Mail Order Muscles

by Dennis Mitchell

Joe Bonomo

Many old time strongmen supplemented their income by offering a muscle building course by mail.  The most successful being Charles Alas.  A contemporary of Charles Atlas was Joe Bonomo.  He learned the mail order muscle business from Charles.  Joe Bonomo was born in Coney Island on December 25, 1901.   His parents were Al and Esther Bonomo, who ran an ice cream and candy shop on Coney Island.  Due to his father’s business, Joe had a very sweet but nutritionally poor diet.  In spite of lots of ice cream, candy, and other sweets, Joe was a very skinny child and had the nick name of toothpick.  Joe was pretty much of a loner and spent a lot of time exploring the attractions of Coney Island, Dreamland, and Luna Park.  He was fascinated by the various carnival attractions.  It was while exploring the various attractions that he met, Ladeslaw, a Polish strong man.  Ladeslaw took a liking to Joe,and told him that he could become strong if he would work hard, start eating right, and have a positive attitude.  Following the Strongman’s advice, Joe rapidly went from “Tooth pick” to the school’s star football player, and a very good gymnast.  Living on Coney Island Joe met every strong man and wrestler who came to perform, including Eugene Sandow, and Charles Atlas who became his friend and mentor.  There were also people from many other attractions, including movie stars, dancers, and show people.  He grew up in a world glamor and make believe.  He felt that to be a success he would combine his physical, mental, and spiritual abilities.

This was one of the many books written by Joe Bonomo in order to give lifting pupils "mail order muscles".

After he graduated from school he entered a talent search for “The Modern Apollo”.  With the help and guidance of Charles Atlas he was able to beat out over 5,000 other contestants and won a part in a motion picture.  This led to parts in many motion pictures as both an actor and as a stunt man.  He even played the part of Tarzan in 1928 movie.  He became so popular that he had to hire people to help him answer his fan mail.  Much of his mail was requesting information on how he developed his body.  This was the beginning of his mail order muscle building courses.  With the advent of the talkies (Joe had only acted in silent movies) Joe, even with voice and elocution lessons could not get rid of his Brooklyn accent.  Sadly his stunt man career ended when he broke his hip in a car crash scene.  He had broken thirty seven bones during his stunt man career.  Leaving the glamor life of Hollywood was very hard for Joe.  More adversary followed when Charles Ludwig, the man who ran Joe’s mail order muscle building business, died.  Shortly after, Joe’s father also passed away.  Joe took over running both businesses.  Always looking for new ventures Joe teamed up with Tony Bruno, a well known Hollywood photographer.  They settled in New York and put out a magazine called Beautify your Figure.  This was in 1939.  It was so successful that they published another magazine called Figure Beautiful.  It not only had information on diet and exercise, but also skin care, dancing instructions, social instruction, and information on romance and feminine fulfillment, and most important, how to have an alluring bust.  He also published many “Mini-books”, which were small size books that could fit in your pocket.  They sold for twenty five cents.  They covered muscle building, make up, how to be a better host, birth control, the evils of drug use,  and how to simplify house work.  Some of his books stayed in print for thirty tears.  One of his last books was, “What I Know About Women, By Joe Bonomo”.  It contained sixty four blank pages. He continued publishing into the 1970’s, until the Joe Weider publications overtook him.

Joe Bonomo, man of many talents, died in Los Angeles March 20,1979.

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