Although Ed Corney has been in the top rung of American bodybuilders since the early 1970s, it wasn’t until the last year that he found a niche all his own. All across the country now, the name Corney carries with it a promise of excitement – an excitement that is unique to bodybuilding. To see him at his best is to see the greatest master of posing – the art of showing the physique – in our time.
Just a few years ago it would have been incredible for a 44-year-old man to be at such a pinnacle of bodybuilding. By that age many men have settled comfortably into middle age and have traded in their youthful dreams for a paunch, stooped shoulders, and a generally slowed pace of living. But not Corney; instead he is still improving and still dreaming of new goals to conquer. If anybody ever told him to slow up, he was getting – well, a little too old to be matching himself with guys often young enough to be his son, Ed obviously didn’t listen. Instead, to paraphrase a song made popular by Frank Sinatra, “he did it his way,” and that has made all the difference.
Early this spring when promoters Arley Vest and Tom LaRousse announced that Ed would be the guest poser at their Greater Gulf States Bodybuilding Championships, word spread like wildfire across southwestern Louisiana. Those of us who live down here who had been to the ’77 Olympia, brought back the news of how he had electrified the huge sellout audience and had brought it to its feet in a surge of emotional excitement that few, if any, of us had ever experienced at a physique contest. Since then he has been seen on ABC “Wide World of Sports” and has been featured in some of bodybuilding’s top magazines. One of them, in fact, placed him high in their, and their readers’, selection of 1977’s top ten bodybuilders. So expectations were running high in Louisiana.
Luckily, the sun rose in a clear sky on the day of the contest, a beautiful early spring day when the air is clear and almost sparkles. The California spring had not been all that great, so Ed eagerly seized the opportunity to soak up the Louisiana sunshine. I had contacted him previously about an interview and when I arrived at the hotel where he was staying, I found him at the pool basking in the warmth of the sun’s rays. Inviting me to sit down and enjoy the good weather with him, we immediately established a rapport. The questions I asked him and his candid answers are as follows:
Bob Summer: Ed, since your name by now is synonymous with a masterful posing ability, I would like to start by asking you about the ideas that lay behind this remarkable skill you have Developed.
Ed Corney: Sure. The idea behind my posing is that it is my way of communicating with the audience. Since all they are going to see is the end result of my training, I feel very strongly that it is important that I present myself in such a way that they can understand what I have been doing. Without even saying a word, but through my movement and expression, I am talking to the audience. In effect, I’m saying to them, “I’ve worked on my biceps, etc., and this is what I have done; take a look.” Like a sculptor, I have worked on my body to get it all in harmony. Each day in the gym I have molded it to bring it up here, cut it up there, and get it all in balance. Then when everything is together I want to show my work to the best advantage, and my posing routine is how I do this. It is an obligation, I feel, to the audience, to not just get up and throw together a group of poses to show yourself off. Posing – and bodybuilding – has to have more meaning than that.
S: So, like the sculptor with his statue, your posing is a personal statement of how you interpret your art – the art of bodybuilding.
C: That’s right. Posing is purely a personal expression. Despite the heartaches and disappointments and the outside negative forces that plague bodybuilding, there is with the bodybuilder the urge to constantly mold himself to an ideal that exists in his mind – and to compete. Bodybuilding is such a personal thing and through my posing I am expressing what bodybuilding means to me. Obviously it cannot mean the same to everybody, which is why we all have different posing styles. In traveling I am constantly seeing guys using my style – or Zane’s, or Boyer’s – but it is never the same. These guys haven’t experienced what I have, so their routines fall flat. Posing has to come from within like any other form of self-expression.
S: You invariably get a strong response from the audience. What effect does such a response – the kind you received at the ’77 Olympia, for instance – have on you?
C: Well, it is very gratifying, of course. It tells me that I’m getting through to them, that I have established a rapport, and that they understand what I have done to prepare myself for that time and place. But there are times when you can’t depend on the crowd. Maybe they don’t know how to react and instead sit there in silence, not because they are not appreciating you, but because they don’t know whether to clap, yell, scream, or whatever. When I was promoting Pumping Iron, I did a show in Boston. As you know, Bostonians are supposed to be very conservative, and I was prepared for a similar response. There were about 1,500 people in the theater and when I came on stage to give my exhibition I couldn’t believe the reaction I got from them. They went wild! I was certainly surprised, and appreciated their support all the more since I wasn’t expecting it.
S: Do you work on your posing regularly?
C: Yes, I put a lot of thought into it. The poses as well as the transitions are individual parts of a whole routine and have to be planned. So when I get up before an audience to pose, everything is predetermined. Every movement, every gesture, every pose has been thought out beforehand. Music, of course, can help you get the effect you want, and I give a lot of thought to what I pose to.
S: I wanted to ask you about that. At the ’77 AFAB Mr. USA contest, and posedown to pick the IFBB Universe team, you posed to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” I had never seen anyone pose to that, and frankly it never even occurred to me that it was music you could work out an effective routine with. But you used it very effectively and I – along with most of the audience, I’m sure – was moved by the way you used the song and reflected its meaning. Obviously the recording must have some special significance for you. Can you tell me about this?
C: Well, maybe the reason you’ve never seen anyone pose to it is that it’s a 4 minute, 38 second song! Seriously, though, it is one of my favorite songs and says a lot about my way of life. It says much that I have to say about myself. Also, Frank Sinatra happens to be one of my favorite singers.
S: Have you ever met him? It would be very interesting to get his reaction to your interpretation of his song, especially since you reflect so well the emotion of his lyrics.
C: No, unfortunately, I have never had the opportunity to meet him and I doubt that he even knows about me or my use of his song. But I hope to see him next month up at Tahoe, where he will be singing. My wife and I are going to take a little vacation and go up to hear him.
S: Can you tell me a little about your family?
C: Yes. In addition to my wife, I have a 19-year-old daughter, who just got married. Then I have a 15-month-old son – he is really something – and a 13-week-old daughter.
S: Ed, in the book Pumping Iron I recall that you were in the bar business. Is that still your occupation?
C: No, I gave that up and now I devote my full time to bodybuilding. Training and appearing around the country as a guest poser and giving seminars take up all my time. Also I’m now involved with promoting a line of courses that, fortunately, are doing very well.
S: I’m glad to hear that. You’ve certainly developed a lot of fans just during the last year. Nevertheless, you haven’t had the great amount of publicity that some of your competitors have, and I’m sure that most of the younger people coming into the sport or already involved with bodybuilding, don’t know much about your background. So I would like you to tell me something about that. To begin with, when did you get into bodybuilding?
C: My bodybuilding background is kind of unusual. I was born and raised in Hawaii and as a youngster I was interested in bodybuilding and surfing. When I was about 14 I had my first glimpse of bodybuilders on the beach one day when I looked up and saw a couple of what seemed to me to be monsters coming my way. They weren’t monsters, of course, but were Steve Reeves and George Eiferman, accompanied by Pudgy Stockton, who in those days was always with them. I just couldn’t believe what I saw! But that experience came and went and I had no further brush with bodybuilding until after I had graduated from high school and had spent four years in the Merchant Marines and was living in Alameda, California. One day I was playing volleyball and our team was matched against a team of bodybuilders. Before the game I said to myself that these guys were nothing – they were big, sure, but they couldn’t do anything. Well, much to my surprise, I soon found out otherwise. They were good! I couldn’t believe how powerful and coordinated they were, and afterward I got to rapping with them. “Ed,” they said, “you ought to take up bodybuilding.” I thought they were kidding.
S: How big: were you then?
C: 141 pounds – just average for a 5’6” guy. I certainly knew that I could stand to add some size, so I went down to the American Health Studios, one of the first gym chains – to see what this thing called bodybuilding was all about. I was intrigued by its possibilities, so I signed up for a lifetime membership (after a year, however, they sold out, I remember). Anyway, I got interested in going in and working out regularly on the well-rounded program that they gave me to follow. In fact, the more I did, the more I became fascinated with it. I would be in the gym doing incline curls with a pair of 25 pound dumbbells and in would come Jack Delinger and Allen Stephens and other big guys – all Mr. Americas and Mr. This or Mr. That – and I would think “Oh, my God, what am I doing here?” But I didn’t give up; I just went right on with the program they gave to me, and soon I could begin to see results. I didn’t even think of competing, however; I just wasn’t interested in that. And, looking back, I realize that I didn’t know much about bodybuilding then and next to nothing about nutrition and diet. I just enjoyed working out.
S: When did you finally get around to entering your first contest?
C: After about 10 years. I entered the Mr. Fremont contest in 1967 – and even then I had to be talked into it. Anyway, my training partner and I decided that we would enter.
S: How much did you weigh then?
C: Around 160 pounds. I had just kept on getting bigger over the years I had been training. Surprisingly I took first – by one point – and my training partner took second. So then my friends said, “Why don’t you enter this other contest in the Bay Area,” and I did and several more as well. Finally, I went to the biggie, the AAU Mr. California, and I came in fifth. So I trained hard the year after and came in fourth. The next year I went overseas as a technical representative, but by then bodybuilding was a part of my life and I trained while in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. By the following year when I got back, I had really put on weight and increased my strength. I entered a contest up in Northern California at 198 pounds and competed in both the weightlifting and physique contests. I lifted1375 pounds total and didn’t even place! But in the physique contest I took second. That was really a turning point in my life.
S: How so?
C: It became obvious to me that I couldn’t go both ways – weightlifting and bodybuilding. I realized that each required different types of training. Weightlifting requires heaviness and strength but to win in the physique contests you have to be cut and ripped. I saw that the AAU Mr. California was coming up in six months, so I decided to concentrate on bodybuilding and train for that. In those six months I dropped 39 pounds and went down to Los Angeles – the site of the contest – in by far my best shape up to that time. Now, remember, anybody who goes to the Mr. Cal contest and is not from the southern part of the state is really bucking the odds; he has to be awfully good – not just good. Well, that year (1971) I took everything, including the title.
S: How old were you then and how much did you weigh?
C: 37. I weighed 159 pounds; my major competitor – Ty Youngs – weighed 215 pounds
S: During the past few years the winner of the Mr. California title has gone on to win the AAU Mr. America title. Did you go on to the Mr. America contest after you big win in Los Angeles?
C: Yes, I went to York. Casey Viator won that year, and I came in fourth. But I really thought that I should have been second.
S: What were your first IFBB contests?
C: I went right into the IFBB Mr. America, held that year in LA. I won the Mr. Western America title and came in third in the Mr. America contest. Ken Waller won, but I couldn’t believe all the great bodybuilders who were there that night – Boyer Coe, Bill Grant, Pete Caputo – it was amazing; and hard to believe that I was there competing with these people. From there I went to the IFBB Mr. USA contest in New York and competed against – I couldn’t believe it – Harold Poole, one of my favorite people. He took the tall class and I took the medium. We had a pose down for the overall title, and I out posed the other two class winners. So I won the overall title.
S: As you were working your way up the competition ladder did people always note your posing routine?
C: Yes. Fortunately I seemed to have a natural talent for that and early on developed a special feel for effective posing. I’ve always placed a great deal of emphasis on how I present myself. I’ve practiced a lot and through trial and error have learned what is right for me.
S: As I recall, 1972 was a good year for you. I believe that was the year that you and Mike Katz went to the Universe – the one that is in the book, but not the movie, Pumping Iron.
C: Yes, 1972 was a Good year. I competed that year in the IFBB Mr. America contest in New York and fortunately I came in such great shape that I walked away with everything. Mike Katz won the Mr. World that night. So he and I – with Tom Minicehello as the team captain – were named the USA representatives to the Mr. Universe, which that year was held in Baghdad. Charles Gaines and George Butler by that time had decided to do a book on bodybuilding and they went with us. They really wanted to get into what they were writing about, so they stayed with us all the time we were there.
S: Yes, I remember the great pictures in their book that were taken in Baghdad. Were those sets up or were they taken just as they happened?
C: That was all George Butler’s work. He has a good eye and the talent for getting photos just at the right time when something is happening. Together he and Gaines really got to know what bodybuilding is all about and bodybuilders as people. That is why their book is so great.
S: What happened at the contest?
C: Mike and I were pretty well convinced at prejudging that he would win the tall class and I would win the medium. Katz weighed 240 pounds and I weighed 160 pounds. The pose down was really something, and much to my surprise, I took the overall title. It isn’t the big guy who always wins; it has to be a very good big guy.
S: I would like to get back to Pumping Iron, since it has had such an impact – first as a book and then as a movie. Why did Gaines and Butler pick you initially to work with?
C: Well, I guess they figured that potentially I was important to what they wanted to work with. They were looking ahead to the 1975 Mr. Olympia in South Africa, and I think they felt I might be competitive there. Anyway, they had planned to do the movie after they did the book, and they wanted the two to parallel each other as closely as possible. Of course, they had no way of knowing who would win the contest in South Africa, so they took material from all the leading bodybuilders. Whatever the outcome was they would have material for it.
S: Charles Gaines also wrote another book about bodybuilding, Stay Hungry, which also became a movie. Unfortunately though, I never saw it. Were you in it?
C: Oh, yes. Arnold was the star, of course, but a lot of other guys were in it. One of the interesting things about that movie, I think, was that work was being done on it at the same time preparation work was beginning on the movie Pumping Iron, Just after Gaines and Butler had finished their book Gaines came back to this country to write the movie script for Stay Hungry, Butler, meanwhile, was busy getting together the finances and organization for the Pumping Iron movie. So after we had finished with Stay Hungry, we went right into Pumping Iron.
S: That must have been a busy time for you. What was it like working on that movie? It is so realistic that it looks as though they filmed it just as it was happening.
C: They did. We were all training for the South Africa Olympia, and Butler filmed us exactly as we trained. Nothing was rehearsed. They would come to the gym to film and Arnold would tell them what we were going to be doing; this and that set of exercises. The cameras and the booms would be set up to record us going through our routines. The film crew respected us and stayed out of our way, but at the same time they got the film they needed.
S: How did you do at the Olympia that year?
C: Well, I came close – but I just couldn’t beat Columbu. So I had to be satisfied with 2nd in the under·200 lb. class. Arnold won the overall title, of course However, had I been fortunate enough to win, Pumping Iron’s emphasis would have been swung toward me and I would have had more of an important role in the movie. As I said, they were prepared for any eventuality. The movie that finally appeared is really a masterpiece of editing; the job they did on putting it all together was fantastic.
S: Well, even though you weren’t the star of the movie, it was your picture that they used on the poster, as they had on the cover of the book. Did that surprise you?
C: Yes, It really did. I asked them why they’d chosen me and they told me that they had a discussion with Arnold and that he thought that particular shot was appropriate. They didn’t want a standard muscle pose, so they picked up on that photo of me taken just after I had been named IFBB Mr. America for 1972. When the movie opened In New York they put up 5,000 posters all over the city. But it’s funny; many people thought it was Arnold on the poster. They would say to me “you look like Arnold” and I would reply, “No, Arnold looks likes me.” But one day Arnold said to me, “Ed. I’m really glad it’s not my picture on that poster. You ought to see what they do to it on the subways!”
S: When the movie opened in New York were you surprised at the response!
C: Yes, it was amazing. The reviews were uniformly good, and they all told us that the movie was a big winner. I was at the premiere and 1 stayed on for 8 weeks helping with the promotion. For each of those 8 weeks I gave 31 shows a week, and t always played to a full house.
S: That sounds like a pretty exhausting schedule.
C: Well, it was hard work but interesting. I kept myself on a rigid diet and trained regularly at Mld-City Gym. But I enjoyed those 8 weeks, and I found it quite satisfying to pose before the different kinds of crowds that the movie attracted. The opening night crowd was great, of course; it included a lot of celebrities and socialites and was pretty glamorous. Then for about the first week the audience seemed to be made up mostly of bodybullders. Then the gays started coming in, then the women with their husbands or boyfriends – and later without them. Then the families started coming in to see a movie that they had heard was a good one, Then there were people who came back OVER and OVER AGAIN. Jackie Onassis showed up with her son one day,
S: How did these different audiences react to you personally?
C: Well, some of them at first didn’t know how to react-they had just not seen a bodybuilder before. But the movie helped them get into bodybuilding, and from it they could relate better to me. Some nights the response was great and, as with most things, I guess, some nights it wasn’t so great. Every night, however, there would be questions from the audience, which I would answer. Then I would sign autographs in the lobby.
S: After those 8 weeks in New York did you travel around the country helping to promote the movie?
C: No, I came back to California to get ready for competition. The movie was sold outright to Cinema Five – for whom I worked when I was In New York – and they were in charge of its promotion and distribution. There are a lot of pros and eons over how they handled the movie, but wherever it showed it seemed to get a terrific response. Arnold – always a terrific promoter – went with it to the Cannes Film Festival in France where it was quite a hit. And, of course, it has become a modem classic.
S: Later In 1976, as I recall, you went back to the Olympia. How did you do that time around?
C: Not as well as I had hoped. Franco won the overall title that year and I came in fourth – behind Boyer Coe. I came back from Columbus and analyzed what had happened. You really have to do that when you lose; it’s tough to say to yourself that you blew it and figure out why you didn’t do well. But you had to do that if you are going to Improve. I weighed about 172 pounds, which was somewhat heavier than I had been, But I don’t think that was the problem, Instead, I realized that the problem was that I had been doing too many exhibitions and that I had been going at them with 100 percent effort. It is impossible to hold yourself for 100 percent very long. Before the Columbus Olympia Franco was going at it only about 80 percent. When we did the Streets Of San Francisco TV show there was a contest that we had to act out. Well, as usual, I put everything Into It, and Franco held something back. Later on he told me something that I haven’t forgotten. “Shows,” he told me, “don’t mean anything; contests mean everything.” So during the last weeks before the Olympia he went up, but because I had not held anything back, I went down; I was just too tired by then. Franco came in at his best shape ever; as a result, he won,
S: Competing at the Mr. Olympia level, of course, is competing at the highest level. Just how do you go about preparing yourself for that kind of competition?
C: I think you have to do it a couple of times before you really know how to approach it. The problem, of course, is that all the men there are winners. They have to be among the world’s best or they wouldn’t be there, You have to get a good perspective on yourself and see how you measure up to the competition, and that is a hard thing to do – to see yourself as the judges will see you. A lot of psychology is Involved and the pressure is enormous, but you can’t allow that to upset you, You have to come in thinking like a winner and take advantage of even the slightest break that comes your way, If you’re mentally alert, you just might make a few points for yourself.
S: Will you be going back to the ’78 Olympia at about the same weight you had last year?
C: No. You have to make some kind of Improvement or it looks as though you haven’t done anything since the previous year. I’m not sure that I will be that much heavier, but I’m going to work on developing better tie-Ins so that everything fits together in greater harmony.
S: What kind of training program will you be following? Will you be training twice a day?
C: No, I train only once a day. Six days a week. The only time I ever trained twice a day was when I was training with Arnold. But I learned then that that kind of program was just not right for me.
S: Do you still use heavy weights in your program, as you did in your early years in bodybuilding?
C: No. Then I thought that the heavier the weight the more good it was doing me, Now I’m concerned with the effectiveness of the full movement, You have to concentrate on what your muscle is doing, and on that only. You must put everything out of your mind.
S: That touches on something bodybuilders talk about a lot – mental attitude. What do you have to say about that aspect of training?
C: Success or failure in bodybuilding depends on how you feel about yourself and what you are willing to put into your training. If anything is bothering you, you have to take care of it and get it out of the way before you go to the gym. As I said, you have to concentrate on what you are doing, that is certainly the case when you are getting ready for the Olympia, the ultimate in competition.
S: Where do you train now?
C: In Fremont at Bob’s Athletic Club. It is not a spectacular kind of gym and I have to sometimes improvise because of some of the things we don’t have. But over the years I’ve trained in a lot of different gyms and have learned to do that. Basically it is a good place for me to train, though.
S: Do you work with a training partner?
C: Yes. We’ve been working together for over a year now. But while we are partners we have our own goals, and while I am working for one thing he is working for another. We can profit from each other, but he is basically responsible for his own progress as I am for mine. I’ve often seen fellows depend on their partners to pull them along. Well, that isn’t the way to go about it; each partner has to have an equal desire to get as much out of the training program as possible. Sure, you can encourage and advise each other, but you can’t do the other fellow’s work for him.
S: You mentioned that the way you worked the muscle was more important than the weight you use. Does that mean that you work in low sets and high repetitions?
C: No, not really. I don’t place too much emphasis on sets and reps, although I basically seem to respond best to a relatively good number of sets and reps – each depending, of course, on what body part I am working, On certain days I feel stronger than on others, so I adjust my workouts accordingly. If I reach what Is usually my maximum weight on a particular exercise with a given number of sets and reps and feel like doing more, I go right on and do them, Then on other days, when perhaps the weather is bad or I haven’t bad a good night’s sleep and feel a little drained, I do less than usual – just the minimum I can get by with.
S: So basically you train with your biorhythms?
C: Is that what you call it? (laughter) I call it instinctive training. But I like that – biorhythms; I’ll put in my next seminar, whatever YOU call it. Though, I train with a basic program of exercises and if I can do more I will, but if I can’t, I do just enough to get by with and move on to the next program.
S: One last thing, Ed, and I’ll have to get on to prejudging and leave you here to get some sun, I would like to get your basic ideas on diet – say six weeks or so before a contest. What kind of carbohydrate to protein ratio do you use?
C: I never go on a zero carbohydrate diet. You have to have carbs for energy. But you do have to watch them, of course, and throughout the year I try to get approximately 200 grams of protein daily and about 150 grams of carbs. But as I get closer to contest time I cut back on them and weigh my intake by what I think I need. You can tell by looking in a mirror if you’re getting too many carbs; you can see the fat you don’t need, but if you’re getting cut up pretty well, you’re getting about the amount you need. It’s hard to tell someone that they need this amount of proteins and that amount of carbs, because everyone’s metabolism is different and different kinds of training programs require different levels of energy. You just have to learn through trial and error what works best for you and what you get the best response from.
I didn’t see Ed again until later that night at the auditorium where the contest was being held, Standing in the lobby surrounded by part of the sellout crowd that had turned out for Thibodaux’s first regional contest – a contest, by the way. That he said was one of the most effectively staged and promoted ones, after the Olympia, that be had ever seen – he was answering questions and exchanging small talk with the characteristic ease and good humor that have helped to make him one of bodybuilding’s most popular individuals. All the photos, T-shirts, posters, and courses that he brought with him were quickly sold out, an indication of the success he was having in relating to his Louisiana fans.
Later in the evening, when the stage lights picked him up on the posing platform, the sounds of the theme to “Rocky”, somehow his “My Way” record had been damaged, led him into a posing routine that by now is almost legendary. He lifted his arms as if to pull himself around, he began to work his magic on the crowd – the same magic that I had seen last fall in Columbus and New York. As one staccato-like pose followed another, almost like a series of exclamation points, the crowd’s crescendo of excitement began to build until the whole packed auditorium was standing and cheering in tribute to both the man and his art. Again he had done It his way.
An in-depth interview with Ed from IronMan magazine covering all aspects of his sport: posing, diet, training and contest preparation.