Author Archives: Dennis Mitchell

Mail Order Muscles

by Dennis Mitchell

Joe Bonomo

Many old time strongmen supplemented their income by offering a muscle building course by mail.  The most successful being Charles Alas.  A contemporary of Charles Atlas was Joe Bonomo.  He learned the mail order muscle business from Charles.  Joe Bonomo was born in Coney Island on December 25, 1901.   His parents were Al and Esther Bonomo, who ran an ice cream and candy shop on Coney Island.  Due to his father’s business, Joe had a very sweet but nutritionally poor diet.  In spite of lots of ice cream, candy, and other sweets, Joe was a very skinny child and had the nick name of toothpick.  Joe was pretty much of a loner and spent a lot of time exploring the attractions of Coney Island, Dreamland, and Luna Park.  He was fascinated by the various carnival attractions.  It was while exploring the various attractions that he met, Ladeslaw, a Polish strong man.  Ladeslaw took a liking to Joe,and told him that he could become strong if he would work hard, start eating right, and have a positive attitude.  Following the Strongman’s advice, Joe rapidly went from “Tooth pick” to the school’s star football player, and a very good gymnast.  Living on Coney Island Joe met every strong man and wrestler who came to perform, including Eugene Sandow, and Charles Atlas who became his friend and mentor.  There were also people from many other attractions, including movie stars, dancers, and show people.  He grew up in a world glamor and make believe.  He felt that to be a success he would combine his physical, mental, and spiritual abilities.

This was one of the many books written by Joe Bonomo in order to give lifting pupils "mail order muscles".

After he graduated from school he entered a talent search for “The Modern Apollo”.  With the help and guidance of Charles Atlas he was able to beat out over 5,000 other contestants and won a part in a motion picture.  This led to parts in many motion pictures as both an actor and as a stunt man.  He even played the part of Tarzan in 1928 movie.  He became so popular that he had to hire people to help him answer his fan mail.  Much of his mail was requesting information on how he developed his body.  This was the beginning of his mail order muscle building courses.  With the advent of the talkies (Joe had only acted in silent movies) Joe, even with voice and elocution lessons could not get rid of his Brooklyn accent.  Sadly his stunt man career ended when he broke his hip in a car crash scene.  He had broken thirty seven bones during his stunt man career.  Leaving the glamor life of Hollywood was very hard for Joe.  More adversary followed when Charles Ludwig, the man who ran Joe’s mail order muscle building business, died.  Shortly after, Joe’s father also passed away.  Joe took over running both businesses.  Always looking for new ventures Joe teamed up with Tony Bruno, a well known Hollywood photographer.  They settled in New York and put out a magazine called Beautify your Figure.  This was in 1939.  It was so successful that they published another magazine called Figure Beautiful.  It not only had information on diet and exercise, but also skin care, dancing instructions, social instruction, and information on romance and feminine fulfillment, and most important, how to have an alluring bust.  He also published many “Mini-books”, which were small size books that could fit in your pocket.  They sold for twenty five cents.  They covered muscle building, make up, how to be a better host, birth control, the evils of drug use,  and how to simplify house work.  Some of his books stayed in print for thirty tears.  One of his last books was, “What I Know About Women, By Joe Bonomo”.  It contained sixty four blank pages. He continued publishing into the 1970’s, until the Joe Weider publications overtook him.

Joe Bonomo, man of many talents, died in Los Angeles March 20,1979.

Jack LaLanne

by Dennis Mitchell

Jack LaLanne

Francolis Henrl LaLanne, better known as Jack LaLanne, was born an September 28, 1914, in San Francisco, California. His parents, Jennie and Jean LaLanne came to the United States from Oloron Sainte-Marie, France.  It was his older brother Norman who nicknamed him Jack.  He grew up in Bakerfield and Berkeley, California.  As a child he showed no indication that he would become a “Fitness Guru” or lead a healthy life.  As a youngster, he said that he was addicted to sugar and junk food, had a really bad temper, and was “A miserable goddam kid”.  He suffered from headaches and bulimia, and at the age of 14 dropped out of school.  The change in Jack’s life started at age 15 when he heard a lecture by Paul Bragg on health and nutrition.  He started working out and changed his diet.  He went back to school, and played football.  After high school he went to college and earned a degree of Doctor of Chiropractic.  In 1936 he opened his first health and fitness club in Oakland California, where he gave instructions on nutrition and exercising with weights.  This was quite radical at this time, as the medical profession felt that lifting weights would cause heart attacks and make you musclebound, and cause you to lose your sex drive.  He eventually had a chain of over 200 health clubs called The European Health Spas.  He later sold his clubs to another company and the name was changed to Bally Total Fitness.

Jack is credited with inventing the leg extension machine, pulley machines, weight selector equipment, and the forerunner of the Smith machine.  In the late 1930’s he had a short wrestling carrier.  Jack had a television program where he gave advice on exercise, diet, and healthy living.  The program lasted for 34 years.  He wrote several books, made exercise videos, sold vitamins and exercise equipment, and the Jack LaLanne Power Juicer, which is still being sold.  Jack set many endurance records in swimming, push ups, and chin ups into is 70’s.  He continued his daily two hour workouts of lifting, walking and swimming into his 90’s.  Jack LaLanne passed away on January 23, 2011 at his home in Morro Bay California.   He was 96 years old.

Catherine Brumback aka Sandwina

by Dennis Mitchell

Sandwina breaking a chain, which was a common act in her performances.

Catherine Brumback was born in Viena, Austria in 1884.  She was the first of fourteen children born to Philip and Joanna Brumbach, who were acrobats who performed in circuses and theaters in Europe.  Her father stood six feet tall and weighed 260 pounds, and had a 56″ chest.  Her mother had 15″ biceps.  Her father could snatch 80 kilograms with one hand, which was a very good lift in the 1800’s.  At the age of fourteen Catherine, who was now called Kathe, stood 5’7″ tall, and weighed 167 pounds.  She had been performing with her parents for quite some time.  She could clean and jerk 50 kg with one hand, and 70 kg with two hands.  By age of sixteen she had also become a very good wrestler.  Her father offered 100 German marks to any one who could defeat her.  At one performance a young 19 year old strong man named Max Heyman accepted the challenge, thinking the publicity would help his career.  Max was rather slight, weighing only 155 to 160 pounds.  Kathe had no trouble quickly defeating him.  Afraid that she had hurt him, she picked him up and carried him to her tent, a most unusual way to start a romance.  Three years later they were married.  They performed together under the name of Les Sandwenes.

As time passed Kathe grew to 5’9″, weighed 200 pounds, had a 44″ chest, a 29″ waist, 16 ” calves, and 14″ arms.  She could bend bars, brake chains, and juggle cannon balls.  She could support a 1200 pound cannon on her shoulders.  Another one of her acts was to lie on a bed of nails while someone from the audience would pound an anvil she supported on her chest.  She was earning $1500 per week.  For a time she had an act with her three sisters, Eugenie, Marie, and Barbara. They performed under the name of the Braselli Sisters.  At a performance in New York City she challenged anyone in the theater to a weightlifting contest.  Eugene Sandow was in the audience and accepted the challenge.  Kathe cleaned and jerked 300 pounds.  Sandow could only  lift it to his chest.  After this contest Kathe changed her name to Sandwina, which said was a feminine version of Sandow.  During her career she performed with several circuses, the most notable being the Barnum and Bailey circus.  After she retired from preforming she and Max opened a cafe in Queens New York . She passed away January 21, 1952.

The Brothers, Good

by Dennis Mitchell

The Brothers, Good - Walter, Bill and Harry

Bill Good was born May 14, 1910, in Reemstown PA.   He was the strongest of the three brothers.  He won seven National Championships, and competed in two Olympic Games, placing fourth in the 1936 games held in Berlin Germany.  He was the first American lifter to clean and jerk 350 pounds.  He was featured on the cover of one of the earliest Iron Man magazines.  Brother Walter was born Jan. 27, 1908.  He also competed in the 1936 Olympics in the 75 kilo class.  He was also featured on the cover of several body building magazines in the 1930’s.  Harry Good, no date of birth could be found for him, was the best in grip strength, and could do a one finger lift of 450 pounds.  Another of his feats was to do a self loading leg press of 380 pounds, balancing the weight on one foot.  He claimed to be the American Professional Weightlifting champion in 1933.  He also established the Good Barbell Company, and published a barbell training course.  The Good Dumbbell, the worlds heaviest dumbbell weighing 2,150 pounds, at one time belonged to Warren Lincoln Travis.  Bill could do a harness lift with it until he was over 90 year old.  He passed away April 19, 2007. Brother Walter died July 8, 2001.  No date could be found Harry.

Max Sick (Maxick)

by Dennis Mitchell

Maxick demonstrating his "muscle control".

Max Sick was born on June 28, 1882 in Bergenz Austria.  As a youngster he suffered with lung trouble, rickets,and dropsy.  At the age of ten he made his own weights and started working out.  His parents were against weightlifting and destroyed his weights.  In order to keep working out Max started doing muscle control exercises.  He was very successful and to this day is remembered mostly for his muscle control ability.  Although Max, who later changed his name to Maxick, claimed to have developed his very fine physique and strength using only muscle control, he did some very excellent lifting, leading us to believe that he trained quite a lot with the weights.  He was capable of a continental and jerk with double body weight.  Maxick stood 5’3.75″ and weighed between 145 and 147 pounds. Some of his other lifts were:

Right hand military press – 112 pounds

Right hand snatch – 165 pounds

Right hand swing with dumbbell – 150 pounds

Right hand jerk (two hands to shoulder) – 240 pounds

Two hands military press – 230 pounds

Two hands clean and jerk – 272 pounds

Two hands continental and jerk – 340 pounds

He was also a very good gymnast and hand balancer, and was unbeatable in “Finger pulling” beating men who weighed over two hundred pounds.  Maxick was also a very good business man.  He wrote many books on muscle control and was business partners with both Monti Saldo and William Bankier (Apollo).  His muscle control courses were still being sold into the 1970’s under the name of Maxalding.  Maxick died in Buenos Aires in 1961, where he ran a gym and health studio.  He was active even on the day that he died.  That morning he had been wrist wrestling with a friend and then rode his bicycle home.  He was later found lying on his back with a note under his heal, that stated,  “My heart is beating rather slow, I feel extremely cold, I think it will be over soon. Remember the infinite is our freedom manifested through our consciousness”.  Dated, May 10, 1961 22 hours.

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