By Vic Boff
A great chapter in the history of physical culture and bodybuilding was brought to an end May 24 when our dear friend Sig Klein was called to his final reward. Fatefully, his demise occurred a few hours after this spring's reunion of the Association of Oldetime Barbell and Strongmen.
Sig Klein's passing is a tremendous loss to the Iron Game. He was a giant among us. For over 60 years he was a leader to strength athletes and bodybuilders throughout the world. Everyone who knew Sig personally, and the millions who knew him over the years through the printed word, will always feel that he left a special heritage in the dedication to his life and art.
He was truly a man of integrity, respected by everyone in all walks of life.
His professional standards were the highest.
Because our creed is almost identical, I have drawn together the golden threads of a great man's life and spun the web of his story with the words that follow:
Seigmund Klein was born in Thorn, West Prussia Germany on August 10, 1902. In 1903, his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio.
Having inherited a strong body, coupled with e desire to improve his physique, Sig started his bodybuilding career in Cleveland at the age of 17.
Shortly thereafter he received recognition for his strength and development.
He became an accomplished tumbler and hand balancer, graduating into the ranks of "strongman" and becoming nationally known.
In the year of 1924 he relocated to New York City and operated the famous Attila studio, founded originally in Germany in the 1860s. The reputation of Professor Louis Attila was world wide asa trainer of great athletes and strongmen, most famous as the discover, trainer and manager of the fabulous Eugene Sandow. Unfortunately, Professor Attila passed away shortly before Klein's arrival in New York. Klein's success with the studio was immediate.
He managed its move to larger quarters. And he married the professor's charming daughter Grace Attila.
In 1927, Klein had established his famous studio at 217 7th Avenue, in the heart of New York City's theater district. The studio was unique in every way, laid out with perfection and immaculately kept. The atmosphere was heavy with muscle lore, with beautifully framed pictures of famous strongmen and physical culturist, magnificent chromed sphere barbells and the most modern equipment. Klein's hobby -- an extensive collection of costly beer steins of all shapes and sizes -- lined the walls, many of them depicting strongmen, lifters and muscular marvels. Klein's studio combined the muscle culture of earlier Europe with that of modern America, where he carried on the Attila tradition of bodybuilding through weight-lifting. His studio soon became and international attraction for athletes an strongmen. Visitors became trainees, along with many famous starts of the theatrical world -- Zero Mostel, Frederic March, Montgomery Clift, Ben Gazzara, David Carradine, Sir Laurence Olivier, Joel Grey, Sam Jaffee, Walter Matthau, Karl Malden, and many others.
After a span of 50 years, Seigmund closed the gym and divided his vast muscle memorabilia among private collectors.
Sig Klein's theory and slogan which remains valid to this very day "Train for shape and strength will follow," made over men who were undeveloped, underweight, and overweight. He trained "hopeless cases" into vigorous men.
Under this system, men became physical marvels.
Sig Klein's basic talents as a great strongman and weightlifting champion were sometimes overshadowed by his perfectly proportioned physique. He won many physique contests and was featured on the front covers of every physique and physical culture magazine of his time.
In 1925, when he was 23, Klein won the "Plastic Beate" contest run by Le Culture Physique magazine of France -- a contest to find the world's finest built athlete. At age 44 in 1946, he won the professional Most Muscular Man contest in Philadelphia. Klein was more concerned with building an outstanding shapely physique than he was with feats of strength or skill. He was master of muscle control as he was with posing, all of which he did effortlessly and gracefully. I believe Klein's posing was far superior to the posing of present day muscle men, regardless of their more massive muscle structure. On March 26, 1949 at the Mr. USA in the packed Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, Seigmund gave a nostalgic and heroic posing exhibition that received a tremendous ovation. He was the "Mr. Perfect," a master of fluid muscle control in contrast to the hard rock, static posing of the day. Klein also included in that appearance, at age 47, an extraordinary exhibition of strongman feats.
Klein's fabulous career as strongman, weightlifter, tumbler and hand balancer were featured in Ripley's "Believe It or Not" world famous newspaper cartoon feature, no less than 10 times.
He was for many years the professional Lightweight and Middleweight champion of America with the following lifts to his credit: Strict military press of 2291/4 pounds; strict press behind the neck with 206 pounds; one-arm snatch with 160 pounds -- the first time bodyweight was surpassed in this lift by an American athlete; one-arm clean-and-jerk with 1901/2 pounds; crucifix 1263/4 pounds total; two-arm see-saw press with 100-pound dumbbell in each hand ten consecutive times; bent press performed with one arm, 209 pounds; side press, 1741/2 pounds; plus several more unusual lifts with a bodyweight that he maintained at 147 to 150 pounds during his entire career. The statistics are ample proof of his strict adherence to his training routine.
Seigmund Klein had his share of testimonial dinners given in his honor. One memorable night was February 18, 1969 at Brooklyn's famous Granada Hotel. Notables from all walks of life showed up at the World Bodybuilding Guild event, including then-governor Nelson Rockefeller and New York Mayor John Lindsay.
1985 was a big year for Sig. In April, the Oldetime Barbell and Strongman Association honored him in conjunction with his 83rd birthday. And in November of that year, he received special recognition at the first annual Bodybuilding Hall of Fame induction at the Sands Hotel in Atlantic City. He was acknowledged for his outstanding contribution toward the advancement of the sport of bodybuilding.
Sig Klein was a great inspiration to bodybuilders and strongmen during the years he was in the Iron Game and much of the game's prestige and popularity can be traced to his efforts on its behalf. His shining star in the world of physical culture will forever shine alongside his great contemporaries. His passing is a great loss to his dear wife Grace, family, and friends.
IRON GAME/PHYSICAL CULTURE HISTORY