Arnold the Gym Spokesman

Arnold Schwarzenegger has worked a lot of jobs. Few people can class bodybuilder, promoter, governor, actor, and author on their resumes. Arnold has worked so many jobs that it is hard to keep up. That is why I always love discovering some of the lesser-known examples of the Austrian Oak earning a quick buck or two.

In 1977 Arnold appeared in a television advertisement for the Vic Tanny Gym. The advertisement, shown below, features a young Arnold telling viewers that they, too, can build the body of their dreams. What fascinates me here is the gym in question.

When you think about Arnold and gyms, your mind is likely drawn to Gold’s Gym. It was Gold’s Gym where Pumping Iron – the critically successful bodybuilding documentary – was filmed. It is Gold’s Gym that Arnold himself often references as a mecca of bodybuilding and it is Gold’s Gym which has routinely advertised the fact that Arnold trained there.

The Rise and Fall of Vic Tanny’s Gym

What makes this advertisement even stranger is that by 1977, Vic Tanny’s gym was no longer a major player in the fitness industry. In a wonderful (and free) article, Ben Pollack and Jan Todd described the rise of fall of Tanny’s gym, one of America’s first major fitness chains.

Founded by physical culturist Vic Tanny, Tanny’s gyms exploded across the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. Characterized by aggressive sales tactics, modern marketing and an openness to attract as many customers as possible, Tanny’s sites were an economic marvel.

That is, temporarily. Shady financial behaviors, including the failure to pay back-taxes to the US government, met with an American public tired of Tanny’s pushy salesforce. In 1961 Tanny filed for bankruptcy.

Arnold at Tanny’s Gym

If Tanny filed for bankruptcy in 1961, you’re likely wondering how Arnold ended up in an advertisement with them sixteen years later?

After Tanny filed for bankruptcy, many of his franchises continued on, still using the legitimacy of his brand name. Indeed, on his death in 1985 the Los Angeles Times noted that Tanny still received money from this relationship. Arnold’s appearance here is likely due to one such franchise still continuing in his name.

Pumping Iron was filmed in 1975 but wasn’t released until 1979. From then on the Arnold-Gold’s connection was solidified.

Other Tanny Moments in Media

A Tanny franchise gym also featured in The Nutty Professor in 1963. Not going to lie, some of this resonated with my own first experiences in a gym…

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  1. The success of Tanny’s gym chain in the 1940s and 1950s created a public awareness of his name evidenced by the inclusion of a character in the 1964 teen comedy, “Muscle Beach Party”.

    Actor Don Rickles plays a fictional gym-owner and bodybuilding coach/trainer named “Jack Fanny” – – likely a satirical amalgamation of also-then-popularly-known-TV-bodybuilder-and-fitness-intructor JACK LaLanne, and, Vic TANNY.

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