Jack LaLanne has died. I suppose many of us feel some connection to him; here is my story that goes a bit beyond the “Godfather of Fitness” persona and takes us into The Kinsey Institute, but you’ll see that more clearly as we go along.
When I was very little, my mom used to watch Jack LaLanne’s fitness show. She was always into dance aerobics and between LaLanne’s TV show and her local aerobics class, she did a great job of staying active. Like many Americans, this is how I “knew” Jack LaLanne. He educated millions of women and men about fitness and nutrition. He performed feats of strength. Later on, he was into promoting juicing. To me – and to many others – he was the “Godfather of Fitness”.
My eyes opened when I started working at The Kinsey Institute in January 1999. As I became familiar with the Institute’s art collections, one piece that quickly drew my attention featured Jack LaLanne as a young man. Jack LaLanne? At The Kinsey Institute? Yes, although not everyone knows this, Jack LaLanne had posed nude as a young man alongside Jack Thomas. At least one of these images by Russ Warner can be found online [image here courtesy of Big Kugels] and others can be found at The Kinsey Institute, should you decide to visit some time.
The image I’m most familiar with at the Institute is actually a catalog page of images – I want to say there are something like 6 or 9 or so images printed on one page. In each of these, Jack LaLanne and Jack Thomas (I’m pretty sure he’s the other one in the Institute’s print) look as though they are wearing black string bikinis. On closer glance, one can see that they have been painted on. My understanding is that this was fairly common at the time – to have nude art available but, to get around decency or obscenity laws, some places would paint on underwear. That way, if the packages were opened in transit, they would appear not to be nudes. But of course, those buying them could scrape away the paint to see the images in the nude. So it apparently was in the somewhat secret history of Jack LaLanne. I say somewhat secret because some suggest that once Jack LaLanne became famous, he tried to keep the photos from getting out (understandable as nude photos have sunk many careers, unfortunately). However, I think the images are beautiful and something to be proud of. He worked hard to cultivate a stunning physique – and he was also clearly a man who was dedicated to spreading information about health and wellness to the masses. RIP Jack LaLanne.
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