EARLE E. LIEDERMAN

By David Chapman
IM, April 1994

Reprinted with permission from Vic Boff's Association of Olde-time Barbell and Strongman Association (AOBS) Newsletter.



Few athletes have had lives as filled with variety as Earle E. Liederman. He began as a vaudeville strongman and in the mid-1920s became the undisputed king of the mail-order musclemen. After that he turned to radio broadcasting and then to journalism. Finally, in the 1940s Liederman came to California and, because of his seductive descriptions of sun, sand and sea, helped draw hundreds of bodybuilders to the West Coast.

Despite his many accomplishments, the details of Liederman's biography are difficult to pin down because he was so reluctant to recount his personal life. Not even his birthdate is known for certain. Apparently, he was born around 1886 in Brooklyn, New York, to poor Swedish immigrant parents, graduated from high school in Jamaica, New York, and pursued a degree in physical education at the state normal school. Soon after earning his diploma, he was hired by the New York Board of Education as a physical culture specialist.

While Liederman was working for the Board of Education, he was also trying his hand as a boxer. It took him only a short time to determine that he had little talent for the ring, however, so he switched to wrestling, which also proved not to be his strong suit. He was saved from further embarrassment in this effort by a talent scout from a vaudeville chain, who convinced the young man to try his hand at a strongman act. This was more to Earle's taste, and in 1910 he quit his job and embarked on a career as a professional athlete.

For eight years, Liederman toured the circuit demonstrating his skills in lifting, acrobatics, and physique display. His theatrical stint developed his showmanship and confidence, but eventually he tired of the life and decided to put into action a long-cherished plan to publish his exercise regimen and sell it through the mail. When the response to this produce proved to be satisfactory, Earle devoted full time to the new venture.

Liederman's new course was based on the use of a chest expander. He didn't advocate heavy weights for his pupils despite the fact that he had obviously built his own physique through progressive weight training. Along with the course came a well illustrated booklet, Muscular Development, which explained the author's techniques and philosophy. The book became very popular and throughout the life of the enterprise it must have gone through at least 20 editions.

Liederman was a savv marketer, and he knew how to tap into the public's worries and insecurities. The copy in one typical ad from 1924 compared a tiny body to a wart on the nose--but with one difference. "If you had a wart on your nose, you would worry yourself sick--you would pay most any price to get rid of it. . . . Wake up! Come to your senses! Everyone despises the weakling." Worrisome thoughts like these kept more and more customers clamoring for the course, and before long his ads were appearing in several magazines at once, often in lavish six-page spreads.

Earle raked in a great deal of money with the mail-order business. One visitor to his posh New York headquarters reported that there were 60 secretaries sitting at typewriters pounding out advice and encouragement to the many correspondents. Liederman quickly grew rich, and he enjoyed spreading his profits around. He kept a fleet of fancy cars and lived the high life. At some point he married a former Miss Alaska beauty queen, and the two cut a glamorous swath through New York society.

Liederman's charmed life and glorious prosperity came to a crashing halt when the stock market took a dive in 1929. By the early 1930s he had lost everything, including Miss Alaska. He eventually got a job as a radio host on a New Jersey exercise program. This, too, proved to be successful, and Earle's mostly female listeners soon made him a star once again. Between workouts he would occasionally read some of his own rather sappy poetry over the air, thus proving that he was as sensitive as he was strong. The ladies ate it up.

No matter what kind of adversity struck him, Earle always managed to land on his feet. At some time in the 1940s one of his former pupil who had found work in the studios convinced his old teacher to move to Hollywood. There Liederman found work writing for a quiz program, but he was still interested in bodybuilding, and when Joe Weider was searching for an editor for a new publication, Earle got the job. Muscle Power first appeared in 1945, and it was a hit almost from the start.

Earle's breezy style of writing made him very popular with his readers. He also had a West Coast perspective, and he would regularly sing the praises of life in lotusland. So it was in large part thanks to him that California became the bodybuilding capital of the world. In his popular column, "Let's Gossip," the elder muscleman would write in his chatty style about happenings on Muscle Beach, in local gyms, and on "Zee Boulevard," meaning Hollywood Boulevard.

Liederman brought everyone up to date on the activities of West Coast musclemen, including plenty of panegyrics for the Southern California that existed before smog and overcrowding took over. "Streets lined with jacaranda trees that bloom for a very brief while, to spill their petals upon the sidewalks and streets," he wrote, "forming a lavender carpet for wandering feet . . . multicolored roses every day of the year . . . nights flooded iwth silver from the same old moon that also shines upon you."

The sun-filled idyll finally ended in 1970, when the aged Liederman passed away. He had left editorial work many years earlier, when a rift had developed between him and Weider, and Earle had quit abruptly and gone to work for a rival magazine. At his death he was supposedly completing a religious book.

Probably the best memorial to this multifaceted man was one that he wrote himself. It was a poem that e had written to commemorate the passing of another great man, Egen Sandow. In it Liederman comments on the way death steals into the scene.

So gently does he set his sandal down
That only when he passes can be seen
The mighty footprints where his feet have been.

Those same words might be used to describe Earle E. Liederman.

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