July 13, 2006 by

Abbye Stockton

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Categories: Sports

Abbye Eville Stockton, a writer and weightlifting pioneer, died on June 26 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. She was 88.
The California native was called Pudgy as a child. The name stuck, even after Abbye’s high school sweetheart, Les Stockton, helped her shed the excess weight by taking her on exercise dates. The couple wed in 1941, and began hanging out at Muscle Beach, the “birthplace of the physical fitness boom of the twentieth century.” The beach, just south of the Santa Monica pier, was frequented by weightlifters, boxers and fitness fanatics until the late 1950s.
The Stocktons opened a gym on Sunset Blvd., then began performing elaborate weightlifting and gymnastics routines on the beach. Although the passing crowds were shocked to see a woman involved in such “unfeminine” activities, they would cheer in amazement when she and Les would do the “high press,” a stunt that involved Pudgy lifting a 100 pound barbell over her head while balancing atop her husband’s hands.
At 5 feet 1 inch and 115 pounds, Pudgy was a muscular blonde beauty. She appeared on the cover of 42 magazines, and was given numerous monikers, including “The First Lady of Iron,” “America’s Barbelle” and “The Princess (or Queen) of Muscle Beach.”
“People used to say that if women worked out, they would become masculine-looking or wouldn’t be able to get pregnant. We just laughed because we knew they were wrong,” Pudgy once said.
Pudgy organized the first Amateur Athletic Union-sanctioned weightlifting contest for women in 1947, and competed in the event by pressing 100 pounds, snatching 105 pounds and doing a “clean and jerk” of 135 pounds. The next year, at the age of 31, she won a $1,000 prize and the title of “Miss Physical Culture Venus.” Pudgy also wrote the “Barbelles” column in Strength and Health magazine from 1944 to 1954, and owned several of the country’s first all-female gyms. For her contributions to the sport of weightlifting, she received the Steve Reeves International Society Pioneer Award in 1998 and the Spirit of Muscle Beach Award in 2004. Pudgy was inducted into the 2000 class of the International Federation of Bodybuilding & Fitness Hall of Fame.
Married for more than 60 years, the Stocktons served as consultants on books and TV productions about Muscle Beach. Les Stockton died in 2004 of melanoma.
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