Abbye Eville, more commonly known around the world as Pudgy Stockton, was born August 11th, 1917 in Santa Monica, California. During her childhood she acquired the nickname, “Pudgy” and it stuck with her; little did she know it was a name soon to be known all around the world.
After graduating high school, she started a sedentary job answering phones and became displeased with how the inactivity affected her body so she began lifting weights — a very humble beginning for the future, “Queen of Muscle Beach”.
She later told Sports Illustrated:
“In those days, lifting weights was thought to be unfeminine. The misinformed think if women strength-trained, they’d become masculine looking. We laughed knowing they were wrong.”
In 1941, Abbye married her high school sweetheart, Les Stockton and acquired her now-famous last name. Les was athletetic himself standing 5’10, weighing 185 pounds, and competing in Weightlifting, Wrestling, and Gymnastics. Soon after their marriage, Les, their friend Bruce Connor, and Abbye formed a hand-balancing act, which toured the Los Angeles area performing in various events.
At just 5’2 and 115 pounds, Abbye routinely held her 185-pound husband straight above her head in an adjoining handstand for long periods.
The dynamite duo also performed a trick featuring Abbye balancing off Les’s extended arms hoisting a 100 lb dumbbell overhead. With all the attention, Abbye began writing a column for Strength and Health in 1944 and wrote every month until 1954. The monthly articles titled, “Barbelles” gave training advice for women and featured women such as Abbye who loved to train.
Before the 1940s ended, Abbye, now known as the, “Queen of the Barbelles” became the poster girl for physical training. She appeared on over 40 magazine covers and showed women around the world the values of strength training. Abbye also posed with best male bodybuilders of the era such as John Grimek and Steve Reeves, in addition to being featured in countless advertisements.
With the gymnastic popularity of Muscle Beach growing (largely credited to Abbye and her articles/shows), the City of Santa Monica followed suite and put up various gymnastic tools (including rings, high bars, and platforms) which could be found packed with thousands of spectators any given weekend.
As a pioneer in women’s physical training, Abbye was also one of the first women to wear a two piece bathing suit (originally to allow easier movement in gymnastic stunts).
“You couldn’t buy a two piece, so my mother ripped apart an old brassiere to use as a pattern,” recalled Abbye. Then in 1947, the AUU Granted Abbye and Les the honor of holding the first sanctioned weightlifting competition for women.
Les went to serve in World War 2 as an Air Force Pilot, and when he returned home Abbye and he opened up their own health club. Their establishment was one of the first, “women’s only” health clubs in the world.
With their success in the health club business, the Stocktons opened up two more locations; a men and women facility in 1950. In 1952, they partnered with 1950 Mr. America John Farbotnik.
Abbye continued her career working in various gyms until her retirement at the age of 66, inspiring and paving the way for thousands of women along the way.
Dr. Jan Todd, former “Strongest Woman in the World” recalls:
“Every woman in bodybuilding who puts on a swimsuit and steps on a posing dais; every woman straining beneath a clean and jerk, and every woman power lifter who fights through the pull of a heavy deadlift owes a debt of gratitude to Pudgy Stockton. She helped make these modern sports possible.
Before Pudgy’s time, there were women we associated with weightlifting, but for the most part, they were large, professional strong women, working circuses, sideshows, or Vaudeville. They weren’t as physically appealing as Pudgy. She was important because was the first woman to demonstrate that weight training enhanced athletic activity. “
Jack LaLanne told the New York Times:
“Pudgy was one of the finest athletes I’ve known. She was a bodybuilder, a gymnast, and an acrobat. She did everything. Pudgy was an exceptional human being.”
In 1991, the Association of Oldtime Barbell and Strongmen honored Abbye. In 1988 she received the Steve Reeves International Society Pioneer Award, and in 2000 she was inducted into the Joe Weider Hall of Fame in. Les also received an award for sharing Pudgy with the world and was jokingly called, “Mr. Pudge.”
Les passed away April 19th, 2004 and Abbye passed away on June 26th, 2006. Nevertheless, like all heroes of the past, their stories have an opportunity to live on because of great communities such as this one.
If reading about Abbye inspired you, read on to learn more about—and join!—our community of strong, supportive women…