Today Southern California can lay claim to being the bodybuilding capital of the universe. These days the gyms, the muscle magazines and the sun-bronzed, well-built physiques are all as Californian as the
Beach Boys. Surprisingly, this connection was not forged overnight. In fact, L.A.'s heritage of strength stretches back across time to the early days of the century.
The man who deserves credit for being the first world-class physical culturist to settle in Lotus Land was a Harvard-educated strongman named Al Treloar. His rise to recognition and stardom started in 1893 when the 20-year-old Treloar found himself in Chicago performing in a second-rate acrobatic act.
When Al's partner took French leave, Treloar was left to fend for himself. Fortunately, he met the great Eugene Sandow, who saw potential in the young athlete. Sandow engaged the young man as an assistant in his performances, and it was this partnership that gave Treloar a taste of performing as a strongman, though it was to be several years before he could gratify the desire to go on the stage.
Instead of going on the road, Al enrolled at Harvard University, where he eventually took a degree in physical education. While at the prestigious Ivy League institution, Treloar excelled at all sports, but his greatest advantage was when he came into contact with the progressive bodybuilding ideas of Professor Dudley Sargeant. These were to stand him in good stead later.
After completing his studies, the young graduate finally decided to try his luck as a vaudeville strongman, and he therefore began his life as an itinerant performer. Along the way he met and married a fellow performer with the appropriately dramatic name of Edna Tempest. Together the two cut a competent, though hardly spectacular swath across the world of American vaudeville.
The Treloars' most dramatic stunt at this time was admittedly a good one. Since automobiles were all the rage in the early 1900s, the strongman and his wife decided to cash in on this. Edna accordingly drove a Baker Electric car up a stage ramp, invited several stage assistants to join her, and then Al supported all of them in an impressive back lift. Despite the theatrics, however, super stardom continued to elude them.
Al's vaudeville career was given a much needed shot in the arm in 1903, when he won a contest that was organized by publisher and impresario Bernarr Macfadden. This was designed to find the world's most perfectly developed man. In addition to the $ 1,000 prize, the victory led to the publication of a book, Treloar's Science of Muscular Development (1904), and increased theatrical bookings, this time under the name "Albert, the Perfect Man."
The life of wandering performers was not nearly as romantic as Al had once fantasized. Thus, by 1906 the Treloars were ready for a change, and that came about in February of that year, when Al was offered the post of Director of Physical Education at the posh Los Angeles Athletic Club. It took little to convince him to grab the opportunity and come out West. It must have been the right choice, for Treloar eventually spent 42 years at the LAAC improving the physiques of innumerable pupils.
After his retirement in 1950 Al and his wife lived in a little house on the outskirts of L.A. For the last 10 years of his life he lived alone after his beloved Edna died. According to witnesses, he never could get over his wife's passing, and he slowly lost his zest for life. Al Treloar died on February 28, 1960.
Despite his final years of sadness, Al never lost his eagerness for weight training. It was largely thanks to him that scientific physical culture was spread to the West Coast of America. He planted the seeds of Sergeant, Sandow and others. He would have been amazed and gratified to see how those seeds have grown and flourished since then.