Jane Fonda’s Workout, Part 1: Jane and Leni

Listen to this episode

S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership.

S2: I can see that you’re here, but you’re muted. I will. There you are. Hello. Hi.

S1: A few weeks ago, I had a zoom call that I was really excited about.

S3: I’m Jane Fonda and I’m talking to you from Los Angeles. And I’m an actor and an activist.

S4: There are so many things that one could want to speak with Jane Fonda about. But I just wanted to talk with her about one thing in particular, the Jane Fonda workout. Are you ready to do the workout?

Advertisement

S5: Beginner’s workout. Stand with your feet a little more than hit part. Stomach tight body pulled in out of your torso and head right to that, too.

S4: In 1982, the Jane Fonda workout became the best selling home video of all time over the next decade, plus, it and its 22 follow ups would spawn a fitness empire, sell over 17 million copies and transform Fonda into a leg warmer clad exercise guru. Yes. What I get three.

S6: Oh.

S1: And 40 years after its initial release, the workout tape is having a moment like Amazon and it has been a beneficiary of the pandemic. People are doing it alone. And on Zoome, they’re tweeting about it, writing about it. Jane Fonda, tick tock about it. Tick tock. My name is Jane Fonda and I’m going to bring back the Jane Fonda workout. The workout is in the air and I figured that’s why she agreed to speak with me about it. She had one condition that she would only do the interview if she could do it with a woman named Leni Kazdin. Leni Cassana has survived all these years, Jane, and let me have known each other for over 40 years. They met in the late 1970s when Lenny was the instructor of an extremely popular exercise class in Los Angeles, and Jane, a lifelong ballet dancer, needed a new form of exercise.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: I want to interrupt, Linda. Your face looks so beautiful.

S7: I actually had a makeup person come before it was ideal, but I’m happy about it.

S1: In the four decades since their initial meeting, there has been a lot of water under the bridge and within seconds of starting to speak with them, it became clear to me that that water and not an oral history of the Jane Fonda workout was going to be the subject of our call.

S3: This is an important interview that we’re doing, Will. And let me explain why. And I’m and I’m very moved that we’re going to do this. I have become famous for the workout. It’s known as the Jane Fonda workout. But the person that created the workout was not me. It was Lennie Casden.

Advertisement

S1: Jane has written and spoken about Lenny, but they had never done an interview together before this. She was doing it now to try to credit Lenny and to make amends for a wrong. She’d done her back in the 1970s.

S3: I did not really understand who Lenny was and what the workout meant to her. And it was like it was this is her Sistine Chapel. She put it together deliberately. And it was her life. And I am sorry to say that I didn’t really realize that Lenny, for her part, appreciated what Jane was doing.

S1: She wants the credit that she deserves, but she also wanted to make it really clear that she’s fine, she’s good. She’s not fixated on any of this.

Advertisement

S7: I’m loving my life and I’m happy. And I’m so glad because in today’s world, you better be healthy.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: This dynamic happened all call long. Jane wanted to bring it back to Lenny. Lenny wanted to bring it back to how she’s fine. Meanwhile, I just wanted to talk about the exercise tape and how it was made, even though the tape itself was made years after Jane and Lenny had fallen out. I got off the call thinking, I can make this work, I can do the episode that I’ve been imagining and reporting about how the 1982 exercise tape came to be, but that’s not really the episode they want me to do. They want me to do an episode about Lenny. I’m not going to do that, though. But I had always been planning to follow up with Lenny to take a detailed personal history, which would have taken up too much time on our call with Jane. And it was during the second call that I began to wonder if the conversation I had with Jane and Lenny, which had seemed so sweet and lovely as to be almost cloying, might not have been a lot more complicated than I first thought.

Advertisement

S8: Was it OK for you, that last call? I thought it was good. Will you mean with Jane? With Jane? Yeah. Yeah. Well, that’s the first time we’ve talked about it actually in our life. Really. Yeah. So there’s a lot going on.

S2: Yeah. I could, I mean I, I was like I shouldn’t even be here. Like you’re just talking. Yeah.

S8: We made an appointment about, I don’t know, 20 years ago to meet with our therapist said I was going to lay out all the pain and agony and everything, and that was a nine o’clock appointment at six thirty. The biggest earthquake happened. And I just said, well, I knew she was powerful, but God, that’s really powerful.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: We never had the meeting until you when I started to realize was that within the subtext of my Zoome conversation with Jane Fonda and Lenny Kasdan had hung the weight of decades of friendship, indifference, betrayal and love, a subtext. I was only just beginning to get clued into what had gone on between these two women, what was going on with them now and why on earth was I a witness to it? It turns out in agreeing to talk to me, they hadn’t just given me an interview. They had handed me a kind of puzzle, a jigsaw portrait of an extremely long, fraught relationship. It’s not what I had been expecting or looking for. But when Jane Fonda hands you a jigsaw puzzle, you try to put it together.

Advertisement

S6: This is Decoder Ring, a show about cracking cultural mysteries, I will have Paskin. We’re going to do something that we haven’t done before. A two parter in two weeks, we’re going to do the episode we were planning to do all along about the 1982 workout tape and all it. It’s a story that involves the creation of the modern gym, basically the entire VHS market, dozens of ridiculous celebrity exercise tapes. And that hinges on the changing ways we have seen Jane Fonda, one of the most substantial and controversial celebrities of the last 50 years, the Vietnam War, and her activism there. But we’re going to start with something more intimate, the story before the story, a look at the complex relationship, the bird, the workout in the first place. It’s a tale about creation, regret, fame, forgiveness, trauma, survival, politics and exercise and what it’s done. Hopefully you’ll know more about someone you didn’t and also more about someone and something that you did. So today, undercoating, who created the Jane Fonda workout?

S1: To begin to put together our puzzle, we need to start with the part with the most missing pieces. I had heard of Lenny Kazdin before I spoke with her. Jane credits her with creating the workout in her autobiography. And I’d reached out to her before Jane’s people had even suggested we do a three person interview, but I hadn’t heard that much about her. My first glimpse at Lani’s past came on the call with Jane and Lenny when Jane spoke in broad strokes about Lenny’s history.

S3: People who were listening to this broadcast who have had a difficult life, who have had challenges. I can tell you one thing. I have never met a human being that has had a more challenging life than Lenny Kasdan. And I’m so proud of her. And I just want to say that.

Advertisement

S7: Make me cry. Thanks, Jane.

S1: I didn’t know what Jane was alluding to.

S8: So when I spoke with Lenny one on one, I asked her if you’re comfortable, I want you to tell me some of what was going on in your life that was making things so crazy. Oh, well, I just had the worst childhood. So parents my mother was a paranoid schizophrenic with bipolar out that complicated by alcoholism, just for openers. And then I didn’t know my dad. I think I met him around 12 years old. And so I was just a tomboy. I could run away and nobody missed me. My mom was always surprised to see me. When I walk in, she go, Oh, hey, hey, how’s it going? So I was virtually on my own from almost day one.

Advertisement

S9: Lenny, who spells her name, Ellie and I grew up in Newport Beach, California, in the 1950s. She remembers getting on a swing with some other little girls and being told, You can’t swing with us, you’re too ugly and running off to hide. She remembers jumping off railroad cars with her friends. If she got scared because the train was going too fast to jump off. She stayed on until the next stop and then walked the tracks back home and she remembers roller skating. One day, a woman zipped up to her at the rink.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S8: I think she thought it was a boy with the name Lennie in my ear. I had cut at a barbershop. She came up to me and she couldn’t really handle those skates.

S4: She invited Lenny to a club meeting that Sunday night. Lenny went and started competitive pairs roller skating, which is very similar to Paris ice skating and was at the time enjoying its first major wave of popularity in America.

S10: This is roller skating, America’s favorite sport, a wholesome, year-round recreation, one of our truly great all-American participants.

S4: Sport skating, changed Lenny’s life, saved her life.

S1: She says she was looking for structure. She needed a structure and athletics and exercise with coaching, guidance, discipline. They gave it to her. But even the skating couldn’t stop what was going on at home.

S8: I kept getting thrown in what I call jail, but they called it protective custody because my mother would break down. They would put her in a state mental institution and there was no one else. So at 16, I married my skating partner. Which made me an adult, so now everybody can have their breakdown and I’m good.

S1: Her husband, who had been the president of her roller skating club, was about 20 years older than her. It started a pattern for Lennie of getting married in times of doubt.

S8: I was 16 when we got married, had two children. By the time I was 20, I lost the first one to SIDS. The second one survived. Just walking around right now, I love her to death.

S1: Lenny’s daughter Lori was in the room with her while we were talking, chiming in sometimes jog her mother’s memory. You may hear her at certain points in the audio. Lennon’s first marriage didn’t last very long, and by the time it was over, it was the 1960s, absolutely would have won medals as a hippie.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S8: I mean, I ripped through the 60s like big times and had a little baby on my hip and we’d go to love ins and all the concerts and we just went up and down the coast.

S1: She got married again to a doctor when they got divorced. Lennie, who was all of 25 or 26, realized she needed some discipline back in her life. She got seriously into dance, going to a dance academy to learn how to teach. And she also got seriously into psychoanalysis. One day, her analyst suggested she go to her daughter’s school and offered to teach the students to dance.

S7: So I went there. We got the sixth grade boys and we decided we danced and I worked hard and we put on a performance that knocked everybody out. And that was the beginning.

S1: It was the beginning of Lenny’s career as a fitness instructor.

S4: So before going forward with Lenny’s story, I want to go back and give you some context about the dance inflected fitness world Lenny was about to enter. Americans first really started paying attention to fitness as a way of being healthy, living longer and staving off heart disease in the 1950s. But at that time, there were a lot of things about fitness that we did not know yet.

S11: Exercise. How long do you do it for? How sweaty should you get? Should you get sweaty? There are plenty of people there asking their doctors, should I exercise how long? And doctors don’t know what to say.

S4: Shelly McKenzie is the author of Getting Physical The Rise of Fitness Culture in America.

S11: And in fact, there are some anti exercise physicians saying that it’s a bad idea, saying that you’re born with a finite number of heartbeats and that exercise is going to make you use them up too fast and that, you know, too much vigorous exercise will kill you.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S9: Even experts and instructors who were sure about exercise, its benefits tended towards workout routine that seem, by today’s standards, fairly strenuous. And this was especially true for women who weren’t supposed to be doing hard physical exertion for social reasons as well.

S3: Jane Fonda, up until the 70s there, there was no workout for women. If you went to like I did to the Beverly Hills Women’s Health Club in Beverly Hills, Lindsay knows this. What you did was you stood on this thing with a strap around you. And I remember that. But remember that that was it was I tenderizing our behinds right. Tenderizing our behinds where women weren’t supposed to break a sweat. Women weren’t supposed to have muscles. It just didn’t exist.

S9: They started to change in earnest with a couple of best selling books. One of them, aerobics by a former Air Force sergeant named Ken Cooper, was published in 1968. It contained concrete steps for assessing and improving your fitness level and sold millions of copies, along with a book by Bill Bowerman, the track coach and future co-founder of Nike. It would kick off the jogging craze.

S1: But Cooper’s book also inspired another set of people, women dancers Shelly McKenzie.

S12: Again, people are hearing get exercise, get exercise, get exercise. The acceptable sports background for women, if you think about it, is dance, right? That’s where women are allowed to get sweaty and to use their bodies over the course of the seventies. What happens is that women who have dance training in various parts of the US are figuring out ways to accomplish the fitness goals.

S11: But they do it by setting dance.

S5: Moves to music would fit the hip. Strugar Oh, I want to shake that cute little booty of yours.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Jazzercise, an enthusiastic workout in the spirit of a jazz dance class, was founded in 1969 by Judy Shepard MARSAT it was to quote some of its press materials, a jazz filled fitness program that conditions your body lift your spirit, puts a smile on your face and a bounce in your step. Jazzercise wasn’t the only dance based exercise program to take off. In the 1970s, a woman named Jackie Sorensen founded Aerobics Dancing Around This Time, which, though less well known today, was just as influential.

S13: Skip. He lifts one, two, three.

S6: These fitness programs and others like it spread grassroots style woman to woman across the country, the women teaching these classes tended to wear leotards and leg warmers because that’s what dancers wore and they were dancers.

S1: The classes usually took place in any space that was big enough community centers, churches, school basements by the mid 1970s, this style of exercise, while by no means everywhere, was popular enough that a small handful of boutique brick and mortar studios had started to pop up in cities like Los Angeles. And this brings us back to Lenny Kazdin.

S4: Lenny is, of course, also a female athlete from a dance and roller skating background after working with the sixth graders, her first job was at the aforementioned Beverly Hills Health Club, which had an old, sleepy, affluent clientele. She took over a half hour exercise class and made it her own. She stretched it out, started with a warm up, and then isolated the different muscle groups in a taxing rapid sequence that includes poses from ballet and other dance disciplines. She spent hours and hours in her living room, timing and counting out the different sections, figuring out the right tempo, the right order. So everything fit together correctly. It had a beginning and a middle and an end. Basically, it was choreographed. It’s really just kind of a reorganized dance class. If you’re curious about what Lennie’s class was like at the time, it was faithfully reproduced by Jane in the Jane Fonda workout challenge. A follow up to the original workout tape that came out in 1983.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S6: Lenny’s class was so hard that Jane had modified and shortened it for the original workout tape that showed her right fall and keep it back and said, hey, there’s something missing from that clip, though, that Lennie’s classes always had and that the previous instructors who had led the class was snapping and clapping, hadn’t used pop music, vinyl records of, say, Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Wonder, Al Green.

S14: When I got in there, I asked if I could add music to it and then all of a sudden there was no wrong. It was just a half one to.

S1: Make sure your torso is lined up like six, Leny became an in demand instructor, she worked for a little while at Richard Simmons Exercise Club, The Anatomy Asylum, and she came to the attention of Gilda Marx. Marx was another exercise pioneer with a dance background who owned a number of upscale fitness studios in L.A. called Body Design by Gilda.

S8: One day she went to scope out Leny in person, and so Gilda walks in and a complete disguise with a hat, coat, sunglasses and a cane. OK, which is so obvious. In the middle of summer she was coming down to see me chih. She needed to hire someone to teach in her studio and eccentricities and I wouldn’t go unless I could teach my own theory. I didn’t want to do it. Anybody else did.

S4: So it’s 1978 and Lenny teaching in a penthouse studio in Century City, and that’s when Jane Fonda walks in.

S14: I had made a movie called China Syndrome and I broke my foot doing that. And I the next movie I was going to do was called it was called California Suite. I had to wear a bikini and I was used to doing ballet. That was my form of exercise. I was panicked because I had to get in shape and my stepmother said, well, I go to this workout. And so I wish I had never done calisthenics. I didn’t know from aerobics. I walked into this room. There was this person in the front, Leni, this tiny little person with short brown hair, with a fabulous boyish body that was just like perfect. And the room had about six, eight people in it. She put on some music. They were records. They were vinyl records. She dedicated the class to the first woman to have ever sailed around the world with James. And she started it lasted an hour and a half. It never stopped. The next day I couldn’t move. My body had never been through anything like it. I fell in love. I was blown away. I had never seen anything like it. I became addicted.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S5: So to go forward and fit in a few more puzzle pieces, I have to go back again to fill in the history of the other person in the story, I have to talk about Jane Fonda, Jane Fonda, actress, author and award winning creator of one of the most innovative and inspiring approaches to physical fitness, Jane Seymour.

S9: Fonda was born in December of 1937, the daughter of Henry Fonda and Francis Ford Seymour. Jane adored her father, an emotionally remote movie star who appeared in films like Grapes of Wrath and 12 Angry Men. Jane’s mother was bipolar and her mental health got worse. As Jane got older, she was hospitalized frequently. And when Jane was 12, she died by suicide in a psychiatric facility. Jane was told it was a heart attack and only learned the truth after reading about it in a movie magazine. As this anecdote suggests, Jane grew up in a family that did not talk about feelings. In her autobiography, My Life So Far, she writes extensively about learning from a young age that she should suppress her emotions and stoically soldier on, which made her extremely competent but often totally alienated from herself. She began appearing in movies in 1960, though her first film, Tall Story, like many of her earliest pictures, was not particularly distinguished.

S15: Basketball players flocked to custard on their usually tall.

S16: Well, of course. What better reason could a girl have? Tall girl? Oh boy. It all adds up to a tall story.

S4: In 1965, she appeared in her first really notable film, Cat Ballou, a Western comedy in which she played the title character.

S1: That same year, she married the French director Roger Vadim, with whom she would soon collaborate a 1968 sci fi pop art movie, Barbarella.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S6: In that movie, Fonda plays the title character, a representative of the U.S. government who frequently finds herself wearing little to no clothes on a groovy and futuristic space mission.

S17: I’m positive I could get you some sort of recompense from my government. I mean, if there’s anything you need or that I can do, please tell me when you could let me make love to make love. Did you say yes? What do you mean? You don’t even know my psycho cardiogram?

S1: Barbarella is still one of Fonda’s most famous roles, and she’s very winning in it, both hilariously wide eyed and totally in on the joke. But it, like all of Fondas parts up to this point, are not quite what I think of as quintessentially Jane Fonda roles. They don’t make full use of her ability to project intelligence and a barbed vulnerability. Those qualities would only get their first proper showcase in her next film, 1969. They shoot horses, don’t they?

S18: Maybe it’s just the whole damn world is like central casting. They got it all wrong before you ever show up.

S1: Dark is a black hole. They shoot horses, don’t they? For which Fonda would receive her first Oscar nomination is about a Depression era dance marathon, whose contestants are so economically desperate they’re willing to die on their feet from exhaustion. To win a little bit of money, Fonda plays the bleakest of all the competitors in an uncompromising performance that established her as a different kind of actress than people had thought. Let’s say, like the historian Mary Hershberger in her book Jane Fonda’s War, a political biography of an anti-war icon, noted there were a lot of resonances between they shoot horses, don’t they, and the still raging Vietnam War. The dancers are told they can survive if they dance to victory, they sleep in barracks. Basically, doctors and nurses fix them up and send them back out to compete, Hershberger writes. Audiences in 1970 were not indifferent to the symbolism. The film established Fonda as a person to whom politics mattered before she first spoke out publicly on the war. But she would soon speak out publicly on the war in France with Vadim in the mid 1960s, Fonda had paid little attention to the news. But that changed in 1968, when pregnant, she had to go on a month of bed rest. Seeing footage of what was going on in Vietnam on TV, she began to pay attention. Soon after, she was given a book by a young guy, an army resister titled The Village of Bencic by Jonathan Schell, which at first in a series of articles in The New Yorker. It’s about the U.S. Army’s leveling of a Vietnamese farming community and its politicization.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S19: All the deaths on both sides, the liberation people struggling or the airborne troops, all of those deaths are American responsibilities because South Vietnam and the division of Vietnam is an American invention.

S6: She moved back to America and got a divorce. Do you ever miss living in Europe?

S15: No, no. One day I’m sixty eight about the time of the Chicago convention. And the riots, I, I went to the fish market and I suddenly said, what am I doing here? What am I doing here?

S1: And I hope we’re going to explore Fondas activism and the reaction to it in detail in the next episode. But for right now, what I want you to know is that at this point, Fanda is a full time activist as well as an actress. In 1971, she stars in the thriller Klute, where she gives a monumental performance, a watershed, an American screen acting as the sex worker Bree Daniels, a part she performed while feverishly doing anti-war work during set break.

S20: What’s the difference between going out on a call as a model or as an actress? As a call girl, you’re successful. As a call girl, you’re not, because when you’re a schoolgirl, you control it. That’s why. Because. Someone wants you.

S6: Not me. There are some jobs that I have regularly that want me. That’s terrific.

S1: In 1972, she wins an Oscar for her performance and later in the year goes on her infamous trip to Saigon, the one that will later get her branded Hanoi Jane. After the triumph of Klute, Fonda steps back from acting to focus on her anti-war work. Appearing in only a handful of movies over the next five years, she cared about acting, but social justice was more urgent for her. Here she is in the late 1970s on Boston’s The Today Show, talking about this period of time.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S21: Once I once had to give up a film career because of my politics and I might have to again and I would be prepared to do that, but I would be miserable because I take my work real seriously.

S1: Fonda appeared on The Today Show with her second husband, Tom Hayden, when asked what was the greatest award you’ve ever had.

S22: She answered this way.

S5: Oh, God. I think when Tom wanted to marry me, Hayden was a movement heavy.

S9: He was the author of the Port Huron statement, the founding manifesto of the student activist movement. He’d been a key member of Students for a Democratic Society, and he was a leader at the 1968 protests of the Democratic National Convention, for which you’ve been prosecuted by the Nixon administration. As one of the Chicago Seven, Fonda and Hayden met through activism and the romantic relationship from the start was completely intertwined with it. In 1976, with the war finally over. Fonda began acting in earnest again and Hayden sought public office. He primaried California’s Democratic senator and lost. Afterwards, Fonda and Hayden started a political action committee called the Campaign for Economic Democracy, which tried to enact progressive leftist policy in California.

S1: Their appearance on the Boston talk show was as part of a press tour for Sid, not one of Jane’s movies.

S22: Well, I should tell, I think everybody’s aware of the fact that you’re going to a new organization going the seed fights inflation and gets results right off the bat. You’re going to get zeroing in on energy, housing, health and safety, economic justice.

S14: And women have had protesters, the Ku Klux Klan, the Nazis and young Americans for Freedom.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S9: From the start, the study was funded in part by Fondas earnings and thought his career was going better than it had ever been. She had gotten really good at melding her values and her art. Starting in 1977, she had a string of critical and commercial successes, many of which she developed herself that had politics and a point that used Fondas activist brain, but that also worked as movies, which is very rare for a typical issue film. Probably the best known of these today is the Feminist Revenge Comedy Nine to five, which Fonda costarred with Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton. But before that she made Coming Home, for which she won her second Oscar about returning Vietnam vet and the China Syndrome, a film about the dangers of nuclear power and unethical businesses that came out just days before the Three Mile Island disaster were on the air.

S23: I met Jagdale two days ago and I’m convinced that what happened tonight was not the act of a drunk or a crazy man jacket that was about to present evidence that he believed would show that this plant should be shut down.

S1: It’s on the China syndrome. The gene breaks her foot and has to stop ballet dancing and so starts looking for other ways to exercise. And that brings us back to where we started from in 1978 in a penthouse exercise studio in Los Angeles.

S6: So, Jane, trying to get in shape for a forthcoming movie starts coming to Lenny’s class every day and the days there aren’t classes. She hires Lunny to teach private ones at, say, Barbra Streisand’s sister’s apartment or Jane Fonda’s ranch. Money even makes Jane a vacation location cassette tape to use when she’s not in L.A. And Jane starts teaching the routine to the female staff on one of her movie sets. They’re spending a lot of time together. They’re not exactly intimate.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S14: When you have a life like mine and someone ask you, that’s the worst thing. I think the reach of my classes never stop because I didn’t want anyone to ask me anything. She was a very mysterious little character. She was this little person who would come in and do this thing for an hour and a half that people became totally addicted to and then she would disappear. Now, I was kind of like Johnny Carson. Jane was struggling with her own things, too. Well, I was totally compulsive. I had been bulimic from age 15 to in my 40s around this time.

S3: And I had I had gone cold turkey. You know, it’s very hard. It’s hard to give up an addiction. And it was very hard for me, but it was a matter of life and death and and with what the workout did for me was fill in that hole, it it made it easy for me to not go back to having eating disorders. It was a way that I could kind of control my body without having to do bad things to it.

S1: So here they were to people who saw a lot of each other but maybe didn’t know each other as well as they thought, and then they decided to go into business together.

S9: It starts in Jane’s telling when she and her husband, Tom Hayden, were trying to figure out how to raise more money for the campaign for economic democracy, which was very expensive to run. She read an article about a fringe political character who funded his organization with a sideline computer business.

S3: Tom and I said, Oh, wow, we got to start a business that they can fund the campaign for economic democracy. And we thought of all kinds of things. And then one day we had a rash. It was a children’s camp up north north of Santa Barbara. And Lenny and I were going up there and she she was in the car ahead of me. And I remember we stopped for gas. And I I remember exactly where it was and I thought, oh, my God, this could be the business.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S9: The idea here was not to film a best selling workout tape. It’s 1978. Video is barely a thing. The idea instead is to open an exercise studio based on Lenny’s exercise technique. The two of them throw themselves into the project Lunney scouting locations and hiring staff and talking to architects. They pick out a space on Robertson Boulevard in Beverly Hills and the name Jane and Lenny’s workout. But there are no contracts, no official deals of any kind. And Leny, for her part, doesn’t even know that the whole point of the business, as far as Jane is concerned, is to fund the seed.

S1: It’s when they start to make everything official that it all goes pear shaped. So I need to give you the basic gist of what happened, because it’s hard to parse just from what Jane and Lenny said on the call going into the call, I had this just myself because Jane wrote about all of this in her autobiography.

S9: Jane says she was persuaded by her lawyer that would make the most financial sense to have owned the business, even though this would shut Lennie out. At the time, Jane could only see the forest, not the trees, only the seed and the value of its work, which was so intertwined with her marriage that Lenny became an afterthought. And as this is going down, Lenny just removes herself from the situation. She tells Jane that she’s met a man with whom she’s going to sail around the world and she leaves abdicates with nothing to show for it one day.

S3: And I went and had lunch. She just you know, she told me that she felt that given the way things were going, she didn’t see her place in it very clearly and that she was going to go sailing around the world and and that that’s what happens. But I feel badly that she never got the credit publicly that she deserved for for the work out. Thanks.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: On the phone with Jane, Leny pretty much matched her tone.

S7: Well, we didn’t do it together. I have this guy who wanted to get married and sail around the world. He was building a 76 foot cutter named Free Spirit. That was gorgeous. I thought, well. And I was used to working alone and and without an education and all of a sudden people are talking about other things and I go, wait a minute. Wait a minute. It got to business like, I guess or something, I don’t know.

S2: Did you have a did you have like at the time, like, did you have any feelings about like it took over the world, like did was that how did that make you feel like what did it feel like.

S7: It just felt kind of bad that I had a lot to do with it, but I couldn’t tell anybody because it looked at me like I was nuts. So I just never mentioned it sucked it up. Hey, it is what it is. I’m not sorry about it. I mean, I’ve had a phenomenal life. It wasn’t like I went left and went into the ditch.

S1: I sailed around the world on an amazing boat, as you can probably tell from my fumbling question as I was on Zoome listening to all of this, I was thinking Lenny’s holding back like we’re talking about getting elbowed out of a million dollar business based on one’s own work. Either she’s super enlightened or that has to have sucked way more than she’s letting on. But that’s what people do with journalists all the time they put on their best face. So even as I was thinking this is kind of whitewashed, I was also thinking this is just the version of the story that Jane and Lenny want to tell. One with a mutual admiration dialed up and the edges the conflict dial down. So what happened next surprised me, which was that on the phone by herself, Lenny was ready to get right into how painful this had all been for her and handed me a contract which might as well been a job that she wanted me to sign the contract.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S8: We actually had a lunch. We were sitting at a table and she looked at me and she said, this is going on with or without you. And that was that. I mean, you just literally took everything from me. I didn’t have anything else to do. It destroyed me of the top three things and I lost a child. That’s one of them.

S1: When she was talking to me, Lenny repeated a phrase a couple of times. They weren’t thinking about me at all. For a person who grew up with a mother who always acted surprised whenever she showed up, who, in other words, was not thinking of her nearly enough. This whole situation felt horribly familiar in a number of ways.

S8: It was very bad. And it reminded me back on the schoolyard where you’re too ugly, you can’t swing with us.

S24: So she did what she knew how to do. She left.

S25: In her own words, she went on a soul retrieval out on the ocean. It wasn’t just that a man who had become her third husband was building this beautiful boat. Lonnie’s father, who she’d met when she was around 12, had been a world class sailboat racer. Two sailing meant something to her. She was out on that boat for six years. And it’s while she’s on that boat that the workout business, one that no one had had such high expectations for, just takes off when he’s not there. When the exercise studio now called simply the workout opens to the public in Beverly Hills in 1979. She’s not there.

S1: When it becomes an immediate smash, serving 70000 clients a year. She’s not there when it expands to Encino and San Francisco, when it becomes a best selling book, when it becomes a chart topping video and then another video and then another minting money. All the while, even on the other side of the world, Lenny hears about.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S8: It was real tough on me hearing about all, oh, it’s a cash cow. Oh, my God, it’s making so much money. I walk in a hotel in New Delhi, India. There’s a life sized cutout with all her videos.

S1: The whole thing is such a hot property that everyone wants credit for it, even as Lenny, whose technique is the bedrock of the whole enterprise, goes unmentioned. Here’s Gilda Marx, the fitness entrepreneur who came to scope out Lenny’s class in disguise and what employed Lenny in her studio when Jane met her, saying Jane’s doing her technique.

S20: In a 1983 interview on Canadian TV, Jane Fonda, who began her exercise career in my studio Learning the body design program, has made it a way of life for herself and millions of people. She’s made a fortune. She’s just done an incredible thing in bringing the awareness of the body design program to millions of people. She worked with you for seven months, didn’t she? Preparing for California so long as GSA.

S1: When Lenny returned from her sojourn on the ocean, it was to a whole new fitness scene, one that had been so altered by the Jane Fonda workout that people were now wearing sneakers and instructors talked into microphones, which would have been unfathomable in the 1970s. She eventually integrated back into this new world, though, and became a personal trainer. Jane spent much of the 80s focused on the workout business, but in 1991 divorced from Tom Hayden, she married CNN founder and billionaire Ted Turner and retired from acting. So if you were to have made in the early 1990s a movie about the Jane Fonda workout and all of its success, those two things I just said about where Jane and Lenny end up would be like the pieces of text that flash at the end of the film telling you how everything turned out, the story of the workout. It seems like it’s over. But this isn’t just a story about the workout. It’s a longer story about the relationship between these two women. And that story is just about to pick up again.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S6: Jane and Lenny Saagar restarts in the mid 1990s when Jane walks into another Los Angeles Jam gym, 18 years later, she walks into pro jam and I’m standing there and she goes, Lenny, like that.

S14: And I said, I know you thought I was dead. They sit down and talk. And after everything that happened, they start a tentative friendship. We stayed together. We stayed in touch. She was telling me her life story. I said I had no idea. I didn’t know any of this. And she said, you never asked. And that was how I really started asking her about herself and getting to know her.

S4: Lenny filled in some more details. She says a few days after she and Jane ran into each other, Jane’s husband, Ted Turner, gave her a call.

S8: I get a call from Ted. Ted says, hey, I need to work out. Maybe you could work me out. I said, OK, so he came and worked him out. Of course, we hit it off because I was there when he won the America’s Cup because I’m a sailor.

S1: In 1977, Turner, who in the world of yacht racing really did count as a scrappy underdog, had won the America’s Cup and become one of Lenny’s heroes. A few days later, Jane and Ted invite Lenny to Colorado, where 10 was giving a commencement speech.

S8: And then we were sitting there and then he says, well, I’d like you to see my ranch. And I said, OK.

S3: And she became a friend of me and Ted, you know, and whenever we came out here, we would go to dinner together and, you know, Lenny would come with us to places some pretty amazing things actually in my life so far.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Jane’s autobiography, Jane, even says that when she found out Ted Turner had cheated on her, she holed up in a hotel in Beverly Hills and the only person she told was Lenny, who would come every day and give her coffee nips, candies and hold her hand. Lenny was Ted’s trainer and they had become close friends. He would walk her daughter down the aisle and he kept calling, trying to get her to get Jane to give him a second chance. She did. Jane had Ted meet her at Lenny’s apartment where he won her back as a suggests. They were all close, but they did not talk about the work out.

S8: I never confronted her on it. I don’t think there would have been anything to gain by bringing that up. They were inviting me to an incredible place is showing me the ranches now. I just just thought that getting along is a lot better than bringing up something 20 years ago.

S1: Actually, that’s not entirely true. At one point early on in their new friendship, Lenny set up a therapy session where she planned to lay it all out for Jane with both of their therapists there. But as she mentioned at the top of the episode, there was an earthquake instead.

S8: And I just said, well, I knew she was powerful, but, God, that’s really powerful.

S1: The session was never rescheduled. But after that, Lenny’s daughter Laurie wrote Jane and Ted a letter about how important it was to her mother to get a chance to talk about how devastating everything that had happened with the work out had been. It was at that point still without talking about it, that Lenny was given some financial renumeration. She didn’t say exactly how much, but it was enough to live comfortably. And after that status, no one talked about it. After Jane and Ted got divorced in 2001, Lenny stayed friends with Ted. They’re still close. And she and Jane didn’t have a lot to do with each other. The whole thing, though, it niggled at Jane, it must have, because she wrote about Lenny in her 2005 autobiography, My Life So Far in a self-Critical Way. In it, she starts. What happened then is painful to write about before going on to say that she let her lawyers frame everything and got into an adversarial relationship with Lenny because she was focused on the kid. It’s a couple of pages in a 500 page book, but it makes really clear that Jane feels lousy about what happened, that she thinks she did Lenny wrong. I mentioned this part of the autobiography a few times now because exactly the thing that kept tripping me up, the piece of the puzzle I could not find the right place for because of the autobiography. It’s a matter of public record that Jane feels bad about what happened. And so every time I spoke with Lenny and she said, we’ve never talked about it, I couldn’t comprehend what she really meant.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: I kind of felt sorry for you because I feel like you stepped into something that was never solved. I know. And that’s I sort of want to talk to you because I. I am having such a hard time wrapping my brain, but I need some concreteness.

S1: I got that. They had never spoken about it in detail. But there are details and the autobiography and I figured Lenny must know about that and know how Jane felt about all of this, because like, I know how Jane felt about all of this. And I don’t even know, Jane. All I done was read her book. But that’s exactly what Lenny had not done.

S2: I want you to written about some of the stuff she has. Yes.

S1: In her in my life so far, she writes about you, about how I ended up reading the section out loud to her on the phone.

S2: It is important that I tell the story and that Lenny finally got the credit due to her for her original routine that Lauer did you find that literally in her autobiography? This is the first I’ve ever heard of that.

S1: It’s funny because in a case like this, explaining what happened publicly counts for a lot. Lenny really wants credit for her part in the walkout and she can’t get that for herself. She needs Jane to do it. So in writing about Lenny in my life so far, in mentioning her in speeches, Jane is doing the most she can, choosing the most public way to tell the most people except Lenny to know what’s happening. It’s totally possible. Jane sent the book to Lenny Lenny’s daughter. Laurie’s reaction to hearing this part of the autobiography was to say to her, mom, you never check your mail, but sometimes it’s worth picking up the phone to to make sure your heartfelt message has been delivered. Someone finally did pick up the phone in the last year or so, but it was Lenny who called. She was watching something we can’t quite figure out what. And there was a part in it where Jane mentioned Gilda Marx, the woman who owned the studio already was working when Jane first walked in. It was been taking credit for the work out for decades.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S20: Jane Fonda, who began her exercise career in my studio Learning the body design program, has made it a way of life.

S1: This is the thing that has always made Lenny Angrist not just not getting credit, but other people getting credit.

S8: Instead, she said Gildas name. And that was the end for me. I just called her directly and finally confronted it. And that when my heart was pounding when I did that, I have to say that wasn’t an easy call to make changes. Well, what can I do? And I said, get us on the front of a fitness magazine.

S1: They could not get one, though. And at this point, a month later, and totally coincidentally, that I wanderin with an email asking if Jane Fonda would speak to me about how the workout came to be on our last call me read me the email that Jane sent her asking if she would do the interview with me. In it, Jane told Lennie it’s not a magazine, but they want to do a nuts and bolts piece about how the workouts started, quote, let’s give them more than they asked for. It was on the call that resulted from that email, our call that Jane finally expressed directly to Lenny what Lenny has so wanted to hear. It doesn’t actually contain the word sorry, but it is an apology.

S2: Have you been feeling guilty about it? Like up until then? Had had it been niggling at you that.

S7: Yes. Oh.

S3: There’s still the I oftentimes I say, OK. If I were then where I am now, in my head and my heart, it would have gone down differently, I know that it would have want you to know I know that. But because I wasn’t. Able to yet? Really deal with the tension that existed between the fact that this was a business now that was going to be supporting a political organization and what was Lenny’s role in it? It was easy to have figured that out. It would have been easy. And she may have gone off and married and sailed around the world anyway, but it would have been different and and it’s something that that stays with me like in my heart to this day. We can let that go.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Now Lenny is ready to let it go. It was one of her only regrets. They hadn’t hashed it out. And that’s gone now. She doesn’t hold a grudge. Everything’s cool. But she remained, as ever, a little more real about all of this when Jane was not on the phone.

S8: She feels terrible about it. And I know she feels terrible about it. And I think now and reflection, she she knows that that it was just a very shitty thing to do. And here’s the irony. I love irony. He was campaigning for economic democracy there on that.

S25: I’d wanted to talk to Jane Fonda about the workout because I thought there was a lot to it, but I had no idea that there was this. I thought it was an artifact, a perfect snapshot of its time, all legwarmers and VCR’s, but that it was also a roadmap pointing to the future to wellness culture and the celebrity lifestyle brand and another way of seeing Jane Fonda.

S4: But I hadn’t a clue that it was a sticking point in a 40 year relationship, alive and meaningful in a wholly personal way. Listening back to the first down call, now that I know what Jane and Lenny’s dynamic really is, I understand some of the things I misunderstood the first time around.

S9: One happened in the opening 10 seconds of the call.

S3: This is an important interview that we’re doing, Will. And let me explain why. And I’m and I’m very moved that we’re going to do this gainsaying interview.

S25: But the part that’s moving to her is not that it’s an interview. It said it’s a long overdue exchange, a testimonial. I thought it was overwrought when I first heard it, but I missed the trick. I don’t think it’s overwrought anymore. One way to think about all of this, the saga of Jane Fonda and Leni Kazdin, is that mistakes and misdeeds can have long lives. Another way to think about it is that sometimes trying to set things right can have an even longer one.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: Life is long and complicated and you can’t undo what happened, but maybe piecemeal bit by bit, you can work it out. So I just try to understand your your orientation right now. Here’s the deal.

S14: One thing you must avoid is being a bitter old woman. I think that’s not a good look.

S2: It also seems like it was maybe important for you, for her not to think you’re a bitter old woman. Just seemed like you wanted to make clear to her like your life.

S14: Fine, which it sounds like it is. I am doing great. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much different than the rest of my life from not knowing my father being disappointed that I didn’t have a mother. It’s just crazy.

S6: It’s just nuts that I should end up happy. And and yet I really am. This is Decoder Ring, I’m Willa Paskin. You can find me on Twitter at Willa Paskin and you have any cultural mysteries you want us to decode? You can email us at Decoder Ring, at Slate Dotcom. If you haven’t yet, subscribe and read our Feed and Apple podcast wherever you get your podcasts. Even better, tell your friends. This podcast was written by Willa Paskin. It was edited by Benjamin. Fresh Decoder Ring is produced by Willa Paskin and Benjamin. Fresh Clue 11 is our research assistant.

S26: Thanks to Laura Torgersen, Mark Harris, Amanda Kuromiya, Fred Hild, Cathy Hills, Mary Hershberger, June Thomas Shasha Leonhard and everyone else who gave us help and feedback along the way. We’ll see you in two weeks for part two.