News & Politics

The Baby-Oil Secrets of Mr. Atlas


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August 17, 1961, Vol. VI, No. 43

Mr. Atlas Trains Here

By Peter Gessner

Wandering Jocelyn-less down 14th Street last Saturday night, I happened to pause near a black-slacked, axle-greased crowd milling outside the Academy of Music. A poster proclaiming the citywide finals for the selection of Mr. Atlas drew me inside, as I carefully undid my second shirt-button and unwrapped a stick of chewing gum.

In the dark dressing rooms below the stage, 13 Promethean bodies from five boroughs were exchanging their street clothes for tight loincloths. Their triangular chests seemed to glisten with a muscular glow in the half-light.

“What’s that you’re using?” I asked one radiant contestant, who was rubbing something over his body.

“That’s professional oil. All of us use it.”

I glanced at the simulated man-sweat bottle he was dipping into. Johnson’s Baby Oil.

In the open door of another room, a man in a blue Brooks suit pointed to a passing and still-clothed contestant and said in a low voice: “You see that guy, wotshisname? He lacks definition, I’d say; he’s chunky.” The definitionless body had disappeared by the time I reached the voice in the blue suit, which turned out to belong to Lenny Russell, whose Sheridan Square Health Club was sponsoring the Mr. Atlas quest.

Russell, who explained that he had first started lifting after he “got shot up in Korea,” offered an account fo what makes a male want to be Mr. Atlas.

“These boys are out to be the type of person they think they should be like — I mean, the type they would like to be like,” amended the shepherd of the muscle-flock. “Like the Greeks, body builders are aware of life’s situations.”

…The Atlas-aspirants displayed themselves before the crowd front and back, and then were free to do some “optional” posing. This turned out to mean swelling to full expansion, posturing, and finally freezing into convincing Johnson-oiled statues. The crowd stomped and whistled…

[CCNY professor Aaron] Noland had a difficult time measuring the raucous noises that went up for each favorite. When he announced that Alan Broomer, a mature, former Mr. Los Angeles, would be the new Mr. Atlas, the crowd seemed upset. Broomer works out at Greenwich Village’s Sheridan Square Health Club.

Backstage, Broomer, a junior high school teacher was tight-lipped about his victory. He held his trophy in one languid hand while he posed for pictures. Queried on what it takes to be a Mr. Atlas, Broomer responded: ‘Excelsior!” and took off toward the dressing rooms.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]


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