The older I get the more I’m interested in history, especially of Santa Monica. When I was young I was only interested in what was “new.” I suppose George Bernard Shaw was right when he lamented, “Youth is wasted on the young.”
Eighty years from now I shudder to think what historians will say about “modern” Santa Monica. That we had a first class mall? But as I look back on our fair city 80 years ago, it seems idyllic and even romantic.
Nowhere is this nostalgia more evident than when I read about the glory days of Muscle Beach, which was located just south of the Santa Monica Pier. From the 1930s until the end of the 1950s, a fitness revolution was born right in our backyard.
Muscle builders, gymnasts and acrobats from all over the world, many who would be Olympians, gathered here to perform incredible feats of strength, balance and beauty to adoring crowds as large as 10,000 on any given Sunday afternoon.
One impressive young girl raised here, Beverly Jocher, at age 10, performed a seemingly unbelievable acrobatic stunt. Amazingly, on her shoulders she supported the weight of three adults. Not surprisingly, the photo made the newspaper! The caption read, “The weight of the world on her shoulders.” Actually, it was 390 pounds. And Beverly was only 10!
A graduate of Santa Monica High School class of 1954, Beverly at 18 could support 590 pounds of acrobats on her 110-pound frame. In 1952, she was selected Miss Muscle Beach and in 1953 she won the California State Weightlifting Championship for Women. The famous Charles Atlas body building ads in comic books promised readers that bullies would never again kick sand in their face. Strong as she was I don’t think Beverly worried about that. Gorgeous as she was, bullies might have fallen all over themselves to get her a beach chair.
While at Samohi, Beverly excelled in athletics and performed on stage. In her junior year, she and her partner thrilled their fellow students with a teeterboard exhibition — flying through the air — along with Beverly’s acrobatic/contortions routine.
Throughout high school, Beverly was inspired by Glenn Ford, who had graduated Samohi in 1934. (Ford would go on to have a career in Hollywood that spanned seven decades.) Whenever she would walk past the Hall of Fame pictures, she would look at Ford’s photo and feel he was beckoning her. Then one day, while the Glee Club was singing on stage during a Christmas performance, she looked over her left shoulder and just slightly to the right — and there he was! Glenn Ford was singing with the Glee Club and he smiled at her.
Beverly Jocher Smart now lives in Canada where she exercises twice a day doing free exercises, weight bearing and stretching, and all age appropriate. She enjoys speed walking, but not in the snow! She cannot imagine not working out, ever! (I, on other hand, evidently can.)
Bev is an avid gardener and is careful to stretch before beginning her time outside. She’s always been interested in proper food combinations and nutrition. Other activities have included bowling, golfing, long distance biking, oil and mural painting, creating mosaics, ceramics as well as playing canasta. (Whew, I need a nap.)
Yesterday, Beverly was inducted into the Muscle Beach Hall of Fame in Venice. It’s remarkable how many other female Samohi grads are also Hall of Famers, including Pudgy Stockton, ‘35, Relna Brewer McRae, ‘37, and Paula Unger Boelsems, ‘43.
All Beverly’s exercising, which began at Muscle Beach so long ago, has clearly paid off because, even today, she’s beautiful and exceptionally fit. Forget the Hall of Fame, she should have her own infomercial! (I hope to get a photo of her HOF induction in the weekend edition, so look for it.)
Beverly has such fond memories of the heydays of Muscle Beach in Santa Monica. For those interested, I highly recommend “Remembering Muscle Beach,” by the late Harold Zinkin. (The very first Mr. California in 1941.) Myriad fascinating photos document the fitness revolution that started here, or as the book’s subtitle puts it, “Where Hard Bodies Began.”
Well, that’s it for this week. I was going to have a donut, but after all this, I don’t see how that’s possible. At least until later.
“Muscle Beach Memories” is available at amazon.com or at the Santa Monica Library. Special thanks to the Santa Monica History Museum. Jack can be reached at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.