AKA Angelo Siciliano
Birthplace: Acri, Calabria, Italy
Location of death: Long Beach, NY
Cause of death: Heart Failure
Remains: Buried, St. John Cemetery, Queens, NY
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Fitness Guru
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Former 97-pound weakling
For generations, advertisements in the back pages of comic books and men's magazines have shown pictures of brawny bullies on the beach embarrassing a scrawny young man, who sends away for the Charles Atlas bodybuilding program and soon becomes a muscle-bound tough guy. That story is not far removed from the true story of Charles Atlas, who, according to legend, literally had sand kicked in his face by a bully at the beach on New York's Coney Island.
Born in Italy as Angelo Siciliano, he came to America with his family when he was eleven years old. A skinny boy who barely spoke English, he was mercilessly teased and occasionally beaten by schoolmates, kids in his Brooklyn neighborhood, and his own uncle. He wanted to build up his strength, but could not afford barbells or gym equipment, so he researched the human body at the library, then devised his own low-cost do-it-yourself exercise program. Siciliano performed hundreds of hours of ritualized little tug-of-war competitions between his own fingers, hands, arms, legs and thighs, the beginnings of an isometric system he later called "Dynamic-Tension". Soon the bullies left him alone, and other kids began comparing him to a local hotel's wooden statue of Atlas, the Greek god.
He worked as an artist's model and a circus strongman, then competed in a 1922 bodybuilders' contest at Madison Square Garden, where he won the title of "The World's Most Perfectly Developed Man". After legally changing his name to Charles Atlas, he worked with naturopath Frederick Tilney to refine his "Dynamic-Tension" principles, and began selling bodybuilding instruction pamphlets by mail-order. The business floundered until 1929, when Atlas formed Charles Atlas, Ltd, in partnership with advertising expert Charles Roman, and began the famous ad campaign that made Atlas a millionaire and cultural icon. "I turned myself from a 97-pound weakling into the World's Most Perfectly Developed Man", the ad explains. "And I can change your body, too."
In 1939, the US Federal Trade Commission ordered Atlas to stop claiming in advertisements that his courses help relieve skin diseases and constipation. Atlas retired from his company in 1970, and died in 1972. The ubiquitous ads have never stopped running, and the company's customers have included such noted ex-weaklings as Joe DiMaggio, Rocky Marciano, and Robert L. Ripley.
Father: Santo Siciliano (farmer)
Mother: Teresa Siciliano (seamstress)
Wife: Margaret Cassano Atlas (m. 1918, two children)
Naturalized US Citizen
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