Jack LaLanne Phone
Interview with Ron Jones
I became interested in
Jack LaLanne a few years ago when I got serious about health and fitness.
I can remember seeing the Jack LaLanne Show on TV when I was quite young
and recall many people talking about him over the years.
Last year I started collecting Jack LaLanne memorabilia on e-Bay
and purchasing his videos and T-shirts from his website plus a few personally
autographed LaLanne photos.
When I started
organizing ideas for my graduate thesis project at CSU, Northridge in
Exercise/Sport Psychology, I again thought about Jack LaLanne. Interestingly, about the same time I was getting these
thoughts together, I picked up a copy of LA Magazine/January 2002 while down in
LA earlier this year. On the cover,
they highlighted an article on “Jack LaLanne and the Pioneers of Fitness.”
I tore into that article like Lance Armstrong eating a banana!
I learned from this article that LaLanne was more than just the TV
show—he was truly the King of American Fitness.
LaLanne started the American fitness craze back in the 1930s down on
SoCal’s Muscle Beach in Santa Monica and up in Oakland where he established his
first gym. Hmmm…LaLanne was a guy
I HAD TO speak with for my project!
I started working on the
LaLanne interview and contacts around February of 2002.
I finally got my chance on June 19th after a few scheduling
complications. At 87, LaLanne is
still busy speaking all over the country. I
called the private number and asked for “Mr. LaLanne” (trying to respect my
elders of course). The man said,
“Mr. LaLanne isn’t here today.” I
was crushed. Finally an interview
and no Jack LaLanne! Then “the
man” said, “but Jack took his place.”
One thing about Jack—he likes good jokes and likes to keep things
I’m glad I was sitting
down because LaLanne launched full bore into the heart of health and fitness.
I have been around a lot of dedicated health and fitness people in my
day—but none as passionate as Jack LaLanne.
He truly is the King of American Fitness.
I had a number of very important questions I wanted to ask LaLanne. Because this interview is being used for my graduate project,
I had put careful thought into what I felt were the important issues in terms of
exercise psychology and what the most important issues were for American health
and fitness today. He talked so
hard and fast that I only got to ask one of my questions—but he answered all
the others perfectly in the course of our conversation!
It was like he read my mind. I
was definitely the student, and he was the master during this interview.
Forty minutes with LaLanne took about forty years off my life—what an
The following sections
are highlights from my interview with LaLanne on June 19th.
I’ve broken the key points into sections for easier reading.
LaLanne’s Childhood in Bakersfield
I had been told LaLanne had ties to Bakersfield and
actually lived here—and it’s true. He
lived in the Greenfield area just south of Bakersfield during the depression
era. LaLanne’s family had come
from the Bay area of Oakland to start a sheep ranching business.
They lived in an old Catholic church in Greenfield.
LaLanne remembers riding a horse (named “Nelly”) and buggy ten miles
into Bakersfield. He went to the
Greenfield Schoolhouse that had grades 1-8.
His brother graduated from Bakersfield High School.
The LaLanne’s sheep business went bankrupt when the herd got hoof and
mouth disease, so they moved back to the Bay area.
He joked about their herders taking the paychecks and going to the
Woolgrowers Basque Restaurant in Bakersfield.
LaLanne still likes to go to Woolgrower’s if he’s in Bakersfield
during the summer (although it’s to witness the stunning display of overeating
by overweight people!).
The Jack LaLanne TV Show
LaLanne is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the
longest running individual TV show, so he must have done something right!
I wanted to know how he got so many people exercising for so many years
at home. Here’s the secrets of
his success…LaLanne said, “You have to tell the truth and entertain people.
Without humor, you’re dead.” These
two actions made his show successful.
He emphasized the “here and now” on the show and still
does today. Why? Because LaLanne says no one really knows about what happens
after we die. Sure we all speculate
about the afterlife, God, heaven, etc. but no one has actually been there.
LaLanne gives God a lot of credit—but he doesn’t use God for an
excuse. The “here and now”
philosophy got people moving today instead of procrastinating or waiting for
divine intervention to reduce their fat and improve their health and fitness.
LaLanne enjoyed talking about “Happy” the dog.
Happy was a marketing tool to get the kids’ attention in the mornings
during his show. When the show
started, LaLanne didn’t have much money and could only afford to buy early
morning airtime. He said the only
ones watching that early were the children—not really the adults.
That’s funny because as I studied his shows the last year or so I
always thought he was joking with the adults when he said, “Good morning boys
and girls” but he was serious! He
thought if he used Happy and taught Happy some good tricks the kids would be
more interested. If the kids were interested, then LaLanne could get their
attention and tell them to go and get their parents to the TV so the whole
family could exercise. Guess what?
It worked! Happy was
a huge success with the children and LaLanne got reports from all over
about kids throwing a fit until their parents went over to the TV to see what
Jack LaLanne wanted—how hilarious but also simplistically brilliant.
LaLanne likes to keep it simple and straightforward.
The Jack LaLanne Show was just that—simple, basic, user-friendly
exercise at home.
The show and LaLanne got incredible criticism.
LaLanne was labeled as a “zealot and crack pot.”
LaLanne said if he hadn’t have been beaten down so much he’d be
6’4”! (He’s 5’4”). Specifically, LaLanne was criticized because he got women and
people with disabilities to do strength work—what nerve! Now strength training
is recommended for just about everyone—but LaLanne was getting people to do it
back in the 1930s!
Another key point in the show’s success was that he got
“up close and personal” with the viewers.
He would literally ask people to come in close to the screen.
He wanted them to feel like he was talking to them personally—and they
believed him. LaLanne’s personal
approach broke down barriers and exercise anxiety.
People relaxed, had fun, and got moving just like LaLanne wanted them to
do. Again…simple, straight forward, and very effective.
Every show also had a “Tip of the Day” and he always
had a good joke and hook to bring them back for the next show.
The Jack LaLanne Shows were fun, entertaining, and good for thousands of
people for over 30 years…nothing wrong with that!
LaLanne Reflections & Brief Comments
LaLanne’s Recommendations for Today’s Fitness Professionals
LaLanne could not stress enough the importance of today’s
health and fitness professionals to “tell the truth and tell people what they
need to hear.” He believes in
nothing short of honesty. He said,
“I don’t pull punches in my presentations…I tell ‘em what they need to
hear. If they look half dead—I
tell them! I’ll get them
laughing, cheering, and crying all in the same presentation—anything to wake
them up!” LaLanne feels it is of
critical importance for health and fitness people to “practice what you
preach!” He urged them to live
the lifestyle of health if they are going to call themselves “health
We also need to increase the exposure of health and fitness according to LaLanne with better promotional marketing. He urged health and fitness professionals to draw attention to the profession by doing something to get media and community attention. This was the motive for LaLanne’s numerous feats of athletic accomplishments over the years. Whether doing over a thousand push-ups on live TV or pulling a barge with his teeth in the San Francisco Bay, LaLanne’s motivation was always the same—to bring positive attention to the profession of health and fitness so more people could hear the message he was communicating.
LaLanne’s Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
On Thursday, September, 26th @ 11:00 AM, Jack LaLanne will receive his own Hollywood Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Fitness legends like Arnold Schwarzenegger are supposed to attend and LaLanne’s former client Clint Eastwood.
11-14-02 Update: See my Slide Show from the La Lanne Hollywood Star Event
Cool Jack LaLanne
Quotes from My Interview
Summary: My interview with Jack LaLanne was an incredible experience—and one of the most important ones of my professional career. I learned more from talking to LaLanne than any forty minutes in a textbook could ever teach me about the “real world” of health and fitness. LaLanne’s message is simple and valid: Get moving and eat better for optimal health and optimal quality of life. So what are you waiting for?!