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"Are you a REAL MAN?" the magazine advertisement probed sarcastically. "Or are you sickly, flat-chested, weak-legged and nervous?" Those were troubling words to many
worried males who read them back in 1920. To make matters worse, next to the insinuating question was a photo of the person asking it, an obvious MAN, Antone Matysek,
the very picture of muscularity and strength.
An evangelist of health, the muscleman had a remedy for his readers' masculine insecurities-they could buy his $2 muscle-control course and follow his simple advice: "Be a pride to your sex. Become a Matyseker."
Antone Matysek was born in the Czechoslovakian province of Moravia on January 11, 1893. In order to better their economic circumstances, the Matyseks emigrated to Baltimore when the boy was 12 years old. In the New World young Antone had to con-tribute to his family's support. This meant working all day and then going to school at night in order to complete his spotty education.
Understandably, this kind of a life didn't leave much time for exercise, as witnessed by the youngster's scrawny physique. Fortunately, he was able to join a Sokol, a type of athletic organization that had been pioneered in his native Czechoslovakia. Now he could work out under the expert guidance of the club's instructors. It didn't take long for the muscles to begin sprouting on his vigorous, growing frame.
Just one year after he began exercising at the Sokol gymnasium, the 17-year-old Matysek started to win prizes in local athletic competitions. When the young Czech immigrant acquired his own set of weights, his bodybuilding regimen went into overdrive.
A strongman act he saw at a Baltimore theater convinced Matysek that this was definitely the field for him. At this point his lifting routines became heavier and more intense.
By the time Matysek was 21, he had attracted the attention of Alan Calvert, a leading coach and weightlifting pundit. Under the older man's direction Matysek made even more dramatic progress. When Calvert began Strength magazine in 1914, the publisher made sure that his student was prominently featured in it. Thanks to this publicity, Matysek gained a reputation as having one of the best physiques of his time.
The young man soon began supporting himself first as an artist's model and later as an instructor at the Baltimore YMCA. In 1917, using his experience and expertise, Matysek put together a mail order course that was very popular for a while. In these early publications he stressed muscle control. Later he developed a special contraption to build muscles-a five-foot bar to which small, shot-loading dumbbells could be attached at each end; this device could be used as either a barbell or a dumbbell. Even when fully loaded, however, it never weighed more than about 50 pounds-not nearly enough to build big muscles.
While he was vending his courses through the mail, Matysek was also appearing on the vaudeville stage in a very popular strongman act. The handsome Hercules displayed his muscles in a carefully choreographed posing routine and demonstrated his prowess by lifting shiny barbells with grace and ease. At the climax of these shows he performed a one-handed overhead lift of a special bicycle that held three furiously pedaling riders.
Unfortunately, around 1922 Matysek's mail order business crashed like a dropped barbell. According to one authority, An-tone was a playboy who did not value money and liked to have a good time. This apparently contributed to the downfall of his mail order enterprise. To a man with Matysek's energy and drive, however, it was just a temporary setback.
By the time he was 33, Matysek had finished sowing his wild oats. He married and soon had a family to support, so he was forced to find steadier work. To that end he joined the Baltimore Police Department as a physical instructor in 1926. Four years later he became a regular cop, and he served and protected the citizens of his hometown for 20 years, until his retirement. Throughout that time and despite advancing age Antone continued to take care of the muscles that had once brought him wealth and fame.
When he died on November 8,1963, Antone Matysek could look back on a full life and a satisfying career. Matysek represented muscularity and the masculine body beautiful for the generation of athletes that flourished before World War I. As his ads had always implied, he was indeed a REAL MAN.