The breakfast dishes are stacked in the sink, the beds are unmade, and the floors have not been swept. With their husbands' off-to-work kisses scarcely dry on their lips, legions of American women—fat women, thin women, robust women and pooped-out women—hover expectantly by their TV sets, dressed in slacks, slips, kimonos and make-do gym suits. On the screen a spectral, back-lighted figure is flapping like an eagle and hopping like a frog to the buck-and-wing beat of De Camptown Races. As the organ music fades and the lights come up, a tousle-haired, muscle-laden, consciously seductive man in middle age steps across a Hollywood stage and projects himself—almost bodily—into the home of the beholder, his arms outstretched as if to embrace her. "Good morning, students, and what a wonderful, wonderful Tuesday morning this is," he burbles, a wonderful, wonderful smile on his face, a white German shepherd named Happy at his heels.
In Salt Lake City, Dallas, New York, Los Angeles and 14 other major U.S. cities, the women, their household cares suddenly evaporating, smile right back because the man in the skin-hugging jumper and black ballet slippers has promised to create for them "a new and lovelier you, looking the way the Lord intended you to look, feeling the way He meant you to feel." The man's name is Jack LaLanne (pronounced LaLane) and his recipe for renascence is a 30-minute daily dose of calisthenics, nutrition, dog tricks, palsied jokes and uplifting palaver, all pasted together with a batter of elbow grease and whole-wheat flour. The only ingredient missing is cynicism. Not only does Jack LaLanne devoutly believe in himself, what he is doing and his "duty" to do it, but day in and day out—so his TV audience samplers tell him—he is being scrutinized, idolized and emulated by some 2� million American females. Moreover, as no one needs tell him, he is harvesting $1,000 every week in the process.
Jack LaLanne, off the TV screen as on it, is a jovial, effusive, uncomplicated man but at the same time an unrelenting fist-in-palm exponent of good health and all-round well-being. Admitting to his rather abnormal preoccupation with physical fitness and nutrition, he characterizes himself as the " Billy Graham of the Here and Now" and views physical laxity as sinful. He is here and now trying to effect the conversion of all womankind ("The woman is the center of the family," he explains), and in this respect he is more like an athletic Moses leading women out of the waistland while finding along the way a promised land for himself.
Calling himself a "frugal" spender, LaLanne lives with his wife and their three children in a $150,000 home in the well-to-do Hollywood Hills, owns two more $35,000 houses in Palm Springs, Calif. and drapes his V-shaped (48-28-35) torso with $200 tailor-made suits, which, for some reason, are equipped with padded shoulders. He also owns a $6,000 boat "just to pull my water skis, mostly," and barrels around Los Angeles, giving the passing girls a semiprofessional once-over, in a 1961 Cadillac convertible. "A man doesn't necessarily need all this," he says, "except in Hollywood. Otherwise they take you for a nobody and a quack."
Everybody needs a somebody
Whether or not LaLanne is now a somebody (it seems certain he is no quack) is presumably for Hollywood to declare, but there was a time when Jack LaLanne was not worth his weight in dumbbells. Born of French immigrant parents in San Francisco "more than 40 years ago" ("Forty-five years ago exactly," says his matter-of-fact, 77-year-old mother), LaLanne entered adolescence shackled by a catalog of physical malfunctions. "At 15 I knew the tortures of the damned," he likes to say dramatically today. "I had boils, pimples, flat feet, bad eyes, bony arms and legs and my over-all disposition was rotten to the core. I lived on sugar. I was a sugarholic. But in a way, I'm thankful. It was these very liabilities that got me straightened out."
His body's deficiencies prepared his mind for salvation, but it remained for a health lecturer to reveal the way. "He said, 'If you obey nature's laws you can be reborn,' " LaLanne vividly remembers. Within eight weeks, after swearing off sugar, taking up exercises and vegetarianism, and giving nature her head, LaLanne says, "I was reborn. I went back to school, made friends all over the place and I went out for every single sport that the school had." A fellow student recalls: "You might say he seemed a little odd-ball on his health kick."
LaLanne's mother succumbed to the laws of nature too, and today, despite her age, still works a 15-hour day on her 17-acre ranch in Santa Rosa, Calif., pruning and cultivating her fruit and nut orchard, sawing wood and milking her cow, Betty. His father, on the other hand, refused to be proselyted by his wife and son and in consequence, says LaLanne, he "died in the prime of his life."
This placed the burden of family finance on Jack's already muscular shoulders. He opened a gymnasium when he was 19, expanded as business grew and studied physiology, anatomy, biochemistry and acrobatics in his spare time. A calisthenics instructor in the Navy (after serving first in the South Pacific), LaLanne carried his rehabilitation message to the women of San Francisco when he went on television nine years ago. "My first shows were much like the ones today," he says, "and then as now I never said I had any magic cure-all. I told my listeners I was only like the doctor's helper. I didn't even say they shouldn't smoke [ LaLanne doesn't] or drink [he does] because as soon as you do, they'll turn you off. Goodby, exercise, goodby, nutrition."
On these relaxed terms, the show caught on and to keep it going LaLanne began to peddle a line of pills and exercise paraphernalia of his own formulation and design. Two years ago he muscled in on Los Angeles ("This city is a swinging town") and there met Henry C. Akerberg. "Hank Akerberg's the greatest there is," says LaLanne. And well he might.