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The Sporting Life
Kelvin C. Bias
October 28, 2002
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October 28, 2002

The Sporting Life

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In Manhattan, the Museum of Sex, which turns out, after careful inspection, to have at least a couple of sports connections. One display in an exhibit called "How New York City Transformed Sex in America" commemorates the Howdy Club, a Greenwich Village bar that in the 1930s and '40s fielded a lesbian football team that played locally. Of even greater historical significance is an exhibit devoted to the grandfather of bodybuilding and muscle magazines: Eugen Sandow, a Prussian immigrant born Friederich Wilhelm Mueller in 1867. Touted as the perfect male specimen, Sandow toured the country at the turn of the century under the direction of Florenz Ziegfeld (who later created the Ziegfeld Follies), performing rare feats of strength. He often carried a pony across the stage and amazed audiences with an act called the Human Dumbbell. Two men would sit in wicker baskets attached to either end of a metal bar; using one hand, Sandow would slowly lift the bar above his head.

Unlike Mike Piazza, Sandow never held a press conference to announce he wasn't gay, and probably with good reason; news that he lived with a man and shunned his wife and two kids created a stir. Still, he had devoted fans, and his legend solidified when he began to appear nude, except for a leaf or tiny briefs, in statuesque poses on posters and trading cards. As the exhibit states, Sandow "created a popular interest in displays of the male physique" that led to the explosion of muscle magazines and muscle culture. Museum of Sex executive curator Grady Turner says the first muscle magazine, Physical Culture, was published shortly after World War I by health faddist Bernarr Macfadden, who used to walk to work barefoot in the winter. Now there's a surprise. Normally, you don't get into a sex museum for having cold feet.

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