In 1972, George Butler was given a photo assignment by Life magazine to cover the Mr. Universe Contest in Baghdad, Iraq. Intrigued by what he saw, Butler spent the next few years following the scene of this obscure sport, including a then-unknown Austrian named Arnold Schwarzenegger.
This led to the publication of Pumping Iron: The Art and Sport of Bodybuilding, by Charles Gaines and George Butler (Simon and Schuster, 1974), a book that became an immediate bestseller and one of the most popular photography books ever published. Recognizing that Schwarzenegger, the charismatic main character of the book, could be a movie star, Butler embarked on the extremely difficult challenge of making his first film, Pumping Iron.
Pumping Iron introduced the world to the sport of professional bodybuilding. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, the film depicts the world of bodybuilders competing for the Mr. Universe title in 1975. From muscle beach in Venice, California to the final showdown in Pretoria, South Africa, the film follows Arnold and fellow athletes Lou Ferrigno, Mike Katz, and Franco Columbu as they prepare and compete in the largest bodybuilding contest in the world.
A surprise commercial and critical success, Pumping Iron subsequently launched Schwarzenegger's film career and helped make the physical fitness industry what it is today.