Many people know the name CHARLES ATLAS (Angelo Siciliano, 1892–1972) from the ads in the back of comic books. No wonder: Atlas’ biography reads like the origin story of a Golden Age superhero. Once a scrawny weakling who weighed only 97 pounds, Atlas was attacked by a sand-kicking beach bully in his youth. The incident set Atlas on a course to become a muscular, Adonis-like figure. He took the name “Atlas” after being compared to a statue of the mythological figure, but soon became a statue himself: he was the model for the statute of George Washington in New York’s Washington Square Park and the Alexander Hamilton sculpture on the U.S. Treasury Building, among others. While the eye-for-an-eye message that underlies the best-known Atlas ads seems coarse to us today, the Atlas exercise regime provided much-needed hope to generations of late bloomers who felt trapped in their skinny bodies. But Atlas was more than just eye candy: he was also tremendously smart, pioneering his own set of “muscle-against-muscle” exercises and demonstrating uncanny business savvy. Name-checked in pop culture masterworks like The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Bob Dylan’s “She’s Your Lover Now,” Atlas — perhaps America’s first flesh-and-blood superhero — remains firmly embedded in the American mythos.
On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Ezra Pound.
READ MORE about members of the Modernist Generation (1884–93).