Bert Elliott- If Strength Sports Were “The Muppets,” He’d Be Gonzo
Over the course of the last 150 years, there have been a great many wildly interesting people who’ve hoisted iron in and out of the public eye, but tragically, only a select few of their names are known to the world at large. Just as in literature, for every HP Lovecraft there are likely 10 William Hope Hodgsons, and although Lovecraft’s work was amazing, he was a proto-incel, bitch-boy, virulent racist, whereas Hodgson, also an epic writer of sick cosmic horror, was a badass, bodybuilding, big-dick-swingin’ war hero whose name is unknown only because he snuck back into World War I after suffering injuries that disqualified him from serving and was killed. For whatever reason, history seems to smile on the Lovecrafts and shit on the Hodgsons, perhaps because the Hodgsons are just too goddamn cool for the average person to comprehend (and not to worry, an article on Hodgson is in the works). Like Hodgson, Bert Elliott was almost too cool to have existed- at a time when most of America was trying to emulate the Brady Bunch, Bert Elliott rocked gold fronts like his name had “Lil” in it, dressed as if he was a turn of the century lifter, moved huge weights, arm wrestled (and officiated), and competed in bodybuilding and powerlifting.
As the best friend of Vince Gironda, you would think Elliot’s name would be better known, especially since he and Vince were so tight that Vince never recovered from Bert Elliott’s death. Tragically, however, it is not, but luckily for the world I exist to set things right. Well, as right as possible, because there is hardly any information on the man available these days- as such, I decided to piece together what I could just to commemorate the life of a dude I’m sure we all would have liked to lift with.
Bert Elliott Vital Statistics
Upper Arm: 18″
Bent Press: 270lbs
Virtually nothing of Bert Elliott’s formative years are known, and trust me, I’ve looked. He seems to have been born in California (according to his social security number) and lived there throughout his life, save for his military service. A lieutenant of some kind in the Marines during WW2, Elliott was busted down to Gunnery Sargent for some unknown infraction and served at that rank when the Korean War popped off. What we do know is that even while deployed to shitty, undeveloped Asian countries to fight in wars against the encroaching powers of totalitarianism, Bert Elliott was a flaming dickhead who lifted weights whenever he could and generally pissed off everyone around him at all times. In that way, I suppose, he was very much like Brad Castleberry, if Castleberry wasn’t mentally retarded and lifted real weights.
Fighting with serious distinction in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, Gunnery Sargent Bert E. Elliott ended up taking command of a mixed platoon of soldiers from the Army’s 4th Signal Battalion and the 1st Marine Division Weapons Company machine gunners due to the fact that the Army’s lieutenant had absolutely no infantry training or experience. Numbering about forty men, they manned a roadblock in the defense of the Hagaru-ri Airstrip, and Elliott, desperate to win back his bars, informed the assembled men that there was absolutely no way they were going to retreat. Pulling out his pistol and waving it around to illustrate his point, Elliott informed them that “if they dug in, stayed, and fought, they would be there in the morning, but if they got up to run, he would shoot them himself” (Smith 269).
Regardless of his level of competence (he was described by military historian Charles Smith as “tough” and “battlewise”), doing shit like that and hoisting random rocks for photographers made his fellow troopers hate his guts. Luckily for him, however, he’d be back in the states soon enough to start raking in the accolades from the bodybuilding and strength sports communities.
1953 saw the inaugural Iron Man Powerlifting Championships, which was a badass mashup of bodybuilding and strength sports that continued until just recently. Because the promoters knew that bodybuilders didn’t have the skill necessary to compete using the Olympic lifts for the strength portion, they chose the bench press and the squat for the strength portion of the event, after which the bodybuilding portion was contested, and the winner was chosen based on their combined performance. From 1953 to 1973, this format remained static, and the title was held by luminaries of the bodybuilding and strength sports worlds like US Olympic Weightlifting Champion Tommy Kono, bodybuilder Ed Corney, and powerbuilder extraordinaire Roger Estep, but the first man to win this title was none other than the renown California strongman, Olympic lifter, and bodybuilder, Bert Elliott (Roussin).
Elliott competed in odd lift meets prior to the advent of powerlifting and apparently competed in meets as the sport gained traction, but his performances are lost to time. He was a regular lifter at the Christian Muscularity movement’s Disneyland, Zuver’s, and apparently set a number of gym records there. Given the fact that their powerlifting team was at the time the second or third best in the nation (behind Westside and York), it’s safe to say his numbers were pretty sick for the time.
By this time, Elliott was working as a fireman in LA, juggling that gig with steady features in Strength and Health magazine with his wife Betty, arm wrestling, and strongman exhibitions. Bert was known for being quick with his fists and apparently something of a dick around the firehouse, but was very well liked in the arm wrestling community, and had the added pedigree of being a badass lightweight and the best friend of the Godzilla of arm wrestling at the time, Mac Batchelor.
In 1965, Elliott competed in and covered the California Wrist Wrestling Championships for Muscle Builder magazine, which was apparently seminal in spreading interest in the sport around the nation. He followed that appearance with one of the same in 1966, then used the swell of interest in armwrestling and his new partnership with Joe Weider to found the International Federation of Wrist Wrestling, which later became known as the International Federation of Arm Wrestlers (IFAW)). Teaming up with a luminary like Batchelor and the IFBB, Elliott helped grow the sport of wrist wrestling (as it was then called), though the organization folded within five years.
As you might expect with an irascible, mustachioed man who surrounded himself with Christian evangelicals, the angriest gym owner this side of Steve Michalik (Vince Gironda), and arm wrestling lunatics; and adopted the manner and dress of a turn-of-the-century strongman, Bert Elliot was a full-blown, four-alarm alcoholic. At some point, his marriage with Betty disintegrated and he moved into a trailer behind his mom’s house, and though he kept putting on serious strength performances at Zuver’s and Vince’s Gym, he was slipping between years of sobriety and protracted periods of serious drunkenness. On his last binge, Bert Elliot went all the way ham sandwich- he rolled into a local titty bar drunk as hell and proceeded to hospitalize two bouncers and basically destroy the place. Though he managed to roll out before the cops showed, he was arrested later that evening after walking out of a grocery store with a steak in hand because the line was too long for him to be that drunk. We’ve all been there, I’m sure, though we don’t all go home after an arrest and blow our goddamn brains out, which is what he did.
What? Not all stories have a happy ending, asshat, and we’re a bunch of freaks and weirdos with enough problems per person to send a normal person straight for the strychnine. I’ve never been about that touchy-feely shit, but I’ve been ordered by my wife to inform you that whereas I believe that the liberal application of testosterone will cure just about any ill, some of you people could use something stronger, and from personal experience I can say a couple of days in the nuthatch is pretty refreshing.
In any event, that isn’t the point of this article- the point is keep it weird and keep it awesome. You want to rock gold fronts? Do it- just be strong and look good while doing it. And whatever you do, don’t be boring. People might not remember you if you’re an interesting person who blows their brains out, but they definitely won’t remember you if you’re duller than dishwater and tamer than a puppy on percocet.
Page, Jim. Bert Elliott. Reprinted from a newsletter for Getbig forums. 27 Oct 1998. Web. 22 Aug 2019. http://www.getbig.com/boards/index.php?topic=441951.25
Roussin, Eric. The International Federation of Arm Wrestlers. Armchair Archives. 2017. Web. 21 Aug 2019. https://www.thearmwrestlingarchives.com/international-federation-of-arm-wrestlers.html
Roussin, Eric. World’s wristwrestling championship, part 2- 1962-1969. The Armwrestling Archives. Web. 4 Jun 2019. https://www.thearmwrestlingarchives.com/worlds-wristwrestling-championship—part-2-1962-1969.html
Smith, Charles R. U.S. Marines in the Korean War. Washington DC: United States Marine Corps, 2007.