Stockton, "Pudgy" (1917—)

views updated

Stockton, "Pudgy" (1917—)

The unofficial queen of Muscle Beach, Santa Monica's Abbye "Pudgy" Eville Stockton inspired thousands of women to join gyms and take up weight training in the 1940s and early 1950s in much the same way that John Grimek ushered in the modern era of men's bodybuilding. Before Stockton, there were a few professional strongwomen who trained with weights, but they were generally massively proportioned women who unintentionally helped perpetuate the myth that weight training would make women large, unattractive, and perhaps a trifle coarse. Stockton, with her glowing skin, shining hair, miraculous curves, and amazing strength, changed all that. At the end of the Depression, Stockton became emblematic of the new type of woman needed to win the war. Competent, feminine, strong, yet still traditionally sexy, Stockton became the media darling of Muscle Beach and famous around the world.

Abbye Eville was born August 11, 1917, and moved to Santa Monica in 1924. Called Pudgy as a small child by her father, the name stuck, even though at five feet two inches she normally weighed about 115 pounds. Pudgy began seeing UCLA student Les Stockton during her senior year in high school. Their favorite date was to go to the beach and practice gymnastics. In the early days of Muscle Beach, Pudgy and Les, whom she married in 1941, primarily worked on acrobatic and gymnastic feats. With their friend Bruce Conner, they performed at football game half-time shows and other venues in an acrobatic act known as the Three Aces. Their practice sessions attracted other gymnasts, adagio dancers, and handbalancers, and began drawing audiences to the beach. On weekends following World War II, it was not uncommon for several thousand people to see their performances. To capitalize on the interest, the City of Santa Monica erected an outdoor platform to slightly elevate them above the crowd, and Muscle Beach was born.

The media also gathered at Muscle Beach on the weekends and quickly capitalized on Pudgy's rare combination of strength, physical beauty, and charisma. The main photo pictorials of the era—Life, Pic, and Laff —included her in photo essays, and two newsreels, Whatta Build and Muscle Town USA, also featured her. She appeared in ads for the Ritamine Vitamin Company and the Universal Camera Company in the late 1930s and, by her own count, was on the cover of forty-two magazines from around the world by the end of the 1940s.

In 1944, Stockton began writing a regular women's training column in Strength & Health magazine, a task she did for most of the next decade. Writing in what was then the most influential fitness magazine in the world, Stockton featured the women who trained with her at Muscle Beach as she argued for the benefits of weight training for women. In article after article in her "Barbelles" column, Stockton demonstrated that weights would enhance a woman's figure and make any woman a better athlete; and as proof, she showed her readers photographs of herself and other women who trained with weights. Stockton also helped to organize the first sanctioned weight-lifting contests for women and publicized them in Strength & Health. The first such meet to carry an Amateur Athletic Union sanction was held February 28, 1947, at the Southwest Arena in Los Angeles. In that contest Stockton pressed 100 pounds, snatched 105 pounds, and clean and jerked 135 pounds. In 1948, Les and Pudgy opened a women's gym in Los Angeles, and for the next several decades she continued to instruct in her own and others' gyms in the Los Angeles area, preaching her message of the benefits of weight training for women.

Although Pudgy held only one "bodybuilding title" during her career (she was selected by Bernarr Macfadden as Miss Physical Culture Venus for 1948 at the age of thirty-one), her influence on women's bodybuilding and weight training has been enormous. Every woman bodybuilder who puts on a swimsuit and steps up on the posing dais, every woman weight lifter who strains under a clean and jerk, and every woman power lifter who fights through the pull of a heavy deadlift owes a debt of gratitude to Stockton, whose personal example helped make these modern sports possible. Stockton's great and enduring gift to the world of bodybuilding was the living proof that muscles could be feminine, womanly strength could be an asset, and that working out was fun.

—Jan Todd,Ph.D.

Further Reading:

Chowder, Ken. "Muscle Beach." Smithsonian. November 29,1998, 124-37.

Matzer, Marla. "The Venus of Muscle Beach." Los Angeles Times Magazine. February 22, 1998, 20-22.

Todd, Jan. "The Legacy of Pudgy Stockton." Iron Game History. Vol. 2. January 1992, 5-7.