I can think of more pleasurable ways of spending my time than punishing through yet another series of Pilates teasers. I may even be tempted to convince myself that yesterday’s grueling session means that today I can forgo working out altogether. . . . Then I think of Mae West. Yes, she of the super-sized quips and curves, both of which she worked with equal gusto. “Cultivate your curves.
Another of her humdingers: “I never worry about diets. ” As much as Mae West enjoyed piling it on for her act, the truth is that she treasured her diamonds as much as her dumbbells. The Brooklyn-born bombshell inherited a passion for health and fitness along with a maverick spirit and proclivity for pulling no punches from her daddy Jack, a bare-knuckle prizefighter.
For the Wests, daily exercise and lifting weights was something of a religion. “I decided at an early age if I was going to live a long life, I wanted to stay healthy and look good,” she told her longtime private secretary and confidant Tim Malachosky, who retold this in his lavish volume on the legend, simply titled Mae West, published in 1993 in commemoration of the hundredth anniversary of her birth. Young Mae trained in gymnastics and acrobatics and roller-skated. She claimed later in life that as a teen she could bench-press five hundred pounds! True or not, it certainly puts a spin on another line she apparently favored: “An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.” The Broadway star was nearly forty when Paramount Pictures offered her a contract and her first movie. She proceeded to vamp it up as Hollywood’s funniest symbol on the big and small screen, and back to the stage, well into the winter of her life.
Tipsy on the Fountain of Youth Mae West wasn’t the only screen goddess who filled time in between scenes on the set with a set of hand weights in her dressing room. Marilyn Monroe and Greta Garbo also flaunted the virtues of daily calisthenics, stretching, and weight lifting. Garbo was especially dedicated to the Sparta physical fitness regime. She took extensive walks through the forests of France or along the boulevards of Beverly Hills or Manhattan. Her confidant Gayelord Hauser, a pioneering health food nut, inspired her diet. She also refused to quit dragging on cigarettes, curb her daily shot of vodka, or sunbathe in anything but the buff. But these were the good ol’ days when ciggies and suntans were endorsed by doctors in advertisements—advice best left in the past. A shot of pure vodka, however, is probably the most healthful of choices a social drinker can make. The distillation process makes it sugar-and yeast-free; if it’s organic, even better. Without good nutrition and habitual exercise, all the beauty products in the world are not going to add up to beans. Keeping fit is central to maintaining a pinup physique—no matter your dress size. It’s at the very core of making your beauty mark for life! I see sixty-and seventy-year-old women in my Pilates studio giving it their all, week after week, and I’m in awe of their commitment and stamina. That is an inspiration.