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Jack McCallum
December 03, 1984
Getting into the fitness business, that is. It's a robust industry with sales that are far from flabby
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December 03, 1984

Everybody's Doin' It

Getting into the fitness business, that is. It's a robust industry with sales that are far from flabby

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The Body Principal which in 1983 replaced Fonda's book as No. 1 on The New York Times bestseller list, claims to be a "revolutionary, easy program of isometric exercises." But it proves to be neither revolutionary nor terribly isometric; of the 12 exercises in the book, only three, according to experts, could be considered isometric. The photos of Victoria are great, however.

"Well, no book is perfect," said Simon & Schuster's Green, whose celebrity/fitness deluge continues this year with a book by John Travolta. Green is irritated by the criticism the medical experts aim at the celebrity books. He feels it's based on jealousy and on the fact that doctors' books are, by and large, not selling well. He says books like Principal's "show how to fit exercise into regular life. The message is you can be feminine and beautiful." Gee, wasn't that the recurring theme in the novels of Virginia Woolf?

Medical professionals aren't the only ones who see red when they read the name Jane Fonda. The question of the true origin of Fonda's workout program has engendered a tempest in the aerobics world. The most commonly heard allegation is that Fonda, as well as Richard ("Merv, you look fab-u-lous!") Simmons, lifted most of their routines from Gilda Marx, a well-known dance and exercise advocate in California. Fonda took Marx's classes to get in shape for the movie California Suite—her role required her to wear a bikini—and a year later she opened her own salon, hiring Marx's top instructor, a woman named Leni Cazden. Marx, who's nearly 50 but like most other fitness queens looks at least 10 years younger, hasn't raised a lot of fuss. After all, as vice-president and co-owner—with her husband Robert—of Flexatard, the marketer of the No. 2-selling bodywear line in the world, and the owner of 12 Body Design By Gilda salons, and with her name on a book and, in the spring, a video, she's not exactly struggling.

Fonda declined to be interviewed for this article. A spokesman, Stephen Rivers, said, "There isn't time for her to talk. She's just not doing interviews now, she's too busy." Rivers did allow that she was doing interviews for "specific projects that she's promoting." In her first book, however, Fonda does talk about the source of her exercises and admits, "I did not invent them." She credits a "remarkable woman named Leni Cazden." Nowhere does she mention Marx.

Some of this could be written off as mere Beverly Hills bitchiness, except that Fonda's reputation as an exercise interloper is nationwide. She was once a devoted student of Mike O'Shea, the highly respected founder of the Sports Training Institute in Manhattan, so devoted that two years ago she tape-recorded interviews with many of his STI instructors on their exercise ideas. It's a standing joke around STI to ask O'Shea if he's gotten his royalty check from Fonda yet.

The final word on the Fonda fray belongs to Jacki Sorensen, who is widely considered to be the originator of aerobic dancing. Rather reluctantly, and with a smile, she says, "Well, just when I thought we were making a dent and the public was becoming more aware [of fitness], the big boom came along. The Jane Fonda book. Now, I like to say something positive about everyone, but three to five minutes is just not enough for an aerobic program. And that's all there was in Jane's first tape. Because of that tape, people felt if you jumped up and down for three to five minutes, it was aerobic exercise. If she comes into this field, I feel she has a responsibility. I feel, in many respects, she has let us down." In fairness to Fonda, it should be noted that her "new and improved" workout tape, including a longer aerobic segment, will be on sale next spring.

Nude Exercise Interlude III: Horton called back with the news that it wasn't in Santa Monica, but rather in Home Entertainment Magazine that she saw a mention of the New York Dancer's Group Nude Exercise Program. Home Entertainment sounded like a publication that would carry stories about canasta parties, but, hey, this is the '80s, and nude group exercise is, after all, home entertainment. Judith Morrison, editor at HE, said she had seen a press release on the video but would have to check her files and call us back.


Several years ago the fitness industry was wide open, ready and available for all sorts of pulpiteers to bounce in and seize it by the throat. What was needed was a nimble mind or a nimble body or both, a good idea, a lot of pizzazz and a strong sense of self to help communicate a fitness fervor. Fonda had—and has—all those things. Other kings and queens of pain also are strong in the evangelism category. La Lanne, Simmons, Steinfeld, Smith, Choudhury all speak dithyrambically about what they can do for you. And consider the first sentence in the fitness book written by Irving Dardik and Denis Waitley, the former the chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee's Sports Medicine Council: "Prepare yourself. You are about to make a quantum leap to personal excellence." Their book is entitled Breakthrough to Excellence: Quantum Fitness. At times it reads like a guide into another dimension.

The fervor is sometimes just good technique; after all, exercising is not easy and may require a self-described "ass kicker" like Steinfeld or a relentless get-after-it nagger like Fonda. In other cases the evangelism is the result of an "I found it" conversion, similar, perhaps, to Saint Paul's experience along the road to Damascus. Simmons, for one, loves to talk about his days as a 268-pound fat man and his discovery of the magic elixir of exercise; one of his nicknames is The Weight Saint.

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