Note: This post is a part of TMP’s Historical Context series, in which I share excerpts from my collection of vintage magazines.
In the May 1940 issue of Physical Culture, publisher Bernarr Macfadden interviews “The ‘Dumb-bell’ of the Movies,” wrestler Nat Pendleton.
Though largely forgotten by modern audiences, Nat Pendleton was once an American hero. A champion chess player, descendent of Francis Scott Key, Olympic wrestler and Columbia University grad, Pendleton found screen fame in roles that played up his “strongman” physique. (Macfadden describes the bulk of Pendleton’s roles as “thick-headed ‘dese, dem and dose’ roles.”) Two of his greatest roles were played alongside the Marx Brothers in Horse Feathers and At the Circus. He even appeared in the first Thin Man film, as Lt. Guild!
Macfadden’s profile of Pendleton opens with an anecdote of Pendleton’s appearance in a stage play called “Naughty Cinderella.” His character appeared only in the first and third acts, so he snuck out during the second to take part in a wrestling match at nearby Madison Square Garden. Pendleton not only made it back in time to finish the play, but garnered rave reviews for his third-act performance.
“To me that is more than just a good story,” Macfadden writes. “The point of it, for people who know Nat Pendleton, is that it perfectly illustrates one of his outstanding characteristics: his remarkable ability to take all sorts of things in his stride, do them well, and not let the rush of work get on his nerves.”
Pendleton certainly is a fascinating character to read about. In addition to his superior strength and physical condition, Macfadden also boasts Pendleton’s smarts, saying that he’s very knowledgeable about business and economics. We learn through this article that in addition to acting, Pendleton also worked behind-the-scenes in the movie industry, serving as vice president and general manager of True Story Films, Incorporated. (Unfortunately, I was unable to find record of any of this company’s productions, though Macfadden claims some of them starred Lionel Barrymore and Owen Moore.)
Some of the tales of Pendleton’s greatness seem a bit far-fetched. Did he really join the Mexican Secret Service during his senior year of college and still finish his degree? Macfadden’s descriptions of him make him sound like an intelligent, beefy, crime-fighting super-human! Regardless, this profile is an interesting read, and Pendleton is the perfect subject choice for a profile in a magazine focused on the physically fit.