Vic Tanny’s Wonderful World of Physical Fitness (1961)

The article below presents a foray into a typical Vic Tanny Health Club of the early 1960s, including a photo spread several pages long, which has been partially included here. Vic and his brother Armand Tanny were quite active in the field of physical culture in the mid-twentieth century. Armand won a number of physique titles from 1949 to 1950, he appeared on the covers of various fitness magazines, and he was a regular on the original “Muscle Beach” scene at Santa Monica pier. Vic, a shrewd businessman, helped popularize physical fitness among the general public by means of his comfortable luxury health spas.

TannyTitlePageArticle title spread. Click to enlarge (will open new window/tab).

As described in this article, not only did Tanny Health Clubs have scientifically-advanced weight machines designed to exercise any part of the body; they also featured bowling alleys, year-round ice skating, and movie theaters! Gyms no longer had to be dingy dungeons for muscle-bound neanderthal meatheads, as they were often stereotyped; they could now be centers of leisure for the whole family, as shown in the visually appealing photographs. The ‘cultured’ aspect of modern-day physical culture is highlighted through the use of classical-style artwork depicting figures from ancient times engaged in physical activities. Although Tanny’s facilities catered more to the general public, the weight training equipment available there could certainly be a good starting point for the aspiring strength or physique competitor; you may remember from our last post that 1967 Mr. America Don Howorth’s first real gym was a Vic Tanny facility.

This article was originally published in the May 1961 issue of “Wisdom,” a giant-sized monthly hardback magazine which presented itself as a semi-highbrow, intellectual ‘prestige’ publication meant to look good on your coffee table and educate the public on wisdom of various types, ranging from the classical ancient past to the cutting-edge present. This particular issue dealt with ‘the wisdom of physical fitness,’ and this staff-written article praised the Tanny facilties for their excellent quality, the high level of employee education and attentiveness of the staff, and the enjoyable atmosphere as cultured centers of healthful leisure.

Interestingly, within a time frame of several years, the “Wisdom” publication petered out and met an ignoble end amidst financial problems and a dubious attempt to perpetuate a painfully obvious money-making scheme upon the American public. Just about anybody could join the ranks of famous luminaries of the era such as Vic Tanny himself, and be nominated to an elite ‘Hall of Wisdom’ by responding to an official-looking letter and sending in a ‘gift’ of $100. According to the US Dept. of Labor’s inflation calculator, $100 in 1965 was equivalent to almost $800 in today’s money!

Further reading/reference on “Wisdom” magazine (opens in new window/tab):

Eventually, the Tanny fitness enterprises also fell into financial hard times, and their facilities came under new corporate ownership multiple times. Since the health club facilities were transformed as they changed hands over the years, today there is no recognizable legacy remaining of the glossy, chromed Tanny Health Clubs as they appeared in the time of the 1930s through the 1960s.

Further reading/reference on Vic Tanny and Tanny Health Clubs (opens in new window/tab):

WisdomMay1961CoverVic Tanny on the cover of “Wisdom,” May 1961. Click to enlarge (opens in new window/tab)

Magazine excerpt:

Vic Tanny has wrought more changes in the concept of the gymnasium in twenty-five years than all the physical educators of the preceding two thousand years combined! Until a few years ago, gyms were generally located in basements or tucked away upstairs somewhere on side streets – often dank and cold in winter and steamy in summer, exclusively the province of men equipped with battered apparatus that had seen few changes through the years. Its reputation was seldom what might be called savory and it was frequently considered to be the social habitat of roughnecks.

The Vic Tanny Gyms are located in choice business sections, where huge glass fronts permit passing pedestrians and motorists a full view of members, representing virtually a cross section of the American people – men, women and children – frolicking happily in the pool or zipping around the ice rink. For the Tanny Gym is designed to embrace not only fitness and health, but fun and luxury – and at prices that make the fabulous facilities available to everyone.

The gym decorations are all designed by Vic Tanny: panoramas of color, with pink and charcoal predominating; modernistic murals and elongated El Greco-like figures which cavort on the walls, infinitely multiplied in the many mirrors. Customers wade ankle-deep through rich, red carpets, exercise on white and gold naughahyde benches and pose self-admiringly before giant, tinted mirrors, swaying and undulating their way to captivating contours, to the beat of softly muted mood music.

The finest in health facilities and equipment, including steam rooms, sun rooms and dressing rooms, are maintained in spotless condition. When Vic Tanny was unable to find exercise machines to produce the specific results he had in mind, he either invented them or revised the existing models to meet his needs. Each piece of gym equipment – such as the elbow resistance machine, incline bench, decline bench, thigh curl machine and leg press machine – is a specific device created for the purpose of achieving a definite result from the exercise for which it is used. This exercise equipment is all designed, tested and manufactured under Vic Tanny’s supervision and the Tanny Gyms are the only gyms in the world featuring these contouring machines for every part of the human body.

Recreation goes hand in hand with scientific body contouring at all Vic Tanny Gyms, where everything is free to members. In colorful modern settings, pin setters keep bowlers’ games rolling. Ice skating is a year-round feature and instructors are on hand with encouragement and helpful advice for beginners and advanced skaters alike. There are even movie theaters to provide additional diversion and recreation for members and their guests.

Luxuriously appointed, year-round indoor swimming pools are an every-popular Tanny feature. The handsome tropical motif of the pool areas is reminiscent of that found at the finest resort hotels and the hygienically pure water is always kept at an even temperature by climatic control devices. Lifeguards are continually in attendance, maintaining a watchful eye over the guests and offering expert instruction to those who desire it.

Although the Vic Tanny Health Centers are the inspiration of one man, the organization is far from being a one-man venture. More than a thousand carefully selected and trained men and women direct the activities of the far-flung enterprise. There are four Tanny employee training schools – in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Beverly Hills – which operate on a full-time, year-round basis. The training of the men and women who will become managers and instructors is intensive, professional and thorough. The schools provide courses in kinesiology, the study of muscular movements, simple dietary routines and, of course, the value and practical application of progressive resistance exercise on special Vic Tanny equipment.

Many of the top Tanny executives were first gym members, then instructors and managers on their way to their present top positions. There is one supervisor responsible for every three gyms, charged with seeing that all facilities are properly maintained, that installations are spotless and that all personnel are conforming to the Vic Tanny standard in every phase of operation. And that is the secret of the Tanny success, which has built over one hundred gyms in twenty-five years – attention to detail in every facet of the lively, growing organization. Obtaining and utilizing only the best for each gym in location, equipment, decor and personnel and maintaining top standards in every respect, have earned Vic Tanny Gyms the primary and, indeed, unique place in the field of recreation and health centers.

Below are a few selections from the accompanying photo spread. Click pictures to enlarge (opens in new window/tab):






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