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
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
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
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
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
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.