Brains and Brawn… Bob Peoples and His Trip to Motor City: Part 5

Published 3:19 pm Friday, April 8, 2022

BY ALEX CAMPBELL
Bob Peoples traveled to the mighty metropolis of Motor City, USA to increase his already unfathomable deadlift record of 710 pounds.
Unfortunately, Peoples, for the first time ever, was unable to increase his record and finished with a disappointing weight of less than 700. As discouraged as he was with his lifting, there was also an ulterior motive to his visit to Detroit.
With the disappointment and the sore muscles from the day before still plaguing him, the Tennessee strongman set off to find a talented artist who was hiding in the back allies of the city. Where Peoples painted masterpieces on a canvas of steel, this man worked with photography.
And this talented photographer had the power to make strong and muscular men wealthy beyond belief. The 1930’s were remembered as the age of the Great Depression. With so much misery with the everyday mundane, people were looking for an escape.
This is when Hollywood and professional sports began to blossom as a way of escape. When many were fighting for enough pennies to feed themselves and their families, they would still gladly pony up a nickel to watch a horse race, boxing match, or movie.
A mere 5 cents to escape their terrible reality by living vicariously through the lives of another was worth every penny during such a depressing time.
As Hollywood movies and sports rocketed in popularity throughout the 1930s and 40s, so did the handsome and muscular men that played the heroes. Soon producers were scouring the pages of periodicals for heroic-looking men to take on lead roles in movies and television shows.
This is how what many refer to as the Golden Age of bodybuilding came to be. Strong and muscular men began to adorn the cover of magazines, were used in advertising and starred on the silver screen.
A true fitness craze began. Not only were people becoming famous for having the perfect look to portray a heroic character, sell a product, or attract potential customers; but others who knew how to help people change their physical appearance were in high demand.
Many remember the Charles Atlas cartoons about the skinny kid who gets sand kicked in his face only to be helped by the training program of Charles Atlas to grow big and strong (and reclaim his girlfriend taken by the bully).
The most famous success story of that day was Steve Reeves. In the 1920s, Reeves was just a little farm boy working hard to help provide for his family, much like Peoples.
However, when his father died in a farming accident, his mother moved with her son to California where physical culture was exploding.
Reeves soon became interested in weight training and bodybuilding.
Before long, his muscular physique earned him Mr. America, Mr. World, and Mr. Universe bodybuilding titles. And as his picture was
splashed across the pages of magazines, Hollywood came calling.
Soon Reeves was appearing in dozens of television shows and movies eventually landing the lead role in Hercules. He was making as
much as $10,000 for each role (a fortune in those days).
It seemed that everywhere anyone looked in the mid-1900s people were becoming famous for being and looking strong or knowing how to get that way. And here was Bob Peoples, now the strongest man in the world who pioneered new training techniques and invented new types of equipment still working three jobs to make ends meet.
He worked hard at jobs to scratch out a hardscrabble living for his family in the hills and hollers of East Tennessee. Why shouldn’t he make a little money from the hard work he had put in? Maybe he could even become like Charles Atlas, Jack LaLanne, or Steve Reeves.
Making a living showing people how to get strong sounded a lot better than working backbreaking and dangerous jobs in farming and the Rayon plants.
Now, he was in the hometown of the artist who could make his dreams come true. The photographer who was considered the best in the genre of fitness photography lived in Detroit.
With a simple shutter flash, his pictures, with the perfect lighting to accentuate the broad shoulders, square jaws, and muscled frames, could change a man’s life.
Here Peoples was, combing the back alleys of Detroit looking for him. Mr. Deadlift looked down at the piece of paper in his torn and calloused hands and looked at the street address. He looked up at the numbers above the door and figured he must be in the right place.
“Douglass of Detroit,” it said on the small sign. As he reached forward to rap his monstrous fist against the door, he paused. Peoples reflected on his journey to this point.
His fortuitous father who had a dumbbell in the home when he was a child, the area where he grew up that respected strength and hardworking men, his desire to compete in weightlifting events, the kidney blockage that prevented his dying on the fields of battle in
World War II, the surgery that allowed him to begin training again, his love of the deadlift, an inventive mind that allowed him to develop new training equipment and techniques, and his many world records.
So many events had worked in his life to lead him to this moment. Could it actually happen? Could the events that led him to become the strongest man in the world be the same ones that allowed his family to finally live a life of economic security?
With one simple knock on the door of a secretive photographer, everything about Peoples’ life could change. He took one final shifty glance side to side down the street.
He had to be careful. Others warned him that the cops were watching. If Peoples walked through that door, he could become a famous actor
or trainer who provided for his family, but he could also end up in prison with his life and reputation ruined.
To be continued…

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