Jumpin’ Jack


My first memories of Jack LaLanne were from my parent’s small living room and black & white Phillips television set. I sat on the braided rug watching this man dressed in a tight-fitting jumpsuit, bulging with muscles and kicking way up in the air with his….soft slippers.

He did so with the help of a big furry white dog named Happy and a rolling soundtrack of a Hammond organ.

Jack LaLanne did not look like my dad, who was the model of all men, of course, and I’d stack my father’s manly pair of brown wingtips shoes against this smiling, rock-hard Popeye guy in slippers any day.

That was probably a few years into  his broadcast career as a fitness professional. I was a kid living in the post-boomer years of all that was red meat, cigarettes, big cars and bomb shelters. My life was a decent blend of Beaver Cleaver meets Mad Men and then here comes this guy telling us that we can be healthy!

We weren’t?

I wouldn’t encounter a blender until I was a teenager, we obeyed the colorful food chart from school and we played outdoors until supper time.

No one jogged or ran. If we saw a neighbor running down the street, we assumed there was an angry dog not far behind.

To run and jump in one place looked quite silly. And organ music with no roller skates?


Unlike today, LaLanne’s message was uplifting and non-judgmental. His personal story was a child who suffered from an over indulgent life of sugar and junk food. Even though his was born in 1904, his French-immigrant parents found their way to bad eating habits in San Francisco and it cost young Jack physically and emotionally, He stated in an interview, “I was a miserable goddamn kid…it was like hell.”

Contemporary fitness gurus have their work cut out for them. Unlike LaLanne who was encouraging people to grow into fitness, the biz has changed and now we find ourselves needing to be rescued as a nation.

Put the fork down.

Only in America? Possibly. Millions of dollars are spent prying our vital children and adults from the flabby jaws of obesity. My personal problem with such freak shows as The Biggest Loser, parading years of cheeseburgers and beer out in front of a size 4 actress to be put through grueling paces, in their underwear, with a militaristic trainer seems beyond humane.

Since it falls under the guise of “entertainment’ and “self discovery” we enjoy the abuse from our armchairs. Well, the royal “we.”

Body builders should be confidence builders. Jack was! His message was also ahead of its time–well-being, spirit, mind and body work.

His silhouette doing the jumping jacks in the beginning of each show had me rising to my feet and joining him in front of the T.V.
Thankfully, fashion has changed in the world of active wear and the polyester and slippers have been replaced by cotton and sneakers. And a few other new man-made fibers that I can’t fit into spell check.

So, at least our clothes are breathing well, even if our lungs are not.

I was a little sad to think that he did not reach the century mark. I thought he would be hawking juicers, pulling boats with his teeth and leading us with that manly, ageless chest forever.

I know that Willard Scott had a jar of strawberry Smuckers set aside for LaLanne but it will have to go on someone else’s toast.