California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had no trouble attracting a crowd for the string of events he packed into his first trade mission to Canada.
But for a sold-out speech to a business audience in Toronto yesterday, there was one special person he wanted in the audience - his old pal Ben Weider, the founding father of bodybuilding.
Mr. Schwarzenegger first met Mr. Weider in his native Austria, long before he earned fame and fortune as a Hollywood action-flick hero. It was Ben and his older brother, Joe Weider, who brought him to California, where he went on to become the world's top body builder and then a star of the silver screen.
"Think about this," he told about 900 business people in a downtown Toronto hotel. "They are the ones who have given me this unbelievable opportunity. They had faith in me. ... Without them, I would not have had all this great success in body building or in show business or I wouldn't be here today as the governor of the great state of California."
Mr. Schwarzenegger said Ben Weider travelled from his home in Montreal to attend the event at the Economic Club of Toronto, at his request.
"He's like a father to me even though he doesn't like to hear that because he thinks he's the same age I am," he joked.
For the record, Mr. Weider is a fit and dapper 84 years old.
In an interview after the speech, Mr. Weider recalled that he first met Mr. Schwarzenegger in 1967 when he was in Austria for a bodybuilding competition. Mr. Schwarzenegger had just won the competition and wanted to come to the United States to compete.
"I said, 'If you come straight the way you are, you're going to lose. You're great as far as the Europeans are concerned, but as far as the Americans are concerned, you won't win.' "
He said his brother, Joe, invited Mr. Schwarzenegger to move to California in 1969 and paid him $100 a week to write about his diet and training in Muscle Builder, the brothers' magazine. Joe Weider also took Mr. Schwarzenegger under his wing by managing his daily training schedule.
"The rest is history," he said.
The Weider brothers, originally from Montreal, control a billion-dollar empire of gyms, bodybuilding competitions and magazines. Ben Weider is president of the International Federation of Bodybuilders, which counts 172 countries as members. He was nominated for the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to the "betterment of man through international sport."
Joe Weider, a Quebec weightlifting champion who is now 86, runs the U.S. headquarters for the brothers' businesses out of Los Angeles.
Ben Weider, a former bodybuilder himself, still works out every day to keep in shape. In fact, he said Mr. Schwarzenegger gets the stamina for his jam-packed schedule from his days of pumping iron. During the governor's two days in Toronto, he packed in no fewer than seven events.