Written by Peter McGough
19 December 2014


The Making of Pumping Iron II

Rachel vs. Bev: The Most Contrived Contest Ever

December is traditionally a down time for bodybuilding, particular pro contests, with very little happening and the main attention being on who will compete at the upcoming spring’s Arnold muscle jamboree in Columbus, Ohio.

Very few pro contests have been staged in the run-up to the festive season but perhaps the most notable, most convoluted, maybe even most infamous was the Caesar’s World Cup staged on December 10, 1983, at Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas. Although the event hosted a men’s pro show (won by Lee Haney with John Terilli and Al Beckles, second and third respectively) the weekend was created solely to act as a vehicle for Pumping Iron II: The Women, a movie directed by George Butler. He was the architect of 1977’s Pumping Iron which brought international fame to Arnold Schwarzenegger. The movie would follow proceedings at the women’s segment of the Caesar’s World Cup and the project was termed “A semi documentary” by Butler. The whole affair was big time with a $1 million budget, $50,000 in prize money (with $25,000 going to the winner) and A-list celebrity journalist George Plimpton undertaking emcee duties.

The revered, late and iconic, film critic Roger Ebert said of the movie, “In documentaries like Pumping Iron II, the filmmakers have done their reporting first. They have identified the leading players, isolated the points of conflict and then they set up scenes in which they know more or less what is likely to happen The dialogue is spontaneous, and unexpected events do occur, but within the framework of an overall story line.”


Mr. Ebert was totally correct. Butler didn’t merely want to stand back and film a fly-on-the-wall account of the contest. He wanted to introduce some drama into the movie and so (picking up on the debate that was already raging, and still does) he pivoted on the lead plotline of what level of muscularity was acceptable on a women’s physique? At one end of the spectrum was Rachel McLish (the first ever Ms. Olympia in 1980 who won again in 1982) who for most represented the ideal. In order for Rachel to compete Butler offered Rachel with a lucrative contract and she bypassed the 1983 Ms. Olympia to focus completely on the Vegas showdown.

Butler wanted someone to showcase the other extreme of the muscular spectrum. Thus he sought out Australia’s world powerlifting champion Bev Francis to fill that role. Francis had never competed in a bodybuilding contest, and in the months before the Las Vegas contest she reduced her 180 pounds to 140 pounds so that when she finally walked onstage she was, up to that point, the most muscular woman in history. The movie focused on the battle of Rachel vs. Bev and the “what is too muscular?” question. In the end Carla Dunlap won the contest, Rachel was third and Bev was eighth out of fifteen. The latter result being something of a cop out as even Francis said, “I should have been first or last – not slap in the middle.”

The other 13 members of Butler’s cast were, Carla Dunlap, Inger Zetterquist, Sharon Atton, Carolyn Cheshire, Lisser Frost-Larsen, Lori Bowen, Khris Alexander, Marjo Selin, Shelley Gruwell, Gladys Portuguese, Lydia Cheng, Tina Plakinger and Lori Birdsong. The latter was not a pro and had less than a year of bodybuilding experience. She was a 22 year old model from Dallas who Butler had picked for her wholesome All-American “Gee, Whiz” Girl persona.

This mix of amateurs and professionals was against IFBB rules at the time but the federation acquiesced to Butler’s requests in the hope that the movie would widen the appeal of the sport. Another concession was allowing Charles Gaines, Butler’s co-writer, to actually judge the show, despite him never having served in that capacity before.

Butler had parlayed a lot of money and time into the movie and he can’t be blamed for wanting to insert entertaining themes into the movie. Thus the “Rachel vs. Bev” clash was turned into Beauty vs. The Beast with the twist being that by judicious editing Rachel personality was portrayed as the beast and Bev’s as the beauty.


Thus we had Rachel in the film seemingly at one point pulling out of the contest during the prejudging when in fact she had taken a bathroom break. Then someone (was it Butler?) lodged a complaint that some of the upper halves of the ladies posing outfits were padded, with the finger prominently pointed at Rachel. So we had the visual bonus of Rachel’s bra (sans Rachel) being examined, prompting a great line from Delish, “You’re supposed to be judging my muscles not my breasts.”

But surely Butler’s most audacious example of mixing fiction with fact was of showing head judge, the venerable Oscar State, seemingly asleep at the judging table as the prejudging took place. In fact the footage of a slumbering State was taken backstage as he tried to catch 40 winks after the prejudging was over. When Ben Weider saw the final film he went ballistic at Butler; quite understandable in that Oscar, Ben’s great friend and right hand man, had died in August 1984.

Upon release of the movie in May 1985, it attracted massive mainstream attention, with famed feminist writer Gloria Steinem declaring that the film, “redefined the boundaries of femininity.” Meanwhile, Rachel was fairly outspoken in stating that gratuitous editing had caused her to be portrayed as something of a diva. Most agreed with her and went further saying that judged on her celluloid persona she was the baddy of the movie. Hell, they might as well have portrayed the two-time Ms. Olympia with a poison apple and broom. It was actually a great disservice to the first lady of bodybuilding. Bev on the other hand came across as down-to-earth and likeable.


However the irony was that by the time the movie was released 18 months after the Caesar’s World Cup of December 1983, the female bodybuilding landscape has changed drastically. Rachel had retired and a new queen, the incredibly muscular Cory Everson, had dominated the 1984 Ms. Olympia, as she would do for the following five years.

Another irony of Pumping Iron II: The Women was that Rachel McLish and Bev Francis were presented as archenemies. In fact they were to strike up a friendship on set that is still going strong today – 31 years after they first met.

More than any other bodybuilding contest Caesar’s World Cup was a contrived affair of which it can truly be summed up by the phrase, “What the Butler saw!”