Making American Men: Charles Atlas and the Business of Bodies, 1892-1945

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Rutgers The State University of New Jersey - New Brunswick, 2007 - Bodybuilding - 750 pages
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This dissertation is a cultural biography of the fitness entrepreneur Charles Atlas, from his birth in Italy in 1892 as Angelo Siciliano, through the apex of his career during the Great Depression and World War 11. As a cultural biography, this work uses the life of a single person to elucidate and explain changes in Americans' ideas about gender, sexuality, race, class, ethnicity, and childhood during the first half of the twentieth century, while at the same time recounting the events in the metamorphosis of the private individual of Angelo Siciliano into the public figure of Charles Atlas. The first scholarly, monograph-length examination of the life and career of a seminal figure in American popular culture, this study shows how immigrant and ethnic bodybuilders in general and Atlas in particular helped to define the ideal man during the twentieth century as physically and aesthetically "attractive," which for Atlas meant monogamously heterosexual, middle class, and white, in addition to trim and muscular, during a period in which modern categories of race and sexuality were emerging. By drawing on insights from the fields of immigrant and working-class history as well as American studies, the history of gender and sexuality, and film history and criticism, this dissertation synthesizes a wide range of visual and written primary and secondary sources to understand why Charles Atlas has long captivated the imaginations of Americans, and to suggest how his legacy continues to impact American life in the twenty-first century.

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