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Harry Paschall and His Alter Ego Bosco
Timeless Truths and a Clinker
See Below for More about Harry and the Legacy of Iron Series
One of the best things my dad did for me—and they were never ending—was introduce me to Strength & Health magazine. Reading that magazine as a teenager kindled my lifelong interest in exercise and healthy living. A memorable feature every month was Harry Paschall’s Bosco cartoons. I have a vague memory of Paschall—he was editor of the magazine at the time of his untimely death in September 1957—but no one could forget Bosco. Bosco was the Popeye of the Iron Game set. Every kid, in his heart of hearts, wanted to be a super-hero like Bosco. He didn’t need to kick sand in the eyes of bullies. His mere presence was enough to make the bad guys straighten up and fly right. What’s more, he was funny, even loveable; he grew on you. He was a lot like the animated character Shrek.
A former champion lifter, Harry was a training partner of many of the greats of the day and an excellent writer, but he sometimes ruffled feathers with his strongly-held opinions. A large part of his genius was creating a character that readers were drawn to every month when they might otherwise take a pass on his hard hitting prose. I suppose that’s true of most cartoon characters; we enjoy the cartoon, but aren’t too interested in the cartoonist. For example, we know and perhaps love Dilbert, but would we want to read the views of Scott Adams, his creator, every Sunday morning?
Bosco and Harry were essentially one. Bosco was Paschall’s other self, his alter-ego. He often referred to himself as “Old Man Bosco.”
Realizing the unique appeal of Bosco, Harry included drawings of the pointy-headed strong man with most everything he wrote. He called his popular books “Bosco Books.” His first book, Muscle Moulding, originally published in 1950 and reprinted a quarter century later by William F. Hinbern, is shown below. The fabulously-muscled character on the cover is, of course, Bosco.
I confess that I haven’t given much thought to Harry or Bosco in recent times. My friend and fellow recovering lawyer Brooks Kubik changed that late last year.
Brooks has written a series of Legacy of Iron novels based on the notable characters in the heydays of the York Barbell Company and Strength & Health magazine, including, among many others, John Grimek, Steve Stanko, John Davis, Bob Hoffman—and Harry Paschall. Brooks has become a great admirer of Paschall, making him more prominent in each succeeding installment of the Legacy book series, which now includes 5 books. (See below) In the course of researching Paschall’s life and times, Brooks made a startling discovery about his resting place.
Here’s the short version of what happened when Brooks visited Harry’s grave, as told in his Dinosaur Files newsletter:
Harry Paschall, one of the great pioneers of the Iron Game, and one of the best, most popular and most enduring authors to ever grace the field—is buried in an unmarked grave.
His mother has a nice marker—his father has a nice marker—and his brother has a nice marker—but poor Harry has nothing but grass. There’s no stone, no marker, no anything. Just yellow-green grass and the cold, whistling wind from the north.
And that’s plain, flat out wrong.
Brooks decided to rectify the situation. He launched a fund raising campaign on his Dinosaur Training website, with the goal of raising enough to buy a grave marker for Harry. He estimated it would cost about $1000, and fully expected pay half of it himself. Happily, his subscribers stepped up in fine fashion. Kubik ended up with over $3000. (I gladly chipped in, along with many others.)
The plan now is to buy a much bigger and better looking black marker—including an engraved likeness of Bosco—and have it in place with flowers as soon as the ground thaws enough to accommodate the marker. “So the Dinos really came through—and now Harry is going to have a truly magnificent resting place,” Brooks told his subscribers. He hopes to have photos in his April or May issue.
My interest reignited by the out-pouring of support for Harry Paschall, I ordered a copy of Harry’s first book, Muscle Moulding, telling Bill Hinbern I was thinking about writing a piece on Paschall. In about two days, I was surprised and pleased to receive Muscle Moulding—and Development of Strength, the second Bosco book.
My first observation was that Hinbern’s Modern Reprint Editions are nicely done. Bill claims that his publications, especially the photographs, often come out better than the originals, and I believe it. The books I received are pristine; the photo quality and the Bosco cartoons far exceeded my expectations. They are beautiful little books.
Brooks is right about Harry’s writing: it’s excellent. What’s more, the information conveyed has stood the test of time remarkably well.
I’d like to tell you about two surprising—and important—topics where Harry and Bosco were ahead of their time. And another where they they may have gotten a little carried away.
Harry Paschall was stressing the need for rest a decade or more before Bill Bowerman and his men of Oregon ruled the track and field world with hard-day, easy-day training.
The importance of rest comes up again and again in his discussions of training. “At an early age I became convinced that resting had something to do with athletic accomplishment,” he wrote in a chapter titled First Things First. He gave the example of Jim Thorpe, the great Indian athlete who won the Decathlon title at Olympic Games in 1912, who “lolled in a hammock until just time to go out and make his jump trials, and then went out and made one mighty leap that eclipsed the best that the rest of the sweating jumpers had made.” The lesson seems to be that success comes from husbanding one's energy for one really big effort.
“I think it most important to discover as quickly as possible in your physical culture career not how much exercise is necessary, but how little,” he wrote in another chapter. He warned that bodybuilding cults had sprung up who spend hour after hour at “painful physical torture” in pursuit of ‘lumps’ in the belly of their muscles—with little worthwhile to show for it.
Finally, he tells of the tremendous gains—notables such as Mark Berry reported muscular gains of 50 pounds or more—achieved with limited routines build around the 20-rep squat.
First, he noted that the invention of the squat rack was as important as the squat itself. Prior to that time, Henry Steinborn (and a few others) would “rock the bar on to his shoulders unassisted as he went into the first deep squat.” Harry and a few others brave enough to try it found it most uncomfortable. “If the descending bar caught you on the neck bone it nearly paralyzed you!”
Was it the magic of the squat that caused the muscular gains, he asked rhetorically. “I would say it was quite as much the rest as it was [squatting]…without doing the non-essential accessory exercises for possibly the first time.” The biggest gains came when routines were “limited to a press on back, two hand curl, squat and pullover,” he explained.
What a boon it must have been to bodybuilders of the time to learn that more exercise is rarely better. Then and now, success in training comes from a proper balance of stress and rest. Harry—and Bosco—nailed it.
It wasn’t until the early ‘60s that the Soviet sports scientist Dmitri Matveyev conceived the concept of periodization, or training in cycles of gradually increasing intensity, followed by periods of easier training. Interestingly, Harry Paschall presented a similar idea a decade or more earlier, in his first book Muscle Moulding.
Paschall presents three weight-gaining routines to be followed in order; the first two routines include 20-rep squats. (More exercises are included, but I’ll use the squat to illustrate the concept.) Poundages are calculated to fit a pupil capable of one limit squat with 150 pounds. The first routine calls for 20 reps in the squat with 80 pounds.
The progression recommended in the squat is 5 pounds a week, for a total of 25 pounds over six weeks; the poundage increased to 105.
At the end of the six weeks you rest one week. Then you move on to the second routine—starting 20-rep squats with 95 pounds. “You will note that you have gone back slightly in your poundages in starting this course,” Harry wrote. “And this is intentional.”
With the same 5 pound progression each week, you would reach the previous high of 105 in week three, and then move up in each of the next three weeks. If all goes well, you’d top out at 120 in week six.
That’s how periodization works. The rest week allows your body to recover and consolidate gains. You then back off in poundages at the start of the second routine or phase, allowing momentum to build as you push through to new highs. It’s a beautiful system that allows you to move from one high to the next—without encountering sticking points and the frustration they bring.
Chalk up another one for Harry and Bosco, and their readers.
They didn’t win ‘em all, however. Let’s look at one area where I believe Harry may have run aground.
Asking if the muscle stars have a “secret that is being craftily withheld from the common people,” Harry answered “Yes.” Wow, that got my attention—until I read on and learned the details.
He begins by teasing readers with Sandow’s reply to a newspaper reporter who asked what sort of exercise he did to maintain his famous physique: “When I am sitting comfortably in a chair reading a newspaper, I occasionally ‘flick’ my muscles.”
“This, dear reader, is the essence of the great secret of the physical supermen,” Paschall continued. “They have learned to ‘flick’ [or] flex and move practically any muscle of the body.”
My first reaction was that Harry was pulling dear reader’s leg, but apparently not. There is, however, a critical caveat.
The qualification is that the marvelous ability of the champions to flex and control their muscles comes only after they have muscles to flick. The value of the secret resides in maintaining—rather than building—muscles.
The catch comes out in Harry’s personal testimonial. After teasing readers with two pages of titillating text, he comes clean. Sort of, anyway.
“If you take muscle control as a separate science, I won’t give you a penny for it, except as Sandow used it as an easy way to keep the muscles in some sort of condition,” he stated candidly. But he wasn’t done.
“Sometimes I may not touch a weight for months on end, but I do a little muscle ‘flicking;’ then when I drop in a gym I find I can usually still snatch 200 lbs and do squats with 300 lbs without training.” He was still not done.
“Further,” he continues, “by using this control in doing exercises, I can any time, within three weeks, add an inch to my biceps, an inch to my thighs, and a couple of inches to my chest. The muscle ‘flicking’ merely preserves a measure of muscle ‘tone’ during periods of inactivity. For instance, muscle ‘flicking’ of the abdominal muscles will keep you from becoming a fat man, if you do nothing else.”
Perhaps Harry should talk that over with Bosco, who obviously doesn’t miss many workouts.
* * *
Harry Paschall at His Drawing Board
Rest well, Harry—knowing that, thanks to good people such as Brooks Kubik and Bill Hinbern, you and your trusted friend Bosco will live on forever in the annals of the Iron Game.
To learn more about Brooks and Bill—and Harry Paschall—visit their websites: www.brookskubik.com and www.superstrengthtraining.com .
* * *
Legacy of Iron Series Kicks into High Gear
More about Harry Paschall
It’s hard to keep up. One day we posted our piece referring to York Goes to War as the fourth and latest in Brooks Kubik’s Legacy of Iron series—and the next day volume 5 arrived. (Error corrected above) One thing led to another, and I ended up reading volumes 3 (The 1,000 Pound Total), 4 (York Goes to War), and the new volume 5 (Barbells in the Pacific). I wrote about the first two volumes earlier (http://www.cbass.com/LegacyofIron.htm and http://www.cbass.com/CloudsOfWar.htm ). So I’m caught up on the reading, for now.
I’d like to update my commentary—before I get behind again (Brooks is working on volume 6 as I write this). Volumes 1 and 2 are novels based on the history of weight lifting in America through 1940; they are landmark books, the first of their kind. Brooks, however, was just getting started. The next three volumes are quantum leaps forward.
Brooks says not having to split his time between law and writing allowed the creative side of his brain to become more dominant. And how!
Set in 1941, volume 3 is a moving account of the first 1000 pound total, a true milestone in Olympic lifting history. Volumes 4 and 5, set during the war years 1942 and 1943, are non-stop action about the men and women of York Barbell during World War II. (I devoured all three in my spare time over 3 or 4 days, record time for me. The books are fast reads.)
Harry Paschall is a pivotal character in the last three books. Paschall knew everybody and everything worth knowing in American lifting—his popular column in Strength & Health was appropriately called “Behind the Scenes.” Brooks cleverly uses him as the common thread in his ongoing narrative of the time when York, PA, was clearly entitled to be called Muscletown USA. I’ve picked one or more episodes involving Harry (directly or indirectly) from each of the new volumes to give readers a taste of each without spilling the beans.
The 1,000 Pound Total
Steve Stanko is the main character in this book. As you can see at the end of this section, he was the biggest and strongest of the York team, a man among men.
I observed Steve Stanko some years later—when I spent two weeks in the mid-50s training in the York Barbell Company gym as a teenager. I don’t remember being formally introduced, but Stanko was there in the gym bigger than life most of the time. The two things I remember best are his big arms and his big smile. Everyone at that time knew that he was the first man to officially total 1000 pounds in the three Olympic lifts (Press, Snatch, and Clean & Jerk). It was also well known that he did it while suffering from a painful leg ailment, later diagnosed as deep-vein phlebitis (blood clots). He subsequently won the1944 Mr. America contest while doing most of his training sitting down. That’s about all I knew.
Brooks Kubik tells the story of the epic battle for the first 1,000 pound total in volume 3 of the Legacy series. To convey the overarching theme without giving away the details, I’ll excerpt a poignant scene set in a Pennsylvania graveyard on the one year anniversary of Stanko’s death on December 31, 1978. (Defying doctor’s predictions by more than 2 decades, he made it to his 61st birthday.) One of the characters is fictional and the scene is probably a product of Kubik’s expanding imagination. The tribute is, however, well deserved. The scene is also an indication of the quality and style of the writing.
The scene is set and the preliminary details given. (Harry Paschall has been dead for over 20 years.)
‘Hi, John,’ said the man in the dark coat.
John Grimek turned his head in surprise.
‘Jack Ryan!’ he said. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘Same thing you are.’
The two men shook hands and stood together, looking down at the grave.
John Grimek turned to Jack.
It’s hard to believe,’ he said.
‘What’s hard to believe? That he’s gone?’
‘No—not that. But I was thinking about what we did—what we all did—when we were young.
‘We took on the world, Jack,’ said Grimek. ‘We took them on and beat them all—especially him. He beat everyone.’
'He opened the door,’ said Jack. ‘He opened the door, so that others could follow behind. And they did!’
'You know what’s great about being first? [said Grimek] No one else can ever beat you. No one can ever take it away. You own it—and it’s yours forever!’
The two men stood by the grave for a long time. It was one year…after the Big Champ followed Harry and so many others into the dark night and whatever Valhalla for Iron Game warriors lay beyond it.
'I brought something,’ said Jack.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a sealed envelope with faded handwriting on the front. It was addressed to Steve Stanko. The return address consisted of three initials: 'HBP.' Harry Barton Paschall. There was a small drawing of a barbell next to Steve’s name. The barbell was painted gold. The words ‘1,000 pounds’ were written below the barbell.
Jack laid the letter on top of Steve’s grave, close to the headstone, and placed a small rock on top to hold it down.
‘What does it say?’ asked John.
I don’t know,’ said Jack. ‘I never read it. Harry gave it to me a long time go, and asked me to deliver it for him. He told me I’d know when to do it. I guess the time is now.’
‘I heard he left you a bunch of letters,’ said John.
'He did,’ said Jack. ‘This was just one of them.’
Jack waved [to Grimek] and headed down the road and toward the Pennsylvania Turnpike. His thought went back to the Big Champ—not to his passing, but to the day he became immortal.
The 1940 York Barbell team, left to right: Tony Terlazzo, John Grimek,
Gordon Venables, Steve Stanko, and John Terpak
(Photo from volume 2 of Bill Pearl’s Legends of the Iron Game, 2010)
York Goes to War
Volume 4 covers the year following the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the response of the men and women of the York Barbell Company--and those they inspired throughout the country.
The book opens on a secluded beach in Hawaii on the morning of December 7, 1941. Vickie, the barbell trained fiancée of the protagonist in the Legacy series, encounters two Japanese soldiers in the hours leading up to the Pearl Harbor attack—and dispatches them in a manner readers will cheer, especially the ladies. The action is non-stop after that.
A baby is born during the bombing attack, with tragic consequences for the mother.
Bob Hoffman issues the following call to arms—for the York Barbell Company, and America:
Men, I know how you feel. Jack and Harry have already given notice. They’re enlisting as soon as possible. I know that many of you will do the same. I also know that those of you who remain in York will have to do the work of two men—perhaps the work of three men—to see things through. It’s not going to be easy for any of us. But we’re weightlifters—and we’ll get the job done! All of us. Those who stay and those who go to war. And I promise you, as head of the company, I’ll work just as long and just as hard as any of you…If the Japs think America is too weak to fight, they’ve got a big surprise coming. And that goes for the Nazis, as well!
Harry Paschall joins the military intelligence service--It’s brainwork, not battlefield stuff. And it’s the kind of thing I’m good at. They’re going to need men who can ride a desk as well as men who can fire a rifle, fly a plain or drive a tank--setting up a major story line in book 5.
That only scratches the surface of what Brooks Kubik’s blossoming imagination, intermeshed with real people and events, has in store for readers.
Barbells in the Pacific
Book 5 covers 1942 and 1943. As the title suggests, it’s about York Barbell men and women in the campaign against the Japanese in the Pacific. The main action revolves around the fierce battle for Guadalcanal, a strategically located island in the South Pacific. The actual fighting takes place in and around Guadalcanal, but deft maneuvering at home is a key to victory. In Kubik’s telling of the story, the cartoon skills of Harry Paschall play a decisive role in the victory. Kubik calls it “Harry Paschall’s greatest moment.”
It’s an incredible story. I was so captivated that I asked Brooks the basis for his narrative. His response will give you a hint about Harry’s role, real or imagined. You’ll remember that he was assigned to Military Intelligence.
“It is based on actual events in World War II where spies sent messages by cross-word puzzles in newspapers—or tried to do so,” Brooks wrote in an email. “A major newspaper (I believe The London Times) had a famous crossword puzzle where a number of the key code words for the top-secret D-Day Invasion were answers in the puzzle…The other part was that Harry had a syndicated cartoon strip for awhile.”
Turn your imagination loose on that—and then read Legacy of Iron: Barbells in the Pacific for the whole story.
[All 5 Legacy of Iron books are available from Ripped Enterprises; call 505-266-5858 or FAX your order to 505-266-9123. If we have your current address and credit card information, you can also order by email. The books are $24.95 each plus $4.60 media shipping (add $1 shipping for each additional book). All 5 books: $110 (a $14.75 savings!) plus $5.60 media shipping.]
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