BY MIKE LEONARD
Bloomington native Denny Miller was working at a summer job moving furniture into a Sunset Boulevard building in Los Angeles when a passing Hollywood agent stopped his car, handed the young man his business card, and said, “Call me.”
The young man was six-foot-four, physically fit, blond, and handsome. And while he was more interested in basketball than movies — he was a Hoosier, after all — a crash course in acting lessons landed him the lead role in the 1959 film Tarzan, the Ape Man.
“I am sure I am the only Tarzan to learn to swim in Lake Tippecanoe,” he jokes today. Actually, the Hoosier State produced three of the 22 men to play the iconic vine swinger. James Pierce, from Freedom in Owen County, and Elmo Lincoln, from Rochester in Fulton County, also donned the sacred loincloth.
Miller is the son of Ben Miller, a physical education professor at Indiana University. Young Denny attended Fairview Elementary School until fourth grade, when the family moved first to Maryland, then New York, and then to California.
Miller declined an offer to play basketball for Branch McCracken at IU, opting to play for another Hoosier, John Wooden, at UCLA.
He went on to enjoy a rich and varied career in acting, including many years as the scout, Duke Shannon, in the television series, Wagon Train. And he spent years as the image of the rugged Brawny paper towels icon and later as the Gorton’s Fisherman.
Miller also has written three books and produced a video on the importance of and techniques for physical fitness and stretching. “Living a healthy lifestyle and being fit is important for everyone. I had various acting roles that required strength and agility. I have practiced what I’ve preached. I am almost eighty and have enjoyed good health. I still work out and eat healthy, stretch, and get plenty of sleep. I believe that exercise should be painless — and fun!” he says.
Tarzan’s tips for quality of life exercise?
- Always stretch and warm up your muscles prior to exercising.
- Start slowly — just 15 minutes in the pool or walking; increase your time slowly and steadily.
- You don’t have to know how to swim to do pool exercises.
- If you can’t carry on a conversation, you are walking too fast.
- If it hurts, back off! Exercise should be painless. Pain is your body’s warning signal.
Exercises from ‘Me Tarzan…You Train! Without Pain!’
by Denny Miller
IF THESE EXERCISES CAUSE ANY PAIN, DON’T DO THEM.
Exercise to Strengthen Shoulders and Back of Arms
START: Sit with back against chair. Beginners, do this exercise without weights for the first week. Week 2, try holding small soup cans.
MIDDLE: Hands at shoulders, inhale slowly, push up slowly while you exhale. Continue pushing up while you exhale. Stop when your elbows are slightly bent.
END: Hold that position for a count of 2-3, then slowly lower to start position. Do 7-9 repetitions.
Exercise for Strengthening the Thigh Muscles, Buttocks and
Back of Upper Arms and to Improve your Balance
This exercise will make it easier to get to a standing position from sitting in a chair. Warm up muscles of the lower body by walking in place, slowly going up and down a few normal stair steps while holding onto a rail. Stretch hamstrings (back of the thigh) while holding on to a broom handle or kitchen counter with both hands; then stretch front of thighs one at a time.
START: Sit in a stable armchair, feet flat on the flow, shoulder width apart, hands on arms of the chair. Inhale and slowly exhale while slightly moving forward from you hips.
MIDDLE: Use thigh muscles to stand up while helping with your arm muscles (triceps – back of upper arms) by pushing down with your hands, on the arms of the chair. When out of chair, hold 1-2 seconds and slowly return to sitting position.
END: Slowly return to seated position. Don’t hold your breath during exercise. Repeat movement 6-8 times.
In three to four weeks you should be strong enough to stand with very little help from your arms. Some people may take longer than a month. Don’t hurry! You are not competing. Hurry causes hurt!
Strengthen Your Calf Muscles and Improve Your Balance
START: Place balls of feet on a book covered with a towel – or a low step. Place hands against a wall, or stair rail, or chair back for balance. Inhale, slowly exhale as you raise up on your toes.
MIDDLE: Continue to go up and down on the balls of your feet. Slowly, keeping knees slightly bent. For variety do 7-9 repetitions with heels apart, then 7-9 reps with heels together. Do 2 sets, changing heel position each set.
END: Raise up on toes as far as you can; hold for count of 2. Then slowly lower to start position. Do 7-9 reps. Then 3 sets changing the tow position each set.
Strengthen Front of Hips and Improve Your Balance
START: Hold on to the back of sturdy chair, both feet flat on the floor, a foot apart. Inhale and slowly exhale as you lift right knee forward and up.
MIDDLE: Keep holding back of chair and slowly raise knee. Wait until your upper leg is almost horizontal to ground.
END: Hold leg in horizontal position for count of 2, then slowly lower leg to start position. Repeat 7-9 times. Repeat with other leg.
Exercise to Strengthen Front of Thighs and Improve Balance
START: Sit relaxed, hands resting on thighs. If your feet touch the floor place a rolled towel under your knees. Inhale. Exhale slowly as you raise the right foot out and up.
MIDDLE: Continue to exhale and raise foot until your leg is almost straight. Do not lock your knee. Hold for a count of 2. Then slowly lower foot to start position.
END: Do this exercise 7-9 repetitions. Then repeat exercise with other leg.