Early life[ edit ] Born in Mill Spring, Missouri , Macfadden changed his first and last names to give them a greater appearance of strength. As a young child, Macfadden was weak and sickly. After being orphaned by the time he was 11, he was placed with a farmer and began working on the farm. The hard work and wholesome food on the farm turned him into a strong and fit boy. When he was 13, however, he moved to St. Louis, Missouri and took a desk job.
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Her name was Mary Williamson. Macfadden married Mary just a couple months later. He was 45; she was Macfadden was partial to women with "some flesh on their bones," and Mary was the perfect example of what Macfadden believed was the ideal female form. At one point he would begin doing deep knee bends at a rapid pace - and using only one leg too!
He would then invite people from the audience usually young men ready to show off for their girlfriends to keep up with him. Macfadden would best all of them. As the grande finale of their act, Mary would climb to the top of a nearly 7 feet high platform as Macfadden lay on his back directly underneath. It was a spectacular feat! When the tour was concluded, they opened a health resort in Brighton.
They were joined by a little, red-headed girl from America named Helen, whom they adopted. Raising the Physical Culture Family Within the next year, Byrnece was born and there began to be rumblings of war on the continent. In , the new family arrived back in America to a triumphal reception. All previous accusations of immorality and obscenity made against Macfadden apparently had been forgotten.
There was a waterfall on the property. Macfadden called it the "palace of porches. Mary and Bernarr seemed to be very happy for most of the time they lived in Nyack. Physical fitness and sports were becoming more popular; society was changing, and his ideas were gaining wider acceptance; things were going well for them; the future looked bright.
By , Mrs. Macfadden had given birth to four girls. Bernarr now had six daughters, and he very much wanted a son. Thus, he began to look for a natural way that he could predetermine the sex of a baby, and he found what he was looking for.
The successful result was that three sons, Byron, Berwyn and Brewster, were born in , and Tragically, Byron died in infancy. All the children, except for Helen, were given first names that began with the letter "B. However, from what we know today, that seems to be an exaggerated image. Macfadden and five of his daughters doing an exercise program on the radio. An ad from an issue of Physical Culture magazine promoting a national tour.
Nevertheless, it was clearly not a happy time for the children. Macfadden and his girls at Atlantic City One year during December, four of the Macfadden daughters, clad in skimpy costumes see photo below , danced in an outdoor Christmas program in Central Park. Macfadden publicized the fact that none of them even caught a cold, because they followed his physical culture methods.
Macfadden who had founded the Polar Bear clubs, taught that cold temperatures were not the cause of illness. Mary accused Macfadden of using the children as "guinea pigs" for his theories. The fact is, he was not really a family man - he was much too preoccupied with what he saw as his mission - to educate people about natural ways to obtain good health.
He was totally dedicated to this effort. It seems accurate to say that his own rough childhood had hardened him emotionally. Bernarr and Mary separated in and were divorced in Helen, Braunda, Bernarr, Beulah, and Byrnece in Macfadden with children and grandchildren around
The Strange Tale of a World-Changing Fitness and Sleaze Titan
Every product was carefully curated by an Esquire editor. We may earn a commission from these links. The press coverage was old hat: as a champion swimmer, Williamson had already had her fair share of ink. One day, while the pair was halfway through a ten-mile run, he proposed; when she accepted, she later recalled, "He stood on his head on me for one minute and four seconds. To begin with, there was his childhood, which seemed pulled from the pages of a Dickens novel.
After his parents died young from ill health when he was 11, he spent his life fighting early death and overcoming physical challenges. Macfadden thrived on hard work and outdoor living. Inspired by the Police Gazette, he took up boxing, wrestling, and gymnastics to harden his body and rejected alcohol, tobacco, and meat to preserve his health. Always energetic, the irrepressible Macfadden often worked several jobs and frequently wrestled professionally in circuses. In Macfadden traveled to England where he collaborated with bicycle entrepreneur Hopton Hadley to market the wall-mounted muscle developer that he had created.
And virtually all that is known about his life before , when he arrived in New York City, comes either directly from him or from one of his worshipful authorized biographers. Still, this record is worth examining. His mother was a consumptive, his father a drunkard who died of delirium tremens when Bernard was four, and the farm a money-loser. Within a few months the proprietor told him that Mrs. McFadden had died.