Body And Soul: Bernarr Macfadden’s Magazines Covered It All And Some More… From The Mr. Magazine™ Vault

March 4, 2019

A Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

In March 1939, 80 years ago, the first issue of Macfadden-published “Your Faith” magazine came out. The idea was “Why Not Try God?” In the first editorial by Bernarr Macfadden himself, he wrote: A Religious Uplift Brings Spiritual Happiness. He talks about solving the mysteries of the universe and the impossibility of that without God. The magazine is an important part of Macfadden’s view on society and another example of magazines reflecting culture.

Mr. Magazine™ discovered this little nugget from his vault and took note of the amazing difference this magazine had from Macfadden’s other physical fitness and “true-fiction” type publications. And on the 80th anniversary of Your Faith magazine, as Bernarr Macfadden said himself in the first issue: This is a magazine for all who have an ear to hear.

And hear, Macfadden did. Some are just not sure what exactly he was listening to. But as any good entrepreneur would, Mr. Magazine™ believes he was listening to his passions and his own gut feeling. You be the judge.

Bernarr Macfadden is known as the “Father of Physical Culture.” What is “Physical Culture” you might ask. In its simplest definition, Physical culture is a health and strength training movement that originated during the 19th century in Germany, England, and the United States. But how did this topic find its way into a Mr. Magazine™ Musing, you might also ask. And of course, the answer in its simplest form would be: magazines.

Macfadden himself was an American proponent of physical culture. He was the predecessor of Charles Atlas and Jack LaLanne, and has been credited with beginning the culture of health and fitness in the United States.

But life was not always so kind to Mr. Macfadden. He changed his name from Bernard McFadden to “Bernarr Macfadden” in order to give himself an aura of strength and vitality. It seems that he was a very sickly and weak child who was an orphan by the time he was 11-years-old. But as fate would have it, Macfadden was placed with a farmer, leaving the life of an orphan behind, and soon began a regiment of hard work and wholesome food. His health improved and soon he became strong and hale again.

There is an entire website dedicated to the memory of this millionaire publisher, who many called a “kook” and a charlatan, and who Time Magazine referred to as “Body Love” for his lifelong advocacy of physical fitness, natural foods, outdoor exercise and the natural treatment of diseases.

In 1899, Macfadden, after a successful, national lecture tour and after founding Physical Culture “clubs” in several cities across the country, decided to publish a monthly magazine called “Physical Culture.” He tried unsuccessfully to find a publisher for his title and so decided to publish it himself, along with his own books about health and wellness (during his lifetime he wrote over 100 books). Physical Culture magazine remained in publication for over 50 years, and was the forerunner of today’s health and bodybuilding publications. Oh, and the magazine carried his name on the cover as well – the height of narcissism or just good business acumen? Either is possible.

Eventually Macfadden Publications was born and his company turned into an empire, with titles such as Liberty, True Detective, True Story, True Romances, Dream World, Ghost Stories, the once-familiar movie magazine, Photoplay, and the tabloid newspaper, The New York Graphic.

Macfadden even sought the Republican nomination for president in 1936, albeit losing the nomination to Kansas Gov. Alf Landon, who went on to lose to Franklin D. Roosevelt in the November election. But he was the first to propose that the President should have a National Secretary of Health on his cabinet ( he had originally wanted to be that person, but instead decided to run for office himself), all the while never giving up his love of physical health and his tendency to admire younger females, whether he was married or not.

Much of the basis of Physical Culture was religious in nature. And during his lifetime Macfadden also attempted to launch his own religion: Cosmotarianism, which combined physcultopathy with the Bible.

In an Esquire article written by Bruce Watson in 2013, Cosmotarianism was described as something that blended Macfadden’s bizarre theories on physical fitness with the Bible. Watson writes:

And some of his theories were, indeed, bizarre: convinced that baldness could be cured by tugging on one’s hair, he wore a towering pompadour; believing that physical contact with the “magnetic currents” of the earth could inspire feats of sexual prowess, he often went barefoot; furious at the fashion industry, he would wear his suits until they fell off his body.

Macfadden certainly seemed to fit the bill of an eccentric millionaire. Indeed, it’s a given. Bernarr Macfadden was an eccentric, a reputed womanizer, a multimillionaire publisher, a father of eight and a husband of four, a fitness guru who was before his time, who died in 1955 from a urinary tract infection that he refused to be medically treated for. And a part of American magazine history that should not be forgotten.

Until the next time…

See you at the newsstands…

Background information from:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: