by Arthur Jones
From his autobiography,
" . . . And God Laughs"
"Until I met you, I thought I held the world record;
I believed that I had made more mistakes,
created more screw ups, and been
involved in more stupidity
than anybody else who ever lived."
John Peters was directly involved in almost continuous combat, all over the world, for nearly forty years, so he was fluent in several languages. In Africa, however, hundreds of different languages are spoken, and nobody understands all of them.
In the Congo, a country that the mercenaries conquered under Johns command, the most common European language is French, and all of the natives speak it fluently, together with many different native languages. But John did not speak French, his vocabulary in that language was limited to only three words: yes, pineapple and gorilla, which inhibited his ability to communicate with the natives more than somewhat.
When I asked him how he got around that problem, he said . . . "When you pull up to the bank of the river, next to a village, get off of your boat looking like a pirate, walk into the village and fire a burst from your machinegun into the huts, they understand exactly what you mean."
John was in command of the Nigerian army during the last part of the Biafran war, led an army to victory that had been losing the war before he took command. I had friends fighting on both sides during that war; Hank Warton supplied everything that was needed by the Ibos during the war, and Chuck Tellechea, who also fought at the Bay of Pigs fiasco, piloted one of the airplanes that carried supplies into Biafra, landing a big airplane, at night with no lights, on a very narrow dirt road hacked out of the jungle, with tall trees so close to the landing strip on both sides that there was barely enough clearance for the planes wings.
Then had to unload the airplane within a matter of a very few minutes and take off for a return, nonstop flight back to Lisbon, Portugal; and had to carry enough fuel to permit a round trip without refueling, which meant that the planes were always grossly overloaded when they left Lisbon for the trip south. Had to make a round trip of several thousand miles with nothing in the way of either maps or navigational aids, at night, hoping that they would not be spotted by Nigerian fighters.
Another pilot that I flew with in South America several years earlier stole an airliner from an airport, flew it to Lagos, Nigeria, and sold it to the Nigerian government, telling them that it was one of Hank Wartons planes, which they were offering rewards for.
I almost got involved in the Biafran war after things fell apart in Rhodesia in 1968, because at that point I was almost dead broke and badly needed to make some money quickly; but the war was almost over by then so I came back to this country instead.
When we got to Miami, Florida, I had no slightest idea of what I was going to do next, and had very little in the way of choices; so we stayed with a friend of mine, Ralph Demers, for a few days, made one quick trip to Hollywood in an unsuccessful attempt to get a filming job there, went back to Miami to pick up my children and started to look for a place to settle; still believing that all of my equipment would be arriving from Africa in about two months by ship, but unable to do much until it did arrive.
Eliza Steffee had gone to school briefly at Stetson University, in DeLand, Florida, and her parents lived in Kissimmee, Florida, about sixty miles south of DeLand; so we rented one very large house in DeLand that I planned to convert to a film studio when my equipment arrived from Africa and another house in the village of Lake Helen, about eight miles away from DeLand. Inge followed us to this country, so there were then only six of us including my three children. I bought a used car for $2,000.00 and paid deposits on both of the rented houses and was then down to only a few dollars in cash, with no source of income.
A few months later I was able to sell one of my African films to ABC Television network, but practically had to give it to them in order to make the sale, got only $50,000.00 for a film that would have cost them at least a million dollars to make; this was shown on network television, during prime time, in the fall of 1970, and was called "Operation Elephant." The ratings for that show, a one-hour special, were very high, because it was a damned good film.
Howard Hughes, after he sold TWA Airlines, had so much money that he decided to buy one of the three big television networks, but was unable to do so; then decided to start his own network, and started looking for film producers who could supply the programs that he would need. He contacted me and wanted me to go to New York for a meeting with some of his people, in order to negotiate a contract for my services; but at the last minute something happened to change his plans, so the meeting was never held and I never heard from him again, although I was staying in the Acapulco Princess hotel in Mexico when he died there a few years later. He did not die on the plane in route to Houston, as was reported at the time, he died in the hotel, but they removed his body and flew it back to this country as if he was still alive because getting bodies out of Mexico is very difficult to do.
I talked with Hughes on the phone only twice, and never met him face to face, but did see him on the day that he flew the airplane that he called the Hercules and that other people called the Spruce Goose. But I knew a lot of people that did know him very well, and I know that most of the stories that have been printed about him are not true. He was nearly killed in an airplane crash in California shortly after the war, was dragged out of a burning fighter that he had designed and built by an enlisted man in the army; but had inhaled flames that almost destroyed his lungs.
The doctors all believed that he would die, so figured that they had nothing to lose by trying to treat him with a very dangerous drug that nobody knew much about; and the drug saved his life, but also destroyed his immune system, so that in a sense he was then the first victim of AIDS, the only difference being that we was not infectious. He should have lived out the rest of his life enclosed in a sterile environment, but refused to do so; but later stories about his living habits and avoidance of people failed to mention the fact that he had to do what he was doing just to stay alive. The doctors also gave him massive doses of morphine, because he was badly burned and in great pain; but doing so addicted him to morphine, a habit that he was never able to break.
He was, in my opinion, a Hell of a man, accomplished far more that he has been given credit for; one film that he produced, Hells Angels, still ranks as one of the best films of all time. Another of his films, Scarface, supposedly about Al Capone, was probably the best gangster movie ever made, starred Paul Muni and Boris Karloff and gave George Raft his start in movies.
So what if he liked girls, fucked everybody in Hollywood between the ages of about thirteen and twenty? Didnt we all? Apart from the fact that he had a lot more money than I ever did, we had a lot in common, I even looked like him at one time, although he was a lot taller than I am, and quite a few people thought I was him.
In 1970, having called two men in Louisiana and told them to come to Florida immediately, because I wanted to investigate some rumors that I had been hearing, I first gave them the riot act for nearly twelve straight hours, then sent them into a motel room that we had bugged. I wanted to hear what they would say after I left.
On the tape you could hear the door opening, and could hear their steps as they entered the room, then one of them said . . . "The son of a bitch thinks hes Howard Hughes."
And the other guy said . . . "Damned, maybe he is."
I have been far stronger than average since the age of about ten, got interested in exercise, weightlifting and gymnastics, when I was twelve, and was powerfully built by the age of fourteen. I quickly learned that a barbell was by far the best tool available for exercise, that most other exercises then being used were utterly worthless; but I also learned that a barbell had certain limitations, had problems that I was aware of but did not understand.
So I started modifying barbells in an attempt to improve them; in 1939 I welded hooks to a barbell so that I could add the weight of heavy chains to the weight of the barbell, chains that would thus vary the resistance as the barbell was lifted.
That first attempt was very crude, and did not provide what I was looking for, but it was a start. Nine years later, in 1948, I was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, being recruited by both sides in the ongoing Jewish/Arabian war; I wanted to fly Messerschmitt ME 109 fighters in combat, and having almost nothing in the way of political opinions at the time I would have been willing to fight on either side.
While talking with recruiters from both sides of that war, I was training in the weight room of the YMCA, and I was then in very good condition, lean as a race horse, strong as an ox and nearly as big as a gorilla. All of the other men training there were very impressed by my size and strength, and one of these men, Percy Cunningham, asked me to teach him everything possible about proper exercise.
Percy was in his early thirties so was a bit older than I was then, was a captain flying for American Airlines, was earning a very high salary for that time and place, had a new Cadillac convertible and more young, attractive stewardesses than he knew what to do with; to my personal knowledge he fucked fourteen of these girls within a period of only three days; in those days the captain got whatever he wanted, and the stewardesses clearly understood the rules.
So I helped Percy and he helped me, and we both nearly fucked ourselves to death. He was American Airlines test pilot for the then brand new DC 6, the best airliner of its day, and still my favorite airplane nearly fifty years later. He took me along on a night test flight in one of their DC 6s, which was illegal as Hell. But Percy paid very little attention to rules. And I paid none.
Then, working together, Percy and I designed and built an exercise machine and installed it in the gym of the YMCA. This machine included several unique features that I designed in an attempt to improve barbell exercises, and they did provide some degree of improvement, but still were not good enough to satisfy me.
Twenty years later, then in Rhodesia, I still wasnt satisfied; in the meantime having designed and built literally dozens of other exercise machines all over the world. I built them in about a dozen states in this country, in two different countries in South America, in Singapore, and later in Africa. No two were exactly alike; each model incorporated changes that I hoped would provide improvements.
I was still trying to solve problems that I did not yet understand, problems that nobody else seemed to be even aware of; but, then, I did not know something that I learned about twenty years later: in the 1850s, in Sweden, a doctor named Gustav Zander designed and built a very sophisticated line of exercise machines. He understood the problems that I was trying to solve, and provided practical solutions for many of these problems; some of his machines, built about 140 years ago, were as good as most of the exercise machines now on the market.
But I was unaware of the good doctors much earlier discoveries, so had to solve the problems myself, and eventually I did. The first breakthrough came to me in the middle of the night, at 2:15 in the morning; I suddenly understood one of the problems, and believed that I knew the solution. So I called Graham Hall, carefully described exactly what I wanted him to build and told him to build it immediately and to bring it to my house by eight Oclock in the morning. And he did.
We added the new part to the machine that I already had, but it failed to work at I had expected it to; however, it failed in such a dramatic fashion that I immediately understood just what would be required to make it work properly. But doing so would have required a totally new machine, and I left Rhodesia before I had time to build one.
Once settled in to a rented house in Lake Helen, Florida, I started building another machine, incorporating the ideas that I got from my experience with the machine in Rhodesia. And it worked like a charm. It had never entered my mind that a market for such machines might exist; I built these machines only for my personal use. I had no respect for most bodybuilders, then considered them to be the dumbest people on the planet, did not associate with them, did not read the bodybuilding magazines and usually trained by myself. Nobody that I ever met could stay up with me during a workout, and the ones that tried to ended up puking their guts out about ten minutes into the workout, because I trained at a literally brutal pace, a pace that would kill most people. And did kill one man, a guy who dropped dead in that YMCA gym while trying to exercise like I did.
The only bodybuilding magazine that I ever did read was one published by an old man named Perry Rader, in Nebraska; most of the things published in that magazine, which he called IRONMAN, were pure bullshit, but a few of the articles made some sense, while all of the other such magazines contained nothing apart from pure bullshit.
So, for lack of anything better to do at the time, I sat down in the dining room of my house and pounded out an article on my typewriter and then mailed it to the editor of IRONMAN; but I did not believe that it would ever by published, because I insulted practically everybody in the field of exercise, took many of their most cherished opinions and ripped them to shreds in such a simple manner that the article would probably have been perfectly clear to a cat. Knowing full well just how most people react when faced with the truth; particularly when the truth makes them look like the fools that they really are.
But, as usual, I was wrong; a few days later, the editor of the magazine tried to call me on the phone, did not reach me because I was away from home when he called, but he was so excited that he insisted that he had to speak with somebody there, and ended up talking with Inge. When I got back, she told me about the call, and mentioned how excited he was. So I called him back, and then one thing led to another, and I started writing more articles for his magazine, meanwhile expecting nothing apart from slings and arrows of outrage from readers.
And again I was wrong; because within a matter of a few weeks I was getting dozens of letters almost daily, then hundreds of letters, then thousands. Primarily letters from people anxious to purchase machines that did not exist outside my mind, machines I had not even started to design yet.
Then a man named Jack Feather called me from California and asked me if I was the inventor of the revolutionary exercise machines that he had been hearing about. And when I told him that I was, he said ... "Ship me one of each, immediately."
When I asked him if he was concerned about the price, he said
"It doesnt matter; tell me how much they are and I will mail you a check tomorrow." So I then decided that this must be some sort of a gag, and told him that I had to leave the phone for a couple of minutes but would be right back, and he said that he would wait.
Then I went over to the wastebasket and searched through the discarded papers that I had thrown into it, looking for a list of machines that I had written down a day or so earlier. Found what I was looking for, returned to the phone, and read him the names of the machines, together with the prices, machines that did not exist, prices that were simply SWAGS, or Scientific Wild Ass Guesses.
So he said, fine, the check will go out tomorrow. And it did, and it was as good as gold. So I suddenly found myself in the exercise machine business, totally by accident. I got Jack Feathers check a long time before he got the machines, but he eventually did get them, and loved them; later gave me a standing order for two of each type of machine that I ever built, one to be air shipped to California and another to go by air to his home outside London, England.
A few weeks later he offered me $500,000.00, up front, in cash, plus what extra sum might be required to start a magazine on the subject of exercise, and said that I would also be given half ownership of the magazine. I was certainly interested in the proposition; but when I suggested that I fly out to California to discuss it with him, he started being hesitant for the first time; by then I had talked with him on the phone for dozens of hours; he would sometimes call me and then talk nonstop for as much as eight hours. And I had discovered that he was by far the best-educated person that I had ever talked to in my life up to that point. He seemed to know literally everything.
But he was also a crook; which is why he did not want me to come to California; because, at that time, he was on trial in the Federal courthouse charged with mail fraud, a Federal felony. He was afraid that if I went to California I would read about it in the newspapers there.
The criminal charges brought against him involved his sale of a so-called Sauna Belt, which supposedly removed body fat in a near miraculous manner. But he beat the rap, was acquitted; largely as a result of testimony from a scientist who he hired to perjure himself on his behalf.
I not only designed the machines but built them with my own hands, which was no problem because I had been building things since I was about five years old, built a functional machinegun when I was twelve, an airplane that would fly when I was fourteen, and somewhat later a submarine that did half of what I expected it to do, went down like a rock, but would not then come back up; is still sitting on the bottom of the lake where we tested it. Fortunately, the guy who took that first, and last, test ride was good at holding his breath, was strong enough to kick himself out of the submarine, and a good enough swimmer to get himself back to the surface of the lake. Me test it? No way, Jose, I aint that dumb.
While waiting to pick up my children at the DeLand high school one afternoon I met a man named Larry Gilmore, who we later called Turkey; I could tell, by looking at him, that he was a weightlifter, and said something about it, something that he considered to be an insult. He said he was going to stuff me into the trunk of my car, but changed his mind when I asked him if he was bullet proof.
I later conducted some research using the high school football team as research subjects, with very good results; Turkey heard about that and sought me out, started training with me and my oldest son and eventually we became close friends. He later went to Africa in my big jet when we picked up the elephants, and made another trip in a different big jet of mine to Australia.
At one time I owned three big jets, one designed only for hauling cargo, one in a normal airline configuration with seats for about 200 passengers and one that we modified so that it provided first class seats only and thus could haul only 132 passengers; I used the fanciest of these planes to haul doctors to medical seminars that I conducted in Merida, Yucatan, in cooperation with the School of Medicine of the University of Florida, Gainesville.
Having already gotten orders for quite a few machines in spite of the fact that I could not tell prospective customers when delivery would be made, or even what the machines looked like, I decided to build a machine for the purpose of displaying it at the annual Mr. America Contest and National Weightlifting Championships that was going to be held in Los Angeles in the spring of 1970.
So I worked almost nonstop for several months, sleeping an average of less than two hours a night during that period; and Turkey worked with me, even though he was working full time for the telephone company at hard manual labor, digging holes, climbing poles and stringing wire. He would arrive at the shop I had rented in Lake Helen about five every afternoon, then work until about three in the morning, go home to sleep for a few hours, get up early and go back to his regular job. But on weekends he worked nonstop from five on Friday afternoon until about three on Monday morning, with no sleep and with very little to eat. And I was paying him nothing for all of this work.
Inge painted the machine and Eliza made all of the required upholstered parts for it. And it was finally ready only three days before we needed it to be on display in California. And I had no way to get it to California.
When I told Turkey about my transportation problem he told me that I could use his car, a large Cadillac, to haul the machine in; and when I pointed out the fact that the machine was far too big to fit inside the car he then said that we could cut the top off his car with a burning torch and then load the machine with most of it sticking up into the air above the car.
But I didnt want to destroy his car, so declined his offer. One of the local banks had been stupid enough to mail me a credit card, unsolicited by me; but it had a credit limit of only $300.00 and I had already exceeded that. So using that card at night, so that they could not call the bank to check my credit, I rented a car and a trailer, put the machine in the trailer and pulled the trailer with the car. Then we drove straight through to Los Angeles, stopping only for fuel or food; Inge and I took turns driving, while she drove I would sleep in the back seat, and vice versa. All three of my children went with us, but Eliza stayed in Lake Helen in an attempt to fight off my creditors.
When we left Lake Helen I had only six dollars in cash, and the already overextended credit card. So we had to make only small purchases in route to California, keeping the sums charged to the card low enough that they would not provoke a call to the bank.
The machine that we exhibited in California created a sensation, and one guy tried to buy it from me, an offer that I refused because I realized that the machine still had a few problems. I also met an eighteen-year-old boy named Casey Viator who had the potential for literally enormous muscular size, and I knew that if I trained him that he would win the annual Mr. America Contest in 1971; so he returned to Florida with us, and I started training him. And, a year later, he won the Mr. America Contest in the most spectacular fashion in history, before or since.
He won six of the seven possible awards, Mr. America, Most Muscular Man in America, best arms, best back, best chest and best legs. The only thing he did not win was best abdominals, and he should have won that; but I guess the judges decided that they had to give at least one award to somebody else and so gave it to another young man that I trained.
My older sister, Jean, loaned me $2,500.00 and that helped us to survive during a very low period; but by November of 1970 things were starting to look better and some money was coming in. The first Nautilus exercise machines were picked up by a customer on November 30, 1970, and after that we were off and running.
Fourteen years later, Forbes magazine listed me among the four hundred wealthiest people in America, with an estimated net worth of $125,000,000.00. Which was their estimate, not mine, I have always refused to discuss my net worth with anybody.
But my problems and battles were far from over, I was the new cat on the block in the exercise business and all of my competitors except one immediately set out to destroy me. They spread malicious rumors about me all over the country; according to them I was a member of the Mafia, a drug smuggler, a professional killer and a long list of other things. One of my later associates was the son of a man who at one time was the head of the Mafia in this country, but the son had no such associations, although he at least knew many members of the Mafia.
Randy Agnew, the son of Vice-president Agnew, lived with us for a while, and his father, Spiro (or Ted, as he liked to be called) visited me for a few days after he was forced to resign. G. Gordon Liddy was, and is, a good friend of mine. Liddy and Jack Martin, an F.B.I. agent who was a close friend, went with me on several long trips in one of my smaller jets, and Liddy made one trip in one of my big jets. I also made it possible for Liddy to fly a fifty-year-old German transport plane owned by a friend of mine.
Robin Moore, the author of the book The Green Berets, and several other books, went to Rhodesia about the time that I left there and opened an unofficial American Consulate in order to help the Americans who were fighting there on the side of Ian Smiths government, then later wrote a book about it called The Crippled Eagles, which he asked me to proof read for him since I knew many of the people and all of the places mentioned in the book. I found only two minor mistakes, but told him that he would never be able to get it published; and, as far as I know, it never was published; it was a very good book, but was not "politically correct."
I continued to write articles in every issue of IRONMAN for several years, and later published hundreds of articles in other magazines, most of them in the Athletic Journal and a few in another journal called the Scholastic Coach. Eventually wrote and published four books on the subjects of exercise, physical rehabilitation and specific testing of human functional ability.
As of the moment, June of 1994, I have been continuously involved in large-scale medical research for more than twenty-two years, in cooperation with several medical schools in four states, Florida, California, Colorado and New York, and recently provided training for eleven physical therapists and two medical doctors from Holland who will conduct research with our equipment in Europe, funded by the Dutch government. My investment in medical research now exceeds $90,000,000.00 and so far I have never received a cent in return.
(Note: Joness autobiography, " . . . And God Laughs," is available as a part of a two-volume set of his writings, which is called The Arthur Jones Collection. This collection may be purchased through I-A-R-T.com, click into Books Section.)