Join Riverfront Times Press Club. Because No News is Bad News.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

From Ozark Wimp to Muscle Man Behind a New York Publishing Empire

Posted By on Tue, Mar 24, 2009 at 9:26 AM

click to enlarge AMAZON.COM
There's a new book out chronicling the rags-to-riches tale of Bernarr Macfadden, a sickly child from the Missouri Ozarks who moved to St. Louis in the late 1800s.

While in St. Louis Macfadden discovered the virtues of weight-lifting and physical exertion -- even spending some time on the regional wrestling circuit -- before moving to New York to make his fortune as the publisher of risque fitness magazines and general-interest tabloids.

If the review last weekend in Wall Street Journal is half as good as the book, Mr. America promises to be a hell of a read.

click to enlarge Macfadden poses as Michelangelo's David, circa 1905 - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • Macfadden poses as Michelangelo's David, circa 1905
Macfadden launched his first magazine, Physical Culture, in 1899. The publication served to rail against what Macfadden considered the "curses of humanity" -- drugs, alcohol, muscular inactivity, gluttony, prudishness and corsets. Six years after the launch, Macfadden would be arrested for running posters of near-naked female athletes to promote the magazine.

The brush with the law only propelled his rise to fame. Macfadden went on to publish the immensely popular True Story magazine. And later, in the 1920s, he founded New York Evening Graphic, a 1920s publication often dubbed the "Porno-Graphic" for its purple prose and borderline-obscene photos.

Along the way Macfadden would befriend Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, employ Eleanor Roosevelt as an editor and groom the nation's first gossip columnist, the storied Walter Winchell. Oh yeah, and Macfadden once beat the living snot out of another publisher of his day (and fellow Missouri transplant), Joseph Pulitzer. Okay, I made the last one up. But Macfadden could have kicked Pulitzer's ass had we wanted. Of that, I'm sure.

Tags: , , ,

Riverfront Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of St. Louis and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep St. Louis' true free press free.

Read the Digital Print Issue

September 9, 2020

View more issues


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In St. Louis

© 2020 Riverfront Times

Website powered by Foundation