By David Robson – October 2009


Legendary would be an excellent word to describe the impact bodybuilding champion Leon Brown had, and continues to have on a sport he spent four decades competing in.

With his engaging personality coupled with the desirable physical attributes needed to excel at the highest level, Leon's name is synonymous with bodybuilding excellence - his vast competitive record is testimony to his love for, and success within, the iron game.

'Popular' is another word closely associated with the legacy Leon has gifted the bodybuilding world. From the time he was first discovered as a legitimate bodybuilding talent back in the mid-1960s in Staten Island, New York - a locale he has called home for most of his life - Leon has attracted attention from contest promoters, publishers, fans, and media alike.

79LEON.jpgJust how popular is Leon Brown? When the good people at Sport's Illustrated Magazine sought to profile bodybuilding for the first time it was Leon they turned to, his 1972 Mr. East Coast contest win, complete with photos of the man himself, adorning the popular magazine's pages.
And if one has the endurance and masochistic tendencies needed to sit through Arnold's Stay Hungry (1976) again they will notice Leon leading a brigade of bodybuilders through several compulsory poses - on top of a moving bus, no less - in the movie's later scenes.

Earlier when Gaines and Butler were looking to capture their readers' attention from the very first, whom should they choose to feature on the third page of their landmark 1974 classic, Pumping Iron? Leon Brown, of course, emerging from the backstage entrance of the Brooklyn Academy of Music and immortalized for all time in a classic, candid black and white shot.

Leon Has Attracted Attention From Contest Promoters, Publishers, Fans And Media Alike

As well his obvious marketability, Leon also proved to be a very good bodybuilder, claiming victory over many of the sport's greats in a lengthy career that has seen him train with superstars such as Franco Columbu and Arnold Schwarzenegger and in establishments as venerable as California's Original Gold's Gym and New York's Mid City Gym. He became one of the best by learning from the best.

Competitively, Leon has contested the best as recently as 2006 with his inclusion in the IFBB Masters World Championships. Career highlights include an overall win at the 1989 NPC Masters Nationals and 1969 and 1970 wins at the Mr. Surf Festival and Mr. California respectively, contests that solidified his place as an American bodybuilding sensation.

I spoke with the living legend and he discussed at length his approach to the art and science of bodybuilding, and his time as one of the game's shining stars.

[ Q ] Hello Leon. You began your bodybuilding career in 1966, placing second in the teenage short class at the Mr. Eastern America Championships. How long had you been training at this point?
[ Leon ]   Eighteen months.

[ Q ] What initially attracted you to bodybuilding?
[ Leon ] Sports. I used to be good at baseball and was in the little leagues as a kid. Back in those days they wouldn't lift weights.
I would go down to my basement to lift but I wouldn't tell the coach I lifted weights. They couldn't figure out how I got so strong.

[ Q ] Clearly attitudes have changed for the better.
[ Leon ] Yes they have. But back in those days they told you that weights were no good for you. The coach would always tell us never to touch or lift weights so I had to make my own gym in my basement.

[ Q ] At what age did you join a proper gym?
[ Leon ] At age 17 I joined my first gym.

[ Q ] You have competed at the highest levels both as a pro and as an amateur. At what show did you turn professional?
[ Leon ] I turned pro at Dan Lurie's (WBBG) Mr. America.
Leon At The 1971 Eastern Mr. America Competition

[ Q ] And I understand you also competed in Dan's 1968 and 1971 WBBG Pro Mr. America contests, achieving fourth place in both shows? How did you find competing as a pro compared to going toe to toe in the amateur ranks?
[ Leon ] It was basically the same thing. The competition back in those days was just about the same (in both the amateur and professional ranks).

[ Q ] What are some of the differences you see in bodybuilding today compared to the way it was in the '60 and '70s?
[ Leon ] If you told me 20 years ago that you could have a guy who was 280 (pounds) ripped I would have said that was impossible. Back then everybody had a different look and had a different kind of shape. They were more for symmetry.

[ Q ] Were the physiques back then more achievable for the average gym trainer?
[ Leon ] Yes they were. It was easier to get in shape back then (the '60s and '70s).

It Was Easier To Get In Shape Back Then

[ Q ] In terms of the judging criteria back then, what standards were you personally aiming to reach?
[ Leon ] The judges were men like Bill Pearl, Don Howorth, Dave Draper and Larry Scott: former Mr. America and Mr. Universe winners. Today we have people on the judging panel who have never trained a day in their lives and there are others there because they are somebody's wife or family members. Back then we had guys who had been there themselves (having competed) judging us and this made it different.

[ Q ] Do you think having these ex-champions on the judging panel made it fairer for the athletes?
[ Leon ] I think so.

[ Q ] You competed as a bodybuilder for 40 years. What has kept you in the sport for so long? Why do you love bodybuilding so much?
[ Leon ] It is just something I like doing. You might enjoy going onto the basketball court to play but not want to become a pro basketball player. But you go out there and play for the fun of it. You can't go in there saying you want to become a pro bodybuilder to make money.
The kids today see the magazines and they decide they want to become a pro bodybuilder to make a load of money. You must have a passion and love for the sport and for training regardless of whether you turn pro or not.

[ Q ] So for you bodybuilding is, and has been, more of a hobby than a career, something you would do for love, as an activity in its own right, rather than to achieve financial rewards?
[ Leon ] Yes, right. I would see it as more of a hobby. Back in those days there was no money in the sport anyway. I won over 100 trophies but there was never any money put in front of me. I just enjoyed doing it.

[ Q ] I assume you had another job to support yourself in order to compete year after year without any direct financial income generated through bodybuilding?
[ Leon ] I did have a real job too. In those days when I was coming up you had a real job plus the training was on the side, kind of like a hobby.

[ Q ] How difficult was it for you to train hard and get in shape while holding down a full-time job?
[ Leon ] No, working out was harder than the job. I worked for the New York Housing Authority. I have since retired from this job (in 2008).

[ Q ] You are still training?
[ Leon ] Yes, I train five or six days a week for two hours per day.

[ Q ] Your last contest was the 2006 World Masters Championships. How did you train for this show specifically?
[ Leon ] I trained on a split routine, six days a week. And on the last two weeks before the show I took time off my regular job so I could focus 100 percent on the show. I did this for every show.

[ Q ] How did you group your body parts for your training split?
[ Leon ] I did chest with biceps, back with triceps, neck by itself and shoulders and triceps. Abs were done by themselves. And each body part would be trained twice a week.

[ Q ] How did you structure your cardio training?
[ Leon ] In my '84 show (NPC Junior USA - where Leon won the middleweight and overall) I was getting ready and I decided to do cardio; I had never done cardio before this time. But I got too lean doing 20 minutes a day. I lost too much weight.

[ Q ] And for your 2006 Masters event, where you were in great shape considering your age of 59, you did no cardio.
[ Leon ] No cardio, right.

[ Q ] Yet you were in good condition for this show. What did you do to get into such shape without the cardio?
[ Leon ] That comes back to my (weight) training - I do high volume. Twenty to 30 sets per body part, except for biceps and shoulders. For big body parts like chest and legs I go up to 30 sets and go at a fast pace.

[ Q ] How did you address diet when getting into top shape for your shows?
[ Leon ] For diet I would stick to fish and chicken breasts; for the last month it would be mostly fish. I would also take a lot of supplements too. Plus I would throw in egg whites and oatmeal.

[ Q ] What supplements would you take?
[ Leon ] I would take a multivitamin, B-complex, glutamine, and BCAAs. For protein I would take a zero carbohydrate product.

[ Q ] So the basic composition of your diet would be high protein, low carbohydrate and moderate fat?
[ Leon ] Yes, that is right. For fats I would also use a flaxseed oil product when I made my protein shakes. And I would use olive oil on my salads. I would also maybe have a tablespoon of peanut butter every other day.

[ Q ] Would it be fair to say that training was predominately basic back in your day; that the process of getting in shape was not overcomplicated through the adoption of many different training and dietary approaches?
[ Leon ] Yes, it was more basic back then. And I still train like this today. I still squat with, like, 500 pounds for reps. People who approach me in the gym see that I squat more than most of the other members and they always ask me "what are you on." I tell them I'm on 45 years of training.

"People who approach me in the gym see that I squat more than most of the other members and they always ask me "what are you on." I tell them I'm on 45 years of training." - Leon Brown on his secret bodybuilding formula.

[ Q ] What are your views on anabolic steroid use in bodybuilding?
[ Leon ] I would say that the only thing that was used back when I began was Deca Durabolin. And I used this only six weeks before the show. Plus I would already be in top condition. I would use it over the last six weeks just to maintain what I had built. That was it.

[ Q ] Obviously things have changed since those days.
[ Leon ] Yes, when I talk to some of the guys today, forget it. What they are following today is crazy.

[ Q ] Are you still looking to compete?
[ Leon ] I would like to if they could get the Masters Olympia back.

[ Q ] When would you begin training for a show?
[ Leon ] At 12 weeks out I would start my contest training because I stay in good condition all year.

[ Q ] You will assess your progress at 12 weeks out and design a program based on where you are?
[ Leon ] Yes.

[ Q ] Based on 45 years experience I imagine you would not need someone to guide you through the pre-contest preparation process.
[ Leon ] That's right, I do everything on my own and always have done. I do talk with different people and get ideas though.

Staten Island Bodybuilding Award! In 1995, Mario Strong presented physique artist Leon Brown with the Staten Island Bodybuilding Award for excellence in the sport.

LEGEND11.jpg [ Q ] During your 45 years as a bodybuilder what changes have you seen take place in bodybuilding as far as training goes?
[ Leon ] A lot of guys today are doing less sets per body part and are not spending as much time in the gym at one time.

[ Q ] What do you put this down to?
[ Leon ] I think some people have gotten lazy. Some of these pros don't even work (in a "real" job). They just do one body part, then hang out all day, then go back and do another body part.

[ Q ] Do you think the younger pros of today will still be training in another 45 years?
[ Leon ] No, I don't think they will be training in another ten years.

[ Q ] Why would this be?
[ Leon ] I think some of them would stop due to health reasons.

[ Q ] It is interesting to note that many guys from your era are still training hard whereas many guys from the '90s have kind of dropped out of the sport. [ You don't hear too much about them. Could we attribute this to a different mentality among your generation, one that has fostered a stronger work ethic?
[ Leon ] Yes, it was just the way the guys back then were brought up; it was a different time. Back then there was no money in the sport, unlike today. Guys' back then would train hard for themselves and when they wanted to compete they would compete. And that has carried over to today. We just loved to train. A young guy, a friend of mine, just spent ten grand on a steroid cycle for an amateur show and he still didn't win the contest. In 1987 I was talking with Vince Comerford (IFBB Pro) and I told him I was taking only Deca for my upcoming contest and he didn't believe me. He told me he was on four different things. When I told him I was taking a little bit of Deca he found that hard to believe. And I was squatting with 500 pounds for reps with no spotter and after having ditched my belt, and was doing T-Bar rows of up to 300 pounds for reps.

[ Q ] For someone like Vince Comerford, who competed as a pro in the early '90s, taking every advantage would have been what everyone else was doing. Had he not gone this route he may have effectively been wasting his time if he were serious about winning. Like it or not this is how it works in today's game.
[ Leon ] Well, you see these guys competing and then their organs start dropping out. After a while you don't hear from them no more. And they have been in the game far less longer than me.
I had a friend who once was working on the MetRx booth at the Arnold Classic, in Ohio, and he called me from his hotel and said he didn't feel too good, that he was sick. He died a week later.

Editor's Note:The man Leon speaks of here is one Joseph Baglio who, on Thursday March 8, 2007, passed away due to 'heart complications'. He was 40. A week prior he was scheduled to appear at an Iron Age Legend's Dinner to wish Leon a happy birthday.
Instead, he called Leon and complained of pain throughout his entire upper body. Three years earlier he received a heart transplant. He was supposedly on the comeback trail. He never arrived.

[ Q ] You were called the Brown Bomber early in your career. Why were you called this? Surely it couldn't have been because of the way you trained, right?
[ Leon ] (Laughs) Yes it was because of the way I trained. As I trained and after everyone else had finished I would still be bombing away (laughs).

[ Q ] So while Dave Draper was the Blond bomber, you were the Brown Bomber.
[ Leon ] Yes, Draper was the Blond Bomber (laughs). The original bomber. I did go to California and train with Dave Draper and we trained together the old school way.

[ Q ] I guess the gym was like a war zone with you two bombing away.
[ Leon ] You see guys today in their late '20s doing no rows , no chins , no deadlifts, no pullovers and no squats. The equipment has also changed since back in my day.

[ Q ] Has bodybuilding progressed as far as the quality of training we see today?
[ Leon ] Yes, in some you see this. Ronnie Coleman trains the old school way, and Jay Cutler. Everything is heavy: heavy squats and deadlifts.

[ Q ] And Ronnie and Jay's physiques certainly reflect this emphasis on heavy weights and basic exercises.
[ Leon ] Yes. And the guys back in my day I think were much stronger compared to the guys of today.

[ Q ] It is commonly known that men from back in the '60s and '70s would often stay in good shape all year round so when it came time to compete they would have less work to do in trying to remove the additional fat.
[ Leon ] There was no off-season. Straight after the show you would be back in the gym training the next day and the day after that. It was just normal to train that way (hard).

[ Q ] What were the main changes you would make to put the finishing touches on your physique prior to a contest?
[ Leon ] Two weeks out I would just look at my body to see what was wrong with it and maybe add something here or there. Maybe I would add a set or cut back on some carbohydrates. (At) two to three weeks out I think you have enough time to make adjustments. You can do it, like, three days out.
Two Weeks Out I Would Just Look At My Body To See
What Was Wrong With It

[ Q ] And what kind of adjustments would you typically make?
[ Leon ] It depends on what kind of condition I'm in. My hamstrings might be a little bit smooth or something. I'm maybe holding too much water at that point.

[ Q ] How did you counter water retention back in the good old days?
[ Leon ] I never really held water.

[ Q ] Why was this?
[ Leon ] Maybe it was genetic. About 20 years later I started holding water.

[ Q ] So how would your fellow competitors deal with water retention back then?
[ Leon ] They would take vitamin B-6 and vitamin C. Sometimes they would go lie in the sun and there were natural diuretics that could be bought from the drug store. They were called water pills back then.

[ Q ] And you never did any of this?
[ Leon ] No, I never did any water pills or any of that stuff. Never.

[ Q ] From 1967 through to '73 was a very good time for you competitively. During this period you competed against Frank Zane at the 1967 Eastern America and did quite well. Can you tell me a little about this show?
[ Leon ] Well I placed second in my class. At that time Zane was big - he was about 210 (pounds). But he was smooth. Rock Stonewall was there - he won the overall.

[ Q ] How close were you to Frank Zane physique-wise, at this show, do you think?
[ Leon ] I don't really remember, but I was just happy to be there on the same stage. It was one of my early shows.

[ Q ] You also competed against another past Mr. Olympia winner, Franco Columbu, at the 1970 Mr. International. You beat him for the Best Back and Most Muscular awards. How did that feel?
[ Leon ] Yes, that was the Mr. International. After that show he (Franco) didn't talk to me for a week because he had never lost the Most Muscular before then.
But we became friends after that. He had just come across from Germany and had been in the US for about a month when we competed together. It was his first time in New York. He came over here to be with Arnold.

[ Q ] Did you ever meet Arnold?
[ Leon ] Oh yes, he was a good guy. I was with a friend at Santa Monica Beach and he said, "Who is that guy with the big arms?" I got quite excited and yelled, "That is Arnold."
Well he (Arnold) called me over and we got talking. He asked me where I lived and I told him Venice. He asked me to go hang out with him. He picked me up to go to the gym with him and we went out to eat. Stuff like that.

[ Q ] To your recollection what was Arnold like back then?
[ Leon ] He was always very good to me, even up to today. He is he Governor now and when we go to Ohio he gets his security to let us through to sit with him at his table.
A couple of years back he gave me a nice autographed jacket for my birthday in March. I go almost every year to Columbus.

[ Q ] And you trained with Arnold?
[ Leon ] Yes. I trained with him until Franco came across.

[ Q ] What was Arnold like as a training partner?
[ Leon ] He always trained hard, not super heavy but always intense.

[ Q ] Franco, by contrast, was a very powerful guy who would train with heavier weights.
[ Leon ] Yes, that is right. I was in the gym one day and he asked me to spot him on the bench press; he told me not to touch the bar. He lifted five a quarter (five 45 pound plates and a 25 pound plate each side of the bar) for five reps without me even touching the bar.
Then one time he betted me five dollars that he would out-squat me by 100 pounds, as I was a good squatter. I did 550 for five. He did 650 for 12.

[ Q ] So Franco won the five dollars.
[ Leon ] No, he didn't take it.

[ Q ] What gym did this event, and we could probably call it that, take place in?
[ Leon ] This was the original Gold's (Gym), with Joe Gold. Joe Gold was a nice man too.

12LEON.jpg[ Q ] What are your recollections of Joe Gold?
[ Leon ] Well, the very first time I walked in there (into Gold's), it was the first time I had ever seen a gym like that. Compared to what we had back here (New York).
I walked in there and he was playing cards at the front of his gym with two guys: one was (Superstar) Billy Graham and one was Peanuts West. So he (Joe Gold) told us to take a look around.
After me and my friends had looked around the gym I said, "Wow, we haven't seen anything like this before." We all got talking, when this big guy comes up from out of nowhere and starts posing and flexing his legs right in front of me, right in front of my face. I was like who the h#ll is this guy?
We walked back to Joe Gold he told us that the guy had "just won a local competition and he thinks he is better than everybody; he thinks he is better than you."
He (Joe Gold) said, "Here's what I'll do for you. If you enter the Mr. Santa Monica Beach coming up in the next month and can go in there and beat this guy I'll give you a lifelong membership pass." He told me to come in the following morning to start training.
It (the contest) is like 25 guys with no classes; it's, like, every man for himself. No height or weight classes. There was Jim Morris, David Johns, Tyrone Young and Paul Hill: a whole crew of them all competing in this show.
All of these guys had won Mr. America and Mr. Universe contests for the AAU and NABBA. And I went in this show and beat everybody. Then two months later was the Mr. Venice Beach. So two weeks before this contest I said to Joe Gold, "Let me train for the Mr. Venice Beach."
Two weeks before the Venice Beach I was at a lift, a power-lifting meet. I had been asked to compete and I said, "Hang on, I'm only, like, 180 (pounds) and getting ready for a show and I'm all ripped up."
They basically said, "Just try it, go ahead and see how you do." Well I won the 181-pound class with a 380 bench a 500-pound squat and a 600 deadlift. I weighed in at exactly 178 (pounds). Then two weeks later I won the bodybuilding show too.

[ Q ] What year did all of this happen?
[ Leon ] It was 1966. Then, also in '69, there was the Western America where I won every body part except abs, and came in second.

[ Q ] Who won this show?
[ Leon ] I think it was Don Peters.

[ Q ] And who was the silly chap who posed in front of you in the gym?
[ Leon ] That was Art Peacock. He had just won the Mr. Los Angeles.

[ Q ] I understand you also won the 1969 Mr. Surf Festival. Tell me more about this contest.
[ Leon ] This was like a big show out there (in California). Larry Scott won it; Don Howorth won it. It was like a big show back then, a traditional show.
Whoever won it would go on to win the California, then the America. Tyrone Young won the AAU natural Mr. America; Jim Morris won the AAU Mr. America and Dave Johns went on to do the same.
It was an IFBB show, but remember in those days you could switch back and forth. An AAU competitor could go in the IFBB and IFBB competitors could go in the AAU back then.
Nobody really bothered too much with the rules. Then they (the Weiders) started making all of those strict rules. If you competed in one organization you would get banned in the other one.

[ Q ] And that is when you went to compete in the WBBG, where the athletes had more freedom to compete in other organizations despite being a WBBG member?
[ Leon ] Yes, and at that point (1969) I was competing in both the IFBB and WBBG. They, the Weider's, made that rule when I competed in my last WBBG show and that's when I competed there (the IFBB). If anybody went to compete in the WBBG or NABBA they would be suspended (from the IFBB).

[ Q ] As did many of your fellow '60s bodybuilders you qualified to compete in the AAU Mr. America. Yet you chose not to continue competing in this show until you won it. Why?
[ Leon ] I decided to stay with the IFBB because of certain stories I had heard. Harold Poole told me a story about when he was in the AAU Mr. America and there was Sergio (with what he had experienced in the AAU).

[ Q ] Following your win at the Surf Festival in '69, what did you immediately do competition-wise?
[ Leon ] In 1970 I won Mr. California, Mr. Pacific Coast and Mr. Western America. Then Joe Weider paid my way to compete in the (IFBB) Mr. America. At that time I was living in California and he paid my way to come to New York where the Mr. America was held.

[ Q ] What were the main differences for you as far as competing in the IFBB versus other federations you had been in?
[ Leon ] I think the competition was a little bit tougher with the IFBB. (In 1971) Ken Waller won (the IFBB Mr. America) and Ed Corney won the following year.

[ Q ] What are your thoughts on Ed Corney as a fellow competitor?
[ Leon ] He was a good competitor. He was in good condition and was a good poser. And he was a nice guy too.

[ Q ] And I understand you competed against Lou Ferrigno.
[ Leon ] Two months before IFBB Mr. America I competed against him at the Junior Mr. America in Massachusetts and Louie came up there to compete. I was in the short class but was hard as a rock and ripped to the bone.
He saw how I looked as we were pumping up moments before competing and he dropped out of the show and did not compete.

[ Q ] Throughout your career you have been up there against almost all of the top men.
[ Leon ] Yes, I like the competition. That's why I went to California; I wanted to go where the best was so I moved out there for a couple of years. I would read all about Muscle Beach and used to tell my friends in high school that I would go out there someday.
My friend who was going to UCLA at the time got me my first job there as a night janitor, from five o'clock in the afternoon to midnight. So I would train in the morning and go to work about 4:00 o'clock.

[ Q ] And you worked the same job the entire two years you were in California?
[ Leon ] Yes. It was an easy job. I can't stand around doing nothing.

[ Q ] You recently retired. What are your goals now?
[ Leon ] I will continue training, but I also would like to work more with younger kids, helping them to get off the street and show them how to weight train.
Not necessarily to become bodybuilders but to help them with their sports and stuff. And just (for them) to have something to do.
I Would Like To Work More With Younger Kids, Helping ThemTo Get Off The Street And Show Them How To Weight Train

[ Q ] So are you working in this area now?
[ Leon ] Yes. I have a few guys I'm helping out.

[ Q ] Are you working with at-risk youth or more so with the street gangs?
[ Leon ] About half and half - You want them to come up to you and ask about training instead of learning about training in jail.

[ Q ] Over your long 45-year involvement in bodybuilding (training and competing) what has been your greatest competition moment?
(After a long pause) The 1987 (IFBB) Nationals (Masters) would have to be one of the best.

 [ Q ] Why was this one of your better contests?
[ Leon ] Well, because I trained almost all year for that and got into one of my best conditions ever.

[ Q ] What are additional fond memories from your '60s and '70s contests?
[ Leon ] There are many. And that is what I also tell the kids I work with. It's not all about winning. Even when I placed third and in every contest I entered I was always on a championship stage. When I played football I was playing against the best.
Same thing with baseball and when running track: I won gold medals here also. So when I got into bodybuilding and began winning trophies it was okay, but it wasn't that exciting for me because I had been through that already.

[ Q ] So what was the real attraction for your pursuing bodybuilding competition?
[ Leon ] I got to travel and meet all of the people I had read about in the magazines. That was new to me because when I looked at these magazines I never believed I would be competing on the same stage with those guys.
That was new. I would learn from all of these guys and even when it came to posing I would take parts of the different routines and use them in my own.

[ Q ] You were known for having some of the most amazing back development ever, especially the inner area. What did you do to develop your back?
[ Leon ] I tell people all I ever did for my back was 18 sets of rows three times a week. I did this in my basement when I didn't have any machines or nothing. I would do six close (grip), six wide, six dumbbell and two sets of good mornings. 20 sets total for back, and that was it.

Leon Brown's Old-School Back Workout
Close-Grip Barbell Rows: 6 sets
Wide-Grip Barbell Rows: 6 sets
One-Arm Dumbbell Rows: 6 sets
Barbell Good Mornings: 2 sets

[ Q ] You say here you built your back exclusively with rowing movements for thickness, yet you also had great width. Did you throw in a few sets of chins?
[ Leon ] No chins. We could not place a chin-up bar in my basement. All I had there were barbells and dumbbells. A few years later I started doing chin-ups when I joined a gym. Back in high school when they had recreation time me and my friends used to do chin-ups in the gymnasium.
I got so good doing chin-ups that I would get my friend to hang on to me and I would do them with him attached. He weighed about 120 pounds and I only weighed about 140 (pounds) and I would do reps with him around my waist.
One time the teacher called me over and had me run the class for him. We did all of the calisthenics. Push-ups and sit-ups. I would demonstrate all of the exercises and he would let me run the class for him.

[ Q ] I spoke to Marvin Eder once and he told me of the amazing strength feats he would do. Marvin was from the East Coast like you. Did you know him?
[ Leon ] Yes he was. When I first began training, Marvin Eder was just incredible. I met him years later after he had finished competing and he still trained. He also came out to California, when I was there, just to visit. He told me he walked onto Muscle Beach one day and started doing dips.
A guy named Malcolm Brenner was on the Beach too, a big guy of about 6'1". Marvin Eder is a short guy like me. Well Marvin was doing dips with about 100 pounds. So Malcolm started doing dips with an extra 50 pounds.
Marvin got an idea: he began doing the 150 pounds for dips with a guy attached. And he did about 12 reps with this weight. And Malcolm Brenner walked off the Beach after that. Did you know that Marvin Eder still trains?

[ Q ] Yes. He told me he still does 500 crunches each morning and he does rows and triceps kickbacks with phenomenal weights.
[ Leon ] And he is in his 70s. He would clean and jerk, like, 340 pounds back in those days and bench 510. At the time he weighed around 198 pounds. You don't see guys like him anymore.

[ Q ] Did you ever train with Marvin?
[ Leon ] No, I met him many years later after he had retired from competition. He had a plumbing business. One day I was coming out of the gym on Second Avenue and saw a plumbing truck with Marvin Eder on the side.
I wondered if this was the Marvin Eder. As he walked out of the store I discovered it was and that is how I first met him.

[ Q ] What were some additional exercises you did back in the 60s that you don't see too often today?
[ Leon ] We did bent arm pullovers. Back then you would have guys like Leroy Colbert, Tom Sansone, Joe Abbenda. You used to see them doing these all the time, and they all had big rib cages and deep chest development.
This exercise would also help build thickness in the lats. Arnold did these too sometimes so I would do them also.

[ Q ] In 2007 you were inducted into the WBBG Hall Of Fame. How did this feel?
[ Leon ] It was great. I met up with some guys I hadn't seen in 30 years. Sergio was there, and Steve Michalik and Bob Gajda. Through bodybuilding I have been to 23 different (US) States and four different countries. I would have probably never had the opportunities to do this without bodybuilding.
Back in those days, competing in New York, if you won a show they would pay for you to go to the big shows, but they don't do that no more. They would send the three best guys in the district to California and pay their way: for two days, plus a hotel and airfare.

[ Q ] It is widely known that back in your era there was a greater degree of camaraderie among bodybuilders.
[ Leon ] Yes there was more camaraderie and friendships. Even with the crowds back then: the crowds were more into it.
I went to the 1965 Mr. Olympia, not as competitor - I sat in the crowd - and when Larry Scott came out the crowd went nuts for about 15 minutes. Then when Larry went up the street the crowd followed him.
Leon Brown, Dave Draper, And Leroy ColbertAt The Opening Of A Manhattan World Gym In 1986

[ Q ] Since competitive bodybuilding was a relatively new phenomenon back in the '60s, were you seen as an oddity, something strange and unique?
[ Leon ] Yes, and back then it was like that. But today you walk the streets as a bodybuilder and people ask you if you are on steroids. The bodybuilders today get all dressed up and walk the streets with attitude.

[ Q ] What drove you to be the best you could be as a bodybuilder?
[ Leon ] It was more about the camaraderie. You would go to shows and meet your friends from different parts of the State. You would hang out and it would be a big deal.
It wasn't just competition. Same thing at the Hall Of Fame awards (WBBG in 2007) - after it was all done we sat back in the hotel room until four o'clock in the morning talking about old times.

[ Q ] Being a bodybuilder though, and having achieved what you have throughout the years, you, I imagine, did wish to be the best guy onstage. What drove you to be the best competitively?
[ Leon ] It was just because I loved the sport. There was no more baseball or football so I put everything into that. It was more fun back in those days.
All of us would drive up to Holyoke Massachusetts after the show and they had the big amusement center there - we would just hang out, go on the rides and fool around. If we won or lost we didn't care.

[ Q ] Why did you walk away from football and track and field to pursue a bodybuilding career? Was there an injury that prompted this, or was it simply for a change of direction?
[ Leon ] Yes, it was to do something different. Even after many years of competing as a bodybuilder they used to call me up to come and play (football). And sometimes when there was no contest coming up I would go and play with them.

[ Q ] Were you ever tempted to go back and seek big money in pro football or baseball?
[ Leon ] If I knew back then that there was big money to be made I would have tried to stick with it. But I still would have trained with weights no matter what.

[ Q ] In your view, to be a great bodybuilder is it important to cut back on other outside activities and devote yourself primarily to the weights?
[ Leon ] I never really had any problem with this. I would do other activities.

[ Q ] Is bodybuilding a good way for people to become better-rounded individuals?
[ Leon ] Yes, I think so.

[ Q ] And why is this?
[ Leon ] You see these kids on the street and they look lost, especially in this kind of neighborhood. When they see a bodybuilder they look up to him.
Sometimes I would walk though these bad neighborhoods and the kids would come up to me and we would talk training. They would be very interested in bodybuilding. Bodybuilding can make you a better person in many ways.

[ Q ] What ways has bodybuilding improved you as a person?
[ Leon ] Well, I never really had any problems growing up. My mother would always discipline us kids as we were growing up, she would sit down and talk to us and this would help us on the right path.

[ Q ] Since you continue to follow bodybuilding today, who are some current champions you like the look of.
[ Leon ] I like Dexter (Jackson) and Victor (Martinez). I remember Victor when he was coming up as a middleweight. He was training in a friend of mine's gym.
He called me over to meet Victor and was talking about this new guy, that he would someday be great. All he (Victor) had then were arms and legs. This was in about '97.
I also like Dennis Wolf. He has a good shape and symmetry, and is aesthetic looking. Some of these guys are hard, ripped and big but I like guys with good shape and symmetry, like Dennis Wolf.

[ Q ] In your opinion, who would stand out as being the best representative professional bodybuilding has had?
[ Leon ] I would say Shawn Ray is one of them, but also Jay Cutler.

[ Q ] I believe you were in one of the very first Muscle Training Illustrated magazines. Your association with Dan Lurie is a long one.
[ Leon ] Yes, I've known Dan for at least 30 years. Back then he had his equipment business. One time he told me he had a gym, so I began training at his gym. Not long after he put me in his magazine. He was real nice to me.

[ Q ] What do you most fondly recall from your days working with and competing for Dan Lurie?
[ Leon ] He would run his shows in places like Radio City and they were very classy.

[ Q ] What are some of your memories concerning the WBBG contests you competed in?
[ Leon ] I went up against Harold Poole. He was really a nice guy too but I knew him before Dan Lurie's show.

[ Q ] How would you summarize your bodybuilding career to date?
[ Leon ] It could have been better. I have had a few setbacks.

[ Q ] Please explain.
[ Leon ] One time I was in an accident and crushed all the fingers on one hand and was out for about nine months. I could not train and this got in the way of my competing.

[ Q ] What do you think you could have achieved had everything gone right for you?
[ Leon ] I think if everything went right I could have been on the Mr. Olympia stage. Not win it, but just being on that stage.

I Think If Everything Went Right I Could Have Been On
The Mr. Olympia Stage

[ Q ] What kind of shape are you in today?
[ Leon ] I'm about 192 (pounds). A little smooth but not soft smooth. If I had a show in 12 weeks I would be right there.

[ Q ] Were you to compete in 12 months from now what would you weigh?
[ Leon ] I would say about 185 (pounds).

[ Q ] What are your main goals today?
[ Leon ] I would like to compete again and continue staying in good shape. Just when I think life might slow down I keep coming back to competition because this is what I love to do.

[ Q ] And you will, of course, always train hard, bomber style.
[ Leon ] Yes, always.