Charles Atlas

By: Tucker Cummings
October 30, 2012

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.

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ALSO ON HILOBROW:The Last Man Jack of Them” (Jack LaLanne); and Paul C. Bragg as HiLo Hero.

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).

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  1. Charles Atlas, Vic Tanny, & Jack Lalane–the Big Three of mid-20th-century bodybuilding. While Tanny devised counterweighted exercise machinery(=robocise) & LaLane invented protein shakes for weight training(Bruce Lee was very attracted to this concept), Atlas pioneered using only isometric(Doc Savage style)execises. Dynamic Tension!!! Very catchy!

  2. “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.”

    The bodybuilder-turned-Founding Father model reminds me of another skinny weakling turned superhero, Captain America. The recent film adaptation showed the 97-pound-weakling in CGI form. And in the film version, he defeated the Red Skrull, er, Skull.

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