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THE HYPE WHEN MUSCLES RULED SANTA MONICA.

Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, habitat of weight lifters, body builders, acrobats, wrestlers and bearded health proselytizers known as ``nature boys,'' was a unique Southern California tourist attraction. For roughly 20 years, from the late 1930s to the late 1950s, it was a mecca for superbly fit men and women - and the hordes who liked to watch them pose, balance, heft, flex and flip.

There is a workout spot today down south at Venice Beach, but it only slightly resembles the phenomenon that was Muscle Beach, which is fading from memories. A small plaque near the old site commemorates the era, and there is a Muscle Beach Alumni Association, but these things are to the colorful old place as the underside of a flounder is to a bronzed Adonis.

At least much of the lore has been preserved in a book, ``Muscle Beach'' by Marla Matzer Rose (L.A. Weekly Book for St. Martin's Griffin; $16.95).

It has many nostalgic black-and-white photos - George Eiferman hoisting a barbell with one hand while playing a trumpet, Les Stockton holding his wife ``Pudgy'' (she was anything but) high in the air with one hand, and even my old man, the late wrestler and weight lifter ``Brother Frank'' Jares, showing off his physique next to the man who was to become a gymnasium mogul, Vic Tanny.

I spent many hours hanging around the Muscle Beach platform when I was a kid, but author Rose, a former Daily News features writer, has come up with details and anecdotes that are new to me: how Muscle Beach helped spawn a national fitness movement, how Tanny, Jack LaLanne, Bert Goodrich, Joe Gold and other gym proprietors got started there, and how Harold Zinkin went from the seashore to bring out the Universal Gym.

Along with powerful, agile men and women, the book is peopled with movie stars (Mae West, Steve Reeves), zany characters (Gypsy Boots) and even a few bad apples (a minor sex scandal helped hasten the dismantling of the Muscle Beach equipment - some hunks were accused of cavorting at a nearby apartment with underage girls).

``Muscle Beach'' the book does a service in preserving memories of Muscle Beach the place - sand, sea, sunshine, sweat and pecs like steel slabs.

- Joe Jares

HUNTING FOR TV GOODIES?: Easter is holiday television producers love to document, though thankfully not as much as with Christmas. Still, there are a fair number of Easter specials airing today. The most involved is ``Jesus: The Complete Story'' (8 p.m. on Discovery Channel), a three-hour documentary that uses computer graphics and interviews to try to show what parts of the story are based on faith and what parts are based on fact (see review on page 8). On the other end of the spectrum is ``The Miracle Maker,'' (7 p.m. on ABC Channel 7) a British mix of 3-D clay animation, cartoons and computer magic that's great for families. In between are: ``Mary, Mother of Jesus'' (9 p.m. on NBC Channel 4), a 1999 TV movie; ``The Robe'' (5 p.m. on AMC), a 1953 hit; and ``The Greatest Story Ever Told'' (5 p.m. on TCM), George Stevens' 1965 all-star film.

- Daily News

``I'll think about it. I have my whole life ahead of me. I'm ready for every opportunity that's out there.''

- Booted ``Survivor'' Amber Brkich

when asked by Bryant Gumbel on ``The Early Show'' if she would pose nude in Playboy

CAPTION(S):

5 photos

Photo:

(1 -- 3) no caption (Muscle Beach photos)

(4) ``Jesus: The Complete Story''

(5) no caption (Amber Brkich)
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 15, 2001
Words:597
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