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Monday, January 24, 2011

A Jack LaLanne Story . . .

Again, from Mark Evanier's blog:

Jack LaLanne, who pretty much invented the TV exercise show and much of the entire fitness industry, died yesterday at the age of 96. He lived his life as a walking billboard for exercise and nutrition. The above photo was reportedly taken when he was 71 years old and I can believe it. Up until around when he hit 85, he would do some outrageous physical feat every year on his swimming from San Francisco to Alcatraz, towing the entire city of Oakland. Or something like that. I always found him a little annoying but in a good way. He made a darned good living off his industry but I'll bet he also, directly or indirectly, put a lot of extra years on folks' lives. When you hear reports that Americans are living longer...well, that's because most people take better care of themselves. And a lot of them take better care of themselves because of a movement that Jack LaLanne helped popularize.

So I guess I have to tell my Jack LaLanne story. I only have one. It took place about ten years ago at the Musso-Frank Grill, a venerable restaurant up on Hollywood Boulevard that was founded in 1919...when Jack LaLanne was five years old, let's note. One evening, I was dining there with my friend Carolyn Kelly and our pals Marv Wolfman and Paul Dini. We were in one booth, Jack LaLanne and some folks were in the booth next to us and we shared a common waiter.

We were perusing our menus and I think it was Paul who asked the waiter what Mr. LaLanne was having. The waiter replied, "The sanddabs. Mr. LaLanne always comes in on Thursday evenings and has the sanddabs. He just loves our sanddabs."

We were still perusing about two minutes later when Mr. LaLanne and his party got up to leave. Jack would have been around 86 but you could tell he was in good shape. He had on one of those body suits with short sleeves, and then you can't tell where the shirt ends and the pants begin. I think this was the first time I ever realized how short he was...about 5'6", I'd guess.

He paused to slip the waiter a tip, handshake-style, then he turned to us, still sitting there with our menus up. He announced, "Whatever you order, you'll love it. Everything here is great!"

I was sitting on the end, right next to him. Just to make trouble, I said, "Yeah, the waiter told us we should try anything except the sanddabs. The Board of Health just made them stop selling them due to some sort of pollution."

Jack LaLanne did a "take" that would have been considered overacting on The Benny Hill Show. A look of horror struck him...and I think he would have run for the men's room and induced vomiting if he hadn't seen us all laughing and realized he'd been had. And what did he do in response?

He hit me.

I have witnesses. Jack LaLanne swung and punched me right in the shoulder, laughing as he did. It didn't really hurt, although it probably hurt a little more than it would have from any other man his age. I can't say for sure. Apart from this one time, I've never been struck by an 86-year-old bodybuilder.

Anyway, that's the story and the point of it, I guess, is that I'm a smartass and Jack LaLanne was a good sport. I only regret that I didn't get to tell him how much I respected his work and all that he did to make fitness fashionable. But then he probably would have figured I was just complimenting him so he wouldn't keep hitting me.

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