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My Time with Richard Simmons

RIchard Simmons
RIchard Simmons, Natick, MA

I first encountered Richard Simmons when I traveled out to Los Angeles in the summers of 1982 and 1983. I always struggled with my weight and when I found out that I could attend the Richard Simmons Show tapings at KTLA in Los Angeles, I jumped at the chance! I don’t remember  that much about the episodes other than one taping had the then current Miss America, Debbie Maffett, as guest host. I remember how motivating Richard was both on and off camera.

Not long after I returned from California, I was cast as Simon Bliss in the Noel Coward play, Hay Fever.

Scott Fisher, Nancy Fox, Hay Fever
Scott Fisher, Nancy Fox, Hay Fever

In the cast was an actress named Carol Van Lingen, who was close to my age and we became friends during the run of the play. Carol told me about auditions that were coming up for aerobic instructors for the Richard Simmon’s Anatomy Asylum in Natick, Massachusetts. She told me that she wanted to audition, but wanted some moral support and asked me to come along.

Now my idea of exercise was a large pizza and a Diet Coke, but remembering the fun that I had working out with Richard Simmons on his television show, and being a big fan, I decided to tag along to the audition. The audition required us to perform a routine and speak a little motivational speech. To both our surprise, Carol and I were accepted as new employees of the Richard Simmon’s Anatomy Asylum! We still had to go through a rigorous training program though first. When the first day of training finally arrived, Carol Van Lingen was nowhere in sight! Carol decided she didn’t want to become an aerobics instructor after all, while I decided that I really wanted to!

The training was rigorous, and I was very out of shape, but I really took to it. It was like performing and helping people at the same time!  One of the nice things about Richard Simmon’s Anatomy Asylums was that they hired some instructors that were overweight. These overweight instructors were hired to teach the overweight classes, or OWA classes as they were known.

Scott Fisher, Leading a class at Richard Simmon's Anatomy Asylum
Scott Fisher, Leading a class at Richard Simmon’s Anatomy Asylum

This was a great concept for those that didn’t feel comfortable in the gym, and they could lose weight along with their instructor… a great idea!  I really took to teaching aerobics, having struggled my whole life with my weight. It was great to be able to build a safe environment for myself and my students. I loved all my coworkers and we had a great time together. I even got to play Richard on one occasion at our club’s Halloween party.

Scott Fisher, Halloween Party at Richard Simmons Anatomy Asylum, Natick, MA
Scott Fisher, Halloween Party at Richard Simmons Anatomy Asylum, Natick, MA
Richard Simmons Anatomy Asylum Saugus Opening
Richard Simmons Anatomy Asylum Saugus Opening

Richard would come out to teach at our club once in awhile, or to open another club in Massachusetts, and we would all have a great time. Some of our club members and I appeared once with him on a local television program, The Good Day Show. Fun times!

Richard Simmons, The Good Day Show
Richard Simmons, The Good Day Show

My ultimate goal at this time however, was to become a professional  actor. I had been performing in local theatre in the evenings, and at the age of 21, decided to move to Los Angeles. I was accepted into the American Academy of Dramatic Art, a prestigious and rigorous actor training program, then located in Pasadena, California. Because of my association with Richard Simmons in Massachusetts, I was able to arrange to continue my job with the Asylum at the Glendale Richard Simmon’s Anatomy Asylum.  I would also teach in the Woodland Hills Anatomy Asylum, as well as several other locations. At one point, I even won the company’s, Positive Attitude Award, and Richard presented me with the award at a ceremonial dinner. It was a great place to work! At the same time I would occasionally attend Richard’s class at the Beverly Hills Anatomy Asylum. His classes was always well attended and he became friends with many of the participants.

As much as I like to be like light-hearted, I should also mention that this was the first time in my life I have ever experienced sexual harassment on the job. The manager at the Woodland Hills Anatomy Asylum, for whatever reason, took a real liking to me. He would follow me into the men’s restroom while I changed into my workout clothes. From outside the stall he would talk about how we were going to be together, and that if I didn’t sleep with him, he was going to get me fired. I just made light of the whole thing, but he kept going on and on. I have to admit it was really uncomfortable having one your managers keep making passes at you, especially when they were not wanted. At this time in my life, I was struggling with my sexuality and this experience made it all the more difficult. But I digress, let’s get back to Richard Simmons!

At one point during my time at the Anatomy Asylum in California,  I heard that Richard was casting for a new exercise video called, Get Started with Richard Simmons. While the auditions were open to the public, it was also mentioned that he would be casting some employees as well.  Since I loved performing and I loved teaching, I thought that this would be a great experience. I remember very little about the audition, except that there were maybe over a hundred people at the casting call. Eventually, I think it got down to about 10 of us and we were asked to perform the learned routine just for Richard. To my great excitement, I was cast along with three others to appear with Richard in the video. This was my first big break, or so I thought, and  I knew it was going to be a lot of fun!

Cast of Get Started with Richard Simmons
Cast of Get Started with Richard Simmons

See a Clip

Now attending the American Academy of Dramatic Art came with certain rules, and  one of these rules was that you couldn’t miss a lot of classes. The second rule was that you could not act professionally while attending the program. Though I didn’t consider appearing in an aerobics video as acting, I still thought I should let the school know that I was going to participate in the video. When I told the director of the school that I was going to do the video, he informed me that I would have to drop out of school. I argued that since I worked for Richard Simmons already, that the video could be considered part of my job, and was not the same thing as performing in a play or a movie, I shouldn’t have to drop out of class. The director was adamant… if I wanted to do the video, I would have to leave class.

I was 21, starstruck, wanted to do the video, and so thus ended my association with the American Academy of Dramatic Art!

Rehearsals began at Richard’s studio, Slimmons, in Beverly Hills. The video was conceived to introduce the concept of low impact aerobics. Richard was very excited to implement this new program, as he thought it would help a lot of people who maybe could not do a lot of the high impact exercises that were out there at the time. I don’t remember a lot about the rehearsals other than Richard was more serious and professional than usual, as he really wanted to get this video out there to help people. His mom, Shirley, came to rehearsal one day and I remember she was just this really sweet person. I could see that they had a really close relationship. I remember one day we were practicing the abdominal routine on the floor. We were lying on our backs and reaching between our legs in a sit up position. I’ll never forget Richard said to,  “pretend you are reaching for Treat Williams thighs!” As I said, I was not really out of the closet just yet, so I had to volunteer that thought did nothing for me. Little did I know!

Eventually the day of filming was upon us, and we were set to film at a soundstage in Culver City… I believe it was once part of the MGM lot. I was so excited, all of my favorite movies were made at MGM, and here I was heading to Culver City!

The filming was interesting because we did not perform our routine to music, but to what is known as a click track. Basically a metronome sound is played on the set and the music would be added later. Early on during the filming it became obvious that the director was getting frustrated because everyone was not on the same beat. The director took us aside and told us to count out loud along with Richard to keep everyone on the correct beat. Richard did not really seem that happy that we were doing this, but that is what the director wanted so we complied. I remember from the shoot that the lunch was catered by Sikhs and the food delicious! When we finally filmed our last shot, Richard broke down and started crying. He really hoped that this video would help people. He really cared that much! 

In contrast, I remember once during rehearsal I was driving home from the exercise studio and Richard pulled up beside me at the traffic light in his convertible Mercedes with his novelty license plate, YRUFAT. I looked over at him and said, “Hi.” He replied, “ I don’t  talk to anyone outside the studio.” I felt 2 inches tall.

I had heard that there was going to be a wrap party at Richard’s home to celebrate the completion of the video. I drove to his home in the Hollywood Hills and waited in my car for a bit. I did not see any other cars outside. I only saw one visitor come to the home with a bouquet of flowers and no one else arrived. I was afraid I had the date wrong, so I went home.

I only worked for the Anatomy Asylum a few more months after the video, before taking another job at Disneyland. It wasn’t till several years later in the late 80’s when I was shopping at at a local Los Angeles department store that I ran into him again, and we exchanged greetings.

In 2000, I had gained a lot of weight and was feeling sorry for myself. I wrote Richard and said he probably didn’t remember me, but that I was grateful for all the motivation he had given me and so many others. To my surprise he wrote me back and said that he wanted me “back on track” and was going to send me his “Move, Groove, and Lose” kit. Although I never actually received the kit, but I was so grateful that he took the time to actually write me back and was so kind and encouraging.

In more recent times, it has been reported that Richard hasn’t been seen in public for several years, and has cut off himself from friends and fans.  Many theories for this disappearance are presented in the excellent podcast, Missing Richard Simmons. While I know that there has always been a public Richard, and a more serious private one, his total “radio silence’ has made this world a rather foggy and dull place without his bright beacon of light!

Richard Simmons is the most motivating person I ever met! He got me off the couch and started me on a lifelong, on and off again, love affair with exercise. There has never been an aerobic instructor/guru who could make exercise actually fun, the way Richard does! He has helped so many people, and I am honored to have worked for, and alongside… this wonderful man.

Katie Holmes..Thought She Could Dance!

Katie Holmes appears on So You Think You Could Dance with a tribute to Judy Garland, well, she thought she could dance…and sing! It was a travesty and a horrible tribute to a lady that could really sing and dance! Given all the hype that occurred before this performance it was a complete and utter letdown. The lip synching was off, there was very little dancing, and more posing and mugging than a bad community theatre performance. To top it off ,someone had the nerve to invite Judy’s son to watch this prerecorded mess as a tribute to his beloved mother? They should call the show, So You Think You Have Class!

Watch this mess now…if you dare.

Bob May AKA “The Robot” Dies

I just learned that the actor Bob May, who was inside The Robot on Lost in Space has passed away at 69. I had the pleasure of meeting him in Los Angeles at the Lost in Space, Return to Earth celebration in April of 1998. He was a nice man and my heart goes out to his friends and family. Who can ever forget the way he moved the robot’s arms during the lines “Danger, Danger, Will Robinson”!

Monday, January 19th 2009, 2:42 AM

LOS ANGELES — Bob May, who donned The Robot’s suit in the hit 1960s television show “Lost in Space,” has died. He was 69.

May died Sunday of congestive heart failure at a hospital in Lancaster, said his daughter, Deborah May

He was a veteran actor and stuntman who had appeared in movies, TV shows and on the vaudeville stage when he was tapped by “Lost in Space” creator Irwin Allen to play the Robinson family’s loyal metal sidekick in the series that debuted in 1965.

“He always said he got the job because he fit in the robot suit,” said June Lockhart, who played family matriarch Maureen Robinson. “It was one of those wonderful Hollywood stories. He just happened to be on the studio lot when someone saw him and sent him to see Irwin Allen about the part. Allen said, ’If you can fit in the suit, you’ve got the job.”

Although May didn’t provide the robot’s distinctive voice (that was done by announcer Dick Tufeld), he developed a following of fans who sought him out at memorabilia shows.

“Lost in Space” was a space-age retelling of “The Swiss Family Robinson” story in which professor John Robinson, his wife and their children were on a space mission when their craft was knocked hopelessly off course by the evil Dr. Zachary Smith, who became trapped in space with the

May’s robot was the Robinson family’s loyal sidekick, warning them of approaching disaster at every turn. His line to one of the children, “Danger, Will Robinson,” became a national catch phrase.

The grandson of famed vaudeville comedian Chic Johnson, May was introduced to show business at age 2 when he began appearing in the “Hellzapoppin” comedy revue with Johnson and his partner, Ole Olsen.

He went on to appear in numerous films with Jerry Lewis and in such TV shows as “The Time Tunnel,” “McHale’s Navy and “The Red Skelton Show.” He was also a stuntman in such 1950s and ’60s TV shows as “Cheyenne,” “Surfside 6,” “Hawaiian Eye,” “The Roaring 20s” and “Stagecoach.”

He was particularly fond of his Robot role, once saying he came to consider the suit a “home away from home

Lockhart said May wore the suit for hours at a time and learned the lines of every actor in the show so he would know when to respond to their cues. Because it wasn’t easy to get in and out of the suit, he kept it on during breaks

“He was a smoker,” Lockhart remembered. “From time to time (when he was on a break), we’d see smoke coming out of the robot. That always amused us.”

May and his wife lost their house in November when a wildfire destroyed their upscale mobile home park in the San Fernando Valley.

Survivors include his wife Judith; his daughter; his son, Martin; and four grandchildren.

Funeral services are pending.

Kudos: The Associated Press

Rosie Live!

I love Rosie and I love variety shows. I did not love Rosie Live! The production values were terrible, the jokes not funny, and a feeling of mediocrity permeated the air. Rosie we love you, but please don’t sing! There were so many flat notes coming out of her throat I thought there was something wrong with my TV! I think it could have worked, but she needs a better producer. I really doubt that the powers that be will give her another chance…I wouldn’t!

Liza Minnelli At The Stadium Theatre

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What a fantastic night! I just got home from seeing Liza Minnelli at the Stadium Theatre in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Now those of you who know me know that I have been attending Liza concerts since the 70’s! All I can say tonight is Wow! The show is wonderful and Liza is in tip top shape! I had great seats in the 3rd row with my dear friend Susan.

Liza has had vocal trouble off and on, since she had surgery on her vocal cords . She damaged them after she filled in for Julie Andrews in Victor Victoria on Broadway. Well I am happy to report that her voice is vibrant and is as strong as ever in this current show! The first half of the show is many of Liza’s showstoppers, while the second act has a big section of songs from her godmother, Kay Thompson. In Act II, Liza also sang Judy’s Palace Medley … and believe me Mama would be proud!

The audience was mesmerized for the show and didn’t want it to end! For an encore Liza gave us a beautiful rendition of her Mom’s, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. Before she sang it, she mentioned how at the holidays she always thinks of her parents and by the last stanza of the song you could hear the sniffles in the audience… including mine!

This was a tryout of the show that is headed for the Palace Theatre the first week of December in New York! Get your tickets now as this is definitely a show you’ll want to see!

Carrie and Mr. Big

SPOILER**** Am I the only one on the planet who didn’t want Carrie and Mr. Big to marry finally in the Sex and the City movie? He is always so off and on again and I just think he will be off on her in the future. I am all about forgiveness but leaving her at the alter was just too much for me to take and I don’t think I could ever forgive him. I really think she could do much better, but I guess we always need a predictable happy ending. Oh well, write me hate mail.

Why Do So Many Chefs Smoke?

I can’t believe that I watch Hell’s Kitchen. I really think that Gordon Ramsay is an obnoxious jerk… with the people skills of a grapenut. I really love to watch it because of that fact I guess. He really is a person I love to hate, and I don’t care how much money would be involved, but I would never work for the man. What I find really interesting is how all of the chefs that are competing… all smoke like chimneys! Season after season, all the contestants light up after work. I wonder why this is. With less than 30% of the population smoking I am wondering if all 30% work in kitchens!

Calpernia Addams

OK, I admit it. I am fascinated by Logo’s Transamerican Love Story and Calpernia Addams! I first heard of Calpernia when I saw the excellent movie, Soldier’s Girl. Soldier’s Girl is the tragic true story of Private Barry Winchell who was murdered by his fellow soldiers when they found out he was dating a transgendered woman. Now, the real Calpernia is starring in her own dating show reminiscent of The Bachelor. Eight suitors vie for her affection, including a female to male transgender! The men are ruthless to one another in their competition for Calpernia’s attention. I found myself not liking any of them, and not one of them worthy. I truly hope that Ms. Addams finds a true love one day. She really comes across no different than any of us, and deserves the happiness we all seek.