savvy spielsmanship: perfection before lifeless brawn

The strongman…..

Art Chantry (

The strongman! that’s the title of Joe Bonomo’s autobiography (subtitled: the daredevil exploits of the mightiest man in the movies!) This is the original Charles Atlas. Even the famous “arms crossed across his mighty chest” pose of Charlie Atlas was his invention! (it was later ‘borrowed’ from joe by much of his later competition). Joe was the original advertising/media strongman caricature persona.

The story goes that ol’ joe was nicknamed “toothpick’ as a kid, ‘cos he was so skinny and all. He began to hang around Coney Island and was befriended by “The Great Sandow”, the Coney Island sideshow strongman. This is how Joe became a strongman, too. But, more importantly, he learned how to hustler the “marks” and the ‘rubes’. The learned from the best and he could sell anything to anybody.

AC:bonomo was also a pioneer of "pro wrassling". he even took on jack dempsey in the ring. he was a "jack(ass) of all trades!" but, he was a huge influence on developing the post war woman! those little booklets were primo instruction manuals that taught average housewives to behave according to societal roles as they were then defined (by guys like joe).. amazing.

So, this skinny kid became a performing sideshow strongman with no equal. He did it all – lifting enormous weights, stopping trains, diving off tall buildings, wrassling vicious alligators, cliff diving, wing-walking, leaping over buildings, picking up automobiles with his teeth!. He could dance like a master, looked great in a tux, and best of all, he could teach you how to do the same! Just subscribe to his easy step-by-step plan and you could be just like Joe!

He began to advertise in magazines and newspapers, too. He originated the classic strongman huckster sales system, later copied by so many others (especially charles atlas). But, he didn’t mind too much. He had bigger plans.

There was this new ‘thing’ happening out in California, a place called Hollywood. The circus sideshow biz was good, and vaudeville was even better. but, Hollywood could make you a movie star (the best!). Joe headed out and immediately began life as an extra in the early film industry – dancing, bit parts, and especially STUNTMAN!.

AC:also, if you look at bonomo's poses, you immediately think of george reeves' superman poses. so, bonomo's visuals have a long standing influence down through 'chuckles' atlas and comic books to superman and mainstream popular iconography. not bad for a skinny kid cleaning up after the rubes at coney island! click image for more...

Before too long his bluster and prideful bearing (and tireless self-promotion) got him a featured part in a western. Instead of wrestling guys in gorilla suits, he got the babe! He became a star of the screen, especially in westerns. Joe got to work with the likes of Lon Chaney and George Raft. He was the star in scores of b-westerns and even in matinee serials.

Joe kept up this exhausting cycle of movies and the circus (where he was a star attraction) and endless publicity stunts (helping to further build up his self-help empire). The vaudeville appearances and the private ‘audiences’ kept on coming. He was the most famous strongman of all time! Rich, too!

Joe was creative. Joe was not a puppet. Joe wanted to direct his own movies. Universal pictures (later home of frankenstein, dracula, the mummy and the wolfman) gave him a contract

star and write and (yes!) direct his own feature films. Before long he had an empire built inside universal “BONOMO universal pictures – the Hercules of the screen” (posed in classic leopard skin one-piece). My, he was handsome!

---"The Hollywood Home Reducing Course goes straight to the root of the matter. It attacks both enemies...overweight and improperly distributed flesh...boldly and accidentally with proven methods of diet and exercise. It refuses to come to terms with one unwanted, unlovely or misplaced pound. Our standard in the undertaking upon which we are today embarking is perfection, and we are going to come as close to it as possible..."--- Read More:

So, Joe had a good life. beloved by the masses, influential in his teachings, a guru of fitness and health. People flocked to him to adore him and throw cash at his feet. It was happy forever. But forever changes.

Age began to catch up to Joe. Saturday matinee serials and circus movies and incredible stuntwork wore Joe down. He got tired. He lived the good life and it began to show around the waistline. No amount of exercise can restore a receding hairline, ya know? Besides, that scotch and those cigars sure are tasty!

Charles Atlas began to steal his strongman image and empire (charlie discovered that advertising in comic books was good biz). Joe couldn’t compete. The offers began to dwindle and no amount of hyperactive self-promotion and stunt work could hide the simple fact that ol’ joe had jumped the shark. The guy was over.

But, Joe, ever positive and ever inventive, searched around for a new career. He could live on the laurels of his spectacular early life, but a man starts to get restless. So, he decided that, besides all those other wonderful attributes he possessed, he was (most of all) the world’s GREATEST salesman. Who are we to doubt? It seemed to be true, actually.

So, he dug into his little pocket of wisdom and began to build up the grocery store market (as yet unexploited by joe bonomo.) He saw all those lovely gentle ladies standing in line, all of them lonely, yearning for a life of love and beauty. He saw them standing in the check-out line. And it hit him! He will teach them how to be the perfect women – and sell it to them right where they stand!

He began to produce a series of little booklets, those 3×4 inch saddle-stitched falderal that we still see today in those same check out lines (only today they sell horoscopes and weight-loss). Joe didn’t invent those little books. They were always sitting there, except they were called “pocket almanacs”. He just saw an opportunity and then he took it. That’s the difference between us and Joe Bonomo. He was a man of ACTION!

These little books are really treasures. ‘increase your bustline!’, “find men after forty!’, “INCREASE your weight!’. Is there nothing he can’t teach you, young lady? Just follow these easy steps. Listen to the great MAN, Joe Bonomo! He knows about these things. He knows how to make a perfect woman!

There were all told a dozen of these little books. He even ventured into childcare and dancing instruction with these things. They are chock-full of tips and programs and endless little tiny illustrations and photographs demonstrating “how to”. They are graphic design gold. An endless source of amazing imagery and sales instruction (by example.) Joe Bonomo taught us all how to sell crap to suckers with almost zero effort. This was psychological profiling at it’s birth.

Joe Bonomo really WAS the greatest salesman of all time. The guy could sell snowballs to an eskimo, and do it with great pride. There was NOTHING he could not do. Just ask him.

Miriam Linna:Maybe he spread himself too thin, maybe not, but somewhere between the rise and fall of JB & his many enterprises—and most definitely upon Weider’s obvious usurpment of the brawn belt—the noise and brawl and mayhem that colored Bonomo’s personal improvement schemes was muted by pot smoking vagrant schemers who hatched a gazillion dollar self help industry built upon an ice nine hen house of beige quackery tuned into a numbing celestial hum of vibrasonic high colonics. Where once had ruled a happy Turk encouraging the lost, lonely and vicious to get up and swing from the chandeliers, is now a sinister mecca of pseudo-psycho-metaphysical harlots who create for hapless hoards a dim view, a slim chance, and a perpetuity of blissless calm. And thus has evolved a grievous situation whereby the “attuned” and the “healthy” block off the joys of the present with meditation and medication, who replace the natural naughty carnival melee of our fabulous modern world with moronic pre-recordings of fabricated sounds that only suggest the wind in bold trees and the surf on sunset beaches. Joe Bonomo considered artifice an abomination. In vitro, alias, virtual reality—all proxy to the man was a pox. Joe Bonomo would tell us to pull up a chair and talk about our short comings- our clumsiness on the dance floor, our lackluster bustlines, our lack of razzle at parties, our addiction to narcotics, our bad hair days. These brief chats never even suggested failure, never avoided action, never blamed a cold world or a bad childhood. In fact each directive clearly stated with parachute jump enthusiasm that life was a gift, that every breath could be a positively boner-inducing fantasia should we “wake up and live”. Read More:

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