The Families of Acri, Italy

By Edward Bronejko

Charles Atlas

Charles Atlas

Charles AtlasCharles Atlas (-) was an Italian-American bodybuilder famous in the s and s for developing the bodybuilding method called Dynamic Tension.

Early Years

Charles Atlas was born Angelo Maria Siciliano in the town of Acri, Italy on .88 He was the illegitimate son of Nunziato Siciliano and Maria Francesca Fiorelli. His parents did eventually marry in the town of Bisignano, Italy on , legitimizing Angelo.89

Angelo had a younger brother, Vincenzo Giuseppe Siciliano, born in Acri.90 Vincenzo died in Acri on at age 2.91

Family lore states that Angelo's father, Nunziato Siciliano, killed a man in the countryside on the outskirts of Acri. Nunziato claimed it was self-defence and the law could not prove otherwise. The victim's family threatened revenge causing Nunziato to flee to America leaving his wife and child behind.

Hearing that her husband Nunziato was planning to marry another woman in New York, Maria Francesca Fiorelli and her son Angelo sailed from Napoli, Italy aboard the S.S. Lahn on arriving at New York, United States on .92

Once in New York, Maria Francesca discovered that she was already too late. Her husband had married Anna Castrovillari in Manhattan, New York on .93 There is belief in the family that this marriage was bigamous. So far, I am unaware of any researcher locating a divorce record for Nunziato and Maria Francesca to contradict this assertion.

Americanization and Fame

At some point, Nunziato Siciliano returned to Italy, dying in Bisignano on .94 Maria Francesca Fiorelli and Angelo Siciliano remained in New York, settling in Brooklyn. , Angelo married Margaret Cassano (AKA Cassina). They had two children, a son named Hercules (AKA Charles, Jr.) and a daughter named Frances Diana. Angelo worked as a strongman and acrobat at a Coney Island Circus Side Show. In 1921, Physical Culture magazine dubbed Angelo Siciliano as America's Most Handome Man.

In 1922, Angelo legally changed his name to Charles Atlas. In that same year, Atlas and Dr. Frederick Tilney (a health and fitness writer) went into business together selling a bodybuilding course that Atlas had developed. In 1929, Tilney sold his half of the business to advertiser Charles P. Roman. Atlas and Roman rechristened the business as Charles Atlas Ltd.. Roman then coined the name Dynamic Tension for Atlas' bodybuilding course and a legend was born.

In the s and s, Charles Roman's advertisments were effectively placed in comic books (the social media of the day). One notable ad shows a 98 pound weakling being bullied on the beach. Given that Angelo Siciliano's birth was illegitimate and the situation with his father fleeing the country and remarrying, it is likely that young Angelo did get bullied quite a bit. The ad campaign was so iconic it was immortalized in the song I Can Make You a Man for the 1975 movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

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Charles Atlas died of a heart attack at Long Island, Nassau, New York about 23 Dec 1972. He was buried at Saint John Cemetery, Middle Village, Queens, New York.