Joe Roark's

The HUGE library of Iron History compiled by Joe Roark.


Welcome to Iron History with Joe Roark!  

Joe Roark has been studying the iron game since 1957, and by 1970 began a systematic gathering of information on index cards. By the time his first computer was acquired, there were several hundred thousand references to be typed into it.

For a few years he published his own newsletter called MuscleSearch: The Roark Report. By 1992 he was appointed as the IFBB Men's Bodybuilding Historian, and began writing about history for FLEX in his column Factoids. For ten years he contributed to Iron Game History from the U of Texas at Austin. Recently he also began writing All Our Yesterdays for FLEX.

His passion has always been the period between 1880 and 1920, with particular emphasis on the oldtime strongmen of that era. Joe will be offering bits of history for Cyberpump once per week, and the text will be relevant to the dates of the calendar for those events of yesteryear relevant to the coming week.

In this column, readers will also be able to ask Joe questions or comment on his posts.  Note: The comments are solely for interaction between Joe and the readers only -- not reader to reader.

Letter from Charles A. Smith to Joe Roark, Feb 6, 1986

Sunday, June 29, 2003

Intro: I was sent a letter, written years ago by an anonymous writer, with many Weider ingredients to it. Being curious who may have written the piece, I sent a copy to Charles, and the comments which follow are largely aimed at answering my questions.

I apologize for the needed substitutions of XXX for names, but this IS necessary. Please keep in mind that XXX refers to different individuals, perhaps even in the same paragraph.

Letter from Charles A. Smith to Joe Roark, Feb 6, 1986:

Your letter with the enclosure arrived yesterday and I read it and, to say the least was astonished at its contents. Whoever wrote it had to have an inside knowledge of not only how Weider worked but his entire financial setup- which I didn't. It MUST have been, as you say, someone who worked there but also in my opinion someone who knew him INTIMATELY and also knew me and Horvath very well. But lets get my nasty police mind working on it and maybe we can come up with some suspects although I am afraid not the culprit.

First the envelope. Posted by canceling stamp at 8:30 PM on January 24th, 1960 AND SO CLEARLY that it would be obvious to me that the person posting it not only did so in person- he or she had to do that since it was mailed special delivery and who would JUST happen to have a special delivery stamp handy at their home or office- but must have asked for it to be hand stamped so the post mark would show clearly.

You will also note that there is a numeral- 5- by the word Miami. This numeral indicates the district in Miami from which it was posted, so, if one wants to take the trouble it should be fairly simple to find out where this district was. This would narrow down where the poster lived.

Note the date. January 24th. At this time I was living in Austin, and had been since 1958, February. It, the letter, was also posted one month after my wife's death and nineteen days after I had been promoted to Supervisor of the Intake Department working with the Police Department. This means that whoever wrote the letter must have been fully aware - somehow or the other- of where I was and what I was doing. Notice also in the letter that the one who wrote it refers to UNION CITY and not Jersey City where Weider had his offices at 16 Hopkins Avenue. AFTER I left him and it must have been a month after, he moved to Palisades Avenue, Union City.

Also, whoever wrote the letter had to know Terpak's HOME address which I never did and whenever I wrote him- sending a card at Xmas- I ALWAYS wrote to the York Barbell address.

So, my conclusions are that it was someone who worked at the XXX place, and someone who enjoyed his confidence more than I did, OR a member of the family- such as his wife, XXX- although it does not sound like a woman writing it, but a man, although here and there it has a feminine touch. So much for the envelope. Now for the letter.

It was obviously written by someone with a degree of education, but one who attempted to disguise this fact by mis-spelling and grammatical errors. It seems to me that there was an attempt to disguise identity by use of such words as KIKE and NIGGER, I knew of no one around the place who was in the slightest bigoted. But there is one significant thing and that is at the very end of the letter about the most repulsive of homosexuals working for him. This obviously refers to XXX and although XXX was homosexual, he was by no means repulsive and would give you the shirt off his back if he thought you needed it. He HATED XXX with a passion so it seems to me that the prime candidate has to be XXX and the remark was made to provide a red herring and draw attention away from him by getting them to think that XXX wasn't about to describe himself as a homosexual.

Before I go any further, what surprised me is that XXX let you have it [letter] and the question that must be asked is WHY. Was this done with the idea of you asking me so that I might throw light on the author of the letter? Or in other words they at York wanted to know who had sent it in view of the forthcoming lawsuit so that whoever was responsible could be subpoenaed to appear.

To go on. At the head of the letter a person named Duenewald. Him I never knew. But I do know Neo Gravure and Haynes Lithograph. But Joe's main printing was done by XXX PRESS and since this was reputed to be MOB controlled, Joe wouldn't be about to mess with this outfit but pay up on time. But the methods of Joe's conducting business was right on the dot.

XXX was a very nice guy connected with the MOB in their gambling operations but also one deep into the boxing racket. After he left Joe he went to England and worked for Jack Solomons, a big promoter in London. He died. Very nice guy. It couldn't have been XXX. Too nice a guy.

XXX. Wouldn't put it past him but here I say NO. Joe messed around with him quite a bit. Stan worked for Nat Fleischer who ran the RING boxing mag and was highly agitated over the way Nat Loubet had married Nat Fleischer's daughter and got ahead of Stan by so doing. Stan had a load of photos from the RING archives which XXX naturally snatched up. Stan is now quite a wealthy man running several of his own mags. He was a likeable guy but left Fleischer in the hopes of getting a better deal from Joe. He found out otherwise when Joe dropped BOXING AND WRESTLING shortly after I told him to shove it. Stan too had a contract and was thus left out in the cold.

I don't know Douglas Allen, Tory Lodico, or Clyde Carley so they must have appeared on the scene after I left. Rather let me say I don't remember them.

Jimmy Breslin I do know. Yes he IS the now famous writer. Harry Grayson I also know. Joe also had other men working for him who have since become famous or well known. Among them Martin Caidin, Bob Musel and Bill McCormack. Harry Grayson was an old professional sports columnist as was Bill McCormack.

XXX I wouldn't put anything past. He didn't give a damn for anyone or anything and was a pretty tough character. But he was a decent fellow and always spoke with me nicely and on one occasion tried to get me to leave Joe and branch out on my own saying I had a real flair for writing and would make good anywhere. At the time I thought he was just being nice to a hack writer.

Oscar Fraley I don't know or can't remember.

It is true that Liederman wrote some books and never got paid for them. That again was XXX style- get all you could out of someone without paying anything. There was one instance of a girl named Frances Rushmore, wife of Howard Rushmore who ran the notorious CONFIDENTIAL magazine. She had written some stuff for XXX and came up time and time again to get her check with XXX always having some excuse as to why he couldn't give it to her. One day the papers were full of Frances getting into a cab with her husband Howard and he shooting her and then killing himself. So she still didn't get paid.

Adrian Fedor, Bob Cutter I don't know or can't remember. Bill Wise I do know and he can be ruled out- another decent chap. Norman Strain was Joe's layout man and very honest. He too finally got fed up with Joe and told him to get lost.

As for Willoughby, I never knew what arrangements he had with Joe. It is true that he worked on all the mags Joe put out from the good life and the boxing and wrestling mags. Why he left or what led up to it I don't know. One day there he was and the next day he was gone and Joe wasn't telling. I unfortunately had no contact that I can remember, with Dave and his wife after they left. It was THAT sudden.

It is true that Weider was paying Eddie Borden and Stan Weston more than he was paying Horvath and I. It is true that he paid Charles Coster more than he was paying Bart and I. It is true that he offered Tanny 200 a WEEK to come and work for him while he was paying Bart and I 80 bucks a week. Bart was limited to the muscle mags, I wasn't and made extra by writing for Boxing and Wrestling, American Figure and Beauty, Jem, etc etc. Bart and I also demanded and got 150 a MONTH extra when Joe brought out Muscle Builder. So you can see how things were and how the Master XXX worked. I KNOW he offered Tanny 200 a week because Bart SHOWED ME THE LETTER JOE WROTE AND SIGNED, JOE HAD SENT TO TANNY.

Yes, it is true that I have a bad temper. But let me qualify that. I take it and take it and say nothing and then suddenly I explode and there's no stopping me. I lose all control. But before I pop I put up with so much that it is a matter of the straw that broke the camel's back. Joe knew this and always avoided the directest of confrontations with me. In other words he had learned how far he could go without completely setting me off.

Yes, the Multi Power machine was my idea for which I got not a penny. Yes, it is true that I wrote the Olympic Courses for which I got not a penny.

I wrote as his food and wine editor for JEM. In this way I got to know Gene Leone who owned the finest Italian restaurant in NYC. He liked me very much. So when Doug Hepburn came back from winning the world title from Davis, he, me, Joe and his wife all went to Leone's to celebrate.

Yes, it is true that Diane, Joe's wife, sent me some flowers for my wife to take to her. She and Joe also visited Harriet in hospital.

I can't remember approaching Hoffman at Philly in 1937. But in the year when I was working for American Health Studios at their Newark, NJ branch, when I heard of the death of Harry Paschall, I DID PHONE TERPAK and BEGGED him to try and get me the job left vacant by Paschall. He said he'd see what he could do. He later wrote and said- and I can't truly remember if he WROTE OR PHONED- that the question had been approached and Grimek and someone else had threatened to quit if Hoffman took me on. How true this is I don't know.

It is true that I did all I could to stop Joe from replying to something that Hoffman had written. I also after three days of argument got him to phone Hoffman about getting together to stop all the nonsense between them. Needless to say the truce didn't last long.

It is true that I was very upset at the way Hoffman treated me not only in his mag but when we had occasion to meet at some lifting contest. In fact it hurt me deeply.

But this I will say, that after my wife died, the York bunch sent me a check for 100 bucks in case I needed anything- I was already in Austin at the time.

[XXX] He continued to write to me up to the time he died. His Xmas cards and replies to the letters I wrote him where he lived in PUERTO RICO suddenly stopped and I never found out what happened to him until I heard rumors of his passing. He once told me he liked me because I didn't look down on him because he was a queer. He just adored my wife and kids. And in spite of his bitchiness was a kindly person. I am not a bit ashamed to have called him my friend.

As to the several bank accounts mentioned, I know NOTHING BUT NOTHING about these

There is mention of a man named Signorele. This is in error. It is SIGNORELLI. Ralph was head of the shipping department and under whom Leroy Colbert worked.

When Ralph left I think, but am not sure, that Len Peters took his place. Both Colbert and Peters eventually left Joe's employ for reasons unknown to me. Before Joe had any shipping men, he, Bart, and I would do the shipping, load and unload stuff as it came or was sent out, until the business expanded so much that shipping and working on the mags got too much for us and Joe had to hire shipping clerks.

The next to final paragraph which asks the one who receives the letter not to bring the name of Horvath or Smith into it, seem to me to be a plant, a device as old as the hills to PUT suspicion on just those two men.

So where are we. Who wrote the letter. Tilney is obviously out even though he lived in Florida. My guess is between three people. It HAD to be someone who was privy to Weider's actual business as well as his confidant insofar as his private life was concerned. That might indicate a member of his family such as his wife or someone else who enjoyed his confidence such as his attorney - can cut this one out - or his accountant and we can cut him out too. This leaves either Wally or Weston or Borden. But Eddie was too much a man with his peculiar sense of honor, or what was right and what wasn't, even though he was well into the gambling scene. Weston MIGHT be the one but I doubt it. Stan was a likeable guy and as I judged him not a man to do this. The prime candidate therefore is Wally, but even here there are some bewares. Wally did travel to Florida quite frequently, hated Joe's guts- Wally had written a course for bust development and´┐ŻNEVER GOT PAID FOR IT. So in my opinion he is the prime suspect. I certainly didn't know half of what was revealed in the letter, particularly about the banks and accounts abroad.

I certainly had nothing against 'Kikes' or 'Niggers' or 'queers' yet these words are used [in the letter]. In my opinion they were so used as a blind.

What ever are you doing up at 4:40 AM. Ridiculous. Should be in bed sleeping the sleep of the unjust.

Best to you and yours and say HI to Meg for her performance in that play.


Posted by TheEditor @ 03:41 PM CST


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