Wednesday 21 September 2022

The Jumping Jack

Exercise programmes go back to the beginning of radio in the early 1920s. They were tailor made for television and slid into the new medium. Maybe the best-known TV exercise gurus was Jack LaLanne.

His daily show (actually, it ran for 15 minutes in the evening) started out in late September 1953 on KGO-TV, sponsored by the Kevo-Etts Co., makers of exercise equipment. He got praise in Variety: “His light touch of humor and blithe manner lifts stanza from the ranks of a more common exercise programme.” LaLanne was a shrewd self-promoter (his handcuffed swim to Alcatraz in 1955 made newspaper headlines—then he got extra publicity by having footage of it aired on You Asked For It) and managed to parlay his show into syndication in 1959.

LaLanne was around long before 1953. He was already known in World War Two for his bodybuilding exploits. He wasn’t overseas at Guadalcanal, though. He was in Idaho, getting the troops in fighting shape. Here’s a story from the Twin Falls Times-News, February 24, 1944.

If you see a sailor gent about town whose chest looks quite a bit too large for his body that's Jack Lalanne—not "Sweet" Lalanne of the song or football fame but Lalanne, the weight lifter.
He's stationed" at the Sun Valley convalescent hospital where he is doing almost magical things in the development of men's bodies, some thing that he began doing years ago with his own and others at his two gyms in Oakland, Calif.
Ye Olde Sport Scrivener has been interested in weight-lifting and weight-lifters for some time, not that he has ever participated in the sport but because of the near mlr acles he has seen it perform.
For instance there was that friend of the pudgy one who took up the sport because of the promise of a weight-lifter that it woufd alleviate the after-effects of his bouts with the flowing bowl such as an over sized bay window and the dark brown taste that persisted in appearing in his mouth each morning. And you know this old word puddler klnda envied that guy because the weight-lifter made good on his promise.
Lalanne probably has performed such pleasant miracles. Up at Sun Valley he promises the sailors that if they will follow his methods with the larse array of bars and dumb bells he has installed there he'll put three more inches on their chests and an inch on their muscles although he's done considerably more along that line on himself.
YOSS hasn't interviewed Mr. La lanne on the subject but if he's like other weight-lifters to whom this writing gent has talked, he'll emphatically deny that his course with the bars and dumbbells makes for the so-called muscle boundness as most everyone thinks. Rather, he'll tell you that his course will allow a subject to handle his body more easily and gracefully.
Lalanne started in the weight lifting business on himself when he was 13 years of age and found it so beneficial that he took it up as a career so that others might also benefit.
He claims three weight lifting records. The one of which he is the most proud is the hand stand press-up that he boosted from 26 to 42 pounds. He also has done 165 pounds in the two-arm pull-up and 215 pounds in the right-arm get-up.
All of which Ye Old Sport Scrivener notes is quite "sweet," even though this Lalanne hasn't that prefixed to his name like the lady in the song or the football player.

LaLanne’s TV show was ingeniously low-budget, even by standards of the era. An organ played as LaLanne went through his routine with minimal props and an almost immobile camera (one version had a cute animated opening). And it lasted for years.

Here’s a syndicated newspaper column from April 22, 1974. If the writer hoped LaLanne would talk about himself, he was wrong. LaLanne tries to get his messages across instead.

Exercise Key To Shape-Up For Miladies

Copley News Service
LOS ANGELES—“All right ladies,” the television set commands, “here’s one exercise to firm up that back porch. “That’s it, one-two, one-two...”
With organ music in the background, women in all shapes, sizes and ages try to keep up with the trim-looking man who is stretching, jumping and bending on the screen.
For 22 years, Jack LaLanne has been dealing with people’s soft “back porches" and sagging “front gates” in front of television cameras in the name of good nutrition and plenty of exercise.
LaLanne acts, looks and exercises like a frisky kid in his teens.
And most people express shock, he conceded, when they find out he is 59 years old.
"Really though, it isn’t how you look, it’s how you feel," said LaLanne in enthusiastic tones. “If you feel great, you are great.
“I get up every morning at 4:30 a.m. to work out a couple hours in the gym. On Saturdays, I get up an hour earlier so I can get out on the golf course.”
LaLanne doesn’t believe everyone has to follow his own vigorous workout schedule, but the TV fitness personality has devised a set of exercises that can be done in the bedroom.
He calls them the "Magic Five.”
“You do these and they’ll get you off to a sparkling day,” LaLanne said.
Without further warning, LaLanne launched into a preacher-like speech about his philosophy on physical fitness and good nutrition.
“The thing is, you see, most people are growing soft,” he began. “They’re eating all of these lousy manufactured foods—soda pop, cookies, cakes, spaghetti and lasagna to name a few.
“You know why people are eating this stuff? Because it's always in front of them . . . the advertisements. Buy this, eat that. People have no discipline. “You need discipline for everything you do and that includes cutting down on eating and exercising more.”
There’s a brief pause and then LaLanne continues with his thought.
“If you use discipline, you can do without these things. Then after awhile, you don’t miss them at all.
“So there you are, you’re not eating this lousy food and you’re exercising to stay fit. Sure you’re tired when you’re finished exercising, but isn’t it a good feeling?"
Above all, LaLanne maintained he is not a “health nut.”
“Who’s going to eat wheat germ and blackstrap molasses all of his life?” he asked.
But he does fervently believe in his philosophy of physical fitness.
“I traveled about 100,000 miles last year on speaking engagements,” LaLanne said. "Recently, I spoke at a symposium held at the American Physical Fitness Research Institute.”
At that symposium, LaLanne talked about how three age groups—young people, middle-aged persons and senior citizens—could exercise to stay fit.
“You should see him talk,” said one LaLanne associate. “He gets up there and I sometimes think those people listening are ready to do 20 sit-ups or something.” LaLanne first got interested in physical fitness as a youth in Oakland.
"I was the weakest-looking kid you ever saw,” he recalled. “At school, the kids took turns beating me up . . . even the girls. I finally dropped out of school because I was so weak.”
A lecture by a physical culturist and nutritionist convinced LaLanne that he had to stop being the weakest kid around.
Since then, LaLanne, who has a flair for publicity to get across his message, is said to have accomplished the following:
—He swam from Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay to Fisherman’s Wharf wearing handcuffs.
—He swam the Golden Gale Channel towing a 2,500-pound cabin cruiser.
—He did 1,033 push-ups in 23 minutes on the old television show, “You Asked For it.”
And the list goes on.
Where will it stop for LaLanne?
“Never,” he told an interviewer. “By the way, what do you do for exercise?
“Here’s an exercise for that soft . . ”

LaLanne’s TV presence switched from basic exercises to infomercials pushing juice machines. He went from being an earnest advice guy to a too-enthusiastic pitchman, far more hyper than necessary to plug something that ground up carrots and cauliflower. Two years after writing Live Forever Young, LaLanne was dead. The title was apt. He was 96.

Though some of his accomplishments were stunts, they’re still impressive. And LaLanne did more in his life than a few swimming-strength feats. One thing you’ll notice watching him on old TV clips, whether he’s orchestrating sit-ups or demonstrating a blender, is he’s never, ever negative. Jack LaLanne had a positive attitude. Good for him! And even if your body will always look like a sack of potatoes, that’s something worth emulating today.


  1. Liked his appearance on " The Addams Family ". I believe it was " Fester goes on a Diet ", or something like that. When Fester tells Jack that he eats eye of newt, aardvark, and other " things ". Jack remarks; " You know, they say, you are what you eat ( Looking up and down at Fester )..Mister...YOU REALLY ARE!!!".

  2. One of his many catchphrases: “I can’t die - it would ruin my reputation “

  3. Sadly, us cartoon fansl'l never look like that...

  4. We LOVED making Jack LaLanne jokes around my house growing up! No matter where we moved, he was as ubiquitous as the Indian head test pattern. However the only exercise show I ever watched regularly was Debbie Drake, and then only when I was a 13 year boy because... well, I was a 13 year old boy.