- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
It is only now, many years later, that one can understand why in the world this cornball stuff worked: because there was no guile in any of it and it came across that way on the television screen. LaLanne is a consummate pitchman, but he's not complicated, or a cynic. "Oh, Jack," as an old lady once wheezed at a reception for him, "you're the only man in the world that I'd get down on the floor for." What LaLanne was selling was a sort of fundamentalist religion that he devoutly believed in—and still does; he was simply a physical culturist, like Charles Atlas or Vic Tanny, but he had the congregation and they didn't.
All of this went on for 26 years, a run that fixed the show in the national sub-consciousness. It expanded to 140 stations and was accessible at one time to 45% of the population. And then, after a gradual decline, one day in 1977 it all folded.
The show. Not LaLanne.
A dramatic pronouncement, one finger pointed in the air: "Would you believe," he says, "that I was once a sugar junkie?"
In the pause that follows, one feels that one should reel backward and clap a hand to the forehead and say, "Oh, my God, no!"
"Yes, I was," he says. "As a kid, I was stoned out of my mind on sugar. A freak. It made me weak. I had boils, pimples, fallen arches. I was nearsighted. Listen, little girls used to seek me out just to beat up on me."
LaLanne acts out everything—all of his stories, his anecdotes, reminiscences. He does all of the parts. Even his dinner menus—he acts out the broccoli and boneless chicken breast. Now he leaps to his feet, in blue slacks and a crisp monogrammed shirt that's a sort of half-Eisenhower jacket, tightly fitted and tapered to accent the outcropping of chest and shoulders. He starts to pace—a little dance step, turn and pace again. He sketches images in the air with both hands as he talks. And even when he's standing absolutely still—or when he thinks he's standing absolutely still—things move faintly and elusively. His pectorals jump reflexively; he makes constant little adjustments of his shoulders, the sure giveaway sign of an oldtime iron pumper. Often, when he is between declarations, gathering in more air, his hands will stray up and lightly pinch the skin just below his rib cage, as if to make sure that a fold of fat hasn't suddenly appeared there since breakfast.
"I got cured of sugar addiction by the late Dr. Paul Bragg, who was a sort of pioneer nutritionist. I heard him lecture. I'll tell ya, kid, that man was a real spellbinder." LaLanne wheels and imitates Bragg, a thunderous voice: "Obey Nature's laws and you can be born again!" Then he does an impressionable young Jack, sugar-bombed, undergoing a miraculous transformation. He clasps his hands prayerfully under his chin and looks up at the living room ceiling. They don't do this any better at Lourdes. And then, in quick sequence, he does his metamorphosis, building a new life-style based on proper nutrition and exercise. Pimples vanish. Swoooosh. Boils disappear. His blood clears. Perfect vision returns. No more cavities. His disposition turns sunny. He does a little dance step: "Get thee behind me, Twinkies!"
LaLanne has a large repertoire of such admonitory goodies:
•"You love your pets, right? Well, would you get your dog up every morning and give him a cup of coffee and a cigarette?"