My Quarter Century in the Iron Game
by Siegmund Klein
by Siegmund Klein
- In the last chapter were recounted the difficulties in negotiations for the challenge contest between Bill Lilly and the author – for the professional middleweight title. The contest never did materialize as the challenger, Lilly, refused to meet Klein on the lifts as set forth to decide the champion.
Since the match fell through I did not do much lifting but still kept up my exercising three times per week regularly. However, I wanted to create another world record in the Two Arm Military Press. A show was being held at the French Sporting Club in January 1935. I did not do much training for the lift at this time, for I could do a Two Arm Military Press with 215 or 220 pounds almost any time that I was called upon to do so. However, I did practice for about two weeks before the show, and that evening I started off by first pressing for a warm-up 177 pounds, and followed with 192 pounds, then 211 pounds, 226 pounds, and finally 229¼ pounds, creating a new American record in the Two Hand Military Press. I weighed again at 154 pounds. Mr. Berry expected, as well as myself, that I would press even more than this that evening, but I also tried the Supine Press again, wanting to get an official record of 300 pounds in this lift. I had pressed this poundage many times in practice, but for some unknown reason I just failed with the 300 pounds again.
Bob Hoffman’s magazine was now forging ahead, “Strength” magazine was slipping more and more into the background, and finally in June 1935, “Strength” magazine went out of existence. I was now becoming a feature writer for “Strength & Health” magazine. Shortly after I started to write for this publication the idea occurred to me to try to popularize the Bent-Press. I wrote a column at that time called “Klein’s Kolumn” and used this to write about the lift I called the “King of Lifts”. My enthusiasm too was now growing for this lift. I always wanted to Bent-Press at least 200 pounds. I practiced faithfully on this lift three times per week, going through the lifts before starting my regular body-building program. It was about this time too that Bob Harley started to train at the gym, later becoming the champion Bent-Presser in the country.
I now passed the 200-pound mark in the Bent-Press, having done 203 pounds, and then started to toy around with the idea that I would like to Bent-Press the Rolandow Dumbell, which up to now was more of a showpiece in the gym than a real lifting apparatus. John Grimek was the first athlete, since the great Rolandow Bent-Pressed this ponderous weight, to lift this weight in the Bent-Press. It was the first time that I had seen it lifted over head. I started to train for the lift. I was never so disappointed in any lift as when I started to lift this weight. It never seemed to bother me much in getting the weight to the shoulder, in fact I could press the weight up quite well too, but only when I would start to come to the erect position would I lose it. Every Saturday afternoon a group of visitors would call at the gym. They heard about my attempting to lift this ponderous weight. There were usually several dozen witnesses. I tried about five or six times each Saturday and would almost always just about make it, only to fail. This went on for about six months. Then one rainy Friday afternoon, Jack Kent and Andy Jackson visited the gym. I informed them that thought this was not my usual Bent-Press day; I just felt that I should try to lift the Rolandow weight. They both promised to stand by as catchers. I warmed up with a plate dumbell, starting with 100 pounds, then jumped to 120 pounds, 140 pounds, 160 pounds and then 180 pounds. I was now ready for the Rolandow Dumbell. I raised it to the shoulder and started to press the weight. Having it almost completed, I lost it. But I was determined to do it that day. Once again, I brought it to the shoulder, slowly but steadily the weight started to go up, as I bent my body under it. I knew that I would have to struggle quite hard to hold it. Something told me that this was the time I would succeed. Sure enough I finally made it. I brought my feet together, held it for a while, in fact I spoke to Jack telling him that at last I succeeded. This was April 9th, 1937. I lowered the weight to the shoulder, then to the floor. I was elated! I knew that I would lift that weight some day. Only a few weeks before I went to York to lift the famous Cyr Dumbell, 202 pounds, which I did, and was presented by Bob Hoffman with a beautiful large trophy for being the lightest man ever to lift that weight in York.
It was Saturday, April 10th, on my thirty-fifth birthday that I lifted the Rolandow Bell again. It went up on my first attempt. So pleased was I with this accomplishment that I have not up to this present writing lifted this weight since. I have never tried to lift more in the Bent-Press than 209 pounds. It seems that no matter how much weight I would ever lift again in the Bent-Press, I would never again have the pleasure or satisfaction that I derived when I first succeeded with this ponderous weight. This was in 1937. It was about this time that I published “How to Bent-Press”, feeling that such a booklet was needed for the thousands of weight-lifters whose interest I had now aroused in this lift.
I had a pupil then who was becoming well known for his fine figure and handsome face. “La Culture Physique” was conducting a contest to find the “Most Handsome Athlete in the World”. I encouraged this young man to enter the contest, particularly since he was going to visit France, and the honor went to him. His name, Emil Bonnet, and he certainly deserved the recognition and place he won.
George Hackenschmidt came to New York from England on the “American Farmer"
Tuesday, April 5th, 1938. I met him at the dock and also took the liberty of telegraphing to him the greetings of the American Weightlifters. That evening he visited the gymnasium, and naturally we had a most interesting talk about old timers and also present-day champions. We became very good friends, and although he seemed to have lost some of his former interest in weightlifting, while we were discussing the subject he became very reminiscent and told us stories of his past experiences as a weightlifter and wrestler.
In the year 1941, when our dear friend Warren Lincoln Travis died, the estate presented me with the Louis Cyr statue, which Travis had for many years. This statue is now in my gymnasium, and is, I believe, one of the only statues of this great old timer. I had a little name plate placed under the statue mentioning that it was presented to me by Warren Lincoln Travis.
The “Police Gazette” conducted a contest to find an athlete who would be “Mr. Police Gazette” and my pupil Wally Lasky won this title. This was November 13th, 1941. Newspapers and magazines were greatly interested in this contest, and many of them misinterpreted the contest and called Wally Lasky “The Most Perfect American Male”
and many other such titles. This started, as can well be imagined, quite a controversy amongst the muscle culturists, for John Grimek was still “Mr. America”, but was ineligible to compete. Though it was not Mr. Lasky’s doing, he was reprimanded from various sources about his newly won honors. To sum up this little matter, and looking at it from a broad point of view, there were thousands of young men throughout the country who had never seen of known about “perfect men” but who now were inspired to start on the road to physical improvement by the publicity. So no matter what the discussions ensued, I always felt that the good Wally Lasky’s handsome figure in print had done in arousing interest among those thousands more than compensated for the little uneasiness and misunderstanding the write-ups created amongst many people.
I always liked to do “hand-stand-dips” for a regular exercise. This exercise was performed on a bench, and from a straight hand-stand the body was lowered until the chest touched the edge of the bench. For several years fifteen was the most that I could do. In 1941 I started to get a little more interest in this fine exercise and wanted to see how long it would take me to do fifty hand-stand-dips on a bench in groups. In August 1941 I did the following hand-stand-dips: First I did five groups of ten, fifty in all, which took eight minutes. I rested one minute and thirty-five seconds between these groups of ten. Then I tried ten groups of five presses, which also took eight minutes, and rested fifty seconds between each group of five. And last I did seventeen groups of three each, which also took eight minutes, and rested twenty-four seconds between each group of three. The last group was the hardest to do, for hardly was I off the bench when I had to get started once again. I also did eighteen consecutive bench push-ups, having accomplished this several times now, and believe that this is some sort of record in performing these dips. True, I have heard of many athletes doing many more hand-stand-dips, but I have wondered if these athletes performed them under the same conditions, or whether they did hand-stand-dips on the floor.
In 1940, a few days before the “Mr. America” contest and National Championships were held in Madison Square Garden, New York City, arrangements were made with National Broadcasting Company to give a television exhibition. Frank Leight, Johnny Davis, Bob Harley and myself were selected for this honor. I believe that this was the first time that weightlifting was featured on any television program in America. Since the announcers did not know what we would do, I was asked to write the script and do the announcing. Frank Leight did some “See-Saw” Pressing and the Abdominal Raise. John Davis gave a demonstration of the three Olympic Lifts. Bob Harley did the famous Bent-Press. When I went on the announcer took the script and read what I was going to do. First I did some posing, then I tore a pack of cards in half, and then in quarters. This was followed by some barbell juggling and some hollow-back press ups. A few weeks after this I was again on a radio program called “Gold is Where You Find It”. I gave a strongman exhibition for the audience, and a special act was put on for the radio audience re-enacting the Attila-Sandow match with Sampson and Cyclops in London in 1889. This was done with great effect; the radio actors used foreign voices that sounded like one would imagine those famous Strongmen spoke.
In the summer of 1941 I received a phone call from an exited woman, who wanted to know if I, Siegmund Klein, could come over to the WOR Radio station at once to put on a strongman act. She hastened to tell me that she only had forty-five minutes to find a strongman for this program, and she had a chance of winning $20.00 if her man would win. The program was called “Go Get It”, and the selectees had one hour to go out and get whatever the program announcers had selected for the contestants. One, for instance, had to find a man that had just received a parking ticket from a policeman. Another had to find a couple that were that evening celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Well, I told the woman I did not know if I would be interested, but told her if she would come up to the gym and give me more details I might be. She rushed up, about closing time, and found me dressed ready to leave, together with Frank Leight, for dinner. She dashed in and asked to see Mr. Klein. I thought I would play a practical joke on her, and told her that Frank was Mr. Klein. She was naturally greatly impressed and told him to hurry if he was interested, for time was running short. Frank smiled good-naturedly, and told her he was no strongman, and pointed to me and said, “There is the man you are looking for.” She was now utterly confused and did not know what to say or do.
I told her that we would see what we could do. Frank, another friend and myself hastened in a cab. I had already had my costume all packed and ready, which she did not know. When we arrived at the station we had about ten minutes to go over the script and find out what had to be done. The little woman kept looking at Frank and wondered when he was going to get into costume. She did not miss me while I was changing. Frank kept telling her he had lots of time. Finally the show started. Well, you can imagine the surprise of the lady when I walked out in a strongman costume and started to perform.