Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sig Klein - Chapter Eight

Jim Williams

My First Quarter Century in the Iron Game

Part 8, by Siegmund Klein

Upon lowering the weight, Correlli shook my hand, and asked me to stand on the side, and he tried to lift the weight. He placed a gauntlet over his forearm, to prevent the same thing from happening to him that did to me on my first attempt. In the excitement, however, the weight came down, just as it did with me, on his first attempt. He succeeded however on the second trial.

Then he asked me if I would like to try some other stunts and I agreed. Now the lady member of the act lay flat on her back and pulled one of the exhibition barbells over her head and placed the weight on the soles of her feet. The other barbell was rolled over to her, and she pulled this one over her head and held it with outstretched arms. Correlli now slowly lay face down over the two barbells. This was a very impressive stunt and was accepted by the audience very agreeably. This stunt finished, he asked, “Do you want to try that stunt?” and in reply I answered, “No, I do not wish to compete with the lady, but will try any lift you will do.” Like a flash it had occurred to me, if I did try this stunt, it was possible that Correlli might not be quite so careful in laying over the two weights if I was there instead of the female partner of the act.

I at once walked over where the barbells were lying and started to test the weight of these. They weighed approximately 80 and 90 pounds respectively, and Correlli at once rushed over and asked me not to lift these weights. Standing on stage, the partners did a few more stunts, then some Roman Column feats, and the act was over.

Afterwards it occurred to me that I should never have accepted the challenge. A weight-lifting act like this one was rare and it must have been difficult enough to book this type of an act, without having an experienced weight-lifter jump on stage and duplicate the challenge weight. I left the stage amidst applause, however, and never waited for the ten dollars that was offered for lifting this kettle bell which I judged weighed about one hundred pounds.

New Year’s Day, 1925, was approaching. Mr. Jowett was planning the first A.C.W.L.A. meet in Philadelphia, at the Milo Bar-Bell company which was located on Palethorp Street. To make the show a success, Mr. Jowett arranged to have some of the best weight-lifters in the country appear. Also to be present were some of the “old-timers” in the persons of Prof. Paulinetti, Otto Arco, Teddy Mack, as well as the present-day stars of the period, Steinborn, Weber, Roy L. Smith, Art Gay, and several newcomers in the persons of Frank Dennis, Mark H. Berry, Marquis Losey, Rottan, Jack Russell and Lou Schwartz.

At one of the Philadelphia shows, Mr. Earle Liederman saw my exhibit, and it occurred to him at the time that he would like to bring Sandow over from England to make a farewell tour of the United States. He thought he would like to enlist my services, and have me do an act similar to the one that Sandow did years before, while Sandow would be on stage in evening attire. Liederman had at that time a contract with Sandow and it looked as though this plan would be a reality, but Sandow’s untimely death disrupted this plan. I had often visited Mr. Liederman at his New York offices, and he very kindly presented me with a beautiful set of Sandow photographs.

For some time Mr. Jowett had tried to arrange a contest between Antone Matysek and myself. Matysek had been for some years before this time one of the most popular weightlifters in the country. He had the reputation of having one of the top-ranking shapely figures, and was the proud possessor of a pair of legs that w ere the envy of man a physical culturist. He had also won numerous contests in weightlifting, and was featured in “Strength” magazine about 1916 more than any other weightlifter. His pictures inspired thousands of men to start barbell training. How well I recall pictures of Matysek, McMahon and Sincosky in such inspiring poses in various positions, with barbells, kettlebells and dumbells. I believe that these group pictures had more influence in starting young men in the barbell game than any pictures up to that time, with the possible exception of Sandow, I know that I, and scores of others also, tried to pose in the same positions.

While I was writing this, I paused a few moments and drew from my files some old original “Strength” magazines, the little magazines that were at one time given away free by Alan Calvert. These little magazines are such wonderful periodicals that they are at this late date sought for my many enthusiasts, and their proud possessors have been offered flattering sums to part with them. I turned the pages of the first copy on the top of the bundle. It was the March 1915 issue, and there on page 17 was that pose of Matysek pressing a kettlebell, a pose that had been also used for the frontispiece of “Super-Strength.” On the back cover of September 1915 issue was a picture of Matysek, in his latest pose with lance, shield and helmet, posed as “Achilles.” This too was a very popular one. There were dozens of these inspiring pictures of Matysek, and I was to meet this famous “Perfect Man” in a contest! Never did I, a few years before, imagine that I would ever consider such a contest. It was, to say the least, thrilling to know that I had, due to consistent training in body building and weightlifting, arrived at a position in the weightlifting world where I was considered a worthy opponent to Matysek.

I will again quote from “Strength” magazine of July 1926, what was written about this contest: “The middle of the program was now reached and preparations were made for the event of the night – The Klein-Matysek match. Many had begun to think that these two would never get together in a contest, as three or four times Mr. Jowett had gotten them together satisfactorily when something turned up which could not be overcome and caused a temporary postponement. This time everything was perfect, except that Klein had a boil on his arm, which he did not consider, for he wanted to lift in this match, and Matysek was just as anxious.

“The New York boy weighed well within the middleweight limit, not making one hundred and fifty pounds by at least three pounds. The boy from Baltimore went over the heavy-middleweight poundage, weighing over one hundred and seventy pounds. As they came to the platform, a little discussion was brought up on the Two Hands Slow Press, which was settled to the satisfaction of both lifters by the officials. The judges selected were Robert E. Mack of Philadelphia, Charles Danner of Allentown, Pa.; and C. Collier and H. Hall were loaders. Mark Berry of Newark seconded Siegmund Klein, with Robert Hoffman of York seconding Antone Matysek. Our president, George F. Jowett, was the referee. Jr. Jowett spun the coin as the seconds called their choice to win for their man the privilege of lifting first or second. Berry won the toss and took the privilege of lifting second for his man.

“The ball commenced to roll as the referee announced that the match was in progress. Starting on the Two Hand Snatch, with 165 pounds, Antone made the grade. Klein began to force the pace, calling for 170 pounds. Like a flash it went aloft, and he smartly brought his feet together for the referee’s count of one, two. Tony tried to go five pounds better than Klein, but the snatch was a little too much for him. It went aloft all right, but he was obliged to finish the lift by pressing, in order to straighten his arms. It was done quickly but it did not escape Mr. Jowett, who immediately declared it no lift. Klein called for 185 pounds, which went up as faultlessly as the first. Matysek took his third attempt with 175 pounds, but he could not get anywhere with it. Five more pounds were added to the smaller man’s bell, making the total 190 pounds.

“Without any hesitation he swept the bell off the floor to arm’s length in a perfect movement. Thus did the first lift go to the credit of Klein. No time was lost in commencing on the second lift, the rulings of which were changed from the Olympic style to the following: The lifter must stand with the feet together, and he is allowed to bend slightly forward and then backwards as the lift is in progress; but the legs must be kept straight throughout the lift. This was a great advantage to Matysek, as he had the part of the forward lean down pat. Klein could not do it, and made a straight-legged press out of it, bending back from the waist.

“Matysek started pretty high, with 200 pounds, which he accomplished with ease. Klein dropped down to 180 pounds. Tony led again with 210 pounds, while the New Yorker jumped 15 pounds to 195 pounds. The last attempt Antone tried with 220 pounds. It went halfway up and inch by inch he began to gain ground, but the load got too heavy, and after a fine struggle he had to lose the lift. Klein added 10 pounds more, making 205 pounds for his last attempt, which was successfully performed.

“Interest began to be pretty keen. Each man had won a lift, and the last one was the deciding event. The crowd was restless and the seconds began to encourage their men, as a jockey urges on his horse. Both started with 230 pounds in the Two Hands Clean, and both were successful. 10 pounds more and both men made the grade.

“Klein had already won unless Antone had a trick up his sleeve for the last call, but as he called for 250 pounds, we realized that he had not. Matysek stepped forward to make the lift, but it was hopeless. He could not pull it in. As he made way the New York middleweight stepped forward and got the weight to the shoulder in one neat movement. In its journey to arm’s length overhead very little effort was registered, and the match was lost and won. The totals were: Klein, 645 pounds; Matysek, 615 pounds.

“It was a well-fought contest. Well won and well lost. Matysek was the first to congratulate his opponent openly and honestly. Both men were given a rousing ovation. It was a double victory for Klein. As the president announced the totals, he made further announcement of Siegmund Klein, American weightlifting champion in two classes, to Miss Grace Attila of New York, the daughter of the famous Louis Attila, the man who produced Sandow among many other famous athletes.”

In commencing this match, I must confess that had Matysek been in the same superb condition that he was at the time his well known pictures were published, I would have had a much tougher time. He was not in good hard condition, and if he were, the match would have had a different ending. On the other hand, I was full of enthusiasm and determination to win.

I had, as mentioned above, been taught the method of rocking a heavy barbell on shoulders unassisted for the deep-knee bend and created a then World Record in the Deep-Knee-Bend in the lightweight division, doing 300 pounds 10 times in succession. The weight was also taken off unassisted.

The studio was, as I mentioned before, not very large and would from time to time get crowded. This would of course inconvenience many of the pupils. I had on several occasions discussed with Mrs. Attila the advisability of moving to larger quarters, preferring to move downtown, since summer was approaching. Some of the pupils had to travel from Brooklyn and New Jersey, and they too wished that I had a gym more in the heart of New York City.

One afternoon, while looking out of the window, I noticed a limousine stop. Out stepped a young man, who looked up at me and then made his entrance into the gym, introduced himself, and made inquiries about the course. He was much enthused about what I had to tell him, and later that afternoon he returned and enrolled for a course of lessons. He was so enthusiastic after his first lesson that he wanted to show his appreciation an invited me to have dinner with him. He asked me to call that evening at the Strand Roof Night Club and ask for Mr. Meyrowitz. That evening I entered the Strand Roof, and found that he was the proprietor of the Club, which was at that time about the best known night club in New York City. We had, as can be imagined, a delectable dinner. During dinner and floor show, Mr. Lee Meyrowitz discussed many things with me, and then wanted to know why I had the gymnasium so far uptown. I explained briefly the reason, and then he wanted to know if Mrs. Attila would move downtown. I explained to him that she had a long lease and could not very well move at that time.

He asked me to take a walk with him, and around the corner from the night club, on 48th Street, we saw a new building, which, although it was night, was well lighted by the huge electric signs on Broadway. We looked at the building, and Mr. Meyrowitz asked me if I would like to have a gymnasium there.

I did not know now just what to do. A decision had to be made as I knew that I would eventually have to have larger quarters. I finally decided to branch out for myself. Knowing full well that Mrs. Attila would be quite disappointed with me if I left, I got in touch with Tony Sansone, and arrangements were made for him to continue on with the gym after I left. So I opened my own gymnasium at 207 West 48th Street, in July 1926. Not long after I opened the gym I received a phone call from Newark, New Jersey, from Mark Berry. He wanted to train at the gym, and arrangements were made for him.

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