way he wants it.
Today, just shy of his 70th birthday,(Born Nov 6th 1934) Don Howorth is
still around, still in shape, and still calling his own shots. In this
exclusive we explore the mind
and the enigma of the man affectionately known to his
fans as “The Duke of Delts.”
IM: Hi Don, thanks for taking the time to talk with Ironman.
DH: Hi Nelson. You’ll have to speak up, I don’t hear
very well. Then again, I’ve heard it all already, know
what I mean?
Im: There are a lot of things to cover about your
DH: Wait a minute, tell me something first…what prompted you to pull
my name out of a hat?
MI: Well, Don…believe it or not, I was at the
Brooklyn Academy of Music in September 1967 when you
won the Mr. America contest.
DH: Ha! You’re the second person in the last couple of
days who told me that. I didn’t think anyone remembered
that far back. It’s been a long time past. I guess if
you live long enough you become a “legend.”
MI: When you stepped out on stage, it was obvious to
me, the contest was all over.
DH: Thanks for saying so, but the funny thing about
that contest was I heard during the pre-judging I was
losing to Rock Stonewall (great name!) so before the
night show, I ate an entire pot roast. I felt like I
was going to pop! But it filled me out and I won the
IM: That’s when you really started getting noticed. It seemed like you were on the cover of every magazine.
DH: I was getting attention but by the time the “America” came and went, I knew by I was about to stop the
competing. And of course, dealing with Joe Weider was
always a pain in the ass.
IM: I was going to ask you about that. What was your
relationship like with the Weiders?
DH: I don’t want to upset anyone, but I just didn’t
like to bow down to anybody, you know? I don’t like
being “used.” Even when I competed in the AAU, I
resented the fact that weightlifting was a part of the
judging. I told the officials that they should put some
of those fat ass weightlifters in posing trunks and see
how well they do! My attitude was bad sometimes. It was the same with Weider. I didn’t want to play by his rules.
IM: What about working as a Weider model? You were in
dozens of photo ads for the magazines. Did that pay
DH: I never got a damn dime for any of that! Nobody got
paid in those days. We just did it for the recognition.
Weider kept saying “Look what I’ve done for you!” I
said; “What have you done?! You made $26,000 on the
last show and I can’t even get any free supplements
from you!” I had to go to Rheo Blair for my
supplements, which were much better anyway.
IM: What about the training articles? Did they pay? I guess I should ask, were they
actually written by the bodybuilders or were they all
ghost written? Obviously that was the case with Arnold
and Sergio since they could barely speak English.
DH: I wrote my own articles, but once they got hold of
them you wouldn’t know it. I was never paid for that
MI: You mentioned Rheo Blair. How much of difference
did Rheo’s diet plan and supplements make?
DH: Oh, a big difference. Rheo was so smart. People
thought he was crazy advocating a low carb, high
Protein and high fat diet and of course that’s what
they’re using today. Actually, Carlton Fredricks was
recommending the same thing back in the 1930′s so it’s
nothing new. But I think supplements are about seventy
percent of the whole thing. When I started using his
Protein with cream, that’s when I really started
growing. I put on some fat too, but you have to put on
some fat to put on size to get bigger. I also used
vitamin C, digestive enzymes and powdered liver.
IM: Powdered liver…yum! How’d you get that down?
DH: Hey, we didn’t have many options. When I trained
at Vic Tannys, I used to go to the pet shop and buy the
wheat germ oil they sold for dogs! That’s how crazy it
was. We were all experimenting.
IM: What about diet. Did you lose a lot of weight
prior to a show?
DH: I never lost more than 3 pounds before a show. I
wanted the weight! Back then, we didn’t get sloppy in the off season. There was no off season! We were always in shape. Right up until contest time
I’d eat up to two pounds of meat, a quart of raw milk,
a quart of cream and
two to three dozen eggs a day.
IM: Did you say three DOZEN eggs?
DH: Yep, yolks and all. That’s what you want. The fat
in the egg yolk is a natural precursor to testosterone.
IM: How much mass did you put on at that time?
DH: I don’t remember how much I gained for the show, but overall, I started at 160 and ended up at my highest weight of 235.
IM: You’re known as a disciple of Vince Gironda. Was
he a big influence on you?
DH: Yeah, he taught me about diet and posing but he
never really trained me. In many ways I got bigger by
doing what Vince told me NOT to do! I came from the
Pasadena gym which was owned by Gene Mozee and Vince’s
gym was like Stonehenge compared to that — very old
fashioned. The lat pull down was the one originally
made by Jack LaLanne back in the 40′s.
IM: What was an example of your training like back
DH: I was always a hardgainer. I worked out up to three
to four hours a session, six to seven days a week. When
preparing for the Mr. California, I trained twice a
day. I did up to 40 sets a bodypart.
IM: Forty sets?!?! WOW! I guess the term “overtraining “ didn’ t exist then! It sure seemed to work though. I suppose those who had the
genetics to tolerate that much volume excelled, and those who
couldn’t tolerate it…well, it didn’t matter anyway.
DH: It was too much, but nobody knew. Someone would
say;” Reg Park built his chest by doing 30 sets of
bench presses,” so I did forty. Later on I found out
Reg never did more than ten or twelve sets. (Laughs)
IM: You retired in 1967, just as bodybuilding was
becoming big. Why stop then?
DH: It’s funny to hear you say that, because I had no
idea it was growing in popularity beyond our little
circle and of course no one thought it would become
what it is today. People asked me why I didn’t do the
Olympia, but who in their right mind would go up
against Sergio? He was unbeatable. I would have to wait
until Sergio retired the way Zane held out until Arnold
stepped down. But I was burned out by that point. I
was 32 years old, I wasn’t making any money. I was
working a full time job as a film editor. Plus, a lot
of people today have a hard time comprehending how
bodybuilding wasn’t accepted. People treated you like
you had no brain and I didn’t care for that particular
attitude. I enjoyed bodybuilding but there was just no
future in it. I also got sick of worrying about always
looking in top condition. I got tired of always trying
to be pumped and maintaining a 29 inch waist. Once I
realized I didn’t have to spend every waking hour
thinking about building muscles, I felt as if I’d been
IM: You also had the perfect look for the movies. Since
muscle stars were coming back, why didn’t you pursue a
career in acting?
DH: I did a couple of things but the movie business is
crazy and the people in it are crazy. I’m a private
person and I didn’t want it.
IM: Any regrets?
DH: I don’t think you can do that in life. I want to
look ahead and do my thing. These days I train some
people and work with kids who are into sports.
Another reason I quit competition was because I felt I
needed to find myself. It was the 60′s and attitudes
were changing. We were searching and exploring new
philosophies and spirituality. This was the hippie
generation and there was more acceptance for things
that were different and that lifestyle suited me. I
wanted to try new things. I lived the part — had long
hair and did some experimenting with marijuana. I
even applied it to training to see if it would help in
my focus. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as tolerated as it
is now and I got nabbed with some stuff and paid the
consequence. That took four years out of my life, but I
survived it, for better or worse. A lot of the guys
didn’t make it.
IM: Speaking of experimentation, the 60′s were the
time when steroids began being used, which in some ways
explains the sudden leap in muscularity from the pros
just 10 years prior. There’s an understanding that the
dosages used were minuscule compared to today’s
competitors, yet a lot of younger people still can’t
believe you and Scott and Draper could get so muscular
on such low doses. So let’s clear the air… exactly what were
the typical dosages of that time, or more specifically,
what did you use?
DH: I think what people don’t realize is, we made such
good gains on such low dosages because we worked our
asses off! Today, everybody’s relying on the drugs. Put
some of these guys today through the ball busting
workouts we did and they’d never make it. Personally,
I used a fairly large amount of dianabol — ten
milligrams a day before the Mr. America contest.
IM: Ten milligrams? That’s it? That’s two pills! Guys
today take up to 20 pills a day along with a thousand
or so milligrams of injectables.
DH: At one point I used 20 mgs a day but then I started
to retain a lot of water. We heard things about it but
didn’t really know much. Some people said that it
didn’t increase strength, but that was bull. I took 5
mgs of dianabol for 4 weeks and my bench press went
from up thirty five pounds! I noticed I recovered a lot
faster and got great pumps. But I never took any
injectables. I never even knew about them. The only
injection I ever had was when I was in the Navy and I
didn’t like it! (Laughs)
IM: Did you experience any side effects?
DH: I think it was such a small amount, I never noticed
MI: A lot of people consider the 1960′s the heyday of
bodybuilding. Dave Draper has spoken about it being a
“magical” time. Did you get that sense at the time, or
is this just a rosy nostalgic perspective?
DH: I think everyone looks back at their youth as the
most impressionable period. For me it was the 50′s.
But as far as bodybuilding back then, if anything, it
was looked down on. I didn’t like that. People would
ask if I was a football player and when I told them I
was bodybuilder they’d say, “What’s that? A
weightlifter? They didn’t even know what a
bodybuilder was. But it was a personal thing for me.
Also, women used to look at me in disgust. Every now
and then you’d find someone who liked it. One time a
friend of mine picked up a couple of stewardesses and
we finally got them back to our apartment. When I took
my shirt off, one of them was totally turned off while
the other one was like a dog in heat! They started out
saying that bodybuilders can’t have sex, so I said,
bring a couple of more friends over so they can take
over once I’m through with you! (Laughs)
IM: Are you aware that you still have a lot of fans?
DH: Until very recently I had no idea. I’m bowled over
that so many people remember. We never got any
recognition back then. I’m amazed more people know of
me now than they did back then.
IM: Guys like you and Larry Scott are like the Babe
Ruths and Lou Gehrigs of the sport!
DH: That blows my mind. It’s incredible to even think
about that. When Artie Zeller passed away, I went to
the service — everyone was there. Even Arnold was
there. And someone came up to me and asked `Are you Don
Howorth?” I said, “Yeah, what’s left of me.” It was a
woman who said she had my pictures up in her garage
when she trained. I didn’t know women worked out with
weights back then. But I’m starting to get a little
sense of it all. I was recently chosen as the first
inductee into the Muscle Beach Hall of Fame.
IM: Are you still training?
DH: Yeah, I still do about an hour and a half a day,
five days a week. I haven’t gone for more than three
days without working out in twenty years. I have to. I
hardly bench press anymore but yesterday I was working
with 225. Of course, that used to be my 25 rep warm up!
But I feel great, and I want to stay away from doctors
because I don’t trust most of them. I’m afraid if I
went to one he’d tell me I’m already dead!
IM: (Laughs) Yeah, wise up — you’re supposed to be
DH: Right! But when the docs last checked my heart it
sounded as strong as a freight train. He said to me; Do
you exercise? I said, “Yeah — a little.”
(At this point, Don was distracted by his cat.)
DH: Sorry, my cat is acting up. I had to have him
neutered. He’d get in trouble every time he got a
IM: Who hasn’t!?
DH: (Laughs) Yeah, we’ve all done that.
IM: The one question our readers would not
let me get away without asking is; what was your delt
DH: People think I’m naturally wide but that’s not
really true. I mostly did many, many years of presses
behind the neck.
IM: A great exercise, and one which, incidentally,
was once believed to widen the shoulder blades. But
these days it’s shunned. A lot of exercise experts say
it’s stressing to the rotator cuff.
DH: Well, I started developing some shoulder problems
and scar tissue recently from all the years of heavy
presses behind the neck.
IM: Well, you’re seventy!
DH: (Laughs) Yeah, I guess I’m starting to get old!
IM: Anything else for the delts?
DH: I also liked dumbell presses. I also avoided shrugs
because the traps build up fast and they make you look
less wide. Looking wider was always the look we went for. Today,
IM: You obviously had the genetics for great delts,
but what was the toughest bodypart to develop?
DH: Thighs! I trained them real hard, mostly with Hack
Squats. Lots of them. They didn’t have the machines
like today though. We even had to do hacks without a
machine, just holding the bar behind the back of our
legs. A lot of guys didn’t concentrate on leg training
back then but I wanted them better. I was squatting
IM: When you were working out up to two hours a day,
you weren’t doing any cardio were you?
DH: Ha! What a joke! I used to work out with as little
as a 20 second break between sets. Who needs cardio when you’re doing that?
IM: That’ll get your heart rate up!
DH: That’s right. Weight training is anaerobic AND
aerobic. You don’t have to run. If you do too much
cardio, your metabolism goes CLUNK. I’d also work abs
every day. In my spare time I’d tense and pose them.
Even while driving, I’d grab the steering wheel and
suck in a press down hard to tighten the abs.
IM: Any opinions on the current state of
DH: Guys compete today to make money, but in the 60′s
we did it because it was in our heart. I started
working out because I got tired of everybody kicking my
ass! When I got bigger, nobody picked on me. I went to
the IronMan a couple of years ago and when I saw these
guys posing all I could think was `what’s wrong with
their stomachs?’ These guys have a twenty inch arm and
a forty inch gut! They couldn’t even suck their guts
in from all the junk they take…growth hormone,
insulin and all that crap. It doesn’t look human. It
looks terrible. They all
train the same, they all take the same drugs, they all
use the same diet, the same equipment, so they all look
the same. After 10 minutes, I walked out. It’s much
easier today. The supplements are better…you don’t
even have to get a tan! It comes in a bottle! We would
sit out in the sun which would drain us and then we’d
work out for two hours. It’s a different world.
IM: Well, on that note let me ask you this… If you
could do it all over again…. would you rather be
starting out now?
DH: No. I’ll take my day. I wouldn’t want it any other
IM: Any last words of advice for our readers?
DH: You have to have a plan. If you just want to throw
the weights around a little for fun, that’s fine. But
if you really want to excel, you have to know what
you’re doing and focus on accomplishing your goal.
That’s the key.
IM: Don it’s been a treat. I think you’ve given our
readers a lot to think about. Thank you so much for
DH: My pleasure.
At one time, a body like Don Howorths was
misunderstood, even disdained. Forty years later, his
classic look epitomizes manly perfection. It took the
world almost half a century to figure out what our iron
ancestors knew all along. A symmetrical body hewn from
hard work is a thing of beauty. Chiseled muscle is
timeless. In that regard, Don Howorth was ahead of his
time. He is truly one of the greats of the game. It’s
just that a lot of people didn’t know it. Including
Don Howorth. #