I am honored and privileged to have personally known and worked for Jack La Lanne. I went to junior and senior high school with his daughter, Janet. Elaine La Lanne, his wife of 51 years, was in PTA with my mother. I spent many nights at the La Lanne residence and I remember being awakened at 4:30am by the clanging of gym equipment and Jack doing laps in the swimming pool.
Jack had a larger than life personna, especially to a young junior high girl such as myself. I was in awe of him. I wondered what it would be like to have him as a Dad. Jack was strict, but kindhearted. He was tough with his tongue but soft with his grin. He would not allow us to keep candy for Halloween, but we snuck it anyway. I’m sure he knew. After all, we were kids. Janet and I wanted to be actresses. We went to modeling school together. We did plays together. She was fun and smart and pretty.
Jack never wavered from what he believed. No sugar, no sweets. Exercise, exercise, exercise. I have no doubt, even though I did not come into Pilates until much later, that Jack was a big influence on me back then. Elaine was, and still is, beautiful and always thought of others. Jack was always positive, enthusiastic, and hard working. These are attributes I try to follow now. I learned from the best.
After we graduated from high school in 1970, I went to UCLA to study theater and Janet moved to Michigan to join a theater group. One night after class I heard on the news station that Jack La Lanne’s daughter was killed in a car accident in Michigan. She was 21. I was in a state of shock, and immediately rushed to the La Lanne household. There were Jack and Elaine, still trying to remain positive despite their grief. I remember Elaine saying to me, “Tell me funny things about Janet,” as Jack massaged my neck with a force so strong that I was wincing, but didn’t dare ask him to lighten up. Their faith in a higher power helped us all deal with the tragedy. Their faith has always kept them strong, and I admire that to this day.
Jack and Elaine threw a big “party” for Janet as a goodbye and celebration of her short life. That is what she would have wanted. So now I celebrate Jack’s life with reverence and gratitude. He and Janet are now reunited in spirit and I tip my hat to a father/daughter relationship I always admired.
I later discovered Pilates and fell in love with the discipline. I was teaching Pilates privately in clients’ homes throughout L.A. Jack and Elaine were doing a live morning exercise show on KHJ-TV in Hollywood. They asked me to be one of their co-hosts, which I did for about two years. It was a thrill of a lifetime, and an experience never to be replaced. I loved waking up each morning and heading for the studio and learning all the things Jack had to teach. It broadened my horizons as a newbie Pilates instructor. Jack’s enthusiasm was infectious. His discipline: awe inspiring.
Thinking back, I can’t believe I was so fortunate. Jack kept his eye on the business side as Elaine concentrated on the co-hosts and guests. One day, she said to Jack (remember, this was live TV), “Give Risa a plug. She goes to peoples’ homes and works them out.” This was an unusual business back then; no one was going to homes. Jack only knew of his gyms and figured everyone who could exercise should go to his gym. But always willing to help, he looked into the camera and said, “Folks, if you’re confined to your home, if you’re too sick to leave and exercise, call Risa. She has dedicated her life to you.”
I thought, Confined! Oh no! I don’t want confined clients! as I smiled into the camera.
I received calls from all over the country—people writing about their children who where sick and homebound. I wanted to help him all. I then received a call from Reub, a Parkinson patient. I soon began to work with Parkinsons patients and became an expert. I was able to help those who couldn’t leave their homes. Thanks to Jack’s on-air plug, I discovered a whole new area to help those who needed help.
I have many fond memories of a mentor whom I am honored to have known and who inspired me to help others attain heath and fitness and live long happy lives. I only hope to live as long and as well as Jack.