Fame, Fortune, Folly & Failure

The 1930's and 40's were an exciting and tumultuous time for Bernarr Macfadden. To quote Dickens, "It was the best of times and the worst of times." It was the era that marked both the height of his success and also a time when he began to run up against really serious setbacks.

Spending Millions
Around 1930 he established the Bernarr Macfadden Foundation for the purpose of funding schools, camps, and other humanitarian efforts. He funded the foundation with $5 million dollars. There were several schools and camps.

In 1928 Macfadden purchased Castle Heights Military Academy in Lebanon, Tennesee. He wanted the school to be a model of his philososphy of education where character development and physical culture were just as important as academics. Macfadden took an active interest in CHMA, visiting the school on numerous occasions, and the Macfadden Foundation oversaw the endowment of the school. The school was a success and provided a great education for many young men who even today are loyal alumni of their alma mater. Castle Heights had a rich history. In 1974 it was purchased from the Macfadden Foundation, but, sadly, it had to close twelve years later as a result of severely declining enrollment during the post-Vietnam War era.

Castle Heights Main Building and Macfadden Auditorium

In 1929 he bought an 18 acre estate in Englewood, New Jersey. On the grounds was a small lake, a swimming pool, tennis court, miniature golf course, basketball and archery, swings, and various other athletic equipment. The main photo below was taken from the waterfalls. The inserts show the swimming pool and portions of the dining room and living room. The house had twenty-eight rooms. There was a four car garage. Today the land adjoins Flat Rock Brook Park.

Unfortunately, his marriage to Mary was falling apart. They had many quarrels and fights. As a husband and father, he tended to be very authoritarian and inflexible. In addition, his businesses kept him away from home more and more of the time. He also had another major weakness. Like Samson, the strongman from the Bible, he was a verile man who seemed unable to control his passion for attractive young women. A common saying among employees at Macfadden Publications was "it is alway sex o'clock around here!" Bernarr and Mary were legally separated in 1932 and divorced in 1946.

Macfadden was one of the first businessmen to have his own airplane. In 1929 he bought an airplane which he christened "Miss True Story," and in 1930, at age 62, he got his own pilot's license. Over the years he owned several different airplanes, and he flew all over the country.

In 1929 he acquired the Jackson Sanitarium in Dansville, New York. Dr. James Caleb Jackson (1811 - 1895) had been a 19th century nutritionist and practitioner of hydrotherapy. Jackson also developed the first cold cereal which he called "Granula." Jackson is recognized today as an important person in the history of alternative health in America.

Macfadden refurbished the Jackson Sanitarium and converted it into a resort hotel, renaming it the Physical Culture Hotel. The PC Hotel offered a number of health therapies but also emphasized recreation and social activities such as swimming, sunbathing, tennis, and dancing. He owned several resort hotels, but his favorite by far was the Physical Culture Hotel in Dansville. The PC was located on a hillside overlooking the small village of Dansville in the beautiful Genesee Valley of central New York state. It offered top quality accomodations in every way and was "the place" for celebrities and the wealthy to visit to relax and "get away from it all." In its day, it was a wonderful, lively place. The residents of Dansville who are old enough to remember the PC tell stories of wonderful times when they went to dances "under the stars" on the rooftop of the main building. CLICK HERE for a look at a brochure for the hotel.

From 1971 until the present the PC has been empty and abandoned. There have been a couple fairly serious efforts to raise funds to renuvate the building, but these have never come to fruition.


He sponsored hikes that were hundreds of miles long from New York City and Philadelphia to the PC Hotel. The photos below show Macfadden leading two of the hikes (1931 and 1935), nicknamed "cracked wheat derbies" because of the restricted diet that the hikers ate. The 38 hikers pictured in the lower photo lost a total of 141 pounds during their 325-mile, 14-day pilgrimage!

Macfadden also owned the Hotel Deauville in Miami Beach...

...and the Arrowhead Springs Hotel and Spa near Los Angeles

Not all of his business dealings turned out to be profitable. In fact, he lost money on more than a few real estate "deals."

One of Bernarr Macfadden's real oddities was his lack of interest in how his clothing looked. Although he was an extremely wealthy man, he frequently looked like a bum, because his clothing looked so wrinkled and shabby. Someone said that he wore the same suit every day until it wore out.

With the acquisition of extraordinary wealth, Macfadden desired to have a voice in government. He believed that Americans needed to be stronger and healthier, and there were too many laws restricting our natural freedom. He was an original conservative. However, the fact that many people considered him a "kook" was an obstacle to his political career that he was never able to overcome.

Others have followed Macfadden's formula for achieving success which includes developing extraordinary mental energy. Today, the practice of 4-dimensional visualization and meditation using pictures is one way to harness that energy.

Hobnobbing With the Famous and Influential
Macfadden contributed financial support to political candidates and social reformers. In addition, his wealth (estimated at one point to be over $30 million) enabled him to associate with many prominent and powerful people. Among his close friends were elected officials, professional athletes, celebrities, movie stars, and prominent writers. He corresponded regularly with the mayor of New York, the state governor, and even the President. Eleanor Roosevelt wrote articles for one of his magazines.

Bernarr With FDR and with Will Rogers at the National Republican Convention

With Shirley Temple and Clark Gable

The Macfaddens with Rudolph Valentino

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Mighty Macfadden pictorial biography

During the 1930's he had the idea that what the country needed was a Secretary of Health on the President's Cabinet, and the person to fill the position was he! (He was definitely ahead of his time.) When it became apparent that no one in office at that time was willing to give his idea serious consideration, he began to think seriously about running for office himself.

In an effort to develop a political base, he used his publications to promote himself as a good candidate. He commissioned 3 biographies to be written which depicted him as a modern-day Abraham Lincoln and one of the greatest men who had ever lived! He campaigned unsuccessfully for several offices including Mayor of New York, Governor of Florida, and even President of the United States. He funded these campaigns with money from the publishing business.

Business Woes
As the country recovered from the Great Depression, established authors were paid more for their stories than Macfadden was used to spending. Publication costs were rising; competition was stiffer than ever before. Circulation was falling off somewhat. His business was not as profitable as it had been. Stockholders were beginning to complain.

Macfadden did not understand that he could not use the company assets to finance his ventures. He believed that as the owner he could do what he wanted with the corporation's money. He did not fully appreciate or understand the workings of a publicly owned corporation. In this respect, his ideas were simply behind the times.

The result was that there were lawsuits against him, and, in 1941, he agreed to relinquish all his interest in the corporation. Orr Elder, his old friend, became the new president.

True Story Magazine is still in print although the publication rights have switched hands a few times . CLICK HERE to read the history of this magazine. True Story magazine along with a few other confession magazines are still being published today, but the Macfadden name is gone. On the other hand, Dance Magazine, published today by Dance Media which is part of the Macfadden Communications Group, was a magazine that Macfadden launched when his daughter, Helen, was heavily involved in dance. Dance Magazine continues to enjoy tremendous success. Although the company still bears the Macfadden name, there is no longer any affiliation with its founder.

A few years after retiring from Macfadden Publications, Macfadden bought the rights to publish "Physical Culture Magazine" once again. This "cornerstone" magazine was never a success again, and, after his death, Physical Culture Magazine ended.

One of the really curious things that Macfadden attempted at this time was to launch his own religion. It was called "Cosmotarianism," an attempt to combine physcultopathy with the Bible. Basically it taught that to get to heaven people first needed to take good care of their physical health. Although Macfadden gave numerous lectures promoting Cosmotarianism, including a program in Carnegie Hall that was attended by over 2000 people, it was unsuccessful.




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