Arnold, Zane, Franco, Lou. These are the names people tend to gravitate towards when talking about the so-called “Golden Era” of bodybuilding. Running from roughly 1960 to the early 1980s, this was a period when the sport truly hit the mainstream as a cultural movement.
While many remember the big stars, dozens of other top-tier athletes also competed during this time. This was an era where men mainly flourished, since women’s bodybuilding divisions were starting. Still, our first name on this list is a true trailblazer who helped propel women into the sport’s limelight.
Check out our nine picks for Golden Era physiques that flew under the radar below.
9 Underrated Golden Era Bodybuilders
- Patsy Chapman
- Chet Yorton
- Ed Corney
- Ken Waller
- Boyer Coe
- Don Howorth
- Dennis Tinerino
- Albert Beckles
- Serge Nubret
Patsy Chapman was an early example of a superstar in the nascent days of women’s bodybuilding in the United States. Her career highlight came in 1979 when the IFBB hosted a Best in the World contest for women as a precursor to what would eventually become the Ms. Olympia. (1) Chapman came first in a field of five women, including future Ms. O Carla Dunlap.
Although Chapman finished seventh in the first-ever Ms. Olympia in 1980 and only competed two more times after that, she helped lay the foundation for what was to come. Possessing a physique that was lean but not overly muscular, Chapman was described by Muscle & Fitness as displaying “beautiful shape and proportion.” (2)
While Chet Yorton became known as “The Father of Natural Bodybuilding,” he rarely gets his due within the larger scope of the sport. This is even more surprising when you learn that Yorton is one of the few bodybuilders to have defeated Arnold in competition at the 1966 Mr. Universe show. That same year, he bested Frank Zane and Don Howorth to win the Mr. America title.
[Related: Kings, Chemists, and Oaks: The 10 Best Bodybuilding Nicknames of All Time]
Later in his career, Yorton became an outspoken advocate for natural bodybuilding at a time when the sport began embracing steroids. (5) In 1975, he founded the Natural Bodybuilding Association and published Natural Bodybuilding magazine in the early 1980s. As a competitor, Yorton won four bodybuilding contests outright and several more weight classes. (6)
Ed Corney was one of the classiest posers of his generation, which is all the more impressive given that he competed against Arnold, Zane, and many others. While some may say his best result as a bodybuilder was his third-place finish at the 1977 Mr. Olympia, Corney’s collection of Mr. America, Mr. Universe, and weight-class victories are far more impressive. (7)
Corney seemed to move his body effortlessly through poses, and he retained that grace as he got older. Though Corney passed away in 2019, his memory lives on at the Arnold Classic bodybuilding show, where the Ed Corney Best Poser award gets handed out every year.
Most fans likely remember Ken Waller from the 1977 documentary Pumping Iron, where he appears to play mind games with his fellow bodybuilder Mike Katz. In a scene where Waller throws a football with friends, he states that he plans to hide Katz’s clothes to mess with him on competition day. We later see an anxious Katz desperately searching for his missing items backstage, mainly done for comedic effect.
The reality is that the directors staged the football scene and that Waller engaged in no such hijinks. (8) This does a disservice to Waller’s legacy as an elite competitor who genuinely challenged for the Mr. Olympia (and, in fact, won the Tall category in 1976) and took first at shows like Mr. Universe, Mr. America, and Mr. World. (9)
Boyer Coe is one of the most impressive bodybuilders of his generation. He began his career in 1964 and still competed in shows all the way up to 1995. Coe competed in over 60 professional bodybuilding competitions in that time and won multiple national and regional titles in the process. (10)
Although he never won the Olympia (he finished second in the Lightweight category in 1978 and 1979), his multiple victories at the IFBB Grand Prix, Mr. Universe, and Mr. America highlight his pedigree. Asked about his career several decades after retiring, Coe said he viewed bodybuilding simply as a means of pushing his own limits.
“The contests were nothing more to me than a goal to attempt to measure my progress,” Coyer told Bodybuilding.com. (11) “[Sometimes] I was able to make really good progress, other times it was not as good as I would have liked.”
Don Howorth is one of the most fascinating names on this list. He began competing in the 1960s and was one of bodybuilding coach Vince Gironda‘s early prodigies. Known for his incredible deltoids, which earned him the ‘Duke of Delts’ nickname, Howorth won several regional titles in the early to mid-1960s, before winning an IFBB Mr. America show in 1967. Just when it appeared that he would push on to something even greater, he walked away from the sport.
“The sport was consuming me, and I didn’t want to be consumed,” Howorth later said in Iron Man magazine. (12) “Always having to be in good shape, living your days and sometimes your nights at the gym. It’s monotonous; it’s boring…”
[Related: How Jay Cutler’s “Quad Stomp” Pose Became the Most Iconic Photo in Mr. Olympia History]
For what it’s worth, Howowrth seemed at peace with the decision, telling Iron Man, “I’m one of those people who [conquers] something and then [moves] on to the next challenge.”
Dennis Tinerino had some of the most impressive abs of his generation, which included the likes of Frank Zane and Danny Padilla. As a bodybuilder, he competed from 1964 to 1982, where he appeared everywhere, from regional teenage shows to the Mr. Olympia. (13) His best package undoubtedly came in 1979 when he finished second in the Olympia Heavyweight category behind Mike Mentzer.
And while he never enjoyed an Olympia win, he did come away victorious at multiple Mr. America, Mr. Universe, and World Pro Championships shows. His physique was aesthetic, symmetrical, and lean. In a sense, he was a bridge between the Golden Era and the ultra-leanness found during the 1980s.
Like Boyer Coe, Albert Beckles was a freakish athlete who competed from 1965 all the way to 1992. (14) His career really began when he moved from his native Barbados to London at 23 and began crafting a dense, lean physique that wowed fans and judges with sharp biceps peaks and rippling striations. (15)
He brought that incredible package to his first Mr. Olympia in 1975, where he finished third in the Lightweight category. Ten years later, Beckles placed second behind Lee Haney, despite being decades older.
Pro tip: To replicate Beckles’ famed biceps, he recommended twisting the wrist outwards at the top of any curls to intensify the muscle contraction.
Serge Nubret had the physique and charisma that typified the Golden Era. In addition to stepping on stage with an upper body that looked to be carved from marble, he also moonlighted as a movie actor in France and promoted his own bodybuilding shows on the side. (16)
[Related: The Man, the Myth, the Legend — Sergio Oliva’s Rise and Fall in Bodybuilding]
He first appeared at the Mr. Olympia in 1972, finishing third, followed by a runner-up spot in 1973. (17) But he was immortalized in Pumping Iron, where he is presented largely as a background figure at the 1975 Mr. Olympia who nevertheless still has the potential to challenge Arnold.
When it came to training, Nubret was one to chase the pump, with sets consisting of 12-20 (sometimes more) reps. For many fans looking back at his physique, his was one of the generation’s most underrated but impressive.
Bodybuilding’s Golden Era is about more than just a handful of household names. Dozens of other men and women defined the era — they just never broke out into the mainstream. And while their legacies have often been overshadowed by the sport’s giants, they remain sources of inspiration and fascination even today.
- ‘Patsy Chapman,’ Muscle Memory. https://www.musclememory.com/show.php?a=Chapman,+Patsy&g=1
- Bill Dobbins, ‘The 1980 Ms. Olympia,’ Muscle & Fitness, https://www.muscleandfitness.com/flexonline/ifbb/the-1980-ms-olympia-the-birth-of-a-tradition/
- ‘Kathleen Winstanley,” Muscle Memory. https://www.musclememory.com/show.php?a=Winstanley,+Kathleen&g=1
- ‘Wigan Album,’ Wigan World. https://www.wiganworld.co.uk/album/photo.php?opt=3&id=21147&gallery=Printers&offset=240
- Matt Shepley, ‘Chet Yorton: The Father of Natural Bodybuilding,’ Bodybuilding.com, 25 June, 2019. https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/shepley2.htm
- ‘Chet Yorton,’ Muscle Memory. https://www.musclememory.com/show.php?a=Yorton,+Chester
- ‘Ed Corney,’ Muscle Memory. https://www.musclememory.com/show.php?a=Corney,+Ed
- Shawn Perine, ‘The George Butler Interview,’ The Barbell, August 8, 2021. https://www.thebarbell.com/pumping-iron-the-george-butler-interview/
- ‘Ken Waller,’ Muscle Memory. http://musclememory.com/show.php?a=Waller,+Ken
- ‘Boyer Coe,’ Muscle Memory. https://www.musclememory.com/show.php?a=Coe,+Boyer
- David Robson, ‘An Interview with Pro Bodybuilding Great Boyer Coe,’ Bodybuilding.com, April 11, 2019. https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/drobson271.htm
- Rod Labbe, ‘Legends of Bodybuilding: Don Howorth,’ Iron Man Magazine, May 1, 2003. https://www.ironmanmagazine.com/legends-of-bodybuilding-don-howorth/
- ‘Dennis Tinerino,’ Muscle Memory, https://www.musclememory.com/show.php?a=Tinerino,+Dennis.
- Greg Merritt, ‘Retro Athlete: Albert Beckles,’ Muscle & Fitness, https://www.muscleandfitness.com/flexonline/training/retro-athlete-albert-beckles/
- Bill Hageman. “Shaping Up Great At 58,” Chicago Tribune, August 19, 1988, https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1988-08-19-8801240036-story.html
- Greg Merritt, “Serge Nubret and Pump Training,” The Barbell, May 9, 2002, https://www.thebarbell.com/serge-nubret-training/
- ‘Serge Nubret,’ Muscle Memory, https://www.musclememory.com/show.php?a=Nubret,+Serge.
Featured Image: @TheArchivesofBodybuilding and @mr.america_official on Instagram