SI Vault
Barbara La Fontaine
November 02, 1964
A Sports Illustrated writer, hoping fitness can be bought with money, goes through the gilded and glorious portal at right that gives its name to an esteemed California beauty resort. Inside for a week, she learns how those who have a few pounds and several hundred dollars to spare get themselves toned up and slimmed down
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November 02, 1964

Girl Behind A Golden Door

A Sports Illustrated writer, hoping fitness can be bought with money, goes through the gilded and glorious portal at right that gives its name to an esteemed California beauty resort. Inside for a week, she learns how those who have a few pounds and several hundred dollars to spare get themselves toned up and slimmed down

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J. P. gave me all this information late in the afternoon while a group of us were taking the short walk, trailing after Helene, trim and respectable in white, the rest of us a mixed bag (why resist an accurate pun?). Peggy Barnard was wearing blue bedroom slippers. Kay Roberts wore sunglasses, a green celluloid eyeshade and a lot of zinc oxide and was wandering off the road to collect grasses and flowers to dry for arrangements back home in Texas. J. P. sported a yellow terry-cloth turban (I forgot to say that they put oil in our hair, and we retreat much of the time to terry-cloth turbans) and had her cigarettes pushed into a fold of her shirt, like an urchin, except that she was smoking them in a long rhinestone holder. "There's less traffic on this road, and you don't feel like such an ass," J. P. said cheerfully, and I thought that the point was probably well taken, though I felt basically too peaceful to care about it.

Tonight we had an immense, gooey thing for dessert, which Harmony made apparently out of artificial everything—artificial sweetening, artificial whipped cream, even something like an artificial Jell-O. It gave one the odd feeling that it was a culinary mirage. It sat there before our very eyes, green and quivery, but something about knowing it contained virtually no nourishment made it seem imaginary. Note: it is a blow to discover that real Jell-O has calories in it.


I haven't said anything about the yoga. Candy Dyer got out of the pool this afternoon saying, "I've got to go get me some of that peace of mind," by which she didn't mean the doves or the Thousand Meditations, she meant the yoga.

We are instructed in yoga by Victor Royal. Victor looks faintly mysterious and improbably fit, as becomes a practitioner of yoga, and his name was originally Tom but he had to change it to Victor "for spiritual reasons." He wears a single earring. Victor, neat in shorts and a fishnet top, faces us, lumpy in our sweat suits, and leads us in the simplest of yoga exercises. We curl and stretch and breathe and fold up and unfold. It is delicious. I suppose "delicious" is a rude word to apply to what could be considered games played with a spiritual discipline, but it is descriptive of the exhilaration and feeling of well-being that do result from the very simple exercises. We listen, docile and serious, to Victor telling us about scraping our tongues with our tongue-scrapers and what exercises to do for fits of bad temper, and for as long as two minutes at a time we contemplate life. Since in 45 minutes a day over a five-day period Victor probably does not count on nudging us much closer to Nirvana, I suspect his main concern is that none of us, in an access of zeal, is going to try to stand on her head and break her neck, or more exotically, as I heard him telling one of the ladies, unleash psychic forces for which we are not sufficiently advanced by practicing certain of the one-nostril breathing exercises. The lady to whom he spoke had spent, years in India. That isn't the kind of trouble the rest of us are capable of.

Only one more day! We're feeling wonderfully well. Kay and Mary Hall are negotiating with their husbands and with The Golden Door to stay another week, and I think they are right. Another week would consolidate the gains. I suspect I know what will happen to me—I will go home giddy with well-being and will rush around eating and talking and drinking water and gain back all that weight. "Easy go, easy come," I warn myself of my weight loss, and I don't know what could be more proof of euphoria than my calling it "easy go." I have worked like a dog.


A solemn moment. They measure us. I have only lost the four pounds, but I am 8� inches smaller; an inch smaller here,� inch smaller there. Kay said at lunch that she had told her husband over the phone that she had lost eight inches and he had said, "What!" dumfounded, thinking for a wild moment that she meant she was eight inches shorter.

They have washed all the oil out of our hair, styled it and set it, and manicured us for the last time, and imported a makeup specialist to show us how to gild the lilies we have become. It was great fun, like playing dress-up, when in the middle of the afternoon she did all those things to us that the fashion magazines always assume so casually that everyone does to herself; impressive things with foundation creams and eye liner and mascara. Many of the ladies here—wives of ranchers and lawyers and such—are no more in the habit of dealing with eye liner and mascara than I, and we sat hypnotized, staring into the mirror, as the blonde model put eye shadow on us. We emerged blinking into the sunlight, practically unrecognizable with our new faces and hairdos, and no doubt we were all very beautiful. But we seemed to be carrying our faces around with a careful self-consciousness, as if they were porcelain vases, and nobody dared to get into the swimming pool, and I suddenly realized that it was all over. It was back to the heels and the stockings again.

I looked at everyone, my doe-eyed self included, and I found that I thought, really, that I preferred us all in our pink suits with our hair scooped back and our faces scrubbed clean with our Golden Door Soap Drops. I'm thinner and healthier, and my skin is clear and it does quite glow, just as they said it would, and I have pink polish on my toenails. I am delighted with myself, and with The Golden Door. But when I looked around the table tonight and considered all of us, nicely dressed and handsomely coiffed and suitably made up, and thought about taking all that up again, in addition to the delight I felt a very real pang, a severe pang, at the loss of our pink sweat suits.

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