by Eric Pace
Charles P. Roman,
Associate of Charles Atlas,
Dies at 92
Reprinted with permission from the AOBS Newsletter.
Charles P. Roman, the not particularly husky ad man and executive who crated
classic advertisements for the bodybuilder Charles Atlas, including the one
about a 97-pound weakling, died on Friday at Mount Sinai Medical Center. He
was 92 and lived in the Chelsea section of Manhattan.
Mr. Roman did much to gain fame for the once-skinny Mr. Atlas, born Angelo
Siciliano in Brooklyn, for whom the Charles Atlas bodybuilding course is
named. Mr. Atlas has been called the Horatio Alger of the human body. After
Mr. Atlas died in Florida in 1972, still a fine figure of a man at 78, Mr.
Roman labored for years in his Manhattan office to keep the Charles Atlas
Charles Atlas Ltd., of which Mr. Roman was president from 1929 until 1997,
still sells its series of mail order lessons about what it sometimes calls
its exercise and healthy living program.
The "97-pound weakling" advertisement that Mr. Roman devised relatively early
in his career was built around a phrase he coined that became an enduring
metaphor for puniness and humiliation.
The advertisement was based on an encounter that Mr. Atlas himself had
experienced while he was still a skinny youth. Mr. Roman's advertisement
comprised several panels in comic-book format. They told the tale of the
97-pound weakling, a boy named Mac, who was humiliated by a bully while at
the beach with his girlfriend.
The 97-pound weakling advertisement has varied somewhat over the year, but
the company's current owner, Jeffrey C. Hogue, said that in its most widely
used form, the weakling, known as Mac, and his girlfriend have sand kicked in
their faces by a beach bully. The advertisement is entitled "The Insult that
Made a Man out of Mac."
Mac loses the girlfriend, sees the light and decides to get the Charles Atlas
program. Before long he looks in the mirror and says, "Boy! Look how those
muscles bulge!" And in the last frame he punches the bully while the
girlfriend watches and is impressed.
Besides advertising and administrative duties for the Charles Atlas system,
which he named Dynamic Tension, Mr. Roman did public relations work for
Charles Atlas.. One busy day, after Mr. Atlas had used his extraordinary
physique to break a metal bar before an audience of 3,000 convicts, Mr. Roman
telephoned tabloid newspapers and suggested a headline: "Man Breaks Bar at
Sing Sing Prison - Thousands Cheer Non Escape."
Mr. Roman was a fledgling $35 a week account executive at the Benjamin
Landsman Advertising Agency in New York when he met Mr. Atlas, a champion
bodybuilder whose business was relatively puny at the time. Mr. Roman told
Mr. Atlas that the advertising he had been using was not working. Months
afterward, Mr. Roman became Mr. Atlas's partner in their new company, Charles
Atlas Ltd. Mr. Roman went on to become the sole owner in 1969 and sold the
enterprise to Mr. Hogue in 1997, but he maintained an influence on its
operations until his death.
In recent years, Charles Atlas Ltd. has also turned to manufacturing vitamins
and nutritional supplements and selling Charles Atlas workout clothing. It
plans to market a series of exercise videos and to make its lessons available
for downloading from the Internet.
In a 1982 interview at his 23rd Street office, Mr. Roman said: "We're doing
as great as we ever did. I carry on exactly as if Charles was in the next
office. The system is still the Atlas system, so he is in fact still giving
the training just as he always did."
In those days, roughly 500 English and Spanish-language publications carried
the Charles Atlas advertisements, and readers responded by mailing in a
torrent of coupons requesting an initial free 32-page booklet "showing how
Dynamic Tension can make me a new man." And every month Mr. Roman's office
sent out Atlas lessons to customers who had subscribed to the program of
exercises and nutrition tips.
Originally advertised only in comics and other magazines, the advertisements
Mr. Roman created years ago are still a presence on the Internet and even in
Modern Maturity, said Mr. Hogue, the company's current owner and president.
"In the past, the average Charles Atlas program student was age 15 to 25, but
because we've been in the business for about 70 years, many of our students
now are in their 60s, even 70s," he said.
Some women were among the early subscribers, but Mr. Roman said, "We don't
cater to them; we never have."
Dynamic Tension is the name Roman gave to a system of exercise that Mr Atlas
said was inspired by a lion at the Prospect Park Zoo. Atlas observed the
lion stretch and concluded that the beast was pitting one muscle against
another by strengthening them both.
Charles Roman participated as a consultant in preparing a Charles Atlas
advertising campaign planned for next year. The campaign uses his 97-pound
weakling ad among others.
Mr. Roman was born and raised in Manhattan, graduated from the Ethical
Culture School and received a bachelor's degree in 1928 from York University.
During World War II, he was a Navy officer. He married Dorothy Raphael in
1933; she died in 1997.
Mr. Roman is survived by his wife Orpha Vazquez, whom he married in 1998; two
sons, Roger and Ronald, both of southern Florida; a sister, Leonore Roman
Malino, of Manhattan, and two grandchildren.
Middle-sized and trim, Mr. Roman used Charles Atlas's fitness techniques
until his life's end. In the interview, he said, "I keep pretty fit, keep
from getting a pot belly."
New York Times, July 1999