What LaLanne knows about making muscle and reducing "saddlebag thighs," Akerberg knows about making profits and reducing inventory. Formerly a vice-president of Macmillan Petroleum Corp., Akerberg left after 30 years' service to form LaLanne Inc. (The House that Health Built), acknowledged Jack as president, and set about letting health build houses from coast to coast. Under his blueprint, the Jack LaLanne show has become accessible to 45% of the U.S. population, and ratings are jumping. In swinging Los Angeles the show pulls almost as many viewers as the six other TV stations combined; in Phoenix the show is rerun one night each week to combat the sedentary influence of Jack Paar. Akerberg is talking now about 100% saturation of the U.S., and expansion into South America, England and Australia, "wherever the family of man can be benefited," he says. "The way things are going, we can almost see Jack as a world power."
In the 18 months the show has had national exposure, LaLanne Inc. has developed a $3 million annual gross from the mail-order and grocery store sale of the products LaLanne pushes on the air. The leading item, at 40,000-odd orders a month, is the Jack LaLanne Glamour Stretcher, an elastic rope. Its exercise function is carefully integrated into the program's daily dozen. Other specialties include vitamins, "delicious" wild-cherry protein wafers, a face lotion "to keep skin glowingly moist," a "high-fashion, silhouette blue exercise suit, ideal, too, for marketing and gardening," and, on the West Coast, a high-protein loaf of bread. A businessman with a shrewd sense of product image, Akerberg also has directed that LaLanne's "Desiccated Liver Tablets" be renamed "Liver, Iron and Vitamin B-12 Tablets," and he has discontinued the manufacture and sale of a rubber-rope face exerciser designed to be clamped in the teeth and vigorously tugged. "We discovered too many of our students wore dentures," he explained blandly, popping a toothsome wild-cherry protein wafer into his mouth.
Because nearly all the LaLanne shows are taped or filmed for re-broadcast, LaLanne normally does a whole week of programs in one day, and the "wonderful, wonderful Tuesday morning" he talks about may be in fact a particularly gloomy, smoggy Friday afternoon. (When LaLanne is test-marketing new additions to his health line, he broadcasts live in Los Angeles, and when he says it's a wonderful Tuesday, it's certain to be Tuesday, at least.) Anyhow, the show is itself an unrehearsed, unscripted concoction as flexible as one of LaLanne's Glamour Stretchers, and in the space of 30 minutes it will range through assorted exercises (which he calls Trimnastics or Funastics), heart-to-heart pep talks, LaLanne-tested recipes, questions and answers and two or three commercials.
Music for muscle building
The exercises, all cheerfully accompanied by organ music played by a man who once set the lugubrious moods for Ma Perkins, may include lateral jaw wagging ("to get rid of that biscuit-dough skin so many of you students have"), finger wriggling ("especially for you Senior Citizens, however decrepit you may think you are"), arm windmilling, leg kicking, stomach stretching and back bending. "You know, students, exercise makes you feel real good all over, doesn't it?" LaLanne may say, picking himself up off the floor, panting ever so slightly. "Do you know why? It's because it makes the blood race through your body and because it massages your internal organs. But now let's get back to the Trimnastics—you, too, Cuddles and Francine, on your feet—and go to work on the old back porch." Commercials, involving such props as children's blocks spelling BUILD BLOOD and guinea pigs, are almost as inspirational themselves ("Guinea pigs fed desiccated liver, the biochemists tell us, can swim in a tank for two hours, but those without desiccated liver may sink in 12 minutes"). While this thought sinks in, Happy, the dog, trots onstage with a note announcing "IT'S GLAMOUR STRETCHER TIME!"
The earnestness and guilelessness of LaLanne's delivery is so compelling that prop men, advertising people and cameramen often find themselves doing leg kicks or arm waves during the program. "Well, the truth is, we've all been brainwashed by the man," says Russ Warner, the show's producer and an unblushing believer. "It's just what happens when you've been around Jack for any length of time." What also happens is that nearly everybody he comes close to loses weight: Akerberg is down 25 pounds since meeting LaLanne, Warner is off 20, and a Hollywood TV announcer whose program follows LaLanne's was wearing his 18-year-old son's trousers one morning last week. "One of the exceptions," Jack says, "is my wife Elaine. When I met her she was a bean pole living on coffee and cigarettes. I rebuilt her to my own specifications—36-24-36—and man alive, just look at her!"
After devoting so much time and energy to the health and fitness of others, LaLanne, it follows, spends an ample amount on his own. A book published by him last spring, ghostwritten companion text to his program, is called The Jack LaLanne Way to Vibrant Good Health. Jack LaLanne's own good health vibrates like the alarm clock that wakes him up every morning at 5.
He is out of bed by 5:05 a.m., not forgetting first to gently stretch his 170-pound, 5-foot-7�-inch frame, and to "arrange my thoughts in an orderly fashion." By 5:30 he is trotting a mile around his neighborhood, the German shepherd gamely trying to keep up. Back at home LaLanne whips the Glamour Stretcher off his bedroom doorknob for a quick workout, winds down the staircase to his study where, under a looming full-length oil portrait of himself, he reads bestsellers and medical journals "to keep up to date." His breakfast, like nearly all his meals ("I never violate my principles of nutrition"), consists of handfuls of Jack LaLanne's pills and tablets washed down with distilled water, fresh fruit, boiled fish or meat.
LaLanne eats meat because he abandoned vegetarianism years ago. His mother, however, still subscribes to the doctrine, painfully calling this family schism "our only nutritional disagreement." LaLanne does not eat bread, although he recommends his own brand "from the bottom of my heart, students." Privately he explains "people are going to eat bread no matter what I do, so I try to give them the best there is—mine—which contains stone-ground flour, brewers' yeast, honey and sea salt."
Later in the morning LaLanne may spend two hours lifting weights at a plush Hollywood gymnasium (other sometime lifters: Gregory Peck, Decathloner C. K. Yang). On alternate days he will torpedo his Cadillac out to the strong man's stronghold, Muscle Beach, where he passes another two hours standing on or hanging by his hands. Afternoons are given over to naps, reading and business matters, such as a recent interview with a Jack Paar talent scout who has tentatively booked LaLanne for an appearance early this year, despite—or maybe because of—the Phoenix situation.