Superstar Unheard-of

Roberta Peters trainiert bei Joseph Pilates (Foto: Michael Rougier)
Roberta Peters working out with Joseph Pilates (photo: Michael Rougier)

October 9, 1967, Joseph Pilates died in New York City. He had reached the age of 83 and at the end he was upset about the fact that he hadn’t achieved his goal: large-scale success for his method.  In the meantime his dream has become true: millions of people all around the globe are practicing the Pilates method!

Surprisingly the person Joseph Pilates is still known only among a comparatively small circle of Pilates insiders. In Germany, his home country, Joseph Pilates is practically unheard-of. After telling people that I have written a book about Joseph Pilates they often ask me: “Ah, was this guy connected to Pilates in any way?”

The imbalance between the high profile of the method and the low profile of the man is certainly connected to the fact that the Pilates method only became famous decades after the death of its founder. A dead man doesn’t make it to the news – unless he has managed to get some press coverage during his life-time. Joseph Pilates fame was limited while he was still alive. In the United States there were are couple of articles about him in the Fifties and Sixties. In Germany people heard about him only after the Pilates method became popular (starting slowly during the Nineties, gaining speed since the millenium).

The success story the Pilates method has become today was written by women. Madonna and Oprah Winfrey promoting the method started the boom of Pilates throughout the world. In Germany Barbara Becker’s enthusiasm for Pilates created enormous interest in the method. Joseph Pilates was no match for these women: Would you direct your attention to a man long dead while a woman like this is demonstrating his exercises?

I don’t think Joseph Pilates would mind. He always had this weakness for women and he loved to work with women. He was proud, if he succeeded to make them strong. When  „Life“ did a feature on coloratura Roberta Peters in 1951 taking pictures of her working out at the Pilates studio on Eighth Avenue, Joseph Pilates stayed in the background – just like today’s personal trainers. Maybe “superstar unheard-of” is exactly what Joseph Pilates wanted to be.

In Life Photo Archive (hosted by google) you’ll find more photos by Michael Rougier which he took during the session for “Life”. These pictures deliver a great view inside the original Pilates studio on Eighth Avenue!

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