Armand Tanny, 90, pioneering bodybuilder who won national titles

By Jon Thurber
Los Angeles Times / April 11, 2009
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LOS ANGELES - Armand Tanny, a pioneering figure in bodybuilding who won national titles in 1949 and 1950 and was a popular figure on the original Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, Calif., during its heyday in the 1940s, has died. He was 90.

Mr. Tanny, the younger brother of health club pioneer Vic Tanny, died April 4 of natural causes in a nursing facility in the Los Angeles area, according to his daughter, Mandy.

Originally a weightlifter, Mr. Tanny won the Mr. 1949, the 1949 Pro Mr. America, and the 1950 Pro Mr. USA titles in bodybuilding. A competitor in the days before steroids, he credited his wins to diet and hard work. He was a firm believer in the benefits of raw foods.

During the 1950s, he was one of the original nine bodybuilders from Muscle Beach who were part of Mae West's traveling nightclub act. According to the book "Remembering Muscle Beach," by Harold Zinkin with Bonnie Hearn-Hill (Angel City Press, 1999), the nine were known as Mae's Muscle Beach Men. Also in the group were prominent bodybuilders Joe Gold, George Eiferman, Richard DuBois, Harry Schwartz, Dom Juliano, Lester "Shifty" Schaefer, Irvin "Zabo" Koszewski, and Chuck Krauser.

According to Hearn-Hill, Mr. Tanny organized a strike with Gold when West cut their salaries in half from $250 a week to boost the take at a New York club.

"Armand and Joe were ready to board the plane," Hearn-Hill told the Los Angeles Times. "Mae quickly caved in, and they got their full salaries."

Mr. Tanny turned to professional wrestling in the 1950s. But for much of his life, the quiet and studious Mr. Tanny made his living writing about physical fitness and bodybuilding for his friend Joe Weider's publications, including Muscle Power magazine.

Mr. Tanny was born in Rochester, N.Y. He competed in weightlifting as a teenager. In 1941, he placed second in the heavyweight class in the Junior Nationals competition in Akron, Ohio. In that competition, he managed 230, 250, and 330 pounds in the three Olympic lifts (press, snatch, and clean and jerk).

He attended the University of Rochester and the University of California, Los Angeles, but World War II intervened, and Mr. Tanny joined the Coast Guard and served until he suffered a knee injury. He left the service and went back to school at UCLA, earning a degree in physical therapy. He also had uncredited parts in Hollywood films, including "Lady in the Dark" (1944) and "Frenchman's Creek" (1944). At the same time, he kept perfecting his body for the emerging sport of bodybuilding.

When he wasn't at the beach with early bodybuilding pals such as Steve Reeves, Mr. Tanny was at the Santa Monica gymnasium started by his brother, Vic.

In 1949, Mr. Tanny married Shirley Luvin, whom he had met at Muscle Beach. Their daughter was born in 1950. They left Santa Monica and Muscle Beach in the late 1950s and lived in Hawaii for a decade before moving back to the Los Angeles area.

His brother died in 1985.

In addition to his daughter, who is a bodybuilder and writer, Mr. Tanny leaves his bodybuilding grandson, Mario.