Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Charles A. Smith Letters, Part One - Dennis Weis

Charles A. Smith was born in England in 1912 and passed away in 1991. He was one of the greatest journalists in iron game history and wrote for (or was the editor of) several muscle/strength magazines for over half a century. He was the editor of Joe Weider's group of magazines from 1950 to 1958. 

It should be noted that while Chas was not a lifting or physique champion he was no armchair writer. He could bench press 390 lbs, one hand deadlift 420, and do 300 lbs in the back squat for 30 rock bottom reps.

During the 1980's Charles was a research associate at the U of Texas at Austin, working with Terry Todd and the School of Physical Education and Health on materials in the Todd-McClean Collection. 

Charles A. Smith, the inspiring writer, deserves a respect and remembrance of his outstanding contribution to the literature of iron game history. 

The following is a series of letter correspondences between Mr. Smith and myself between the yearas of 1986 and 1990 . . . 

By some coincidence your letter was delivered while I was engaged in a phone conversation with Bob Kennedy. Call that an auspicious beginning if you will.

Another surprise was that your letter, mailed on May 26th, reached me in three days - yesterday. The U.S. Post Office must have really pulled out all stops on this one since it takes me four days to get a letter from Grimek, three days for a letter to reach me from the Coast of the NYC area.

Ah, the subject of George Fuisdale Jowett. What to tell you? He told so many stories about himself that it is hard for anyone to sift fact from fiction. one thing is certain. I DO know when he was born, where, and his parents' names, and the occupation of his father. And I do know that he passed away. All else is a matter of what you want to believe about what he said he had or had not done.

But one thing is sure. He WAS a very powerful man and had the largest hand mine ever got lost in. He also had the biggest fingers I have ever seen with the exception of Goerner's. 

Klein has seen Jowett do a one hand military press - and I do mean MILITARY - with 100 lbs. But there are other lifts he claimed that come within the range of sheer donkey dust. George, with whom I was most friendly and liked very much was given to "stretching" things a little. 

He was born on December 23rd in 1891 in the city of Bradford, England. This city is an industrial town in the county of Yorkshire, the largest British County. His father's occupation was given on the certificate - which I have - as JOINER and BUILDER. In those class conscious days, a joiner was a cut above the common herd - the working man - being classed as a skilled artisan and therefore a TRADESMAN and probably employed other laborers to work for him. So the Jowetts most certainly lived a great deal better than other working families at that time.

On once occasion, when asked how he had developed his forearms - which were HUGE - Jowett replied he had developed them by working in a CHAIN FACTORY.

On another occasion when asked how he had developed his neck he told the inquirer that he had done so when he was a FISHERMAN on a fishing trawler and had to carry baskets of fish on his head.

Now, in those days Dad was THE BOSS and what he said went right up to the hour and minute you reached 21. So I very much doubt if George's father would have allowed him to engage in what was then regarded as menial, or working class jobs. I come from England, and I know the ethos and mores of the people. In addition to this. Bradford was a textile town manufacturing woolen and silk goods and I doubt - although it is only fair to say I don't know for sure - if there were any other types of industry involving metal manufacture.

There is also the story he told of how he got his wrestling name - YOUNG HACKENSCHMIDT, and he did wrestle pro for a while - he said he was walking down the street with George when someone said, "There goes OLD Hackenschmidt and YOUNG Hackenschmidt." Hack PERSONALLY told me he had never met Jowett in his life. And Hack wasn't given to telling tall tales.

I believe Jowett started out as a gymnast and went on from there. But how he got into wrestling and then lifting isn't generally known since so much about Jowett is a mystery.

For example, at one time Ottley Coulter wrote to George asking him to send him some details of his early years. George wrote back - and I've seen the letter - that he hadn't got any information since his wife disliked what he was engaged in and had thrown all his memorabilia away. Convenient methinks.

he also claimed so many titles and championships won in lifting and wrestling but it is hard to find out when and where the meets in which he won the titles claimed took place, or even if they took place at all.

So you see, the bodybuilding and lifting scene hasn't changed at all. It's the same old muck - as the French saying goes, "Plus ca change, plus ca la meme chose." The more it changes the more it stays the same - when we've got men claiming that they are ___ since 1936 - a date when they were only FOURTEEN YEARS OLD one can see that it's "business as usual." 

However, I liked Jowett. He always treated me civilly and in a friendly manner and I will say that one of the most inspirational book on weight training I have read - THE KEY TO MIGHT AND MUSCLE - bears his name. 

Note I said "bears" his name.

As soon as I can rake out his birth certificate I'll send you it. You can copy it and send it back.

Jowett and Ottley Coulter knew each other quite well and on a close personal as well as a business basis. At one time they came up with an ideal of putting out their own physical culture mail order course. However they lacked the financial means to get it started. So they brought in a party of the third part to put up the money; the profits would be split three ways. Off went the courses and response was good. Then, suddenly the part of the third part vanished into thin air and Ottley and George were lift wondering what had happened to him.

They soon found out. One day they were approached by two large gentlemen with profiles that could cut glass, exuding an aura of extreme ill will, who demanded that Ottley and George come across. After some colloquy it was evident the party of the third part had borrowed the money off a mafia loan shark and hadn't paid any back and the gentlemen were there to tell the partners there were a couple of concrete overcoats waiting for them if they didn't come across. George and Ottley came across and thaty was the end of the Apollo Course. 

I've been a weightlifting journalist for fifty years now, starting with IRON MAN and winding up with Joe Weider, the Woodland Hills Wonder and worked as his editor for eight or so years before I decided I'd had enough and came to Austin from NYC. I went into Law Enforcement and was in it for 20 years before I retired. Handled narcotics cases and juvenile offenses and was the head of the department, handling every case referred to the local juvenile court.

Now I'm back again writing the occasional article for IRON MAN and Bob Kennedy. While it doesn't exactly keep the wolf from the door it does keep a couple of six packs in the ice box.

Presently I'm on the faculty of the U of Texas as a Research Associate and a strength sports historian, working with Professor Terry Todd at the Gregory Gym - main thrust is with the Ottley Coulter and Dave Willoughby archives, collating, indexing them and extracting anything I consider of eminent historical importance. Got my Criminal Justice and Criminal Behavior ticket from Sam Houston State University, which is attached to the Texas Penal System. Retired in May, 1978 and now do nothing all day except try to figure out who I am and who the hell I can blame for it. 

Attended the Old Time Strong Man's Association dinner on May 10th in NYC and had a long gab fest with Grimek with whom I correspond on a regular basis. So tell him Hi Ya when he gets to Ketchikan.   

By the way, I've looked the place up on a large map of Alaska and just am able to find it. Is it near Seward or Anchorage or Nome or where and how big a town is it and what do you do as a pillar of the community? Myself, I've traveled all over the world, can tell you more quickly where I haven't been than where I have and Alaska is one of the haven'ts. 

Me phone you? Like to but hardly likely. I have to live on a minuscule pension of just under 600 bucks a month - try it some time - and it might be too rich for my budget to phone you. But there's always the mails and I look on a letter as a PERSONAL visit from my friends.

I do a lot of letter writing to people interested in lifting and weight training all over the world. Sadly though, some of these write merely to "pump" me and I find some of my correspondence appearing in articles as "personal" experiences of the authors.

You were just a kid when I worked for Weider, which was from 1950 to 1958 so you must have read some of my stuff in old copies of his magazines. I am sorry I never kept copies of the articles I wrote - I turned them out by the HUNDREDS and under various names and for various champions who could hardly put an X  against the "SIGN HERE" but that is by and by and no reflection.

I'm in my 75th year now and Oh the tales I could tell. I know where the bodies are buried and what cupboards hold the skeletons. But if you told anyone you wouldn't be believed. So why bother.

IRON MAN magazine is perhaps - as it always has been - just about one of the most honest and reliable magazines on the market today (May, 1986). Although I think Peary Rader could have shouted a little louder at some of the stuff going on, yet I understand his desire to NOT get involved in the sport's politics. What I like about IRON MAN is its freedom from flim flam. No claims to be the fount from which all blessings of weight lifting flow. And if you don't agree with what Rader says, all you have to do is write your own article disagreeing with it and you are reasonably sure of getting it published.

Not so with ___. He phoned me up, February, 1985 and INSISTED I write an article about all the new and wonderful training principles, systems and exercises there were today. I knew he wanted me to say how great HE was and how HE was responsible for inventing all these wonderful things. So I wrote the article and sent it off. I said there wasn't anything new, that what was being peddled today is all old stuff and was being used back in the late 1890s and early 1900s. It took me seven months to get paid an despite assurances that the article is to appear "NEXT ISSUE" it has never appeared. Ah this free and enlightened press of ours. And democratic too. 

I've got a couple of articles coming out in Kennedy's magazine and more in IRON MAN. I guess you've read my bit on Goerner and the previous one on steroid use. 

Or course the old timers were the pioneers. 

The modern bunch only stand as tall as they do because they stand on the shoulders of the pioneers. 

All these new exercises and principles were being used when the mothers of those who claim to have invented them were saying to their Dads, "Not tonight dear, I have a headache." Or when they were lifting nothing heavier than a baby's bottle. 

So much of the stuff printed today is sheer unadulterated HOGWASH and deceptive, or to be more forthright, outright lying. 

Do you get the slight impression that I am somewhat cynical? 

I have all the time in the world to correspond and as I have said welcome letters. The only thing I ask is that if i tell you something is confidential, keep it that way. That's all. No sense so far as I can see hurting people's feelings and disturbing dogs taking a nap.

At the Old Timers banquet Joni Lee MacFadden, the . . . relic of the famed Bernarr MacFadden "he was born BERNARD" turned up. She is in her early 80s and when asked to say a few tributal words about Grimek, she launched into a diatribe about how hard a man Mac was to live with and how on their wedding night he gave her a pair of iron dumbbells. Her disappointment must have been monumental since I am sure she was hoping for a present of another kind. However, though a bit wobbly on her pins and quavery in her pipes, she looked well for her age.

Part Two continues from here.  

Enjoy Your Lifting! 



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