a potted biography by Gil Waldron
Charles Atlas was born Angelo Siciliano in 1892 in Acri, Calabria, Southern Italy.
In 1905 his parents, like many peasant farmers, went in search of liberty and freedom from poverty, following, as were millions more, the American dream.
It is not known whether or not he was an only child, I've tried to find out but to no avail. He started work in America as a leather worker, and adopted an Americanized name, Charles.
Bernarr Macfadden, a self made millionaire, health guru, publisher and utter screwball (his wifes description) had a magazine called 'Physical Culture' and in 1920 he ran a photo competition that was won by one Angelo 'Charles' Siciliano.
Young Angelo had taken up bodybuilding after frequenting the Brooklyn Art Gallery and seeing statues of the Greek Gods of mythology. At first he used dumbells and barbells made from stones tied on to wooden sticks, but later after observing animals exercising at the Zoo started developing Dynamic Tension.
On October 28th 1921 after a 5 day Physical Culture extravaganza at Madison Square Gardens, Charles Siciliano Atlas was presented with a 1000 dollar prize by Macfadden. Angelo using his new fame then got jobs in Coney Island working as a stuntman and strongman and demonstrating various muscle developing gadgets. He then progressed to Artists Model and as a result statues of Atlas in various guises can now be seen in the very art gallery that originally inspired him.
By this time he was wanting to make a better living out of his obvious physical attributes, so the Charles Atlas course, 'Dynamic Tension' was fine tuned and checked over by Doctor Tilney to make sure he couldn't be fined for practicing medicine without a licence.
He also, about this time, became associated
with Charles Roman, with whom he had a life time business and friendship
association. It was Roman and Tilney who were responsible for the early adverts e.g. Sand in the Face and the 97lb weakling, which by his own admission he never was.
Atlas had two children Herc and Diana and lived, until his wife died, in a converted Coastguard Station in Long Island. He missed his wife very much, so looking for company he moved to Florida, the retirement state of the US, where he eventually died in 1972.
He was a lonely man in his later years and would welcome, with open arms, pilgrims, journalists, or just the curious and keep them talking for hours.
He was extremely fit right to the very end and practised what he preached, exercising every day and running every other.
Charles Atlas did more for physical culture than any other man in history and at the time of his death he had had 3,000,000 pupils and inspired many more, including me.