Strength & Health, Page 25, July 1942


By The Editor [Bob Hoffman]

For more than a score of years Atlantic City has been famous for its beauty pageant, famous as the place where "Miss America" is crowned each year. Open only to amateurs, the Atlantic City "Miss America" contest has been the beginning of many a promising professional career. Beauty contests are held in principal cities throughout the United States, the fairest representative of that district is crowned and sent to Atlantic City. There a group of judges endeavor to select the most beautiful, and best formed American girl

Back in 1938 Johnny Hordines staged the first truly representative "Mr. America" contest at Amsterdam, New York. The first "Mr. America" contest was well staged. Proper lighting, a revolving platform, music, well built men from many states, famous figures in the strength world as judges, made this "Mr. America" contest one long to be remembered. As man after man stepped upon the platform, handsome, upstanding, powerfully built young men, the spectators were treated to thrill after thrill. What a wonderful lot of competitors there were, hard to choose one, many who did not even receive honorable mention would have been fitting subjects to wear the crown of "Mr. America."

Professionals were not barred in this first contest so Bert Goodrich, a famous all around athlete in his school days, for many years an understander in a herculean hand balancing act was chosen "Mr. America." Elmer Farhnam, of York, who had gone with the writer as a travelling companion, having no hope or expectation of being chosen "Mr. America," had the lowest number of points at the first count which, with the system of judgin in use would have made him Mr. America. Then old Adolph Rhein changed his vote and the title went to big Bert Goodrich with Elmer in second place. Only a few years have passed since that day, but Elmer is far away, a sergeant in the parachute corps. Adolph Rhein, one of the greatest old strength athletes of all time, nearing 80, is now a patient in a hospital and at the point of death.

But it was a beginning, one that is difficult to excell in quantity and quality of contestants, in judging, or staging of such an event.

In 1939 the A.A.U. (Amateur Athletic Union) became interested and as apart of the A.A.U senior national championships, the best built weight lifter was selected. To enter the contest a man was required to be a registered A.A.U. Athlete and expected to take part in the lifting competition. A number of men who trained with weights but who were not usually lifting competitors entered this event and one of these, a tall, handsome, broad shouldered, slender built chap, Ronald Essmaker, from Richmond, was selected as the winner. in this second event advertised as the "Mr. America" contest, winners in three weight classes were chosen, and then the final selection of the grand winner was made.

There was a great deal of dissatisfaction with the judging in this event, opinions differing greatly as to what type of man best deserved the title "Mr. America." Several ladies, artists and art teachers, a sculptor and the operator of a business man's gym, a man who had been a famous strength athlete in his youth, were the judges.

In 1940 at Madison Square Garden, the "Mr. America" contest for the first time played before a huge crowd numbering well up in the thousands, and received world wide publicity. 1940 was world fair year, and these dual events, the "Mr. America" contest and the world's fair brought a great many lovers of the masculine physique to New York. By this time a fair method of judging had been evolved. Seven points for muscular development, five for muscular proportions, and three for hair, skin, face, posture, and posing ability, making 15 in all, were used as the basis for judging.

There were some famous judges serving in this contest. Siegmund Klein, so well known to readers of this magazine, Bernarr McFadden, famous physical culturist and publisher, Col. Kilpatrick, President of Madison Square Garden and a famous athlete in his college days, well known columnist Dan Parker, Col. Dieges, former wrestling champion, former A.A.U. weight lifting chairman, and a leading A.A.U. official, the writer and enough others to make ten, were the judges.

John Grimek, whose admirers shook the solidly constructed Madison Square Garden when he appeared, was selected as "Mr. America," with Frank Leight, the New York policeman, as second. It was a great affair marred only by the fact that Dan Parker for long weeks after the contest was complaining about the judging. Noting that the writer and John Grimek both hailed from York, Pa. he immediately told the world that there was an Ethiopian in the woodpile, that I had been responsible for the selection of John Grimek as "Mr. America." Quite a task one would realize, for one man, myself, to outvote nine others. The truth of the matter was that all the judges except Dan Parker and one of his pals rated John Grimek first, Bernarr McFadden with 15 points, a hundred percent score, compared to the 14 3/4 at which I had rated him. It's all water of the dam now, but if the crowd did the selecting John Grimek would have been chosen by a margin so great that it would have been overwhelming, almost unanimous.

The "Mr. America" contest took another big step forward when it was staged at the Arena Sports Palace in Philadelphia in 1941, again as a part of the A.A.U. national weight lifting championships. The Madison Square Garden "Mr. America" contest was big, but this Philadelphia contest was more representative of the best in America than any previous contest. A great number of cities had chosen their best built man and sent him to Philadelpia to vie for the "Mr. America" title. There was Frank Leight, officially "Mr. New York City," Ludwig Schusterich, former "Mr. New York City," Jules Bacon, "Mr. Philadelphia," Tommy O'Hare, "Mr. New Orleans," Elwood Holbrook from far off California, with representatives from the south and middle west.

All conditions were excellent for the staging of this contest. Lighting was perfect, the man who was being judged stood high above the boxing ring in the center of the huge amphitheatre, and as they took their turn upon the pedestal many of them were Greek god like in appearance. Selections were mad to find the man who had the best built back, the best arm, best abdominals, best chest and most muscular physique. Elwood Holbrook, the bent press champion, won the best arm, Frank Leight best chest, John Davis best back, Melvin Kahn best abdominals, Ludwig Schusterich the most muscular title.

When the final decision of the ten judges was handed down it was found that John Grimek had again been selected "Mr. America," that he stood head and shoulders above the remainder of the competitors and had received the amazing score of 147½ points out of a perfect 150. Hardly possible that a man could score so high, that any human could be considered to be so nearly perfect. But we were gazing at the man that many consider to be the best built of all time. Second in the scoring was Jules Bacon of Philadelphia and Frank Leight of New York City, both with a score of 125. To break the tie, both posed again and Jules Bacon was placed scond, with Frank Leight third.

In the first Mr. America contest at Amsterdam, N.Y. most of the judges were men prominent in the world of strength and development. Siegmund Klein, Joe Bonomo, Otto Arco, the writer, with a local newspaper writer and a high school art teacher. At Philadelphia where the national lifting championships and the "Mr. America" contest was staged by the Middle Atlantic district of the A.A.U., the district of which I am chairman, the ten judges were all men who had long been prominent in weight lifting and bodybuilding circles. Such men as Karo Whitfield from Atlanta Georgia, Emmet Faris from Cincinnati, Harry Paschall from Columbus, O., Siegmund Klein and Ray Van Cleef from New York City. It is to be expected that men who spend their lives as instructors or officials in weight lifting, the group from which the best built men are invariably selected, every leading competitor having trained with weights, would be the best judges of the masculine physique. Although the "Mr. America" contest is open to men of all types, and the earlier contests included a few swimmers, gymnasts, boxers, wrestlers and other athletes, they quickly learned that they did not compare in development with the weight lifters who made a specialty of training with weights to improve their health, strength and development. All the leaders in every official "Mr. America" contest have been men who trained regularly with weights and the progressive system.

This year the national weight lifting championships were staged at Cincinnati, Ohio, and as usual the "Mr. America" contest was held in conjunction with them. As compared to the 66 competitors who appeared at Philadelphia only 13 competed in this 1942 "Mr America" contest. So many of the best developed men are in the army or doing war work; difficulty of travel kept a great many excellent physical specimens, men who would have figured in the scoring, at home.

Conditions were the best that could be obtained although the lighting was not good, which detracted greatly from the appearance of the competitors and the muscle control men and posers who appeared, notably Siegmund Klein and John Grimek. There was no complaint about the judging, even from the spectators who often are keenly disappointed when their favorite is not placed as high as expected. There were four lady judges, girls who were intesely interested in athleteics and lifting, Miss Barbar Faris, Mis Ann Hewitt, Miss Katherine Dunnet and Miss Virginia Gray. Siegmund Klein, Fred Hofmeister, who conducts one of the finest body building studios in the middle west, a man who has developed outstanding lifters and body builders, himself one of the nation's best built men, served, as well as Harry Paschall, national weight lifting champion way back in 1925, a man who held the national record in the two hands snatch then at 194 in the 148 pound class, 15 years later established an Ohio state middleweight record of 230 pounds, known as the "Methuselah of weight lifting" the creator of Bosco, a man highly publicized back in the 20's for the excellence of his physique. And as usual, although endeavoring to be just a spectator first of all, and then the master of ceremonies next of all, the writer was influenced to be the eighth judge.

In the past, the judges marked their scores according to muscular development, muscular proportions, general appearance, which included posture, skin, hair and face, as well as posing ability, totalled their own scores which would range up to a perfect 15. The judges' decisions were collected, added up and as in the case of John Grimek last year with his 147½ out of a possible 150, ten judges, 15 a perfect score for each judge. It was optional at previous "Mr. America" contest to contest for the special awards: best back, best arm, etc. A fraction of those entered in the "Mr. America" contest would enter the special contests, five or six of these would be chosen as finalists, all would pose together, the judges could see how the special points of one man compared to another and they could agree on the man with the best arm or best chest, etc.

At Cincinnati the score cards were marked for each man with a space allotted for the scoring in each special division, best arm, best chest, best back, best abdominals, best leg. There was a special award for the most muscular. 20 points or part thereof, was to be allotted for each of the five classes, these points were to be added up and the man who received the highest rating in all would be "Mr. America." It was not my thought that this was the best way to do it, but I was only one of the judges so the scoring went on as planned. I cited one case where a colored man who had the best arm, the most muscular body, as good a chest, back and abdominals as any, was gnome like or grotesque in general appearance. In individual parts few if any could excel Joe DiPoetro. This method of scoring had no consideration for symmetry, carriage, posing ability, general appearance, facial appearance or hair, all of which should be important considerations in selecting a "Mr. or Miss America." I wonder how the results of the judging of "Miss America" would have been if they were judged by best leg, best abdominals, best chest, etc. They made their selection from general appearances, selecting the girl who was most beautiful in face and body, who was most graceful and presented the best general appearance.

In past "Mr. America" contests the best men were grouped together and it was possible to compare one with another and make the final selection. It was suggested that it would be done this way at Cincinnati, but Mr.Wortmann, the A.A.U. chairman of the natinoal committee, ruled that the men would be seen one at a time, their score marked for each of their best points and then the addition of these points would determine who "Mr. America" was. All in all there could have been little complaint with the final standing the way it was done, but we believe that the method employed at Madison Square Garden and at the Arena in Philadelphia, is the best and fairest way and the most interesting from the standpoint of the spectators. Muscular proportions, muscular development, posture, posing ability, skin, hair and face, all should play a more important part in the selection of the ultimate winner than just he who as the best individual parts.

Frank Leight, the New York City policeman who was second in 1940 and third in 1941, was selected as "Mr. America." Frank is 34 years of age and long has possessed one of the best physiques in the world. Selected each year as the possessor of the best chest, he is a fitting man to wear the crown "Mr. America." He is taller than the average, has good posture, broad shoulders, fine arms, a powerful back, good abdominals, as he is holder of the world's record in the abdominal raise, and a fine pair of straight, well muscled legs. He is handsome in a manly sort of way, and although he always seems reluctant to display himself and to enter these contests, he does pose very well. He had his admirers in New York City and Philadelphia and in this contest with John Grimek being ruled out as a previous winner, he was easily the man who should have been selected to wear the 1942 "Mr. America" crown.

Nearly ten years ago, Frank's picture appeared on the cover of this magazine; a number of good pictures of him have graced our pages since that introduction. He has trained for these many years at Sieg Klein's gymnasium in New York City. Visitors to Klein's gym have watched Frank in his training. He's a star with heavy dumbells, one of his favorite movements being the alternate press with a 110 pound dumbell in each hand. He excels at the pull over, the abdominal raise, and does a bit of chinning and turning on a horizontal bar. He weighs over 200 pounds, and chinning and turning upon a bar, "skinning the cat" is responsible for at least some of his very excellent physique.

Getting along in years, a family man, with an admiring wife and a young family, with the irregular hours of work necessitated by being a New York City patrolman, he deserves especial credit for maintaining his interest for so many years, and for building a physique which this year was selected as America's best. He received a total of 69 points out of a possible 80. He had been given the award of best chest.

Before going on to a brief comment concerning other winners I'll mention the special award winners. Melvin Kahn of New York City as in 1940 and 1941 was given the ward of Best Abdominals. He had gained ten pounds, looked more muscular, and his abdominal development had improved with his added weight. He had won chiefly in the past due to his slender frame, thin skin, which accentuated his adominal development. Competition was not as keen in this division as usual. Men like Dave Asnis and Chick Deutch, who have really extraordinary abdominals, are in service.

The young star, Dan Lurie, of the Adonis A. C. in Brooklyn, who was very much in evidence throughout the entire evening, received the awards of best leg, best arm and most muscular development as well as third prize in the "Mr. America" judging. John Davis last year had entered only one of the special classes, and had received the ward of the best back. This year Lieutenant Bill Bush of the Cincinnati fire department received that award. From the very brief glance I had as the judges' slips were handed past me it seemed that four of the judges had voted for Bill Bush, three for Dan Lurie, and only myself for John Davis. Here in particular I wish that the finalists in best back had posed together so you could see the truly remarkable back of Johnny Davis. I am sure that this type of judging would have given him this special award as it did last year. Bill Bush is wonderful, so is Lurie, but John Davis is more than extraordinary. He much prefers to have a good physique to being world's weightlifting champion. I mentioned to many at Cincinnati as I repeat again, that he in my opinion had as good a physique as any of the men who were present at Cincinnati and were it not for the handicap of color, he might have been "Mr. America." What do you fellows who were there think ?

Dan Lurie was second in the junior "Mr. America" contest at Bristol, Conn. by just half a point. I think it was 67 to 66½. This young chap, whose first picture I ever saw graces a full page in the "Big Chest Book," has a most remarkable development. A former national gymnastic champ, he has trained hard under the supervision of his friend and club member, Hyman Schaffer, and has rounded out his physique to the point where he won three of the six special awards in this contest and was second in best back, second in best abodminals, third in best chest. Rather short for a "Mr. America" he may grow, as he is just 18. From the body builder's standpoint he stood well above most of the competitors.

From the final scoring you can see that Dave Marcus, handsome, powerful, youthful Cincinnatian, the possessor of a most extra-ordinary pair of arms, a man who cleans and jerks over 300 pounds, was fourth. Leonard Burton of Batan Rouge, La., the winner of the title "Mr. New Orleans," was fifth. He is a handsome, curly haired, symmetrically proportioned young man who created a very fine impression at the championships. Tony Armento of Yacos Gym in Detroit, "Mr. Detroit," was sixth. He led by just one point over George Beegle now in the U. S. Marines, but formerly from Toledo, winner of the title "Mr. Toledo" and "Mr. Ohio."

Big Jake Hitchens, representing the York Bar Bell Club, was 8th with the same scoring as Beegle and just a point back of armento. Jake looked very impressive with his 18 inch arms and 50 inch chest.

This even is well liked by the crowd who attend these affairs and we hope that "Mr. America" contests will continue for years and years. It serves as an added incentive for the men who are not competitive lifters, yet like to enter contests and receive some sort of recognition for the physiques that they have won through regular training. And certainly it is inspiring to all who are present to see the sort of physique most of us could win if we would put forth the effort these men who competed in the "Mr. America" contest have expended over a period of months and years.

If you find these articles interesting and useful, please