THE MIGHTY ATOM: The Life and Time of Joseph L. Greenstein by Ed. Spielman

THE MIGHTY ATOM: The Life and Time of Joseph L. Greenstein

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The artless, absorbing biography of a diminutive (5'4«"") Jewish strongman. Joseph L. (Yosselle Leib) Greenstein was born in 1893, the son of a desperately poor rabbi in Suvalk, Poland. He was a premature baby, a sickly asthmatic child, and a unanimous candidate for an early grave, when a wrestler in a traveling circus took him on as his valet and disciple, and singlehandedly transformed him into a budding Samson. (Later on, in fact, Greenstein let his hair grow and pulled trucks with it.) In 1911 he emigrated to the States, and embarked on an adventurous career that found him learning jujitsu in Yokohama, fighting Klansmen in Houston, and, finally, going on the vaudeville circuit, astounding audiences as he tore horseshoes apart, bit through chains, and supported a ten-man Dixieland band--in a pick-up truck--while lying on a bed of nails. By the 1930s public interest in such grisly heroics began to fade, and Greenstein moved on, to create and promote his line of Mighty Atom Health Products--soap, herb laxative, etc. He became a gifted pitchman and the exponent of some very sensible ideas on health and nutrition. He also married, had ten children, and led an incredibly busy, colorful life. Eventually he passed into almost total obscurity when Spielman, a screenwriter who created the Kung Fu series for TV, ran into him at a martial arts show in Madison Square Garden and discovered not just a fascinating bit of show business history, but a splendid, warm, intelligent mensch. Spielman overwhelms the reader with the awesome, and occasionally stomach-turning, onstage exploits of the Atom, but the book's most interesting and touching moments come from the glimpses we get of his private personality. An appealing picture of a homey, humble, believable sort of superman.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1979
Publisher: Viking