atlasThey say time is like a wheel, and that if you follow it for long enough you’ll get back to where you started. Sometimes it seems like the wheel has a broken axle, and that time isn’t moving at all: yesterday is the same as today, which is the same as tomorrow.

In the 20s, an Italian musclehead called Charles Atlas started selling a muscle building course. “What’s my job? I turn wimps into men!” His comic ads were in every newspaper – a dweeb gets sand kicked in his face by a bully, who calls him scrawny and steals his girl. Said dweeb then invests in Charles Atlas’s magic muscle course, bulks up, returns to the beach, KO’s the bully, and gets his (somewhat used) girlfriend back.

Atlas’s product (“Dynamic Tension”) was a few flimsy sheets showing you how to do isometric holds and static push-ups and so forth. Slightly useful for improving your cardiovascular system, close to useless for building muscle. Did Atlas himself use Dynamic Tension to build his physique? No. He lifted weights. But he knew there was no money to be made in selling barbells and dumbbells.

Atlas was given to calling himself “the world’s most perfectly developed man” which was not a truth claim but a title. In the 1920s Atlas was the winner of a bodybuilding contest in New York (defeating a motley bunch of piano movers and beer hall bouncers in the process). The contest was a financial failure, and the promoter did not host it again. Since nobody could win the title from Atlas, even when he was a frail geriatric he was still technically “the world’s most perfectly developed man”.

In the sixties there was a similar scam aimed at women called the “Mark Eden Bust Developer”, which purported to increase one’s breast size through exercises. These “exercises” took about 22 hours per week. A guy called Arthur Jones tracked down the creator of this system and asked how he’d arrived at that number. His reply was “Well, you and I both know that a few minutes of such exercise a week will produce all of the results that are possible; but when we told women that, we were getting requests for a refund from about forty percent of the customers. But, since we changed the instructions, we are now getting requests for a refund from only about two percent of the customers.”

Back in the bodybuilding world, a pair of Jewish entrepreneurs called the Weider brothers were climbing to ascendancy (Joe Weider was the husband of legendary pinup queen Betty Brosmer, as well as the man who brought Arnold Schwarzenegger to America). Other people might debate whether they were outright crooks or brilliant entrepreneurs – I think they were both at the same time.

Joe Weider wanted everyone to think that he was a muscular superhunk under his cable-knit sweater, and…er…appearances were against him. So he took a sculpture of a bodybuilder (Robby Robinson), and literally replaced Robby’s head with his own. Meanwhile, Ben Weider tried to give their business a scientific facade by talking about the “Weider Research Clinic”, where supposedly every bodybuilding discovery worth knowing was made. It’s well documented that no such place exists. Bob Gadja once told a funny story about visiting the Weider’s headquarters, seeing a door marked “Weider Research Clinic”, and opening the door. It was a broom closet.

Thankfully nobody falls for these scams any more. Anyone want a 0 calorie energy drink?

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