My Quarter Century in the Iron Game – Chapter Three
by Siegmund Klein
My meeting with Orville Stamm had its effects on me. Naturally I made inquiries about his training with weights and he informed me that he was a pupil of Albert Treloar’s of
A few weeks after seeing Stamm, I saw one of the finest acts of strength and artistry that I have ever seen. Louis Hart, an English athlete, was to appear at the
I would visit book stores and magazine stands regularly to purchase any material that I could buy that would help enlighten me on barbell training. On East 9th and
The Savoy Theatre, on
This was another athlete that I had to meet. Backstage I went, and I had the pleasure of meeting Ernesto, who told me that he came from
One of the biggest disappointments I had was one day when the billboards announced a coming attraction at the
It was on a Sunday matinee that the new bull opened at the
The curtain opened and on the stage was an athlete lying flat on his back. Soon another athlete came walking very fast on his hands, towards the center of the stage where his partner was waiting for him. I looked and wondered which one of these “brothers” was Otto. As the cat progressed it became more and more apparent that Otto was not in the act. When it was all over, backstage I went and met Pete Arco, Otto’s younger brother and the other athlete whose name was Stein. I was informed that Otto was in
Back in November, 1921, “Strength” magazine featured an article by Alan Calvert, “
The following week I went to the theatre to purchase my ticket. I did not have to wait until the last act this time.
The late Arthur Brisbane wrote a column for all the Hearst newspapers. Mr. Brisbane’s column dealt with topics of the times and I was a regular reader of his comments. It appeared on the front page of the “News.” I believe it was sometime in August in 1923 that Arthur Brisbane, much to my surprise, devoted his whole column to a strongman who was about to visit
It was not long after this that other newspapers started to write about Siegmund Breitbart, “The Modern Samson.” He was hailed as superior to Sandow, and was called “The Physical Marvel of the World,” stronger than King August, “The Strong” of
It was about the last week in October, 1923, that Breitbart came to
Soon after that the theatre was opened, and the entire performance was devoted to Breitbart’s act. An elderly gentleman stepped in front of the curtain, and talked about Breitbart for possibly ten minutes. When the announcer finished, the orchestra played some music befitting the occasion, and the curtain parted. Two men in Roman costume, seated on horseback, heralded the entrance of Breitbart by blowing trumpets. The horsemen parted far enough for a chariot to come from the back of the stage, and in he chariot, driven by four white horses, was Breitbart. He wore a huge headdress and was draped in a robe that hung down to his ankles. He looked truly formidable. He smiled at the audience with glistening eyes. As soon as the horses stopped, he sprang from the chariot. Two other guards led the horses and chariot off stage.
Like a flash two other guards came forward, one removed his helmet, the other the cape, and a third guard removed his breast plate. Now one could get a glimpse of Breitbart’s massiveness. Before you knew it, another guard came forward and placed a leather apron over his neck that hung down to his knees. There were many steel bars around the stage. One was handed to him, and he at once started to go to work bending it. A blackboard was on the stage that had a scroll design drawn on it. He bent the bar this way and that way, then took it over to the blackboard and placed the now-bent iron bar, which was taking the same shape as the design, and bent it here a little more and there a little, until finally, it fit directly over the design.
Next a chain was handed to him. He had by this time a group of men on stage that acted as judges. He would pass the chain around, and ask the judges to pick any link they pleased. He would take the link in his mouth, and a small but very powerful spotlight was focused on his head. You could see the link in his mouth, and with a powerful bite he actually bit the chain in two!
He did many other almost unbelievable feats of strength by bending bars, over his head, around his legs, but there are other incidents that I must tell you about, that I will never forget. A huge platform was placed upon his chest. His back was on another platform that had spikes with points up, under it. The spikes were very, very close together. Two horses were then led over this platform while he supported it. On another occasion he had a small motorcycle-drome in this same support and two men on motorcycles round around it.
During part of the act a piece of metal abut ten inches long and the thickness of a horseshoe was handed to him from a possible dozen pieces. He tried to bend this bar into the shape of a “U.” Try as he might, he could not bend it. He gave the assistant a scowl, in no uncertain fashion. The assistant must have handed him the wrong bar. What was he to do now! He could not very well change, so with superhuman effort he tried and tried to bend this bar. At first he could not bend it a fraction, then slowly it started to give way, and finally he bent it to the required form. This was one of the finest pieces of showmanship performed on the modern stage.
On another occasion he was driving a large spike through three thicknesses of wood, which had a layer of tin between the three pieces. One of the tin layers was protruding a few inches. This annoyed Breitbart no little, and he asked the assistant to bring him a snippers to cut the tin. The helper looked all over the stage for the snippers. Breitbart could not hold up the act. “The Show Must Go On.” He grasped the piece of tin with his bare hands and tore it even, just as the helper brought the snippers too late.
I could go on and on describing feats that Breitbart performed that evening. The act lasted about two hours. His publicity man was a very able individual. He arranged with the Cleveland Express Company to have one of their flat top wagons and a team of horses drawing as many as sixty persons on the wagon. Breitbart was strapped to the wagon. With the two horses at the fore ends of the traces and the other ends between Breitbart’s teeth and with the wagon tongue gripped with both hands, the performer pulled the loaded wagon, from the
Later in the week I went backstage to meet Breitbart. He was very friendly, and as he spoke very little English we conversed in German. I asked him if he ever lifted weights, and he told me he did but that one could not make money on the stage as a weight lifter; one must do “sensational” feats. He further told me that at one time he took four beer bottles, placed a platform over them, so that he had a “table,” then took a 300 lb. barbell and pressed this overhead while he stood on this shaky contraption. This was more than I could believe and since the YMCA where I had my weights was practically across the street from the Palace Theatre, I asked Mr. Breitbart if he would be obliging enough to come over and press some weights for me. This of course he refused. We spoke about fifteen minutes in all, about other strongmen, and I must say I was, regardless of his weightlifting fairy tales, very pleased to have met Siegmund Breitbart – a king of strength!
A new cycle of strongmen came to the fore after Breitbart made his debut. Man of them tried to emulate him just as others tried to rival Sandow in the late 1890’s. Many former professional weightlifters changed their acts, and started hand-balancing acts. Weightlifters, to impress audiences, would often after lifting heavy weights over head, drop them on stage. This naturally perturbed theatre managers, and so managers did not particularly like to book these acts. The hand-balancing acts in these days still wore costumes that were very reminiscent of the strongman – Roman sandals, leotards, and often full-length tights. I must have seen dozens of these “Brother” hand-balancing acts during this period. A few of the outstanding ones were “Mang and Snyder,” (not Robert B. Snyder) “Santora and Cross,” “Rigouletta Bros.,” “Wills and Hassen,” Belleclaire Bros.,” “Kramer and Patterson,” “Franklin D’Amour and Co.” and “Roma Bros.”
“Physical Culture” magazine was featuring a series of articles, “The Adventures of a Modern Hercules.” It was the lift story of Clevio Massimo Sabatino, who was better known as Tony Massimo. While at school he was called Tony by his schoolmates, which later caused confusion, as many people thought Clevio and Tony were brothers. Passing by the
Of all the hand-balancing acts that I have seen, none impressed me as much as this act. And from the applause the audience gave this fine team, they too sensed it. Never have I seen an athlete walk across the stage as gracefully, as nonchalantly, with so much showmanship and actually have the audience applaud it, as they did Massimo. He was really an artist; he knew just when to look at his audience with his winning smile. For instance, he performed one feat known to hand-balancers as the “calf-lift,” but which actually is a thigh curl. It was done with Massimo lying face down, his legs stretched out, his partner did a handstand on the soles of Massimo’s feet. From this position, the partner is slowly curled upward until Massimo’s lower legs turn in a perpendicular position. From there he slowly returned his partner to the original position.
When Massimo started to curl his partner up, he looked out at the audience and started to smile, then he turned his head a bit more to see if his partner was there. This was the part of the act that stamped itself on my memory. It looked so easy, so graceful, so effective. Massimo was a master showman.
Later I went backstage to make the acquaintance of this famous athlete, and found a very soft-spoken, modest and extremely friendly man. Perhaps you are wondering why his act was billed and the “Franklin Bros.” It has been the policy of many athletes on the stage to present the first few weeks of an act with a new partner under a temporary name, which would not be rated as a “Standard” act in booking offices. He was not yet sure of his new partner and thus avoided the necessity of changing the team name every time he acquired a new partner.
Massimo told me that he did a hand-balancing act with another partner, the act was “Massimo and Foley.” Before this he did a single weightlifting act, and also at one time was teamed up with Joe Lambert doing lifting, posing, juggling and balancing. During the First World War, Massimo was stationed at Camp Gordon, and he gave several exhibitions there, On one of these he went through the “manual of arms” using a soldier weighing 135 lbs. instead of a rifle. Massimo also told me that he did quite a bit of modeling during his vacation from the stage. He was a great inspiration to me, having read so much about him, and now meeting him, I talked about this famous athlete for days and weeks later. I too did some modeling then at the Cleveland School of Art, and for some private artists. This, I thought, was required in a strongman’s curriculum.