Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sig Klein - Chapter Three

Sig Klein, circa 1924


Click Pics to ENLARGE

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 Los Angeles. Treloar won the first “Perfect Man” contest held in the old Madison Square Garden in New York City in 1903. He is today the Physical Training Teacher of the Los Angeles Athletic Club. This contest was conducted by “Physical Culture” magazine. Going back to the Y I would train harder than ever with the weights. I would go through my regular bodybuilding exercises and would keep a little booklet about the weights that I used in the various exercises, the number of times that I would do them, the increases that I made, and of course my measurements. About once a week, usually on a Saturday, I would practice lifting. My favorite lift was the “two arm press.” It seemed the easiest for me to excel in this lift. But wanting to be an all-around lifter, I soon tried the eight standard lifts that Alan Calvert advocated at the time. The lift I liked best next to the press was the “One Arm Side Press” and then the “One Arm Snatch.” It did not take long for me to snatch with my right hand 135 lbs. and would surprise onlookers with the speed this lift would be executed with. the one arm side press had a great fascination for me. I could now press 145 lbs. with the right arm. I did not care much at this time for the “Bent Press.” I was proud of the fact that I could do a stiff-legged side press with as much weight as several weight lifters could bent press. My “Two Arm Clean and Jerk” was 225 lbs. Alan Calvert wrote at one time that any athlete who could do a “One Arm Military Press” with 90 lbs. was considered very strong. I, of course, wanted to be classed and such, and worked up to 85 lbs. on this lift, at this early stage. But I was not “record hungry” and was much more interested in the regular bodybuilding exercises. I would read and talk to all the various athletes that I met that had used weights and learned much from them.

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 Miles Theatre in Cleveland. His act was billed “A Batchelor’s Dream.” The orchestra played very soft music as the curtains parted. There on the stage was a gentleman’s study. The room was paneled and at various places were suits of armor. A small table was near the center of the room, with a bottle of wine and glasses. In strolled Louis Hart, dressed in “high hat and tails,” smoking a cigarette which was in a long holder; walked around the room admiring his study and the armor. He then sat at the table, poured himself a glass of wine, and as the lights dimmed out, fell asleep. Like a flash he disrobed, in the dark. The table was draped, and there on top of the table he went through one of the finest posing acts I have ever seen. The orchestra playing some music from “The Tales of Hoffman.” This was a beautiful and thrilling performance. After his fine display of posing, his “dream” went deeper. One of the suits of armor “came to life” and walked over to Mr. Hart, and he grasped the suit, which had two handles on the sides of the waist, and lifted the armor, with a full-grown man inside, overhead. After this stunt, another suit of armor walked forward, with a lance. Mr. Hart lay on the stage flat on his back, held the lance with outstretched arms and then the two men in armor supported themselves on the lance. A few more feats of strength were performed, but to me the posing will always be the outstanding part of this athlete’s act.

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 Superior Avenue there was a magazine stand that sold foreign publications. Here one day, while browsing around, I noticed a magazine called “Health And Strength” which was published in London, England. I bought the current as well as several back numbers of this weekly publication. The magazine had some interesting articles as well as advertisements by England’s outstanding Physical Culture teachers. It was through this magazine that I first heard of William H. Pullum, that great teacher and weightlifting authority. Edward Aston, Thomas Inch, Staff Sgt. Moss, C.V. Wheeler, T.W. Clark and other famous English weightlifters. In this magazine an advertisement also appeared by the publishers of “Health and Strength” advertising a book written by the Bavarian muscular phenomenon “Maxick,” whose real name was Max Sick. The picture that was used of Maxick really took my breath away. I could not believe that a man could have so much muscle. I sent to England for this book called “Muscle Control” as well as another by the same writer, called “Great Strength by Muscle Control,” which dealt with weightlifting. I also purchased a book that Sandow wrote called “Strength and How to Obtain It,’ and another book by Monte Saldo on posing. Also, “Ideal Physical Culture and the Truth About the Strong-Man,” by Apollo (William Bankier). My knowledge of weightlifting was increasing. I had quite a library. The booklets that I now had were read and re-read regularly. I could begin to do most of the standard muscle-control stunts that Maxick taught in his book. I believe the one that gave me the greatest thrill was when I mastered the “Deltoid Control.” These controls would be practiced every day. I would include these newly acquired controls in my posing routine.

The Savoy Theatre, on Superior and 105th Street, was the next theatre where I met an outstanding athlete of muscle. The act was billed as “Ernest.” He did a “single-act.” He would come out front on the stage, playing a mandolin, dressed in a tuxedo and was from all appearances a very slightly-built man. No one who saw the opening of this act would or could suspect what this actor was up to. He did not play exceptionally well, nor was his dancing anything to warrant his appearing on so fine a bill. It did not take long for Ernesto to get down to business. He stripped to the waist, and there in the center of the stage did his muscle-control act. It was something to rave about! He had a very strong light up in the “drops” that threw a light on him about five feet in diameter. He did about all the muscle control stunts that I had seen in Maxick’s book. He then did some hand-balancing stunts and finished this routine by walking across the stage doing an “alligator walk.” In theatrical parlance, this brought the house down. Then he would take five billiard cues that were tied together, leaving one of the five extended out about four inches, and would with two fingers turn them up from the floor until he held them parallel to the floor. His act was short, but it was well received.

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 England and that his right name was Freddy Casey. He was still stripped to the waist when I went to his dressing room. Here he again performed for my pleasure muscle-control stunts, and told me he knew Maxick personally. He was writing a book similar to Maxick’s, but I never heard from him, nor that the book was ever published. I asked Ernesto about his training, and about weight lifting. He did not do much lifting, but practiced a great deal of hand-balancing. His development testified to this. We had dinner together several times, and I was very much surprised how little this athlete ate. He would really have only one meal per day, but would have several cups of tea during the day. He feared he would gain weight, and then would not show his abdominal development to the best advantage. I remembered this well, and took a chapter from Ernesto’s book.

One of the biggest disappointments I had was one day when the billboards announced a coming attraction at the Allan Theatre, which was located in what was now Cleveland’s Theatrical Center on 14th Street and Euclid Avenue, “The Arco Brothers.” I had read quite a great deal about the famous Otto Arco and always wanted to meet him. Alan Calvert wrote about Arco in “Strength” magazine.

It was on a Sunday matinee that the new bull opened at the Allan Theatre. I guess I must have been one of the first patrons in the theatre. Here at last I was going to see the athlete whose pictures have served to inspire me, and now I was going to see him in person and in action. The act was the closing number, and I was bored with all the headline acts that appeared on the bill, until the Arco Brothers appeared. At last the act that I was waiting for was announced by the placards on the side of the stage.

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 New York, and was at this time out of the act for the time being. This was to me a sad blow.

Back in November, 1921, “Strength” magazine featured an article by Alan Calvert, “Milo, the Rising Star in the Lifting Horizon!” This was the first time I had heard of Henry Steinborn. The article was descriptive of Steinborn, the athlete and the man. It gave in detail stories about Steinborn’s great strength, his superb development, and his lifting records. At the end of the article, Mr. Calvert mentioned that Milo was getting an act ready and that he would appear on the vaudeville stage, and that “if Milo comes to your town, don’t fail to see him. As luck would have it, the Hippodrome theatre in Cleveland advertised Milo. Here would certainly be a treat for strength fans. I would see for the first time the then “Strongest Man in the World.” Already I pictured myself talking with this great athlete and knew he could tell me many interesting stories about the European weight lifters. Knowing from what Mr. Calvert wrote about Steinborn, he was about the most scientific lifter of the day. I would certainly learn many things from Milo. Going to the Hippodrome theatre and looking for pictures of the coming attractions as usual, there were no pictures of Milo, but instead there were large posters with the word Milo and a large interrogation mark. I walked over to the cashier, and asked her if Milo was the strongman, Henry Milo Steinborn. She informed me that the act was a surprise number, and that I would have to wait for the act. No information could be given about this unusual act. This more or less assured me that it MUST be Steinborn.

The following week I went to the theatre to purchase my ticket. I did not have to wait until the last act this time. Milo was “top billing” in the middle of the show. Now for the big surprise act. My eyes were glued on the stage. I had a choice seat. I did not want to miss one trick or movement that Steinborn made. The orchestra played some heroic music. It was thrilling. The curtain was raised, and there in the center of the stage was Milo – but it was not Henry Milo Steinborn, but a “tramp-act.” A comedian, doing a whistling act! Disgusted, I left the theatre.

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 America. He mentioned that this strongman just finished a tour of Europe and England and was considered the Strongest Man in the World.

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 Saxony. He was compared with Samson, Hercules and Goliath. Long articles appeared about this paragon of strength, and soon billboards, telegraph poles, fences, buildings and store windows had posters announcing that Breitbart, the Strongman, will appear at the B.F. Keith Palace Theatre. He was supposed to have a repertoire of 600 feats of strength.

It was about the last week in October, 1923, that Breitbart came to Cleveland. I purchased my ticket well in advance, wanting a good seat. As I was in front of the theatre, a large limousine pulled up to the curb. Over the hood was a banner announcing “Official Car for Breitbart.” A large crowd gathered. I squeezed through the crowd and looked on as a liveried chauffeur stepped out of the car and opened the back door of the limousine. Out stepped a giant of a man dressed in a greatcoat with a high hat. This was my first glimpse of Siegmund Breitbart. He slowly strolled into the lobby of the theatre and then backstage. To me, and to the admiring crowd of onlookers this was a Grand Entrance.

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 Cleveland City Hall to the Court House on Lakeside Avenue. Some stunt!

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 Miles Theatre in Cleveland, I noticed some photographs on the display board of two men called the Franklin Bros. The photos were only portraits. Looking closely, I noticed that one of the brothers resembled Tony Massimo. My curiosity aroused and hoping it would be Massimo, I purchased my ticket and entered the theatre. The feature picture was on the screen, but I don’t remember any of the acts that were on the bill save the one that I wanted to see. It seemed an eternity for the name “Franklin Bros.” to appear on the side panels, but at last it was put up. I became a bit restless. The orchestra softly played “The Isle of My Golden Dreams.” The curtain rose slowly, and there in all his glory stood Massimo. I could tell you all the stunts he did with his partner, but that would take too long. Suffice to say he worked beautifully; every number of the act was done with perfection.

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Archive