They Did It Their Way
The culture of Muscle Beach, Santa Monica, owed its iconic position in the world of strength and muscle as the birthplace of the fitness industry in America not to the sun and the sand but to the people who were drawn there. The magic was created by the characters who inhabited it. I missed that truly golden age, but I did have the privilege of knowing many of the people who helped make Muscle Beach the worldwide mecca that it was and the wonderful piece of history that it is.
Zabo Koszewski was the embodiment of the spirit of Muscle Beach. As Dave Saxe, a friend of mine and of Zabo’s, said at a gathering that marked Zabo’s passing in March, “Zabo was Muscle Beach—he was who we saw on the beach in those ’50s and ’60s photos; he was what we wanted to be.”
Zabo’s life was very minimalist in the sense that he distilled early on what was important to him and let the rest drop to the edges. He was never far from the beach that he loved, the friends whom he cherished and the workout that he took on a daily basis until his passing. He was cantankerous, he was opinionated, he was loved, and he is missed by me and the untold thousands who saw the same pictures that I did and dreamed the same dreams. In a very real sense Zabo’s life was a siren’s song. As IRON MAN’s art director, Terry Bratcher, said to me, “He was the kind of guy every man enjoys drinking with and every woman wants to dance with.”
I met Zabo at the original Gold’s Gym on Pacific Avenue in Venice in 1965. Not until the late 1970s, while I was doing photography assignments for Muscle Builder/Power, forerunner of Muscle & Fitness, did I meet Armand Tanny. At that point he’d been writing about bodybuilding training for more than 20 years. Like Zabo, Armand had gravitated toward the beach because of the postwar culture of strength and muscle. Like Zabo, he was an outstanding athlete and especially excelled in the Olympic lifts. He epitomized the strength athlete of his time—very powerful and with a physique that matched the best of his contemporaries.
Even so, Armand’s intellectual curiosity and love of writing were what made him an indelible figure. On many of my international photo assignments we traveled together. Going to London, Munich or Brussels meant an 11-to-13-hour flight, but Armand—laid back, unruffled, calm—was the perfect antidote to the stress of travel, always a source of stimulating conversation. When we weren’t working, he was an eager tourist. He loved to eat—he was Italian—and we searched out the most interesting restaurants.
Ten years ago I had the pleasure of presenting Armand with the Peary and Mabel Rader Lifetime Achievement Award. He was passionate about bodybuilding both as a scientist and as a participant. This spring, at age 90, he moved into a nursing home, and his friend of 50-plus years, Zabo, came to visit him. Then, within 10 days of each other, they both “moved on.” Two guys who helped to define bodybuilding and fitness.