Bill Dobbins is a photographer, video director and writer based in Los Angeles, California. Bill is best known for his photographs of female bodybuilders, but he has had a varied career outside of and in addition to this unusual speciality. As a teenager, he pursued an interest in both music and photography (which included a stint as a stringer for the Kansas City Star). At the age of 17, he went to live in Paris. His lack of fluency in French made it difficult to work in photography, so he began supporting himself as a singer-songwriter and as an extra working on American movies filmed at the Studio de Boulogne. After a year in Paris, singing in clubs and on the streets, and spending time on movie sets with stars like Cary Grant and James Coburn, and then a stay of two years in Munich, Germany, Bill returned to the United States with the intent of earning a graduate degree at the University of Maryland.
"After a very short time," Bill explains, "it became clear that the only real use for the degree I was seeking was teaching---which I did not want to do. So I packed a suitcase and my guitar and headed for New York to see what I could do in the music business."
Bill found initial success working in a number of Greenwich Village music clubs (with such legends as Arlo Guthrie, John Hammond, Ramblin' Jack Elliot, Emmy Lou Harris and the late Phil Ochs) as well as a variety of east coast clubs, coffee houses and colleges from New England to Virginia Beach. He also toured with the Mercury Company of "Hair," after turning down two offers to be in the show because of his involvement with rock bands.
"I loved doing music," Bill recalls, "the time actually spent on stage performing, and writing songs was very fulfilling, but I came to hate the life---the traveling, the late nights and, sorry guys, spending all my time with other musicians.
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Bill tried other careers in New York, working as a page at NBC (a traditional stepping-stone into the big-time world of broadcasting) and as a director at KABC radio, a top 40 rock station that was, at the time, the number one station in the number one market in the country. After working for a time as a free-lance consultant and producer for progressive radio, he eventually had enough of the Big Apple, loaded up an old Chrysler 300 with everything he could carry and "bugged out" to California. He created programing for public radio and subsequently spent several years writing and creating special productions for KFWB, Westinghouse's all-news radio station in Los Angeles. From there he went to Westinghouse television, as a writer and researcher for the short-lived daily interview and variety program "Everyday."
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"When I was still at KFWB," says Bill, "I started working out at the original Gold's Gym in Venice, a beginner surrounded by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robby Robinson, Franco Columbu, Dave Draper, Frank Zane and other champions whom I didn't know or knew only from seeing their photos in Charles Gaines' and George Butler's book 'Pumping Iron.' Over time, I began helping the gym with promotion and publicity and then staged the 1977 Mr. America contest for Gold's - a huge undertaking involving a massive parade through the streets of Santa Monica, a live orchestra on stage, 500 press credentials and living legend Mae West handing out the trophies."
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As part of the promotion for that Mr. America competition, Bill wrote, photographed and did the layout for a 72 page tabloid program, which brought him to the attention of Joe Weider. Bill began writing for "Muscle Builder," and later became the founding editor of "Flex" magazine, still the leading "hard-core" publication in the field. He also got back into taking photos, not only because photography was his first love but, as he explains, "The photographers were making a hell of a lot more money than the writers."
Along with photography and editing the magazine, Bill also began authoring a series of books. In 1978, he collaborated with Gold's Gym, Venice owner Ken Sprague on the original "Gold's Gym Weight Training Book" (Tarcher). Subsequently, he was hired by Arnold Schwarzenegger to collaborate on "Arnold's Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding," and recently finished helping Arnold to revise and update that very well respected bodybuilding reference work. He also photographed and authored "The Women: Photographs of the Top Female Bodybuilders," featuring pictures and profiles of top physique women, which has sold 45,000 copies to date and still climbing. Bill was also active with the IFBB, appointed by Ben Weider to be the first liason to female bodybuilding, wrote the original set of competition rules for female bodybuilding for both the IFBB and the NPC, and did a major rewrite of the IFBB rules prior to the 1992 Ms. Olympia contest in Chicago.
Along with shooting photos for the Weider magazines and other physique publications such as MuscleMag International, Muscular Development, Women's Physique World and Denise Masino's Muscle Elegance, Bill also does extensive advertising photography and has been published in a variety of "mainstream" publications such as Penthouse, Playboy, Newlook France, Cosmopolitan and Physician & Sportsmedcine, and wokred for a time on the West Coast writing staff of Life Magazine.
In the early 1990s, Joe Weider asked Bill to become president of Weider Communications, the video and television division of the company. In that capacity, Bill was responsible for creating the 10-volume video version of The Weider System, which appears packaged under a variety of other titles, as well as the Weider Video Library. In more recent years, Bill has directed a number of projects for the Divine Mind production company, including rock videos, concerts and syndicated health and fitness television shows.
"My current projects," says Bill, "are a follow-up book of artistic nude figure studies of female physiques, a book tentatively titled "The Women of XXX," featuring photos and interviews with adult film actresses, a woman's fitness book on the scale of the Arnold "Encyclopedia," and a novel about a photographer who becomes obsessed with a model."
Between projects, Bill tries to find time for his three cats and to ride his motorcycles (a Harley Wide-Glide and a VFR 800 Interceptor) through the deserts and canyons surrounding Los Angeles. "Bikes are a great way to decompress, and there is nothing like a cat or dog to relax you and lower your blood pressure," Bill comments. "And in this business, you need to seek out as much relaxation as you can get."
BOOKS BY BILL DOBBINS