My Tribute To Bobby Pandour

Old article by muscle control artist ‘Otto Arco’ published 1942! – Mr. Berg

“Comparative little has been written about the great athlete, Bobby Pandour, although he was one of the outstanding figures in the Physical Culture world, and one of the first pioneers in the “art of muscle control” and posing. There is still some controversy as to who may have first originated this art; Sandow, Maxick or Pandour. My opinion is that Sandow and Maxick first started it in England and America, while Pandour started it at about the same time on the European continent. Sandow could not go to the continent for various reasons, one being that military service was compulsory in all European countries and Sandow was anxious to avoid being inducted.

In view of this I will attempt to give a better picture of the Great Pandour as I knew him and not because of his outstanding fame as a muscular phenomenon and extraordinary athlete – for I knew him intimately for many years. I knew him when he was “tops” in the vaudeville raceket and in later years when he declined in spirit, health and finally his death.

I first saw his pictures in the Muchener Athletik Sport Zeitung about the year of 1900 when he was a member of the Popescu Trio, a superb horizontal bar act. I took him to be a Romanian at the time, but about five or six years later I discovered that he was a “Pole”, the same nationality as I was. He impressed me tremendously then, and I have seen him perform with his horizontal bar act our  local theatre many times in Lumberg. This same year he was not doing any posing, but his physical development was such tha he stood out between his two partners like the god-Apollo. Soon after that he quit the “bar” act and brought his brother Ludwig to Sofia, Bulgaria, and then started his famous “Pandour Bros.” act which was an immediate success. Within a relatively short time, they skyrocketed to the top of vaudeville as a headliner and main attraction. This act consisted of posing, which was the “talk” of the continent, as well as among strongmen and booking agents. His feats consisted of a well planned hand balancing routine but of the ordinary kind, while the finale was a hand stand on top of two 20-foot ladders while at the same time holding on his neck, by means of suspended ropes, his brother Ludwig on a bicycle pedalling, and the climax was four flags were released which unfolded on both sides by a cleverly arranged spring contrivance which Bobby pulled while in the handstand. This was indeed a spectacle, but not as sensational as his posing which he did to conclude his performance.

Without his posing act he would have been classed as a mediocre performer or ordinary acrobat, of which hundred were touring the continent of that time, some much better as far as strength and balancing were concerned.

However, he knew all this and therefore made efforts to make his posing the outstanding feature, a feature no other athlete knew anything about. Being a clever showman himself, he made preparations to have the stage jet black with dark draperies in the background on which his name embroidered over the posing cabinet. Beautiful music especially arranged for each pose floated through the silent atmosphere while he shifted from one pose to another, slowly but gracefully. He powdered his body to a snow white color to get more contrast from the dark draperies and inky stage background that surrounded him and made him appear god-like. He had good features and was considered good looking, and as he interpreted pose after pose, it was a beautiful picture indeed and you could hear the audience utter a sort of sigh after each pose. He really was an awe-inspiring sight to behold under those lights and artistic to the highest degree, and that is why he was such a talk around the continent at that time.

I first saw him in the flesh in 1904, in Vienna where he was playing the famous Apollo Theatre and then was a headliner. Large bill posters were posted all over town with his likeness on them, so that it was impossible for anyone to miss this event who was interested in physical perfection. I bought myself a high priced seat and dressed my best for this occasion and waited eagerly for his appearance on stage. None of the preceding acts interested me in the least, all I wanted was to see the famous Pandour Bros. act, mainly Bobby himself.

At last his act was announced and I still recall that it was one of the most tensed moments in my life; not because of the impression his act made on me, but because his act seemed so easy and effortless.

I felt I could duplicate all his stunts easily (so it seemed to me at that time) and I had some muscles myself, too. It was evident that it wasn’t his stunts that made the act in demand, but the posing part of the show was the real asset of his act. So an irrepressible idea was born in my mind when his act closed, namely to work harder than ever to this end and to become an artist like Bobby.

There were a couple more acts following Pandour’s act, but I didn’t wait to see them. I wanted to see and meet Bobby Pandour. I rushed out to the stage entrance and the door man tried to discourage me by saying that no one was allowed back stage, so I decided to wait for him until he came out. Shortly afterwards he came out and in his company a very beautiful lady. 

I walked right up to him and started to speak in German, but he waved his hand in my face and told me not to bother him with such nonsense as he was a very busy man; and that I should be ashamed of myself for imposing on him when he was in company of a lady. I tried to explain and tell him how much I was interested in him, but to no avail. He just snubbed me in the worst way, then called a Fiaker (horse and buggy) and disappeared with his lady friend, leaving me flat and bewildered. I went back stage to see his brother Ludwig, but found that he too had left by another exit. I started a conversation with one of the stagehands and learned that Bobby got 20,000 Kronen as a month’s salary, and that he was very hard to approach. This gave me all the more determination to get even with him for the way he humiliated me with his snubbing. I was very sorry that I ever tried to see him, and yet at the same time was glad to have found out the tremendous salary he was making.

It was worthwhile then I thought to develop my body better and perfect all the stunts that I already knew and witnessed. If they paid such large salaries for good stage performers, I resolved then to become a good performer. Here I was making 25 Kronen a week and worked 10 hours a day and thought it was a pretty good wage earning, and he (Bobby) was making 20,000 a month for just an hour’s work a day!

Some difference, indeed! Otto, said I to myself, whispering almost out loud, you have a chance if only you put your mind to it and become an artist like him. You have the possibilities, and with a little hard work and determination on your part, you could be equally as good as he. My decision was then made right in front of the Apollo Theatre in Vienna with his name still in big gleaming lights, standing out like the moon among the stars in the sky. I thought: wouldn’t my name look grand in lights, too! Oh, boy, wouldn’t it? It will, I vowed to myself.

Little did I realize the obstacles that were to confront me in my new venture. But I was young then, full of ambition and did not let a few annoying obstacles throw me off my path of success that I vowed to fulfill. I still stood in front of the theatre with Bobby Pandour’s name in glowing lights, dreaming of the success I could enjoy; full of hope and optimism for the future. It must have been quite late for when I decided to go home I found that street cars weren’t running any more and I had to walk all the way home, which was about 10 miles. I got to my room around 3 A.M. on that memorable night.

A vital problem now arose in my mind as to how to make good all those pretentious plans of mine. I was a top notch wrestler in my weight and a good hand balancer, weightlifter and muscularly well developed. But here I was, alone in a huge city with practically no acquaintance, with the exception of a jealous group of club mates. I belonged to the famous Ringsport club (wrestling club) and because I was defeating them all in wrestling tournaments, they did not exactly adore me for this prowess. In fact, when the annual wrestling championships came around for the title of Austria, they didn’t even bother to enter my entry, so that I had to pay my own entry fee of 5 guldens. I paid the entry fee and entered the championship, winning the title and a gold medal as easy as pie; the longest bout I had was only two and a half minutes.

But all this did not fit in with my real ambition of becoming an artist like Pandour. Wrestling ceased to be fun, and all I wanted to do was hand to hand work and posing on the stage. Found two chaps who I thought would make capable partners, but after a time I found them incapable to do the stunts that I had in mind and started searching elsewhere.

The only one I found suitable for an understander was Emile Moygorossy, but he wasn’t just “all there” in the cranium at times, but later became my stage partner. He left Munich shortly thereafter to pose for the famous sculptor, Hildebrand, and promised to get in touch with me regarding a stage show which we contemplated on getting together. This however proved to be nothing more than an empty promise, so I began looking up various theatres to try and get in with some of the hand balancing acts that were playing there. I got no encouragement at all, in fact most of them tried to discourage me by saying that only well established men of the stage could be used; and that taking an outsider in their midst would run the risk of having their stage contract cancelled, with many other such excuses. I felt slightly discourages after awhile, but still persisted in my hunt.

Another bright idea came to me. I went to the Cafe Der Artist where all big time vaudeville performers congregated on Pratter strasses and hoping to make some contacts there. But nothing materialized to I then started to scan various athletic magazines for the hope of seeing some “good” team advertising for a stage partner. I answered some of the “ads” and received a reply from nearly all of them, mostly unfavorable.

Some of them even asked me a price for putting me into the show business. But among my replies, one interested me which was from a fellow named Franz Miller, who suggested that I come to Munich and if I can prove that I can become a suitable partner to include in his act which he had intentions of enlarging, he would give me a part in the show, because he believed that I had a physique and muscular development that would be impressive on the stage.

Against the advice of all my club mates, who now began to think me now of something of an asset because of having won the recent wrestling title of Austria, I left a good job and went to Munich. I had hopes there, but upon meeting this fellow Franz Miller, my hopes were shattered and I was disappointed, for I found him to be the smallest kind of “small timer,” working in second class beer gardens for whatever he collected from the patrons after their exhibition.

This was not the kind of ambition I had in my mind and my interview with him was over in a few minutes. While in Munich I met Moygorossy again and Maxick and Wuir, all of them professional models. I got work and posed for sculptors and artists and once more joined the best wrestling club in the city, The Bloners Ringsport Club. I learned that Moygorossy was putting on an act by himself at the Blumen Salle, doing a Roman ring act with posing and muscle control:

He was good at this work but his salary was just chicken feed compared to Pandour’s, and if it wasn’t for his posing as a model during the day, he would have starved on the salary his act was paying. So getting him as a partner at the present time was out.

Then came a lucky break: Maurice Deriaz was touring Germany in search of lighter wrestlers for the coming championships to be held in Paris, particularly in light and middleweights. When he saw me wrestle at the club, he signed me up temporarily and took my address. I didn’t count on this seriously and started to practice some more hand to hand balancing with another fellow.

Then like a bolt of lightning, a telegraphic money order for 200 francs from Paris came to me, and incidentally the largest sum of money I ever had in my possession at one time, with instructions to come to Paris immediately for a professional wrestling tournament.

Deriaz made some sort of promise to Moygorossy also before he left Munich, but he didn’t call him. In some ways I was pleased that Moygorossy wasn’t called, because he was always so sure of himself and thinking that he was a “superior” athlete.

I made preparations at once to leave for Paris and not a soul was at the station to see me off or wish me any good luck, such was my popularity among my jealous clubmates.

They hated to see anyone better than they were and didn’t show any sportsmanship at all. To prove this I will mention an incident that occurred in the dressing room after one of my bouts. I wrestled with a fellow from the Regensburg Club, and when I defeated him on fair terms in the ring, he became infuriated and tried to stab me in the dressing room. Deriaz also sensed the bad sportsmanship among the athletes while he was in Munich.

I arrived in Paris and Maurice took me that day to sign a 45 day contract at 40 francs per day. I was thrilled! Of all the cities, Paris was my dream city since boyhood. The various newspapers began using my pictures and publicizing me more than any of he others, featuring me for days before the grand opening.

At last the gala opening was at hand at the Girque Metropole with a seating capacity of 8500 people. The opening night was jammed to capacity and introductions of all the wrestlers followed. I received a tremendous ovation when I was first introduced and was baffled by this reception.

I couldn’t understand why all this defeating applause when hardly a soul knew me in this city, and how could I have so many followers in this new dream city of mine? Later Deriaz explained to me that because I was the smallest  and the most muscular man the sport lovers of Paris had ever seen that they approved of me so.

In all public conveyances, subways, street cars and busses, the Paris public seem to recognize me as “Otto, the Petit Lutteur,” by which moniker I was well known. The press had given me wonderful writeups, and not even a great artist such as Bobby Pandour could have enjoyed all the publicity I got. This was my first taste of real success as an athletes and no one could imagine how happy I felt about it.

There were two other heavyweight wrestling tournaments in Paris at the same time, one at the Gasmir de Paris  managed by Georg Lurich and featuring Stanley Zbyszko, while the other was held at the Folies Bergere and starring Ivan Poddoubny. Yet none of these were given half as much publicity as our show at the Cirque Metropole, possibly because never before anywhere in Europe where light and middleweights were billed as main attractions, and possibly because preceding each wrestling night a splendid exhibition of animal circus talent and acts were displayed.

Now comes the strangest coincidence: At one of these times when the circus bill was changed, which they changed every two weeks, imagine my great surprise when I saw the new bill poster announcing the forthcoming attractions and among them was listed the superb act of Bobby Pandour. This was a pleasant surprise and I felt that providence had arranged this meeting for me.

I knew that it would be an entirely different meeting this time. In fact I thought of ignoring him just as he did the day I went to meet him at the stage door in Vienna. But it dawned on me that he might not even remember the incident and that I was the one. Mind you, even up until this time I didn’t know that he was of Polish origin, until by chance I happened to mention his name to Wladyslaw Pytlasnski, the former heavyweight wrestling champion who acted as referee at the tournament, and who taught me many important wrestling secrets. Pytlasnski said that Pandour was a great friend of his and was of Polish origin; that he used to train in his gym back in Warsaw for many years doing gymnastics.

We made some arrangements to meet him and I was thrilled to know that withing a few days I was going to meet the man whom I had chosen as my model for my artistic career; the same person who had humiliated me when I tried to tell him of my admiration for him. This time, however, I thought it will be a meeting on more favorable grounds, as I too had a good share of publicity and he will not dare to snub me this time.

In my next installment I will relate of our meeting and the great friendship that followed, and I can say now that I found Pandour to be a gentleman of the highest calibre, a true friend with warm praises for anyone who deserved them.

Strangely enough I became his ideal athlete in later years just as he was mine in earlier years. He did surprise me in many ways, but I learned a great deal from him, especially from his many mistakes which I will try to enumerate later.

These were not deliberate error on his part and rarely of his fault, but because of the time and trend of those days. Neither Pandour nor Sandow and many other leading strong men of that time knew any better. I speak in relationship to exercise, diet and many other correct phases of proper living habits. Still they deserve credit, for they were the real pioneer of Physical Culture. It was men like Pandour and Sandow who brought about the keen interest in body culture, thus giving the first real impetus which made physical culture and exercise endure through all those times and making people more conscious of health.”


Jan Feb 1942 S&H 

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