Born Freiderich Wilhelm Muller, in 1867, in Koenigsberg, Prussia, Eugene (pronounced “oy-gun”) Sandow was Flo Ziegfeld’s first p.r. masterpiece.
Ziggy billed him as “physically perfect. Acknowledged by anatomists to be the strongest man in the world.” His feats were the stuff of legend. He is said to have been able to juggle with one hand while holding a man in the palm of the other. In his act, he would carry a 350 pound pony across the stage, and lift a 269 pound barbell with one arm.
As if this wasn’t spectacular enough, it was Ziegfeld’s idea to make him into a sex symbol. Ziegeld presented him at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, naked but for a loin cloth, his body powdered to resemble white marble. Rich ladies paid extra money to sneak backstage and feel his muscles after the show. Talk about “dynamic tension!” Ziegfeld later toured Sandow throughout the U.S. in a show entitled “Sandow’s Trocadero Vaudevilles”.
Even Sandow’s death made good physical fitness copy. He died in 1925 when his brain ruptured as he single-handedly pulled a car out of a ditch. (What, no Triple A?) Harry Langdon memorialized him as the character “Zandow” in his 1926 film The Strong Man.
Marginally interesting note: My voice was heard in the Museum of Sex’s inaugural exhibit in 2002 as a carnival barker (or talker) hyping the sex symbol Sandow. I’ll link this entry to that audio track in the days to come, for what earthly purpose I have no idea.
Check out this actual footage of him in action circa 1894, courtesy an Edison film crew:
To learn about the roots of variety entertainment, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.