Funny thing about Arthur Jones: he doesn't look like a swashbuckler. Anything but. At 52 his face is too craggy, his eyes aren't quite blue enough and there are distinct bags under them. He lives in a sleepy central Florida hamlet called Lake Helen, definitely not a hot spot. Still, there are clues that give away his other life. For one thing, Arthur Jones keeps a 12-foot, one-eyed alligator around the house.
Behind his disguise as Mr. Middle Age, Jones is an adventurer, airplane pilot, onetime mercenary, moviemaker and inventor. He has been bitten by 1) rattlesnakes, 2) lions, 3) men and other dangerous critters. He has married four times, been near death even more often and figures that there is hardly a country he has not visited—at least on a bombing run.
So much for flashbacks. This is to report that Arthur Jones has now turned his full attention to sport, and if he has not yet left a lasting mark on it, he has dented it up a bit. Jones has become a confidant. Dick Butkus invites him over for dinner. He has Don Shula's private phone number. Mercury Morris rides in his airplane.
This new celebrity status derives from the Nautilus machines Jones invented. They are a collection of weird contraptions designed to make athletes run faster, jump higher and play longer. The Miami Dolphins use Nautilus machines. So do most other NFL teams as well as a growing list of colleges, high schools, health clubs and YMCAs.
The sports world is always looking for its next Hula-Hoop and right now Nautilus equipment seems to be it, the hottest thing in physical training. There are 50 variations, each designed to work a specific muscle group. Sales have increased 200% each of the last four years and orders are backlogged, even though a Nautilus installation can run from several thousand dollars to about $20,000. Nautilus machines are used by track athletes and basketball players. Businessmen, housewives and weight lifters are equally enamored with Nautilus results. Orthopedic surgeons buy them for rehabilitating their patients. Nautilus training centers are opening up across the country. One in Dallas has 50 machines, and there are people outside the doors at 6 a.m. waiting to get in.
The machines are about as bizarre as their creator. Some models look as if they belong out on the north 40, getting in the wheat. Many come with seat belts and there is one in which the athlete has to crank himself into position. Basic to them all is the isolation and concentration of force on the muscles exercised.
Not everybody loves Nautilus. Some critics, notably body builders, have resisted and ridiculed the machines, but their boos have been all but drowned out. Jones recently installed the 665-pound, one-eyed alligator in a pool outside his research gym and says he is contemplating building a door that opens onto a greased slide into the alligator pond and marking it BODY BUILDERS. Jones does not like people who do not like his machines.
Larry Gardner was the trainer of the world championship 1971 Dallas Cowboys and 1973 Miami Dolphins. "Let us just say that Nautilus isn't any better for strength building than the conventional methods of physical training," he says. "I think it is, but let us just suppose that all things are equal. Even so, Nautilus is better for three reasons: safety, since you don't have to worry about a barbell falling on you; flexibility, since you get a full range of motion from the exercises; and form, since most injuries in training occur when the person is out of position. The Nautilus machines are designed so you have to use good form to use them."
The tributes go on. Mike Reid, Cincinnati's All-Pro defensive tackle, had a chronic case of bad knees when he came out of Penn State, a condition that survived four operations. After the Bengals installed Nautilus equipment in 1972, Reid was able to play an entire season without a knee injury for the first time in his career. That was reason enough for teammate Pat Matson to open two health clubs in Cincinnati and outfit them with Nautilus machines. Pete Brown, the Bengals' director of player personnel, now has a Nautilus franchise in seven Midwestern states.
Nautilus might turn out to be Jones' greatest success. In seeking his fortune, he has been a barnstorming pilot, a snake broker who sold several hundred thousand pounds of reptiles a year and an animal importer-exporter. He has operated airlines in Latin America and airplanes in Africa, doubling as a mercenary and filmmaker. Because Jones has never had a feel for what to do with money after he has made it—other than to spend it—he has wound up with little to show for his adventures.