Title: Russell M. Saunders Muscle Beach Acrobatics

Collection Number:

Span Dates: 1954 – 1969

Creator: Russell M. Saunders

Extent: 100 Reels


Subject(s): Russell M. Saunders , Muscle Beach , Venice Beach California , Los Angeles, Bodybuilding , Acrobatics , Gymnastics , Beach Culture , Stunt Men , Stunts , Home Movies , Amateur Film , Circus Acts , Professional Performers , Performances , Audiences , Beach Crowds , Southern California , Canadians.

Notes: Russell M. Saunders was born in Manitoba, Canada on May 21, 1919. He grew up on a farm outside of Winnepeg and developed his acrobatic and gymnastic skills at a summer camp and by watching movies at the local theater. Saunders moved to California before World War II and began working in water shows and as a stunt double in Los Angeles. During World War II, he served in the Armed Forces Aquacade as a diver. After the war, Saunders became one of the star performers at Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, where he also taught acrobatics and gymnastics for free. He met Paula Boelsems in 1940, and they performed together for the next fifty years. In 1975, they became the first two American judges accredited by the International Federation of Sports Acrobatics. Saunders was also a renowned stunt man who doubled for many of Hollywood’s most famous actors, including Gene Kelly, Alan Ladd and Jack Benny. He passed away in Los Angeles on May 29, 2001.

The Muscle Beach Acrobatics Collection consists of 100 reels of 16mm film. Content includes home movie footage of Muscle Beach in Venice, CA in the 1950s and 60s, featuring body builders, beauty queens, and acrobatic stunts performed for beachgoers. Stunts and performances include: acrobalance, circus acts, cannon jumping, clowns, tumbling, gymnastics, feats of strength, trampoline, posing, rings, flips, men throwing women, beauty contests, elephants, monkeys, tigers, horses, leopards, dolphins, other animals, adagio, parallel bars, dance, ice skating, aerials, synchronized swimming, water skiing, contortion, surfing, teeterboard, tightrope, trapeze, diving, high bar, magic acts, human pyramids, motorcycles, nudity, Globetrotters Basketball, Olympic High Dive competition, Native American ceremonial costumes and fighting, comedy, speed boats on the Salton Sea, ropes, swinging ladder, and more. In addition to Southern California, locations filmed include: Times Square in New York City, Canada, Hawaii, and Spokane, Washington.

Citation: Russell M. Saunders Muscle Beach Acrobatics Collection, Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive, University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts.

Location: USC Hefner Archive

Access: Available by appointment or digital access for a fee.