Original Bodybuilding Muscle Man - Tony Massimo

Tony Massimo

The history of the sport of bodybuilding and strength improvement go back a century!

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One of the most persistent misconceptions about bodybuilders is that they are all a bunch of clumsy, house-size plug uglies. Like all generalizations, this one is untrue. One amazing old-timer who proved this admirably was Tony Massimo. He possessed a physique that could only be described as Herculean, but, surprisingly, his muscle mass did not prevent him from performing delicately balanced acrobatics and graceful, dancelike moves. In addition, he was a talented musician who played the violin like a virtuoso. When he went on the stage, all three of his extraordinary gifts found their way into his performances as a vaudeville strongman.

His real name was Clevio Massimo Sabatino, but he was always "Tony" to his friends. He was born in the Abruzzi region of Italy on May 4, 1895. At the age of six Clevio and his family emigrated to America, where they eventually settled in Buffalo, New York. Tony liked the usual rough and tumble games of schoolboys, but his mother decided that her young son had musical talent, so she made him practice the violin rather than spend all his time playing games.

When he was 17, Tony decided to become a vaudeville strongman. He had the stature, the talent and the verve that would spell success. Thus, Tony left his violin and his last name at home and became "Clevio Massimo," strongman extraordinaire.

Although he had youth and energy on his side, it soon became apparent that his strength act was something less than a hit. He then struck upon the idea of joining hand balancing, his long-neglected violin and strength stunts into the same act. This was just what he needed, and he suddenly became a great success.

One of his finest stunts was a spectacular leg curl. Tony would lie facedown on the floor, and his assistant would then grab his feet and do a handstand. From this position the partner was slowly curled upward until Massimo's lower legs were perpendicular to the floor. From there he slowly returned his partner to the original position.

Another even more spectacular feat was a head-to-head stand with his partner. This is difficult enough, but Tony demonstrated his superb equilibrium as well as his musical talent by playing his violin throughout the stunt.

Later Tony teamed up with a winsome young acrobat named Clovis, and as "Clevio and Clovis" they toured the halls. The greatest of their stunts came when Clovis balanced on point like a ballerina on Tony's chin. With an act like that, it is small wonder that Tony possessed a ruggedly muscular jaw and a pronounced chin dimple.

Despite Massimo's great act, vau-deville eventually began to lose favor with the public, so the Italian Hercules was forced to switch to the other standby of great musclemen: wrestling. This career took him all over North and South America as he grappled his way across two continents. Tony never really cared for wrestling though. It never appealed to his sense of the artistic.

After an eventful life Tony retired to his hometown, Buffalo, where he lived quietly until he passed away at the age of 84, but he has not been totally forgotten. Massimo's lasting contribution to the iron game was his demonstration that great bulk does not necessarily impair an athlete's physical finesse. He showed that bodybuilders can have as much grace and artistry as anyone.




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