I was showing off a signed book to someone who was very impressed by it, but had to spoil matters by adding, “Of course, only someone our age would know who that is, these days.” When I was about seven, I would have been flattered to have someone twelve years older than I was include me in her generation, but I have recovered from this.
It did occur to me, though, that a number of books that pass through my hands are by similar celebrities: people who had their day on television, built on this by writing a few books, and then were replaced by further gurus. So here, as a minor service, is a guide to some of the authors you’ll see tucked away among books which have pages turning brown and prices in the lower ranks.
Though you might find books by Richard Hittleman in religion or philosophy, most of the most popular ones are in Health. “Yoga for Health” was the name of his program, which started in 1970 and was revived several times with new episodes. He did not slight the philosophical or religious aspects of yoga—they say he was working on a new translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead when cancer took him—there was plenty of exercise to reassure the wary, and he paved the way for Lilias Foran, whose equally groundbreaking Lilias, Yoga, and You premiered on television in 1972.
Not far from Richard and Lilias in the health section, you are almost certain to find exercise books by Debbie Drake, who premiered in the days of black and white television. Her classic book (out of many) was “Debbie Drake’s Easy Way to a Perfect Figure and Glowing Health”, which came out in 1961, and sold very well, just to judge by the number of copies that come in to the Book Fair. Revised copies are available as new books, and to judge by the pictures that came up during a search online, she has kept that perfect figure, which some critics compare to that of Barbie. Well, whatever got men at home to watch an exercise program.
Speaking of keeping one’s figure, we must not neglect the occasional book that comes in by Jack LaLanne, who was writing health and motivational books in his nineties, who celebrated his seventieth birthday by pulling seventy rowboats behind him while handcuffed and wearing leg shackles, and who continued to go through his workout routine until a day before his death at 96. (Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom he bear in a friendly match when he was 54 and Arnold was 21, called him an animal.) His television program started in 1953 and ran for nearly 35 years. Of the three authors mentioned so far, he is the only one I know of who can sometimes be found in the Cooking section, since we do get the booklet that came with the Jack LaLanne Power Juicer.
Jim Crockett, the original host of Victory Garden on PBS, probably shouldn’t be in this blog, as he had written several gardening books even before he hosted a television show. You see more of his books at the Book Fair than the other authors listed here, even though his name doesn’t show, because he wrote a lot of that Time-Life Encyclopedia of Gardening of which we generally have three and a half sets every year. (Some of the volumes get muddy, you understand.) He died shortly after the TV show went national, but three books, Crocket’’s Victory Garden, Crockett’s Indoor garden, and Crockett’s Flower Garden resulted from it.
The signed book that started this whole inquiry was a first edition of Betty Furness’s Westinghouse Cookbook. Betty Furness was an actress and model from her schooldays on, and was signed to an RKO contract at the age of 16. She can be spotted in Magnificent Obsession and Swing Time. But it was television that carved out a niche for her in American history, as a commercial spokesmodel for Westinghouse. In the wild and crazy forties, she was denounced as a threat to the American family because her role in the commercials involved wearing a blouse cut down to there and leaning way over the product. In the fifties, however, she buttoned up and became an icon of American housekeeping. This did keep her from getting much of anything in the way of acting roles (audiences kept expecting her to go into the kitchen and explain the refrigerator). The late sixties and early seventies found her cast in a new role as a consumer advocate, first for the U.S. government and then for the state of New York. With these new credentials, she moved onto morning television as a regular on the Today Show. Her contract with Today was dropped just after she turned 76, and she was lost to cancer two years after that.
Now, as for those books by Richard Simmons…well, that’s about all the space for this blog. Maybe next time.