American Adonis: Tony Sansone, The First Male Physique Idolby John Massey
Nowadays nearly everyone is a member of a gym, and perfecting the body beautiful is taken to the point of obsession. This phenomenon can be traced back to one man: Anthony Sansone (1905-1987), the first male physique icon and the most admired bodybuilder of his time. Like his contemporary Rudolph Valentino, Sansone was one of the first to make male beauty a desirable commodity.
Images of Sansone's body spurred the physical culture movement that would sweep the country. Through innumerable reproductions of his photographs, his fitness program publications, and the three gyms he founded, Sansone set and shaped the physical ideal that a whole generation of men would follow. A charismatic figure, Sansone moved within a number of worlds and interacted with some illustrious characters: art (Gertrude Whitney), bodybuilding (Charles Atlas), dance (Alexandre Gavrilov), Hollywood (Johnny Weissmuller), theater (David Belasco), and photography (Nickolas Muray). American Adonis uncovers the lost story of Sansone's life along with stunning reproductions of his sculpted, godlike body, many of which have not been seen in more than fifty years.
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Tony Sansone (1905-1987) was born in New York City, the son of Sicilian immigrants, in many ways is the father of male physique models. Despite early childhood bouts with scarlet fever and typhoid fever leaving him a fragile lad, he began his interest in health and sports at age 14, and upon discovering Physique Magazine at age 16 he became obsessed with bodybuilding, studying his chosen sport with Charles Atlas. At age 18 he won a physique contest created by Atlas and the die was cast. He became sought after by photographers who captured his miraculous physique for posterity in magazines and books. He has been compared to Rudolph Valentino in that he is credited for making the public aware of the beauty of the male form. Because of his popularity as a male physique model and his philosophy of physical fitness he became the goal image for the growth of fitness gyms that to this day remain popular. John Massey, an art historian who has lectured at the Birmingham Museum of Art and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, has gathered many of the finest photographs of Tony Sansone and has presented them in this book that can only he heralded as an homage to the king of bodybuilding. The photographs are vintage and reflect the quality of photography of the first half of the 20th century, but that does not diminish the impact of viewing this astonishing example of male physique. Of note, 'Tony Sansone, 6 feet tall, 185 lbs had muscles that were highly defined but did not display the massive bulkiness common in modern bodybuilding. Sansone, in fact, took no interest in measurements, preferring a look that was more slender and flexible. His training included weightlifting, running, swimming, and gymnastics. Sansone was especially strong in parallel bar work. Sansone was photographed mainly in the nude, and was celebrated for his creative posing. Although naturally tan, Sansone enhanced his "bronze" look with body makeup. Charles Atlas called him "The Most Beautiful Man in America." Physical-culture historian David Gentle has said, "If Sansone had been born in Greek antiquity, he would have been immortalized as a god." Praise for the life and career of Tony Sansone is widespread, but never as well shared as in this book by Massey. The book is a quality work from every standard and will doubtless be regarded as the gold standard for historic male physique photography for many years. Grady Harp