Brains and Brawn… Bob Peoples and His Trip to Motor City: Part 8

Published 1:39 am Tuesday, May 24, 2022

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As Bob Peoples returned home from his disappointing lifting excursion to Detroit, he patiently waited on news from Douglas Juleff, talent scouts, and Hollywood agents alike.

Would the pictures taken by Juleff, the master of physique photography, get noticed by the right person and change Peoples’ life from a hardscrabble farming and factory existence to that of comfort?

While in Detroit for his lifting and photo session, Peoples heard rumors that Juleff was being watched, but he could never know the extent of it.

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And as the Tennessee Hercules went back to work at the Rayon plant and on his farm, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was just about done with their surveillance and intelligence gathering operation against the photographer.

In the years immediately after WWII, America was engaged in an epic struggle against Communism. Russia developed well Ingrained spy rings into American military and nuclear work.

The Rosenbergs, Greenglass, Fuchs, Gold, and so many more Americans were spying on our nuclear program for the Russians. By the end of 1945, Russia already had the entire report on the American Manhattan project (which produced our first atomic bombs) smuggled to the Soviet Union and translated into Russian.

American instituted their own counterintelligence program to determine how deeply the Russian spying on America went, and those reports were already coming to light by 1945.

The results were worse than expected. Just about every governmental agency and program was infiltrated with spies. As the 1940’s crept along, so did the Russian progress toward developing their own nuclear weapon.

What was worse, China was in all-out civil war, and it appeared that the communists would soon take over the most populous country in the world. America was on high alert as Europe and Asia teetered on the brink of collapsing to our arch-nemesis, communism.

As a way of fighting back, the government launched programs to root out not just the communist influence on our country, but anything considered unamerican.

Basically, if you were not a mom eating apple pie in your front porch rocker while making a quilt on the 4th of July, you could be an anti-American subversive.

Soon, these government agencies began to look at media types because of their ability to influence so many people through their work. Anyone in movies, television, literature, and even photography was probed. Something as simple as using too much red in a picture or espousing to not enough independence could get you on a list as an anti-American.

This is how Douglass Juleff came to the attention of the FBI. He was taking pictures of these muscular and athletic men as they looked toward careers in the entertainment industry.

I guess men who cared about their appearance while having their pictures taken by others just didn’t seem American enough in that hyper-patriotic environment.

It sounds absurd today that something as simple as taking photographs of athletes so they could use them to further their careers would ever require the FBI to investigate them, but in that day, people like Charlie Chaplain, Orson Wells, and the even the US Army were investigated for being communists.

So, the FBI worked with the Detroit Police who planned to see just exactly what Juleff had been up to in his back-alley studio that doubled as his home.

Juleff was home when the knock finally came, and the Detroit Police burst through his door. They went into his filing cabinets, drawers, and film canisters. They smashed his camera equipment and retouching tools.

They exposed his negatives to light and eventually burned all his confiscated pictures. They left Juleff in shambles. Although he was never charged with any crimes, his resolve was destroyed. He never picked up a camera again.

Once people heard that Juleff was raided because of his possible involvement in unamerican activities, despite his service to his country during WWII and a spotless criminal record, his life and career were destroyed.

He became a ghost and lived out a quiet existence, only speaking to a few close friends and spending his spare time in dusty old antique bookstores alone.

Only a handful of his pictures still exist. We can only assume that the pictures, negatives, and prints of the amazing physique of the Tennessee strongman were destroyed along with the rest.

But more than Juleff’s pictures, negatives, career, and reputation that were destroyed in that raid. Any chance Bob Peoples had of being discovered by Hollywood or the media melted away along with the pictures.

Peoples’ trip to the Motor City was supposed to be one where he increased his deadlift world record to over 710 pounds and had some photographs taken by the master of physique photography to rocket his career to the next level.

However, Peoples returned home with a disappointing best lift that didn’t even get out of the 600’s, and his hopes of his amazing physique ever earning him any money was destroyed. Mr. Deadlift settled back into life on the farm and began to plot his next move.

His destiny was in his own hands now. There was no Hollywood talent scout or print media mogul coming to the rescue. If Peoples was to further cement himself into history, it would come to him just as everything else in his life.

Structure, intense planning, down-home ingenuity, superhuman work capacity, and the ability to deal with unfathomable amounts of physical and emotional pain are what he turned to once again to change his fortune.