Interview with Doris Barrilleaux – The First Lady of Bodybuilding (Part 2/3)

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    In the 1st part of the interview with legendary women’s bodybuilding pioneer Doris Barrilleaux, we found out how she got started into bodybuilding, her first contests in the late 1970s as a competitor and then as a promoter, and her determination to organize women’s bodybuilding as an independent and self-governed bodybuilding branch.

    Continuing on to the 2nd part (out of a total of 3), we move on to the early 1980s, a period of time where Doris Barrilleaux was highly active in the IFBB. She offers us some exciting stories from that time along with rare photographic material. She was elected Women’s Representative in 1980 and head-judged Ms. Olympia 1981. Within the IFBB, she formed the American Federation of Women Bodybuilders (AFWB) which absorbed her SPA organization, but was absorbed eventually by the NPC. She talks to us about being a judge, the obsolete Mixed Pairs category, and she outlines for us the politics of the time within the IFBB leading to her departure from the Federation in 1984. Finally, some interesting facts about the famous Pumping Iron II: The Women 1985 movie are mentioned.

    The IFBB era, on being a judge and on politics

    GRF: What was the 1st Ms. Olympia that you judged? What do you remember about the competitors? With so many body types out there, did it ever became hard for you to be a judge or did you always have a clear picture on your mind about how you’d expect a competitor to be?

    DJB: Rachel McLish, the unknown beauty from Harlingen, Texas won the first Miss Olympia in 1980 and again in 1982. The first one that I Head Judged was 1981 when, Kike Elomaa, from Finland took the title.

    Doris Barrilleaux with Rachel McLish at the 1980 Ms. Olympia
    Kike Elomaa, Ms. Olympia 1981
    Doris Barrilleaux, IFBB Head-Judge at the Ms. Olympia 1981

    At that time we used a 20 point system to judge the three rounds, Symmetry, Muscularity and Presentation. A sample of the early score sheets is shown.

    Sample scoresheet from the 1981 IFBB World Games held in Santa Clara, CA.

    We soon divided into two classes, Lightweight and Middleweight. There was no way to predict the outcome determined by the total points. A well developed figure with mediocre posing could lose to someone with a great routine but very little development. We found this system far more complicated than just placing the contestant. My last involvement with the Olympia was in 1984 as co-emcee with, Joe Tete. I have no knowledge what the current judging system is today.

    Doris Barrilleaux with Ms. Olympia 1981, Kike Elomaa

    GRF: Do you remember any funny incident during your career as an IFBB judge?

    DJB: One incident that a whole group considered funny happened in Europe in the early 1980’s. There was one individual working for a magazine who was disliked by everyone. If you said snow was white, he’d argue that it was black. If you said coal was black, he’d insist it was white. There was a caravan of several cars loaded with all the judges and officials at the curb ready to head for the contest venue. As he came down the walk, every single car rolled up their windows and locked the doors. He tried unsuccessfully to get in one. The caravan left without him.

    Another incident was when we used the large score cards held up for both the competitors and audience to see your vote. This International IFBB contest had 17 contestants. I was the only female judge on the panel. My only discrepancy was placing #16 as 17th, and #17 as 16th. All the rest were right on. As if it really made that much difference at the bottom. That night as Winston Roberts, Vice President of the IFBB, and I were having dinner this one competitor # 16 walked up to our table and shook his finger at me saying, You go back you kitchen!. That was the wrong time and place to insult me sitting with Winston in the restaurant. He was from one of those countries that held women in low esteem. I heard he had been banned from competing for a year. Some time later when, Joe Weider, was dropping me at Gold’s Gym in Los Angeles, who but #16 came running out to kiss my hand?

    This was not funny, but an incident I don’t like to remember when the airline lost my luggage containing all my clothes and camera equipment upon arrival in Cairo, Egypt. I filled out the forms indicating that we were staying at the Holiday Inn Giza, near the pyramids. I’d worn a nice red and white sweat suit for the long flight from Florida.

    At Cairo, Egypt.

    Marsha Manion, loaned me a single outfit to wear at the functions over the five days we were there for the Mr. Universe competition and IFBB International Congress.

    With Lou Ferrigno, wearing Marsha's dress

    Every morning I called the airport to check on my baggage. The day before we left I took a taxi to check in person. As I entered the lobby, there sitting alone in the middle of the old wooden floor stood my large yellow suitcase that had been sitting there since the night of my arrival. I asked why no one notified me. The reply was, “We didn’t know the number for the hotel.” Well, I surely didn’t know it upon arrival. Needless to say I missed photographing the Mr. Universe competition and contestants posing near the Sphinx.

    With Mike Mentzer in Cairo.

    GRF: There was a short-lived Mixed Pairs class, what was your opinion about that and why was it abolished?

    DJB: Our SPA Association initiated the “Couples” competition which was quickly renamed “Mixed Pairs” to indicate a male and a female (I vaguely remember that I once I saw the Mentzer brothers pose together, but not sure I have any photos to verify that). Once the women entered the bodybuilding scene, and the media took such interest, suddenly the men loosened up and became much better posers. Apparently, following the women’s example, they no longer felt limited only to the their few compulsory poses. The best posers of that era were Frank Zane and Ed Corney who developed their own styles.

    3-time Mr. Olympia Frank Zane, photographed in 1979 by Doris Barrilleaux
    Ed Corney, photographed by Doris Barrilleaux

    The mixed pairs were very well received as they each developed unique and artistic routines. The couples seemed to enjoy their posing as much as did the audience. Many of the top male and female bodybuilders appeared to enjoyed this art form. Just to name a few, Shelly Gruwell & Tony Pearson, Boyer & Valerie Coe, Carla Dunlap & John Kemper, and Cory & Jeff Everson.

    Samir Bannout and Shelly Gruel
    Jeff and Cory Everson.

    I photographed many beautiful couples’ routines, and included them in my SPA Posing Guide to help the newer couples. I can only speculate that as the men took control of the women’s sport around 1984, this class of competition fell by the wayside. Personally, I think this was a very big mistake.

    Couples posing guide by SPA

    GRF: When you were essentially marginalized in the IFBB and left AFWB in 1982, did you ever think of reviving the already successful SPA and why eventually did it never happen? Would you have taken the same decision today?

    DJB: Let me give you a quote from Susan Fry, who was Secretary of the AFWB, and the General Secretary of the IFBB Women’s Committee. She also worked in Joe Weider’s office for Muscle & Fitness. She once asked me, “Doris, do you ever feel like you’re running down the field carrying the flag, and when you turn around, there’s no one behind you?”. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

    In 1980 in Manila, Doris Barrilleaux is elected as Head of the IFBB Women's Committee against Christine Zane and Lisa Lyon.

    After Ben Weider asked me to form an amateur federation for the women competitors, while I was Chairwoman of the IFBB Women’s Committee, I just let my SPA organization become absorbed by the AFWB. I never expected that after all we went through setting up the American Federation of Women Bodybuilders, which Ben even helped me name, that we’d suddenly be told it was illegal to have two different federations. Didn’t he know this at the time? We would communicate by phone several times a day. I wanted to give the women a chance to vote, but that didn’t happen; we were taken under the cover of the National Physique Committee, large bank account and all. As the single female on the 13 member Board of Directors of the IFBB, my vote carried little influence, but at least I had a vote there. I’d once been warned from one of the bodybuilding legends, “If you ever cross Ben, he’ll drop you like a hot potato”. He was right.

    I welcomed all the help and guidance given the men, especially Oscar State, who had so much experience. I loved the little man. He stuck to the rules but always was fair. I considered him the backbone of the IFBB. He was the only person I ever heard tell Ben when he knew he was wrong. There was one thing that upset me. During the year, I received all the complaints from the professional women. I would schedule a meeting at the next pro show to discuss them. But at every meeting, Oscar and Wayne Demilia, would infiltrate our meeting as observers. Now, they were the ones who picked the pro competitors to invite. Not a single woman would speak up when I tried to address their concerns. As one told me, they were afraid if they complained, they would not be invited to the next contest. Toward the end of my involvement one official told me, “We’ve got the only game in town, you play it our way or you don’t play”. I stood for at least letting the women vote whether to attempt continuing on our own or not. This did not sit well with Ben and he then completely ignored me after that. 1984 was the last year I served on the Women’s Committee. When Oscar died in 1984, I felt that the professional bodybuilders lost their mentor, and the women lost their greatest ally.

    The next contact I had with Ben was in 2001. I enjoyed working with Photoshop, and knowing his obsession with Napoleon, and seeing all the artifacts in his home, I sent him a little composite I made.

    In a reply, he wrote this excerpt: “The picture of Napoleon in the chair is great. I would appreciate it if you could please make 12 copies. Please let me know the cost and I will promptly reimburse you. Best regards, Ben”. I sent his copies but ignored the offer of payment. Ben died in 2008. At one point Joe Weider asked me for a copy of the picture.

    I never considered resurrecting SPA, I had given enough of my life to the struggle to initiate and organize women’s bodybuilding. I stayed within the sport photographing competitions and providing pictures to them and magazines. I was also Photo Editor of Florida Muscle News, a magazine dedicated to the State. I expected to be at this until I reached 80. But the digital camera came along and so did many other photographers. I stopped shooting the shows in 2004.

    During all this time there were certain men who believed that they should control the women’s sport, not the women themselves. But that’s another story.

    GRF: The movie “Pumping Iron II : the Women” was the sequel to the original Pumping Iron. What is your take on the movie, and why did you only have a very small role in it?

    DJB: By the time the movie Pumping Iron II: The Women was filmed in 1985, I was lucky to be invited to sit in the audience, and able to take photographs. I had no experience in making movies and, like Oscar State, was more concerned it should follow the IFBB rules, more as a documentary, and not manipulated to make it more exciting.

    A thank-you letter to Doris Barrilleaux for her assistance in the 1983 Caesar's World Cup, the setting of the Pumping Iron 2: The Women movie

    Powerlifter/Bodybuilder, Bev Francis from Australia, the most developed female at this time was invited to compete. She was deliberately numbered to stand beside our first Miss Olympia, Rachel McLish. Fine for showmanship, but when she placed 8th and the rules were suddenly changed to have Bev in the final posedown (IFBB only placed 1-6), I was shocked.

    Bev Francis and Rachel McLish in Pumping Iron 2: The Women

    There was already the controversy in the judging. Bev was a very fine person, but obviously ahead of her time as was Laura Combes in our very first Florida contest in 1979. Years later when I asked if she missed competing, Bev said she easily chose motherhood over competition.

    I was surprised to be called backstage since I had no connection with the filming. Suddenly, there appeared a dispute about padding in Rachel’s bra. I was the only female qualified to check backstage to help Oscar with this predicament. The rules stated size of a female breast was not supposed to be considered, only the pectoral development. I remember, Deborah Diana, once making a statement that, “no one checked to see if there was any padding in the men’s trunks“.

    (continued in Part 3)

    “And I Did!” is a multimedia presentation on the life of Doris Barrilleaux, and how she founded and spearheaded the growth and acceptance of women’s bodybuilding in a DVD based eBook like no other. A multimedia autobiography, comprising 159 chapters and 63 video clips. Length approximately 46 hours of reading and viewing. Includes published magazine articles and newspaper clippings as additional reading. The price of this “autographed encyclopedia” is $45.00 US. There is no shipping charge within the USA. Contact Doris Barrilleaux for information at [email protected].

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