By Alan Calvert

After we had finished taking the accompanying pictures of Arco, Mr. Scott and I agreed that he was the hardest of all men to photograph. Not that he moved. If once a pose was decided on, he could hold himself absolutely immovable; and not that he was particular, for he willingly assented to try anything we suggested.  No! The trouble was to decide which of the many possible poses we would take. My original idea was to get some pictures for my study of the back, and some showing “muscle-control”.

As the athlete would shift from one position to another, we would get a succession of muscle vistas- poses that would have been highly original. But when we would try to have him reproduce the pose which had caught our fancy, neither Scott or I could recall the exact relevant position of arms, legs and body which had produced the particular muscular display selected.

Of all the well-developed men I have seen; Arco has the greatest power of controlling his muscles. His ability to alter their size or shape by flexing them, is something which has to be seen to be realized. At one moment he will be standing at ease, always wonderfully balanced on his feet, and his body and limbs as smooth as those of a swimmer; hardly a muscle would show except those on his breast and abdomen; just the ones you see on the statues of the ancient Greek athletes, but as soon as he would shift his position, or make even a slight movement, the muscles would move in ripples. At the call for a certain pose he would instantly freeze into immobility, with the required muscles standing out in great smooth bosses or cables.  Arco’s pictures have appeared in several magazines which deal with muscular development. I showed some in the original Strength Magazine in 1917, being glad to seize the opportunity after seeing his pictures in the European sporting journals in 1906-07.  In practically all such pictures, Arco deliberately posed to show his muscles at their maximum size, specializing on the display of the arm and abdominal development. It was at his suggestion that we posed him in a way that would better show the general lines of his figure, and the aspect of his muscles when in repose. In the set shown here we used either a very strong top light, or an equally strong light from one side.   Figures 13, 14 and 15 are in the first lighting, 16, 17, 18 and 19 in the second.

In only one of the lot was there any attempt to make a display of muscles; Figure 14, where he tensed most of the arms and body muscles. Because the position is easy, there is no impression of strain. Possibly it is the abdominal muscles which will first impress you, but you must not overlook the sinewy forearm, and the really wonderful deltoid muscle capping on the right shoulder.  In this pose the remarkable thing is not just the size and clear-cut shape of the individual muscles, so much as a fact that the man is able to show the deltoid, the triceps, and the biceps muscles without the necessity of putting any one of them in the position of extreme contraction; a thing which is possible only when the muscles are naturally highly developed, in repose as well as in action. 

I regret that Figure 18 was not finished in time to permit its publication in “The Broad of the Back, as it furnished a striking demonstration of the right Latissimus Dorsi muscle. Incredible! Almost, and, perhaps, some would say unsightly. Possible only for a man whose back, went in repose, shows the great smooth expansions of muscles seen in Figure 17. Did you ever see such muscles as these along the spine? Before posing he was sitting on a chair, leaning over and lacing his shoes, a position in which the average man would show no muscle, but only a roll of bumps, with the spines of the spinal column are pressing against the skin. You could see no such bumps on Arco’s back, –  they were hidden in the channel between the great cables of the erector muscles. When I said to him, Otto, those muscles on the small of the back are the best ones you have, he looked up, smiled and replied, exactly what Des Bonnet said when I posed for him in Paris. Which makes me repeat that the small of the back is the most important part of a strong-man; the keystone of the muscular arch.

The picture I like best is Figure 13, because it shows such a splendidly well-knit balanced figure, and such roundness of body limb and muscle. I infinitely prefer it to the usual bent arm pose which displays his flexed biceps, marvelous as that biceps is.

Otto Arco
Figure No. 13 – Otto Arco, in one of his “easy” poses.  It gives you an idea of the proportions which won him the world’s title for harmonious development. (photographer-unknown)

As previously remarked, his ability to increase the size, and to change the contour of any given muscle is almost unbelievable.   It seems hardly credible that the almost slender looking man in Figure 19 can be the same individual as a rugged Hercules and number 14; or that the back which is so smooth and Figure 16 could be made a moment later, to assure that the extraordinary width and contour of the one in number 18.

Arco’s act, as given in vaudeville, is what the professionals call a routine of hand-balancing feats of the Herculean order.  The hardest stunts are in the beginning of the act. On their completion the stage is darkened for a couple of minutes while he poses in a lighted cabinet. There are many physical culturists, enthusiasts on shape and development, who would have Arco’s posing continue for 10 minutes. It is perhaps the feature of the act; although he will tell you in confidence that its principal value is that it allows him a rest after the greater exertion of the preceding stunts. The posing done, he closes with some very sensational feats, which though they create enthusiasm, do not require tithe of the strengths used in the opening routines.  

It is probable that no other performer in his line has so many backstage visitors as has Arco.  Boys and young men seek the opportunity to express their admiration, to ask advice, and to beg for pictures. Besides which, he is busy welcoming members of the profession who obviously regard him as one of the masters. Even his rivals consult him on matters of physical condition and performance.

Otto Arco
Figure No. 14 – Arco doing a “simultaneous muscle-control” in which he has flexed every muscle above the waist.   (photographer – unknown)

Those who are supreme in one line of work invariably attract the leaders in other lines. When showing in Los Angeles, the management on several nights would make arrangements to permit the two best known male movie stars to slip up to the back of the gallery, where, unobserved, they could watch Otto’s act.

Equally interesting were snapshots showing him wrestling with his greatest pal, Stanislaus Zybyszko.  One, – most astonishing, – showing the 145 pound Arco starting a flying mare, that is, preparing to hurl by the gigantic Zybyszko over his shoulder.  Posed?  Of course. They are great jokers! But nevertheless a startling picture.

It happens that Arco and Zybyszko were schoolmates in Poland; that they did their training in company; and that about 18 years ago (I forgot the exact date) when Zybyszko one the world’s wrestling championship (at Paris) and the heavyweight class, Arco annexed the crowd and the lightweight division.  It was in 1913 that Argo won the prize and diploma in the same city, as the best developed man in the world, something which I had not known until recently, and would not have learned if he had not come across a diploma among his store of pictures.

If asked his age he will smilingly admit to being over 40, about as old as Stanley (Zybyszko); ask him.   Another one of his pictures, on the steps of the Zybyszko summer home at old Orchard, Jack Dempsey, Mr. and Mrs. Zybyszko, Otto and one or two others, most of them in bathing suits remarkable, because it includes the world’s champion fighter; the man who was four years the World’s Champion Wrestler; and the man whom experts regard as a champion in regard to development.

Before leaving the personal side, it might be mentioned that though a strong man by vocation, Arco is a stamp collector by avocation, famous as an authority in that line; and that one of his great ambitions is to prove to the Zybyszko that he is also a leading expert in the art of playing poker.

How did he train? Tumbling, weights, wrestling, and muscle control. Probably the world’s best at his weight in the third and fourth, and certainly supreme at the last. He is gently reproachful because I abandoned the field of heavy-weight work; but, being an agreement with me on my many phases of body-building work, offers me his cooperation, which is valuable beyond estimation.

He has spent some time during the last couple of years in perfecting a device which is absolutely unique in the line of exercising apparatus. Something which enables anyone to master the basic feats, their first principles, of tumbling and hand-balancing. A mechanical aid, which makes unnecessary the presence of an assistant or instructor, and which provides conditioning and developing exercise. When he is ready to market it, I’m going to present him with two or three pages in one of my future issues, and let him explain the uses of his apparatus. It will be worthwhile, for he is one of those remarkable people who has the gift of perfecting anything in which he takes an interest. While I have only a sketchy idea of what his apparatus is like, I know that when marketed it will be perfectly made: and that it will do what he claims for it. He is that kind of man.

It is customary to finish an article like this by giving the measurements of the athlete. If I ever knew Otto’s measurements I have forgotten them. Moreover, I do not particularly care what they are, for mere bulk does not mean either strength or shape.   It is the strength and shape of his muscles which interests me. He was in Philadelphia for two engagements and we spent a lot of time together. As I recall it we never once got around to the subject of measurement; either his, or anyone else’s. (Rotten grammar that!) Shape!  Yes, strength and ability. Yes, indeed! But measurements were forgotten.

I am aware that I promised you 2500 words on Arco , including his views on training. There may, or may not be, 2500 words in the foregoing. Anyway you will find his opinions woven in the two following articles. 

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