Jul 13, 2014

Jim Thorpe: Native American Beefcake of the Jazz Age

When I was a kid in the 1960s, we lived down the street from a bar called Thorpe's.  To Nazarenes all bars were dens of abomination, so I never went near it, but it was hard to miss the lights and music, and the line of cars parked outside.

Years later, I discovered that the bar was named after Jim Thorpe, the first great Native American athlete, who was born into the Sac and Fox tribe, long after it was relocated from Rock Island to Oklahoma.  He was a multi-talented athlete, playing professional football, basketball, and baseball and semi-professional boxing and wrestling, as well as winning gold medals for the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Olympics.

During the Jazz Age, he was famous for his physique as well as for his sports prowess; he was even photographed nude so audiences could see the interplay of his muscles better.

He traveled in the circles of the 1920s glitterati, and was known to frequent the wild Great Gatsby-esque parties where same-sex liaisons were common, though I haven't found any evidence of same-sex activity of his own.

His career fizzled out during the 1930s.  He spent the last 20 years of his life struggling with alcoholism and poverty, and died in 1953.

Burt Lancaster played Jim Thorpe in Jim Thorpe -- All American (1951).

A town in Pennsylvania bought his remains and some artifacts and renamed itself Jim Thorpe, to the consternation of his family.  Jack Thorpe sued for the return of his father's remains in 2010.

He doesn't seem to be related to Ian Thorpe, the gay Australian swimmer.