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.

11/28/2008: Letter from Charles A. Smith to Joe from March 10, 1988

Friday, November 28, 2008

Letter from Charles A. Smith to Joe Roark March 10, 1988

Dear Joe,
Thanks for yours of March 5th, making it here on the 7th. Thanks also for the enclosures and the shot of you and your daughters. The one with her hands folded in front looks like a double of Joann Pettit, the British movie actress.

Thanks also for the praise in your letter. But I am afraid that if I was as good a writer as you say, I'd hardly be writing for such confined mags as IM or whatever else is published these days. Sports Illustrated or the New Yorker would see more of me.

I have finally dug out the Hoffman Will, plus a very interesting court case in which Hoffie was involved during the period 1948-1950. This is an opinion given in a tax court by Justice Adkins. Seems Hoffie had claimed certain business expenses and the Internal Revenue Service had disallowed them. These claimed expenses were the costs of sending teams hither and yon and the costs of maintaining lifters, board and lodging, who had come to York to 'train' under the guidance of Hoffie. The judge pointed out that Hoffie gained considerable publicity through sending teams to the Games and various championships, for his products he peddled and his mags. Nevertheless, he allowed Hoffie's claims. So, as I have always said, Hoffie, who was always hollering about the money he spent on the game and the financial support he 'faithfully' rendered it, was just- again as I have said- all hot air. It didn't cost Hoffie a cent and the poor old public paid for it all.

This opinion is very revealing since Hoffie's satraps testified in court that Hoffie lived a very frugal life, claiming his living expenses cost him no more than 25 bucks a week.

My name is also mentioned in the case as having received the sum of 600 bucks for English pounds. This of course just isn't so. At the time, I was working in the Canadian Bank of Commerce in NYC. Ray Van Cleef called me at the Bank on day, saying they were having difficulty getting Pounds Sterling in York. One bank didn't have any. The other wanted to charge too high a rate. I passed his call over to the bloke who handled foreign exchange. He handled the deal, Ray sending him 600 bucks via Western Union, the guy handing me the pounds which I handed to Ray on the team's arrival in NYC.

As for my continuing to write, I don't know. I have always been a realist and aware of my limitations and not kidding myself about what expertise I possess. I feel I am getting at the end of my rope insofar as writing is concerned, by virtue of the very simple fact that I am no longer in close touch with the Game. That is, no longer take an active part in it as I once did. Ergo. I am not 'au courrant' as they say in West Africe, Thus I amhandicapped. You say that you will write, or have written to the Wonderful Wun suggesting that he reprint some of my old articles and that 'maybe' he will pay me. Surely you jest.

I am still unable to fathom out just hwy Joe gave me the award, rather why he induced Ben and the IFBB to make the award. My feeling is that heh ad his concsience stirred by the letter I wrote him, and that he demanded I write. If so, then he has indeed changed. Looking back at how he treated me, one would think conscience was hardly part of his make up. All of us want to be remembered, if only to pass from this world with the thought that we have contributed something good to it. Something of value. But in reality three hundred years from now, if this world is still intact, who will remember me and who will care. No one.

As for my trip to L.A., I'll believe it when I am snugly ensconced in the Wunderkind's abode and he saying to me, in his nasal, high pitched voice 'Charlie, don't you wish you had stayed with me. It could ALL have been yours.' By 'Yours' he might possibly mean the entire shaft instead of just half of it.

He, the Wunderkind, knows very well how valuable I was to him, but he just couldn't resist squeezing every drop out of me for as little as he could get away with. Does the leopard change its spots or the Ethiopian his skin. No.

The Reverend SAID he would come over and take a shot of me. He also said he would send a shot of me, taken at the Collection to me. How easy it is to make promises. I haven't heard from him now in three weeks, when he called me up to ask if I had any more news of the Cheery Chappie, since he was conducting a seminar about the fabulous lifting bloke. I recognize a brush off when I see one. It's taken time to reach this state of cognition, but at last it came, a bit late 'tis true. But it came.

Joe will 'assure' his place in history merely because he can shout the loudest. The things that really count, the things that really matter, the acts performed by the true pioneers are
never heard of. We all know how the English burned Joan of Arc at the stake, but have YOU ever heard of the British soldier, who in a moment of great compassion, thrust a crucifix into her hand as she was suffering. No. And at risk to himself from his compatriots and the fire.

I think I am reluctant to write any articles for the Wunderkind since if I do I will tell the truth and I won't butter up him as being the one and only in the Game. I have the advantage of being there THEN and NOW. He knows this and he also knows my writing vein. I just don't feel like shoving over any bullshit and I will not say things that are just not so. This is why I am waiting, anxiously I might add, for the publication of an article written for the Wunderkind in 1980! I can remember it word for word. I, unfortunately don't have a copy. But I remember what I wrote. I am so eager to see what he will say about me in an article he says HE will write. Now, knowing that he has never written an article in his life, I am wondering what nonsense will appear in it.

So I am still wondering why he has done all this- the award, the publishing of my article, he writing an article about me, as he said in a phone conversation, 'to tell how important you were to me and how valuable you were'.

I also hear--I suspect it is a canard- that there is a pension of 5000 bucks attached to the award. PER MONTH. I can hardly restrain myself from crouching round the mail box to waylay the mailman for the first check. Do you think I wait in vain? Some faint suspicion that I hope for too much, and only 4000 will arrive instead of 5?

Cynical old sod. Ain't I?

[Conclusion of this letter next week.]

Posted by TheEditor @ 08:53 AM CST

11/21/2008: The Conclusion of the March 1, 1988 Letter from Charles A. Smith to Joe

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Conclusion of the March 1, 1988 letter from Charles A. Smith to Joe Roark. For parts one and two see the November 7, 2008 entry and the November 14, 2008 entry.

Sulimanov, the Bulgarian defector, who now calls himself Sulimanogu, has been ADOPTED by the Turkish Prime Minister as his son. At a sanctioned meet in some Turkish place, attended by the IWF Chairman, Herr Schoedl, Sulamanov went 330-1/4 snatch and 414-3/4 c&j. Both new world records plus a new W/R total.

He will also be allowed to lift at the Seoul Olympics. So tis said. You couldn�t get me there for ten million. Some crazy is gonna pull the same sort of stunt pulled at the 1972 Olympics and a few will get bashed dead.

As for me, I am still here, hanging around like a fart in a phone booth. Last week I had a bad turn. Bladder acting up for some reason. But I am back as before now.

By the way, when I wrote Bollocks re the glaring errors in Grimek�s article re Sandow, I told him very plainly that it was for his info only and I was out to hurt no one�s feelings, that I had already written to Grimek to set him straight.

How in the hell this ridiculous story re Sandow lifting a car out of a ditch came about beats me. It should be obvious to anyone that not even the most powerful modern power lifter could, on his own, lift a car out of a ditch- look up the word in the dictionary and see what it is- yet here�s a 57 year old man doing it, and one who wasn�t as powerful as he claimed.

The �ditch� incident took place a full two years before he died. The car had its hind wheels in a rut and the two men with Sandow shoved the car out of the muddy small depression in the road, where the wheels had been spinning. NONE OF THE THREE LADIES WITH THE MEN- NONE OF THEM- related to Sandow by marriage or otherwise, assisted other than getting out of the car. But that afternoon, when he got home, Sandow did tell his wife Blanche that he had a slight headache.

Why these fables are repeated and spread around---you guess. As Oscar Wilde remarked in one of his aphorisms; �History doesn�t repeat itself. Authors do.�

Do you realize that it has been since December 24th that you haven�t (sic) written?

Re Leopold. I strongly suspect that this was Arnold�s ORIGINAL name. During my wanderings in pre war Germany and Austria I never heard the name ARNOLD but always Leopold. But what does that prove? I would say that Arnold is maybe his second name which he prefers to use over Leopold. Leopold Schwarzenegger- can you imagine? Might interest you to know that Schwarzenegger means BLACK PLOUGHMAN.

I agree re Beckles. I think he WAS born in 1938 but for some perverse reason wants to be older than he is. All sorts of interesting Freudian and Jungan slants to this.

I haven�t heard from Father Ignatious, my goodness, good gracious! Aka the Reverend Todd for a moon now. That other house he is moving in is one of his old rental houses he owns. Close to where he presently resides. I did tell him of the award and he went through the ritual verbal back pattings. Said he�d come over and take a shot of it with me. Hasn�t been. If he has moved or not I don�t know. Meanwhile re the material he was supposed to have sent. DON�T HOLD YOUR BREATH. He and Jan are very busy, she with her doctoral program and he Toddling around from class to class, etc.

I have managed to get hold of Lon�s address. He�s the old fag photographer- but always a good guy to me and aware that I didn�t care for his sexual preferences. But we got along well together and I shall write him.

Maybe you can get the Wunderkind to give you a space ad for an article. Try it on for size via Everson.

When I wrote Joe today sending on the photo of me and The Reverend at the 1986 Old Timers� Bash, I told him not to drag his heels over bringing me to L.A. He had said yesterday that he was waiting until the remodeling of his headquarters was finished. I said worry not over that. I don�t care if your bloody headquarters is in ruins, it�s you I want to chin wag with and I don�t feel like holding my breath.

Of course I accept your apology for not writing sooner. Didn�t know about the death of a friend. Why didn�t you write and unburden yourself. Maybe in my fumbling bumbling way I could have helped my FRIEND.
[A very close friend of mine- with whom and with his wife Geni and I socialized, was shot to death on the job a few days before his birthday in January 1988. He was an Illinois State Trooper, and a finer man I have never known. I still miss him, but we remain friends with his widow, and his son]

As for your being casual more, about writing. I am getting a bad feeling from this, although I appreciate honesty and like to get my bad news STRAIGHT. I shall understand if you don�t want to write any more. But I won�t like it. I can understand not wanting to writ to all and sundry, but a friend, such as I believe WE are, is a bit different. But it�s your choice to make.

Re that stuff in Grimek�s articles. I am wondering how it got past the panel of �experts� employed by Balik. It is my feeling that Grimek is being USED for his name and what he represents. The man can�t write worth a pinch pf Panda�s poo poo.

Goodbye for now Joe, best to you and yours as always. I�ll be 76 this March 27th and I feel time is growing short for me- not that it bothers me too much-

[Roark note: With the wisdom of passing years, I regret putting Charles in this communication dilemma. The death of our friend REALLY bothered us, and with my workload- well, there are lots of excuses/reasons, but the sad conclusion is that I think it could have been handled better from my end. I was very fond of Charles, and as I re-read this letter I re-realized he was fond of me, so there is a certain ingredient of regret and guilt on how I handled this. Charles and I continued to write each other for two more years, and those letters will be presented in this continuing series. But let it be known that Charles was a unique and wonderful person in his own ways up until the day he died one day before my birthday in 1991]

Posted by TheEditor @ 06:21 PM CST

11/7/2008: Part Two of March 1, 1988 letter from Charles A. Smith to Joe Roark.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Part two of March 1, 1988 letter from Charles A. Smith to Joe Roark.

Again, I remind you that these are the words Smith used to describe the following situations, so you will be interpreting his side without the benefit of the other parties involved.

Now I have been hearing some nasty tales regarding Bollocks, pardon, Balik. Fred Howell has written and phones repeatedly to get his articles back that the Honest Christian Man from Nebraska ILLEGALLY handed over to Balik when Balik bought IM. Each time Fred has called he has got some nonsense that we have them all boxed up but can�t place our hands on them.

Then I get a letter from Denis Weiss, the Alaskan cutie. He too pours out a tale of woe. Says that the Honest Christian etc etc from Nebraska also handed over to Balik all the �Books� Weiss had written without saying anything to him and suddenly Weiss�s royalties suddenly, as suddenly stop. So he writes. No answer. And he writes. Again no response and he continues that until he is smitten with drizzling defections. Then he phones and gets hold of Balik who says �So sorry. Forgot. Yes, you AE due some royalties and they�ll be coming your way SOON�. No royalties arrive.

Then Weiss decided to order Debbie Poston�s book on benching and how she did such and such, price $7.50. It arrives and turns out to be a pamphlet of 16 pages- count�em- 16 on the nose. Weiss of course is irked. But he is irkeder more when to his astonishment, three quarters of the book turns out to be VERBATIM from one of his �Books�. When I read this I snicker soto voce since Weiss is in the habit of combing other peoples� brains nd then coming up with a book in which he bares new bodybuilding secrets.

So he calls Poston and gets Rick. Rick says �Sure, we copied your book, but it didn�t go over well. We ONLY sold a FEW THOUSAND copies. Weiss is having the drizzles again and asks me what to do. I say sue the illegitimates and their glutes, off.

Getting back to Balik. I can only ask what one of the plotters against Caesar Julius that is �ON what food hath Caesar fed that he has grown so great. Do we have another Wunderkind on our hands.

Meanwhile, during the Sunday Eve talk with Balik, he tells me he is making so much headway with IM, subs and news stand sales, now up to 95 thousand, that he is getting letters from the Wunderkind�s attorneys threatening with legal; battery etc etc. I say to myself �You are full of that stuff food turns into when eaten and digested�. But he assures me it is so, saying it was all because of the acid remarks he made about not being allowed backstage at a Weider show. He also says they are mad at him since he pointedly remarked that every one of the judges was a Weider distributor. Wat should he do, he asks me. I thought of doing a Sergio Oliva on him and saying 500 up front. Instead I say, tell them to go take a flying copulation at themselves. Any affair they run is a PUBLIC AFFAIR by virtue of the fact that they sell tickets to all and sundry. Therefore you are perfectly entitled BY LAW to be there as a member of the working press.
Then Bob Kennedy is having troubles. He calls me up and says that his brand new editor Greg Zulak � who he?- is having difficulties. Seems Greg went to NYC to do an interview with some bloke who had been twice busted for peddling steroids. First time they slpped his weist- bloody fools- but the second time they give him five years in the joint, confiscate his bank account of 250 thou, plus his condo, plus his �yacht�. The dealer tells of two blokes name Tony and Clive in Toronto who are dealing. Steroids.

So Zulak- who he?- writes about them in the article, saying Tony and Clive but without saying their last names. Kennedy gets a call and a hoarse voice tells him they are gonna come over and break his kneecaps for him. They say they will do it anyway. What should he do he asks me? I ought to charge the rotten sods for advice. Anyway I ask him �Did you tape the chat?� He says he did. I say fine. Take the tape first to your attorney for safe keeping, then take a copy of it to the local cop shop and swear out a complaint of threatening to do grievous bodily harm, a felong there as here. I say but don�t give in. Now they tell you what to put in the mag, next it will be who goes on the front cover and after that, maybe you�ll find you have new partners wanting to deal themselves into the action. He thanks me and hangs up. I�m waiting for at least a complimentary sub to float my way.

[at this point Charles repeats what he had previously written about Sri Chinmoy about SC�s followers must remain celibate while only SC �can enjoy the bliss of the connubial
couch, that whn he dies all his followers must commit suicide. Meanwhile there are other moonbeams from this larger lunacy.]

Conclusion of this letter next week.

Posted by TheEditor @ 06:56 PM CST

11/7/2008: Letter of March 1, 1988 from Charles A Smith to Joe, Part 1

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Letter from Charles A. Smith dated March 1, 1988, to Joe Roark.

Dear Joe,
Thanks so much for your letter post dated Feb 27th arriving here yesterday, the 19th.

I had long wondered at your silence and thought of dropping you a line. But I had the feeling that, perhaps, you didn�t wish to correspond with me anymore. So I decided to wait.

There is so much news to tell you that I hardly know where to begin. I feel pretty sure that you haven�t heard any of the stuff. I talked with Osmo Kiiha and he said he had heard from you via mail. Anyway, here goes.

On January 30th, at exactly 5 PM my time, the phone rings and there�s the Wunderkind on the other end of the line. He says he is calling from his home. He talks to me until five minutes to six. During the conversation he tells me he, and the IFBB, is giving me an award. I say �Yeah, yeah, about bloody time�. He also says he is gonna bring me AND Vera to L.A. �soon� a word he uses a lot.

Then on February 8th I get a letter from Brother Ben to the effect that Joe has recommended me to receive the Distinguished Service Award of the IFBB, the highest award they give. He also says the IFBB committee met and �thoroughly and unanimously approved of the award and it was coming my way via priority mail. He also says for me to have a shot taken of me with the award and send it to Joe so Joe could �do� an article on me.

Retracking back some, during my talk with Joe, he told me he was gonna publish an article I wrote for him EIGHT YEARS AGO in 1980 and called �PRESENT AT THE CREATION�. He had phoned me asking me to do an article on the old days at 16 Hopkins Avenue. I said I would and did it, pulling no punches and saying why I had quit his employ and how I disagreed with some of the pranks he pulled. The article didn�t appear of course and I didn�t expect it would. So now he�s publishing it and I am wondering what �creative editing� will go into it so I says �Send me proofs before you let the typesetters get their hands on it�. He says �OK�. It ain�t appeared.

So to go on. Last Tuesday, the 23rd was it? Comes the award. I can�t believe it and am still singing the song of the goldfish. It is a large plaque, very well done, 18 x 14 with a large 3 inch medallion at the top of the plaque and it says it is �given to Charles A. Smith for his outstanding contributions to sports and fitness on an international scale and as former editor of MUSCLE AND POWER�. Someone had to screw it up with the AND. Anyway it is now on my wall under my war decorations and I am wondering what comes next. I don�t have to wait long. Last night around 3 PM my time, The Wunderkind calls again and says he wants a shot of me so he can write an article about me and say how much I meant to him, etc etc and how valuable I was to him- wasn�t I though! So I say I�ll get it off and I have.

Now what in the holy hell is going on. Why did he suddenly get religion. Naturally, each time I go to the local supermarket or have occasion to ride City Transportation I will carry the Award with me.

I just can�t get over it. What in the name of the nine blind bastards is going on.

The only thing I can think of is that some time last year he called and during our conversation he wanted to know why I �deserted him�. I told him he bloody well knew why, but he kept insisting he didn�t and wanted me to write and tell him. I said OK, but remember you insisted and I am through trying to spare your feelings since you have insisted.

Write him I did. I told him he had treated me cheaply, with contempt and derision. How he was, paying me 80 bucks a week while at the same time he was offering Tanny 200 a week- this in the early fifties- to come and work for him. How I had put out his first independent mag, Boxing and Wrestling, he paying me a mere 100 bucks a MONTH extra, me doing all the work while he was paying two other guys 700 a month each to put out the boxing section. I did all the captions, paste ups, proofing and other stuff for my 100.

I told him how I had written his courses, Olympic, which he sold hundreds of at 5 bucks a throw and me never getting a cent, how I invented the Multi Power Machine which he made 40 thousand bucks profit on in the last year- again no penny coming my way. How he made me pay my own expenses to the 1953 senior nationals, while he paid the air fares of Charlie Coster and family from England to Jersey City, plus household expenses until they got an apartment, etc etc. This is the only thing I can think of. Naught else makes sense.

What�s your opinion?

Sunday I had a call from Bollocks- sorry Balik. I had written him a week or so ago re the incredible statements made by Grimek re Sandow in John�s latest �effort�. I also asked him what about the Eder article.

He, to my intense surprise calls. Very smooth and suave over the phone. Says he hasn�t got the Eder article going since he has no shots. Amother piece of bullshit since last time he told me he didn�t carry it because there was already �too much old timer stuff in the issue�.

Then he wants me to write an editorial type of article about the difference in the idealisms of the sport twixt now and then- I ask how much is he paying. He says what I paid you before- 100. I say piss on that. You pay Grimek more than that and I also hear you pay at least 150 to others, and sometimes 200. He hums and haws and stutters and trips over his tongue and comes up with �Well for a 4 page article I pay 100. For a six page article I pay 150 and for a 12 page article I page 200�. I remind him all the articles of mine he has so far published, ran at least 7 pages and considerably more, so he owes me dough. He sniggers and says well we�ll see.

Posted by TheEditor @ 07:01 PM CST


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