Flesh Sculptors: Keeping Healthy in Tinseltown

Literary Digest March 6, 1937

FLESH SCULPTORS: Screen Players Find It’s Fun to Keep Healthy—Here’s How.

Various healthy activities are demonstrated by Mr. Robert Taylor


The girl with the piquant face, a movie star in the making, watched the studio physical director apprehensively. Her sort gymnasium trunks and pull-over sweater revealed her figure as undeniably plumpish in Spots.

“Will I have to diet?” she asked anxiously. The gymnasium instructor grinned a little wearily.  They always asked that. He studied the girl with the impersonal eye of a sculptor in flesh.  “You not only won’t have to diet,” he said, “but I strictly forbid it. Rope-skipping and a few fast exercises will burn off fatty tissue without developing undesirable muscle to take its place.”



Last week, any week, this little scene was enacted in the gymnasium of any major Hollywood studio. Nine times out of ten, the physical director tells the movie star and the star-to-be: “Eat what you like, within reason.”

New diet – Freak diets are definitely “out” in the movie colony. The new Hollywood health formula calls for (1) Exercise; (2) common sense.

Although most of the studios have built elaborately equipped gymnasia right on the lot—Warner Brothers, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Paramount are conspicuous examples—no cinema actor, no director or executive patronizes them because it is so nominated in the bond.  [??That’s what it says.]


Rowing (with Griffith Jones)

Rather, he seeks them out for the soundest of business reasons: The wise-cracking ingenue and the sigh-wrenching leading man must be so explosively healthy that vitality just naturally bursts out all over the screen. The box office takes a lacing when actors are noticeably lacking in pep, vigor or what the gym man calls “the old zip.”

When young players arrive on the Paramount lot they are taken to the gymnasium, where
Director Davies gives them an exercise routine. Faults of posture, carriage and weight are noted for correction. Day after day, the young player returns and is put through the exercise paces until specifications are met. Male players get workouts that would dismay a longshoreman.



Out at the metro lot in Culver City, Donald Loomis is a studio physical director with definite ideas. He orders exercises to build up weight as well as to take it off. One of his conspicuous successes is Robert Taylor, top heart-flutterer of the 1937 season. When he came to Metro, Taylor needed additional poundage distributed about his person to bulge biceps and expand the chest line in the right places.


Swimming (with Lew Ayres)

Muscle—To Loomis, putting on weight means adding muscle. He prescribed bar-bell exercises for Taylor, and a series of heavy exercises, involving the pulling of weights and other resistance apparatus—all done slowly but with real muscular exertion. This developed Taylor’s muscles, at the same time burning away surplus fat, given him abundant energy and a reputed salary of $3,000 a week. [$49,939.07 in 2014 dollars].

For reducing, Loomis recommends light calisthenics, rapid waving of arms, rope-skipping.“In no case must fat be taken off too quickly, or it will return immediately, Loomis warns.  “The secret is to build up muscle to take its place.”

RT2163 (3)


For this purpose, he advises bar-bells, Indian clubs, a lightly weighted exercising machine, Massage, being a form of exercise, he uses both for reducing and increasing weight. In some case, a hot cabinet is helpful for healthy reducing. But diets are almost never advised, it being a fixed belief of this Hollywood health expert that a person may eat anything if he takes enough exercise to burn up the surplus fuel. “Proper exercise makes diets unnecessary,” Loomis says. “Many diets, especially if not carefully supervised, may actually be dangerous.”

That diets can be dangerous, Hollywood knows too well. The tragic deaths of Renee Adoree, Louis Wolheim and Barbara LaMarr, attributed to unwise dieting, still linger in studio memories. So does the so-called “Hollywood Diet” which swept the country a few years ago—a freak regimen that unquestionably reduced weight because it provided but half the food allowance normally needed by the body. A triumph of press-agentry, the Hollywood diet was commercially inspired, used the name of the movie city for business glamor.


Golf (with Barbara Stanwyck and Clark Gable)

Rules—General health rules given by Loomis can be adopted by anyone in or out of Hollywood: Drink a glass of warm water with the juice of a lemon upon arising. Take deep breathing exercises before an open window, followed b a tepid shower—not too warm or too cold. Begin breakfast with a glass of fruit juice. Avoid drinks that are too hot or too cold. Do not salt food; most foods contain natural salts.

Eight hours of sleep are essential, Loomis says. He advises sleeping without a pillow, but suggests that the mattress be tilted at the head of the bed by putting blocks beneath it. A brisk walk before retiring often induces sleep. Another unusual method of combating insomnia which Loomis gives his cinema customers is this: Lie on your side in bed, move the shoulders slowly backward until they flat, follow by throwing the leg over until you are lying flat on the other side of the bed. This, says Loomis, loosen the vertebrae and released nervous tension.



Symmetry is the objective of Hollywood body sculptors. For bust-reduction, Loomis has a simple formula: Jump up and down with no support. Exercises in which the arms are forced backward and forward horizontally are used to develop the upper chest. To develop the calf, rope-skipping, dancing, raising the body on the toes is recommended. Bar-bells are used for shoulder development.

Favorites—Each Hollywood star has his own favorite exercise formula. Fred Astaire takes no routine exercise of any kind, plays tennis and golf because he likes the games. Ginger Rogers is an all around sports enthusiast who takes up badminton one week, ping-pong the next, tennis the week after that. Jack Oakie rides a bicycle to keep his rotund figure within bounds. Joe Penner pitches baseballs at a robot catcher in his back hard. Katharine Hepburn never diets, keeps in condition by taking long walks, playing golf. Marlene Dietrich cuts down on sleep if she finds that she is gaining. Carole Lombard keeps trim from bowling, swimming, riding.



Claudette Colbert is a tennis enthusiast. Joan Crawford mixes tennis and badminton, as caught by the camera for this week’s Digest cover. Jean Harlow swims and golfs. Madge Evans is one of Loomis star gymnasium pupils. Clark Gable is a fervent outdoor man. Nelson Eddy golfs, Lionel Barrymore swaps punches with a bag.

Most stars follow their exercise routines because they love it. Hollywood discovered long ago that it’s fun to be healthy.




Baseball (in costume as Armand in “Camille”)




About giraffe44

I became a Robert Taylor fan at the age of 15 when his TV show, "The Detectives" premiered. My mother wanted to watch it because she remembered Mr. Taylor from the thirties. I took one look and that was it. I spent the rest of my high school career watching Robert Taylor movies on late night TV, buying photos of him, making scrapbooks and being a typical teenager. College, marriage and career intervened. I remember being sad when Mr. Taylor died. I mailed two huge scrapbooks to Ursula Thiess. I hope she got them. Time passed, retirement, moving to Florida. Then in 2012 my husband Fred pointed that there were two Robert Taylor movies that evening on Turner Classic Movies--"Ivanhoe" and "Quentin Durward." I watched both and it happened all over again. I started this blog both for fans and for people who didn't know about Robert Taylor. As the blog passes 200,000 views I'm delighted that so many people have come by and hope it will help preserve the legacy of this fine actor and equally good man.
This entry was posted in Biography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Flesh Sculptors: Keeping Healthy in Tinseltown

  1. Nadia says:

    I love this blog! Bob is my favourite actor and its so nice finding rare pictures and stores here! Youre amazing Judith!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.