Unashamed is a Yahoo Life series where people get the chance to share how they live their best lives – out loud and in color, without fear or regret – as they look back on the past with a smile and embrace the future with excited anticipation.
Elaine LaLanne says her life can be divided into two acts: before Jack and after Jack.
Jack is of course Jack LaLanneher late husband whose television program The Jack LaLanne Show (1951 to 1985) helped redefine the American approach to health, fitness and nutrition.
In addition to popularizing what are now known as jumping jacks and opening the nation’s first modern health club in Oakland, California, in 1936, Jack was also the inventor of many gym staples — including the world’s first leg extension machine, weight selector machine, and cable/pulley machines — as well as the first nutrition bars and “instant breakfast.”
Through it all, Elaine was his silent business partner – and before that his wife for 51 years Jack died in 2011 at the age of 96. Their illustrious careers have earned them the titles of “Godfather” and “First Lady” of fitness.
“My life is an open book,” Elaine, 96, tells Yahoo Life in a video interview from her home office, where stacks of Jack’s old photos and diary entries tower over her desk. “Research,” she says, she’s collecting for a forthcoming book about her late husband’s early televised life.
Reading his old diary entries was cathartic, says Elaine, and in many ways reminded her of why she fell in love with him in the first place.
“I was inspired again,” she explains. “If you knew Jack you couldn’t be around him and not be inspired. He was funny. He was small [spoken]. And was looking forward to it. I used to say, “I want to get all that stuff out in that brain.” All my books I’ve ever written – I’ve written seven – guess who I went to? I asked him about this. I’d ask him about that. I learned so much from him. But he also learned a lot from me.”
The Jack LaLane Show was a local, daily exercise program in San Francisco when it debuted in 1951. It eventually grew into national syndication and ran for more than 30 years, during which time the couple — along with their dogs, Happy and Lucky — challenged viewers to think differently about their eating habits.
When it first aired, most critics labeled the duo as “crazy health freaks,” according to Elaine.
“This was all new stuff,” she explains of the food education Jack gave viewers, especially about refined sugars (it’s not That big for you), butter (same theory) and the idea of eating natural ingredients. While these ideas are pretty prevalent today, it was a hard lesson for American viewers to swallow at the time, as most household diets consisted of “mashed potatoes and gravy” and “butter plastered on everything,” she says.
“That’s exactly what we ate in those days,” Elaine notes of the American diet in the late 1930s and 1940s. “A lot of people poked him in the papers, you know, he was a freak on television.” But he had something in his way and more and more people wanted to listen.
“I remember saying, ‘This makes a lot of sense,'” she notes of his post. “He could say it in a simple way. Look, Jack was a very simple person. He wanted to make everything simple. He wanted to make practice simple. He didn’t want to complicate it. That’s just the way he was.”
“It’s amazing what Jack could do,” adds Elaine, who worked in television before meeting her husband. station asked for it.
“They’d say, ‘Give us a 10-second pitch to the station.’ Whatever the station, Cincinnati or New York or whatever, they always wanted him to do a commercial because he already knew it in his head.
As his partner in life and business, Elaine helped fulfill many of his artistic visions, which earlier this month presented her and her late husband (and Dr. Kenneth Cooper, who started the aerobics fitness movement) with the 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award from the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.
But while their success was in many ways a collaborative effort, Elaine says she never minded being second fiddle to her affable husband.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I haven’t been one to need awards. All I want to do is help people,” she says, noting that “helping people help themselves” was a shared mission.
Today, Elaine continues Jack’s mission and uses her own experience to speak about health, wellness and longevity. She states it boils down to one basic principle: “Keep it simple.”
“Jack was once asked about sports: ‘Do you really like sports, Jack?’ He said, “Well, I don’t know, but I like the results,” she says. you get the results. And you’re going to live longer, I think, because I’m almost 97 here now. I know very well that if I hadn’t taken an interest in my body, I’d be six feet under the ground. It is as he says, “It is God’s living temple.” You don’t treat your car the way you treat your body, do you? You don’t put water in your gas tank.’
“I just try to do the best I can with the equipment I have,” she adds. “Jack was a great motivator. He talked about how to stay motivated, dare to dream and overcome obstacles, how your attitude counts in your life and how it changes your life.”
Elaine continues, “The ghost is a ghost. It’s full of diamonds and all you have to do is dig them up.”
Wellness, parenting, body image and more: meet the Who behind the how with the Yahoo Life newsletter. Register here.