The press release for Jack LaLanne's 95th birthday celebration was
forwarded to me with a colleague's query: "Who here knows who Jack
Answers began arriving quickly.
"I used to watch him on black and white TV before I started going to school," wrote rock guitarist Peter Fletcher. "He was the original Jane Fonda."
"I met him last year in San Luis Obispo!" wrote the artist Tom Knechtel. "He was going around a restaurant,
introducing himself to everyone. (The waiter sighed, 'He does that every
time.') One of the people at our table didn't recognize him and asked who he
was. Jack LaLanne barked: 'I'm Richard Simmons!' Great to be 95 and have a
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sense of humor . . ."
Like Peter Fletcher, I remember watching LaLanne in black and white. Like me, LaLanne had grown up as a Bay Area kid, and his show was on KGO, the local ABC affiliate. To a child he seemed like the opposite of one's parents -- energized, optimistic and always looking on the bright side of things. He looked like Jack Kerouac wearing a uniform from some science fiction movie like Forbidden Planet. Except that Jack Kerouac never made pitches for Roman Meal bread.
As the comments suggest, LaLanne was the first exercise and nutrition guru, paving the way for Fonda and Simmons. To me, a skinny six-year-old, all that exercise looked suspiciously like work and I wanted no part of it. However, I did pester my mother to trade our Kilpatrick's spongy white bread for Roman Meal, because I thought eating the dark grain loaves would be a shortcut to the kind of biceps LaLanne sported.
But LaLanne was all about work and health, and tonight they'll be toasting him for that fact at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. There'll be a cocktail reception, but I somehow doubt LaLanne will be knocking back anything but vegetable juices.