Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Jack Lalanne and "The Nature Boys"

Fitness Guru Jack Lalanne died this week at age 96, a life lived well.
It's a familiar story; Jack was a young sickly kid, always had sugar headaches and didn't "fit in".
Lalanne began to turn his life around when he attended a lecture on eating healthy food, and he soon quit sugar, white flower and ate mostly vegetarian. He said he would never eat anything that came out of a cow, but occasionally had wild fish or egg whites. Primal diet and Meatatarians take notice.
Lalanne opened his first health club in 1936, and never missed a daily workout since 1930. I wish I were half that dedicated.
While Lalanne went on to commercial success as a television fitness star (I remember him since I was five years-old) there was another California-based health movement that took a very different track.
"The Nature Boys" from "hippy.com"

"Seven of California's "Nature Boys" in Topanga Canyon, August 1948. They were the first generation of americans to adopt the "naturmensch" philosophy and image, living in the mountains and sleeping in caves and trees, sometimes as many as 15 of them at a time. All had visited and some were employed at "The Eutropheon" where John Richter gave his inspiring lectures about raw foods and natural living. The boys would sometimes travel up the California coast some 500 miles just to pick and eat some fresh figs. (Back row: Gypsy Boots, Bob Wallace, Emile Zimmerman. Front row: Fred Bushnoff, eden ahbez, Buddy Rose, ?) - (Photo courtesy of Gypsy Boots.)"
"Some of the young employees of the Eutropheon were Americans who had adopted the German Naturmensch and Lebensreform image and philosophy, wearing their hair and beards long and feeding exclusively on raw fruits and vegetables. The "Nature Boys" came from all over America but usually ended up in southern California. Some of the familiar ones were Gypsy Jean, eden ahbez, Maximilian Sikinger, Bob Wallace, Emile Zimmerman, Gypsy Boots, Buddy Rose, Fred Bushnoff and Conrad. This was decades before the Beats or Hippies and their influence was very substantial. In "On The Road" Kerouac noted that while passing through Los Angeles in the summer of 1947 he saw "an occasional Nature Boy saint in beard and sandals".

Lalanne is known for his heroic feats, such as towing 70 rowboats while swimming handcuffed - at age 70. He probably single-handedly got a million bored housewives off their couches and into shape with his TV show.
But Lalanne was a conventional figure, with mass appeal to American middle-class values.
On the other hand, "The Nature Boys" represented something different; rejecting conventional society. They were free souls before the "Beat" generation, before the word "Hippie" had been hallucinated.
While Lalanne was mainstream, the Nature Boys were counter-culture.
Neither genre ever went away, they merely became very different versions of a similar health movement.
If Lalanne was a hero, "The Nature Boys" were anti-heroes.


stazza said...

So eden ahbez named that song after these guys?

Dojo Rat said...

Yes, go to the link (highlited) for the full story...

Sean C. Ledig said...

I wouldn't say LaLanne was mainstream, at least not in the early days.

Remember when he was starting out, smoking was considered a healthy activity and non-smokers were the "kooks".

In his early days, LaLanne had to compete with so many old wives' tales, such as: exercise would make people musclebound; your muscles would get too big and you wouldn't be able to move; exercise will kill your sex drive; exercise would make you stupid; too much exercise will make it hard for women to give birth; muscle will turn to fat if you don't keep exercising; weightlifters are all homosexuals; exercise and sports turns women into lesbians.

There were many more. Most of those examples I've heard from Jack LaLanne himself in several interviews.

To me, Jack LaLanne is a hero not because he was mainstream, but because he made physical fitness mainstream.

Dojo Rat said...

Well, I see your point Sean.
But to make it into TV in the 60's, you had to be pretty acceptable to middle America.
Now, "The Nature Boys" on the other hand, definately NOT mainstream. But That ushered in naturopathic medicine, meditation and the like.
You are right about all the Myths, especially regarding exercise and womens pregnancy, etc...