Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Body Built, Part One - Kenneth Dutton (1997)

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Chapter Four:
The Body Built

The Hero: Sandow

Significant social developments, like significant historical events, are never unprepared. They tend to occur when a number of different forces or tendencies, often in quite disparate spheres, happen to converge at a particular moment in time. Their convergence discloses a common movement or direction underlying them all, and they seem uniquely to suit and give expression to the aspirations of their era. It is then, and only then, that some catalyst appears which brings them together and can be seen, usually in retrospect, as the decisive breakthrough.

So it was with 'Sandow the Magnificent': if his particular lay in the public display of aesthetic muscularity for its own sake, this achievement itself lay essentially in his combining and giving concrete expression to a number of already discernible trends. Notable among them were the German physical culture movement, the emerging influence of the popular stage as a focus of physical display, and the growing importance of photography as a medium of the aesthetic contemplation of the body which had earlier been restricted to painting and sculpture.

Unlike the robust and stocky strongmen of his day, whose barrel chests and massive girth made them appear rotund and even obese, Müller (Eugen Sandow was Friedrich Wilhelm Müller's stage name) was a man of remarkably athletic appearance, whose physical resemblance to the muscular statues of the Greek Classical age was a source of frequent and admiring comment. 

Thanks to Atilla (real name Ludwig Durlacher), he was able to pick up part-time work as a model for a number of artists and sculptors to supplement his income. Many of these works were forgettable, but among them were sculptures by the Flemish Jef Lambeaux and the better-known French sculptor Gustave Crauck; for the latter, he was the model for Lapith in the statue Le Combat du Centaure.    

In 1889, in Venice, he met he American painter E. Aubrey Hunt, for whom he posed dressed in a leopard-skin costume in the guise of a gladiator.

 In London he was photographed, clad only in a fig-leaf, by the fashionable photographer van der Weyde. 

Through these encounters with artists and photographers of the time, Sandow (as Müller was now calling himself, in an anglicized form of his Russian mother's maiden name, Sandov) had become accustomed to the standard repertoire of classical poses.

Sandow had always been conscious of the strength and beauty of his muscular physique. But if it was Professor Atilla who had first enabled him to capitalize on the potential of this remarkable combination, it was another promoter who was to comprehend its mass appeal and exploit it to the full.

In 1893, the young Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. was desperately seeking original stage acts for the opening of his father's new Trocadero Theater in Chicago, which was to be one of the main venues of the World's Columbian Exposition (Chicago World's Fair). Having scoured Europe without much success, Ziegfeld found himself in the Casino Theater in New York where the musical farce Adonis was playing. At the end of each performance, the curtain would be lowered on the principle actor who stood on a pedestal posed as a statue, then raised again to reveal that the actor had now been replaced by . . . Eugen Sandow. 

The New York newspapers, in their reviews of the play, had praised Sandow's appearance as 'having the beauty of a work of art', with 'such knots and bunches and layers of muscle (as the audience) had never before seen other than on the statue of an Achilles, a Discobolus, or the Fighting Gladiator'. Ziegfeld reacted at once, not merely to Sandow's performance, but to the enthusiastic response of the female members or the audience: he knew that he had found his 'act'. Sandow was hired forthwith, and left for Chicago.

Once the legendary Ziegfeld flair for publicity was applied to Sandow, his national and international celebrity became enormous. Following his weightlifting and posing performances at the Trocadero, Ziegfeld signed Sandow up for a four-year contract which returned the promoter a quarter of a million dollars (and Sandow considerably more) from performances in England and the USA. On his definitive return to England, "The Great Sandow" (as he was now known) set up four gymnasiums and opened a lucrative business selling physique training apparatus, books and magazines. Such was his fame that he was appointed by King George V as 'Professor of Scientific Physical Culture to His Majesty'. 

Himself an astute businessman with a gift for self-promotion, Sandow nonetheless owed much of his success to the remarkable insight of Ziegfeld, who saw his opportunity to exploit the new fascination of audiences with the public display of an outstanding physique. It was his inspiration to promote Sandow, not s the world's strongest, but as the world's best-developed man. 

As in so many of this later ventures, the American impresario had correctly sensed the mood of the time. It was not necessary to devise a new performance medium, for it already existed in the variety theaters which had become accustomed to seeing acts billed as the 'world's strongest' (or tallest, or most flexible) man or woman. From here to presenting the World's Most Perfectly Developed Man was but a small step. Inspiration could also be drawn from the somewhat more risqué burlesque theater, where scantily clad (or even unclad) female bodies were sometimes posed motionless for tableaux vivants supposedly representing scenes from Greek or Roman mythology.

Though the context of Sandow's performances was well established, his great innovation lay in the shifting of the audience's attention from the strength of the male physique to the look of the physique. By the use of poses, audience interest could be maintained for the duration of a stage act, and the scene was set for the development of muscular display as a mode of public entertainment in its own right. 

Sandow's posing introduced a revolutionary concept: that of the live display of a male body in the public arena, as an object to be admired solely by virtue of its advanced muscular development. The social significance of this new element - that of live public display - can hardly be overestimated. The developed body, henceforth, was no longer an object restricted to the context of artistic representation, at one remove from physical reality, or to less openly avowed and even clandestine (but essentially private) encounters. It was transposed into a new domain, to become a socially acceptable focus of aesthetic attention on the part of mass audiences. 

By the beginning of the twentieth century, Eugen Sandow was one of the best known men in the world. Perhaps just as significantly, he was the possessor of the world's best known body. At the end of 1903, he had already toured all he British provincial cities, much of the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Burma, China and Japan. His body had been seen and admired by hundreds of thousands of people, and was known to millions more through the publicity photos that accompanied his appearances and were sold wherever he performed. 

His name itself had entered the English language ('a veritable Sandow'), and his arrival in far-flung colonial outposts and national capitals alike was inevitably greeted by brass bands, civic receptions and huge crowds of curious onlookers. Never before had the body of a living person excited such universal interest.

Though his legendary feats of strength accounted for much of the attraction of his performances, Sandow made sure that the appearance of his physique remained an integral part of his celebrity. No performance was complete without a dramatic disrobing and a display of muscular poses performed in minimal attire. The most accomplished photographers of his day were eager to capture him in classical attitudes: Sarony in New York, Steckel in California. Bernard in Melbourne, all published studies of the famous Sandow physique, their commercial distribution earning them (and him) sizeable profits.




The word 'perfect' became more and more common in newspaper accounts of his physical development: the Brisbane Courier of 31st October 1902 reported that 'as Mr. Sandow stood upon the stage, he indeed looked the embodiment of perfect manhood'. Though one art lover in San Francisco perspicaciously remarked that 'he could not have been a model for Donatello', Professor R. Lankester, director of the National History branch of the British Museum, make a (not very successful) plaster cast of Sandow's naked body intended to be included in the Museum collection as representing 'a perfect type of a European man'.

The Eugen Sandow model, briefly reassembled and photographed in 1981.

Once again, perfection implied perfectibility (an important point made in previous chapters), and a vogue for physical culture in the early years of the twentieth century held out to its devotees the possibility of 'perfecting' their bodies. The model was not some theoretical ideal, but the living Sandow.

A new term, 'body-building', had entered the English language to describe the building of muscularity - as distinct from increasing one's strength or improving one's health - by means of physical culture using weights or exercise machines. Once, however, the physical culture vogue had died out, as it had by the time of the First World War, it would be left to a more restricted band of devotees to maintain the cult of bodily perfection.

Sandow, amongst others had recognized the lucrative market that existed for books, and particularly periodical magazines, devoted to the development of the body. As early as 1898 he had started a magazine entitled Physical Culture, renamed the following year Sandow's Magazine of Physical Culture. 

 Earlier in 1898, the eccentric American Bernarr Macfadden (1868-1955) had begun the magazine Physical Development, the first in a remarkable string of publications including its successor Physical Culture which brought him a considerable fortune. Often considered a charlatan, a confidence trickster and even a madman, Macfadden wrote books and music, opened a chain of vegetarian restaurants. wrestled, lifted weights, posed for photographs naked or in a lion's skin; by the 1920s he was a millionaire, the owner of various hotels and sanatoriums, the proprietor of several newspapers including the New York Daily Graphic, and as well known to the average man as Jack Dempsey.

 A more serious and even earlier contributor to the literature of physical development was the French Edmond Desbonnet (1868-1957), whose magazines L'Athlete (1896), Education physique (1902) and La Culture physique (1904) were highly influential in the growth of European bodybuilding.

With Sandow's Magazine and Hadley's Health & Strength in England, and the magazine Kraft-Sport in Germany, the opening of the twentieth century saw an efflorescence of periodicals often copiously illustrated with physique photographs including in most cases those of the magazine's owner.

As part of the publicity campaigns aimed at enhancing the sales of such magazines, their founders began to organize physique competitions. The first of these contests, organized by Sandow himself, was held on 14th September 1901 in the Royal Albert Hall in London. Some 15,000 spectators including Dick Tyler assembled to watch the 60 finalists chosen by Sandow from various regional trials throughout Britain as they were judged on the balance and tone of their muscular development, general health and skin condition.

The judges were persons of considerable public standing at the time: the sculptor Sir Charles Lewes and the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. After the competitors had assumed a number of prescribed poses twelve finalists were selected and a winner (William L. Murray of Birmingham) finally chosen. The event was favorably reported in no less an eminent organ than the London Times.

Sandow with the Winning Contestants.

Lawes, Doyle and Sandow Judging. 

Macfadden, never a man to let pass an opportunity for self-promotion, was not long in organizing a series of similar contests in America. Hiring Madison Square Garden as the venue, he offered a prize of $1,000 (an immense sum at the time) for the winner of his title as the 'Most Perfectly Developed Man in America'. 

The victor was a physical education graduate of Harvard University, Albert Treloar (1873-1960), a former assistant to Sandow, who was to capitalize on his newly-won title by the publication of Treloar's Science of Muscular Development (1904) and a series of theatrical bookings under the name 'Albert, the Perfect Man'. 

In 1906, he became Director of Physical Education at the Los Angeles Athletic Club; it was from this location that he was able to introduce the practice of bodybuilding to Southern California, where it was later to establish its unofficial world headquarters. 

Other such contests were organized sporadically over the early years of the century, by Desbonnet among others, but only Macfadden maintained them on a regular basis, his most celebrated 'Perfectly Developed Man' being the 1921 winner Angelo Siciliano - a somewhat overweight specimen but with an entrepreneurial flair to rival any of his predecessors. Under the name of 'Charles Atlas' he was to maintain for many years his series of back-page magazine advertisements in which the 'seven-stone weakling' was transformed into a muscular bodybuilder by the use of Atlas' 'Dynamic Tension' method of applied physical development.

Next, in Part Two: The Faun: Sansone.



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