Monday, November 27, 2006

Charles Atlas

Charles Atlas (October 30, 1893 – December 23, 1972), "self-made man", trained himself to develop his body from that of a "scrawny weakling", eventually becoming the most popular muscleman of his day. His company, Charles Atlas, Ltd. (founded 1929 and continuing today) markets a fitness program for the "97-pound weakling", a registered trademark.

Born Angelino Siciliano in Acri, in Calabria, Italy, he moved to Brooklyn, New York at a young age. Initially a small, weak child, Siciliano worked hard to develop his muscles, using a variety of weights. He acquired a physique that earned him the nickname "Charles Atlas", after the mythical Atlas, the Titan who held up the heavens. He later filed for and received trademark status for the name. He soon took the role of strongman in the Coney Island Circus Side Show. Contemplating the strength of a tiger in a zoo, he had conceived the idea of working muscle against muscle, rather than working out with weights. This system was later dubbed Dynamic tension. His company is now owned by Jeffrey C. Hogue.

Pop culture references

The song "I Can Make You a Man" from the Rocky Horror Picture Show refers to Charles Atlas in lines such as "A weakling weighing 98-pounds/Will get sand in his face when kicked to the ground", "Makes me shake, makes me wanna take Charles Atlas by the hand/In Just seven days I can make you a man" and "He thinks dynamic tension must be hard work".
Frank N. Furter referring to Rocky Horror: "He carries the Charles Atlas Seal of Approval"
The song "I Can See For Miles" by The Who (on the album The Who Sell Out) is followed by a "commercial" for the Charles Atlas Course ("The Charles Atlas course with dynamic tension can turn you into a beast of a man.")
The song "She's Your Lover Now (Just a Little Glass of Water)" by Bob Dylan, released on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3, refers to Charles Atlas in the line "Why must I fall into the sadness / Do I look like Charles Atlas?"
The song "Mr Apollo" by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band on the album Tadpoles parodies the idea with lead-singer/writer Vivian Stanshall affecting a gruff butch voice. The song involves members of the band singing a fictional body-builders praises while Stanshall *alternately sings and offers no-nonsense advice "no tiresome exercises/no tricks/no unpleasant bending/wrestle poodles and win!"
The song "Mr Superman" (Swingles II; lyrics by Tony Vincent Isaacs to the melody of Scott Joplin's 'Elite syncopations') whilst not referring to Charles Atlas directly, implies the connection. In the song, the 'hero', having done the course and having achieved nothing, thinks it's a fraud and becomes an expert in other fields and Mr Superman only in his daydreams. There are some poetic refences to "sand in the face"
The comic book Flex Mentallo by Grant Morrison has several features that parody the Charles Atlas ads, including the costume of the hero and the text "HERO OF THE BEACH" hovering above the hero's head. Jeffrey Hogue brought suit against DC Comics over the character.
In the Kurt Vonnegut novel Cat's Cradle, the religious leader Bokonon is a graduate of Charles Atlas's course.
In the Futurama Season 2 episode "When Aliens Attack", Fry gets sand kicked in his face by a "professional beach bully" who asks for payment for his services, after Fry has won the girl. Leela hits on him but he turns out to be gay.
The song "Sand In My Face" by 10cc on their debut album is a detailed description of Atlas' legendary ads.
The song "Charles Atlas" from the album "Very Proud Of Ya" by A.F.I.
The Marvel Comics title What The--?! parodied the famous Charles Atlas "98 pound weakling" advertisement, in a number of issues. Atlas was often referred to "Charles Gutless" and in one particular issue, was portrayed as a woman and named "Charlene" Atlas.
Australian band The Fauves had a minor hit with their song "The Charles Atlas Way"
The song "Sunset Strip" by Pink Floyd's Roger Waters contains the line "I like riding in my Uncle's car, Down to the beach where the pretty girls all parade, And movie stars and paparazzi play the Charles Atlas kicking sand in the face game."
In the Ren and Stimpy episode "Ren's Pecs", Ren seeks counsel from the bodybuilder "Charles Globe", who inspires him to get plastic surgery. Charles Globe, and the entire episode, are obvious spoofs of the story of Charles Atlas.
One of the zombies in The House of the Dead III, the Azteca II Model, bares a strong resemblance to Charles Atlas.