Long before lifestyle blogs and Instagram influencers, a charismatic man named Gayelord Hauser* charmed audiences from New York to Paris with his lectures and books on health and beauty. We rarely speak of him today but he flourished in mid-century America, mingling with movie stars and royalty, dispensing advice to women on how to improve themselves through nutrition, exercise and self-care. (Read an article from Cosmopolitan all about Hauser’s incredible influence.)
His profound influence in popular culture is documented in his 1984 New York Times obituary, which described his following in Hollywood and Europe, as well as his publishing and broadcasting career. On the surface, he provided advice on diet and exercise; on a deeper level, one could argue that he offered women an opportunity to devote time and care to themselves during a time when their role was seen to be mothers and wives.
I discovered the book Look Younger, Live Longer (1950) in my teens and embraced Hauser’s advice on healthy living and cultivating a rewarding life. True, his advice was quite dated and he referred to ladies that I had never heard of (Lady Mendl?), but I was thrilled by the ideas he proposed and enchanted by the glimpses he gave into the glamorous lives of his celebrity friends. His writing style was both encouraging and coy, as though he were sharing secrets to beauty and health so special that the reader was privileged to be holding the book. Indeed, in the first chapter of Look Younger, Live Longer, Hauser writes: “The book in your hands is no ordinary book. You are holding a passport to a new way of living.” (15)
As we examine Hauser’s life story, we can see a similar pattern to today’s wellness influencers: personal experience of the curative power of diet. Hauser often shared his experience of being cured of tuberculosis through good nutrition, herbal teas, and warm baths. His conviction and personal experience informed the advice he gave through his books and lectures. Modern influencers such as Ella Woodward (Deliciously Ella) and Jordan Younger (once, the Blonde Vegan, now the Balanced Blonde) share their own stories of the curative power of food to immense audiences of followers on social media. The personal stories add to the appeal for followers yearning for that same experience of healing and, given the photogenic nature of successful influencers, beauty.
While Hauser did not have the platform of social media to share his ideas, he hosted radio shows and even a television program in the early 1950s, sponsored by Minute Maid. Hauser was a strikingly handsome man who dressed beautifully, embodying the physical beauty that he promised in his books and lectures. Near the age of 80 he boasted that he could read without glasses and swim miles in his pool.
While Gayelord Hauser’s influence faded during the 1970s, the role and reach of celebrity health and wellness experts has become ever more pervasive in North American society (and, one might argue, around the world). In that time advice on health has often been gruelling, time-consuming and punitive. What I love about Hauser’s books is the effort he made to tie together beauty with happiness, and his emphasis on small, sustainable changes in lifestyle. As an example, he argued that “reducing [never dieting] can be a pleasure” with advice as simple as:
What I love about Hauser’s books is the effort he made to tie together beauty with happiness, and his emphasis on small, sustainable changes in lifestyle.
Looking back on the books and lectures of Gayelord Hauser, it is also interesting to note how many of his recommendations on diet and health eventually became mainstream in North America. In Mirror, Mirror on the Wall (1961), Hauser encouraged women to lift dumbbells to get in shape: “Give Dumbbells a Lift and they’ll do the same for you!”. He writes about the importance of sleep and relaxation, suggesting that at least some of his advice had merit — then and now.
Beneath the promises of wellness ‘influencers’ lies the very normal desire to live our lives with beauty, style, and abundant health. It’s why we buy the latest diet book, download a fitness app, or order a supplement based on one of our favourite Instagram accounts. In so many ways, we are just like the men and women of the mid-century seeking how best to improve our lives.
As a fitness instructor who has found the best results from embracing more sustainable, graceful forms of movement I believe that Hauser had many ideas that stand the test of time. His emphasis on good posture, rest and recovery, and time for self-care are approaches that I embrace and share with my participants each week.
I encourage you to rediscover some of the wellness “influencers” from the past, from Gayelord Hauser to Terry Hunt, whose fitness studio in Beverly Hills provided Hollywood stars like Clark Gable and Rosemary Clooney with a space to lift weights and relax. Sometimes the most interesting health advice comes from the delicate pages of books published more than half a century ago!
*occasionally his name appears as Bengamin Gayelord Hauser
Hackett, Alice Payne, 1900-. Seven Years of Best Sellers, 1945–1951: Supplement to Fifty Years of Best Sellers, 1895–1945. New York: Bowker, 1952.
Hauser Gayelord. Look Younger Live Longer. Internet Archive, http://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.242460. Accessed 8 July 2021.
Hauser, Bengamin G. Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Etc. London: Faber & Faber, 1961. Print.
By PETER KERR. ‘Gayelord Hauser, 89, Author; Proponent of Natural Foods’. New York Times (1923-Current File), 29 Dec. 1984, p. 26. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times, 122562743.