By James Fell, Special to the Los Angeles Times
May 26, 2012
Full disclosure alert! I practically worshiped Jack LaLanne, who invented the modern fitness industry. He died last year at the age of 96.
So, imagine how excited I was to get to speak with the woman who helped make Jack even more Jack. His widow, Elaine LaLanne, played a big role in Jack's fitness empire, and it was truly a delight to speak with this vibrant and entertaining woman.
How did you and Jack start off together?
He was a junk food junkie as a kid, and when we met so was I. We formed a relationship because of his show. I was working at the TV station, and he came over to my desk and gave me trouble for smoking and eating junk food. He didn't do that to everyone, but said, "If I didn't like you, I wouldn't tell you this." He showed me pictures of pink lungs versus black lungs from smoking, and I quit.
I started to change my life, and lo and behold I was looking good and feeling good. I did exercise segments in his show, and I've been in the videos as well.
Six years after we met, we were married. I didn't fall in love with his brawn; I fell in love with his brain. It was a beautiful relationship. He was my friend and my husband. And we just laughed through life. He had a marvelous sense of humor.
Jack's company is called BeFit Enterprises, selling things like exercise books and DVDs. Are you still involved with it?
I'm the president and always have been. Jack never wanted to run it. He just wanted to help people to help themselves. He was a great salesman when he believed in something, but he wouldn't take on anything he didn't believe in. We could have made so much money by putting his name on other things, but he didn't care about making a lot of money.
I know sometimes my wife feels ignored when I leave her to go work out. Did you ever feel this way? Did you do much exercise together?
A lot of his workouts were done while I was asleep. He was a born instructor and would teach me often, but he usually got up at 4 a.m. and would work out for two hours and then be on the air for 9 a.m.
We did do weights together in the gym sometimes, and I would swim with him as well. He didn't run, though. He had a knee injury from football in high school.
How did you feel about some of the feats that he did, like swimming long distances while shackled? Did you ever fear for his life?
Oh, my, yes. I was worried about him. It was tough, and I was worried every time. I always wore this hat every time he did a stunt because it was my lucky hat to keep him safe. Back then, if you were over 40 you were over the hill. When he was 60 he said he wanted to swim from Alcatraz to the mainland with hands and feet shackled and towing a thousand-pound boat. And I said, "You've got to be kidding!"
You couldn't talk him out of these things. When my man wanted to do it, I would say, "OK, I'm with you." I went along with everything, but I still worried.
Do you know what his motivation was for doing those stunts? Was it to show off or to inspire? Or a bit of both? And what about those jumpsuits?
He wanted to show people that just because you're older it doesn't mean that you have to give up. You don't have to become a couch potato. He wanted to prove: "Anything in life is possible, and you can make it happen." That was his line that he used all the time.
Oh, my, the jumpsuits. He didn't start with that on TV. He began with a T-shirt and pants. These jumpsuits were made by the Oakland Pants Factory. It was Jack's idea to have them made. It had to be made out of wool because wool was the only material back then that would stretch. It was before spandex. The outfits became part of his personal brand.
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