Star Power

0
567

By Tony Deyal

Teacher: “You know anything about Charles Atlas?”

Pupil: “Sir, I never see it and if he lose it Sir, it wasn’t me. I didn’t thief it.”

Teacher: “Son, you’re talking about Collins Atlas and I am asking you about Charles Atlas.”

Pupil: “Sir, I does use Google Maps, I don’t use Atlas.”

In my early days, both the Collins Atlas and Charles Atlas were well known. The Collins was mandatory for “Jogafee” (our pronunciation of “Geography”) and if you were a 97-pound weakling or in any way physically challenged or bullied by the bigger boys, Charles Atlas was your go-to guy. I found out about Charles Atlas from my cousin who at 20 was interested in building his body to attract women, and also from the many comic books I consumed, devoured really.

Charles Atlas and his “Dynamic Tension” muscle-building method were everywhere.  What sold me on his programme was a cartoon in every comic book of a very skinny, scaredy-cat of a young man, on the beach with a young female companion, who was roughed up by a big, burly bully.  In some of the comics, the bully kicks sand in the face of the young man, in others the poor “97-pound weakling” is dumped on the ground.  Whatever the scenario, it always ended with the young lady poking fun at the pipsqueak while she heads out on the arm of the bully.

The young man goes home angry and upset, he orders the free Charles Atlas book and then, with muscles bulging all over his finely sculptured body, he seeks out the bully and beats him up. Of course, he wins the admiration of everyone around and the girlfriend, eyes sparkling, returns.  It was a Marvel (and also in the DC comics).

Unlike the 97-pound weakling, my only companion initially was myself in the mirror, using my cousin’s Charles Atlas book, and building my muscles by tensing them. Now the only dynamic tension I know is from my wife at home but in those days I soon gathered a group of muscle-minded friends and we went at it using the widely available “Weider” magazines featuring the top musclemen and the exercises they used to build arms, chests, deltoids, thighs, calves and most of the other body parts.

Those that they ignored, perhaps for legal and censorship issues, we found in other books and practiced pumping-iron in secret. We were jeered a lot about “all youh giving iron ride” and “when you get big stones (hydrocele or what Guyanese call “godee”) you go have to put them in a wheel-barrow and push them with you”. What kept our spirits up were not just the muscles we were slowly building but inspiration from the Italian-made, sword-and-sandal Hercules movies, Hercules (1958) and Hercules Unchained (1959) featuring the greatest body-builder of his time, Steve Reeves, and shortly after, the successes of  two Trinidad and Tobago world-class body-builders, Michael Hercules and the 1964 Mr Universe, Christopher Forde.

What I did not know at the time was the extent to which Charles Atlas was influential in the lives of others in the region, especially a youngster named Learie Carasco from Saint Lucia. The story is that when he saw the famous Charles Atlas ad of the bully kicking sand in a weakling’s face, Learie was inspired. Despite not having access to gym equipment, Learie used an old axle and some home-made lead weights to build so much muscle that at 15, the only youngster in the competition, he came second in the Mr Saint Lucia contest. In the West Indies of those days, cricket was the only sport that had regional circulation so the only Learie we knew about was Learie Constantine the cricketer.

In the sixties, the undoubted star of the body-building galaxy was a guy named Rick Wayne. It was a name I loved since it combined two of my favourite characters from Rio Bravo, the Western we considered the best we ever saw – Ricky Nelson and John Wayne. Rick Wayne lived up to his star billing and won every bodybuilding award around. During the period 1964-1974 he was several times Mr Universe and Mr World and also swept the “Pro” versions of those contests.  By that time, although I kept in shape, even having my own Gold’s Gym in Barbados, I had stopped following the sport.  It is only in the 1990s, when I went to Saint Lucia as a PAHO advisor, I heard that Rick Wayne had returned to his home in St Lucia in 1986 and together with his wife, award-winning body-builder, Mae Mollica Sabbagh, had started a newspaper called the St Lucia Star.

“Home?” I asked, “He born here, or he buy citizenship?” Then I learnt the full story.  The young Learie Carasco emigrated to England in the 50s, spent two years in the army, then became a singer named Ricky Wayne (perhaps because “Bruce” was already taken). After he ended his career as a pro bodybuilder, Rick focused on writing about the sport but never at any time forgot his roots. His book, Muscle Wars, An insider account of the Competitive World of Bodybuilding starts, “My Catholic upbringing notwithstanding, I have long harbored the devilishly delicious notion that after he’d made Eve and let there be light for a delirious Adam, God wafted Himself away from snake-infested Eden to create an earthly heaven that he named The Caribbean.”

Last week Rick was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to sports, professional bodybuilding in particular, and journalism in Saint Lucia. He continues to write and his most recent book, “Foolish Virgins” (an oxymoron of a title if ever there was one), is about Saint Lucian politics which he dabbled in until he was fired as a Senator by former prime minister, Kenny Anthony. Now, at 81, Rick runs the aptly named TALK, the toughest current affairs programme in the Caribbean, which is extremely popular because of Rick’s aggressive interviews and comments on national and regional issues.

Seeing his range of skills and talents, as well as his many different interests, I asked Rick how to come he never became a movie star like Reeves, Schwarzenegger, or Ferrigno (Hulk). After all, in his time he was as big a Hulk as any of them. His response was that he was never really interested in the movies because the parts were silly and clichéd.  In memory of Charles Atlas and his influence on both of us, as well as all the other 97-pound weaklings, I tactfully left it at that.

*Tony Deyal was last seen asking, “Why did the bodybuilder flee London for New York?”  He was squatting.

Tony Deyal can be contacted at – tdeyal@yahoo.co.uk or visit: www.tonydeyal.com

 

NO COMMENTS

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here