Today: How Jack LaLanne’s life was dramatically changed at a woman’s club meeting.
Jack LaLanne, the father of modern fitness was a dynamo. Just 5 feet, 6 inches tall and only 150 pounds, he was a showman. But when at 40 some people thought he was “over the hill” he began putting on amazing demonstrations of physical fitness.
At 40, he braved the powerful and icy currents of the San Francisco Bay and swam from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Wharf handcuffed. Those icy currents are so strong, it was then widely considered impossible for prisoners to escape from Alcatraz and swim to San Francisco.
And he kept raising the bar. Over the next 20 years, he repeatedly made variations of that swim pulling a 2,500-pound cabin cruiser or tugging a paddleboard 30 miles to San Francisco from the Farallon Islands.
At the age of 60, Jack made it tougher by not only being handcuffed but shackled as he towed a 1,000 pound boat from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Wharf. At 70, he was handcuffed and shackled and he towed 70 boats totaling 70 people across the Long Beach Harbor to the Queen Mary
All this, among Jack’s many feats of strength were to show his amazing physical fitness and to attract the media, which helped him spread the gospel of physical fitness.
Francois Henri “Jack” LaLanne was born to French immigrants in San Francisco on September 26th, 1914. His father worked for the telephone company and was a dance instructor on the side. His mother was a maid.
But in a bold quest for financial independence, his parents moved 300 miles south and became sheep ranchers in Bakersfield. Unfortunately, when the sheep got hoof and mouth disease and died, the family lost most of their savings and humbly moved to Oakland, back in the Bay Area. Jack’s dad died of a heart attack at the age of 50.
Meanwhile, Jack became a troubled young man. His grades in school were rotten and he had no self-confidence and was withdrawn, angry and depressed. And he had acne and boils, poor eye sight and often had headaches and an upset stomach.
Being weak, small and skinny, Jack was an easy target for bullies and his life at times seemed so hopeless, he even considered suicide.
Jack’s mother was desperate to help him and when he was 15, she took him to a woman’s club meeting to hear renowned nutritionist Paul Bragg. They arrived late and because there was no more seating, they turned to leave.
Paul saw them and called out inviting them to stay and had two seats set up on the stage near him.
During Paul’s presentation, he looked at Jack and seeing he was in poor condition, asked what he’d eaten that day. Embarrassed, Jack replied he’d eaten junk food. “He said, ‘Jack, you are a walking garbage can,’ ” Jack later recalled.
Afterward, Paul met privately with Jack to try to help him. Paul told him he could be everything he wished for: muscular, attractive, a good student and popular with the girls if only he would change his thinking to be more positive, eat properly and exercise.
It was like a bolt of lightning. Suddenly Jack had the answers to his problems and he was deeply moved.
Never again did he eat junk food. And he began to exercise, learning everything he could about fitness. Soon he was muscular and bursting with positive energy. His headaches and depression disappeared, his skin cleared and he became very popular.
“I became a whole new human being,” he later said.
In 1936, 22 year old Jack opened a health club in an old downtown Oakland building. But at first business was slow. This was long before most athletes worked out with weights. So Jack went to the local high school and with parental permission offered to get the fattest and skinniest kids into top shape, which he did. Business soon boomed.
But it was the television age that caused Jack’s career to take off. In 1951, he saw television’s potential and bought time on a local station, but early morning was all he could afford. Realizing children were a big part of his audience, he brought in a white German shepherd named “Happy” and he and Happy entertained them.
But Jack also did exercises and with his big smile, cheery voice, bulging biceps and trim waste, he urged the kids to go get mommy. Soon he had mommies, grandmas and everyone else in the house exercising at least a little, along with him for he made it simple, easy and fun.
By 1959, Jack’s show was broadcast nationwide and remained so until 1986, a 27 year run, which very few TV shows ever attain. And he opened health clubs coast to coast, became a popular guest on other shows, a top selling author and a marketer of a wide range of products.
But whatever he got involved in, it was with the enthusiasm of a devout believer. One case was with a tough television talent booker. Her name was Elaine and she was a divorcee and a single mother, raising a son. She was also a heavy smoker, loved donuts and had the body to prove it.
At first she saw Jack as a blow-hard. But he was attracted to her and his enthusiasm and charm eventually won her over. And over time he convinced her to stop smoking, to eat properly and to exercise.
He and Elaine, who he called “LaLa” got married in 1959 and stayed married for the rest of Jack’s life. And he never slowed down, as he and Elaine even hosted a PBS Special on healthy living in 2010, when Jack was 95.
But on January 23rd, 2011 Jack died from pneumonia in his Morro Bay, CA home. He is survived by Elaine, his wife of 51 years, her son Dan Doyle of Los Angeles, his daughter Yvonne from a prior marriage, a Walnut Creek, CA chiropractor and Jon, the couple’s son, of Kauai, Hawaii.
But Jack is also survived by the many millions of people all over the world who were moved by his enthusiastic encouragement to eat better and exercise and who welcomed his reassurance they too could succeed.
Success Tip of the Week:
If ever you doubt the power of enthusiasm watch one of Jack’s old TV shows. Then try it for yourself. Smile broadly, look people in the eye and put joy in your voice and energy in your body. Be sincere and add a touch of love from your heart and you will be amazed at how popular and persuasive you become.
In the next KazanToday:
A remarkable role an actress waited a lifetime for.