News & Politics

Jack La Lanne: An Honest, Straightforward Salesman

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Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
June 1, 1972, Vol. XVII, No. 22

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By Ken Sobol

“HOW ABOUT A NICE looking chin and neckline?” Jack La Lanne asked me the other morning. “Okay,” I murmured. Unfortunately, our relationship progressed no further because it turned out that I was expected to earn my firm, youthful appearance by following Jack through a series of turns, twists, swivels, bends, and snaps at an hour when lifting my eyelids simultaneously was the height of my physical ambition.

I do appreciate Jack La Lanne, however. In an era of precious peddlers, back to nature sentimentalists and ecology moralizers, Jack La Lanne is an honest, straightforward salesman.

He deals with a tangible, negotiable product — better appearance, the better to entrap, hold, and please a man. He hands out no homilies about inner serenity, reducing the risk of chicken pox, purity of the natural man, or any of the other philosophical justifications for exercise. La Lanne knows that while these byproducts are beneficial, most people, especially his audience of middle-class suburban housewives, can be made to exercise only if it will get them something that they can trade on. Which is as it should be. A little vanity and its accompanying discipline never hurt anyone.

What particularly appeals to me about the “Jack La Lanne Show” is its serious, heartfelt hucksterism. La Lanne moves from knee bends and neck stretches to pitching his mattresses and reducing aids without the slightest break in his pace or enthusiasm. He’s serious about it all. He really wants you to buy his goods, because that’s the way he makes his living. If his viewers don’t spend their money on his physical fitness merchandise, he doesn’t have the option of ditching the line and signing up to push hair cream or FDS. This is what he sells, period. And as a result his exercises have a terrific discipline and drive. They’re really good, solid, well conceived calisthenics. He really wants, he insists, in fact, that the viewer drive herself to look better. Like any good salesman, he knows that once he demonstrates that the basic program he is pitching really does some good, all the ancillary merchandising will take care of itself.

Although generations of culture critics have deplored it, that mingling of commerce and instruction is probably a good thing, at least on television. Maybe, in fact, all sewing, cooking, language, music, and other instructors should be required to own and sell a line of goods in their specialties. That way they would be held responsible for the quality of their instruction by the most powerful of all checks — cash incentive. After all, you know where you stand with a man or woman who is openly doing something for money. And when that sad day comes when people start making uncomplimentary remarks about my chin and neckline, I know where I’ll find a man who really cares about my problem — and that’s something to be grateful for.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]

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