I was first introduced to Terry Robinson by Bill Pearl and Leo Stern in the late 1960s, and I was immediately impressed by his appearance and friendly demeanor. His enthusiasm and zest for life were infectious and always drew a crowd. As the years rolled by, we became firm friends.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1916, Terry was a natural athlete and won honors in track and field, baseball, football and swimming while in high school. Later he won the New York Police League Golden Gloves featherweight boxing title. After earning a degree from the Chiropractic Institute of New York, he rented a portion of George Bothner’s famous Manhattan Gym, where in addition to chiropractic services, he became a personal trainer to many show business personalities, including two of the greatest ever songwriters, Cole Porter and Lorenz Hart.
Terry served in the United States Army in World War II and as a staff sergeant was sent to the South Pacific to establish physical-training programs and conduct classes in deadly hand-to-hand combat. He also set up rehabilitation programs for the wounded. It seemed that Terry was destined to help people, which he did all of his long life.
Terry won the ’48 AAU Mr. New York City title, and his pictures regularly appeared in the top bodybuilding magazines of the day. Late in 1948 he moved to California, where his reputation spread and he became “Trainer to the Stars” at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, working with Clark Gable, Tyrone Power, Spencer Tracy, George C. Scott and many others. He was still training TV and movie people into his 80s and 90s, and until his retirement in his mid ’90s, he managed some of the best health clubs in Southern California, including The Beverly-Wilshire Health Club and the world famous Century West Club.
In the early 1950s the studio asked him to take the responsibility of training one of its biggest stars, Mario Lanza, who was a fabulous singer. Lanza had enjoyed the “good life” in Hollywood, resulting in huge bodyweight gains between films. Working with him became a full-time job. Terry actually moved in with the family, and he and Mario became best friends. Tragically, Lanza died in 1959 at the age of 38, with his wife dying just five months later. The courts awarded Terry guardianship of the four Lanza children, and he enjoyed being father to them. In 1980 Terry and Raymond Strait, a writer who achieved international recognition for his celebrity biographies, teamed up to write Lanza, His Tragic Life.
A multitalented individual, Terry was an accomplished artist in watercolor and oil; we cherish all the letters, notes and Christmas cards we have received that are adorned with his work and most of all the beautiful words he wrote.
When I asked Terry who was the most inspirational person in his life, he mentioned John Grimek, Mario Lanza, Jack LaLanne and a few others, but at the head of the list was his wife, Silvia. A promising ballet dancer, Silvia had been struck by a car driven by a drunk driver in the early 1970s, before they met. She spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair. Her sister, who worked at Terry’s club, told him of Silvia’s plight, and Terry asked her to bring Silvia to the club. It was love at first sight! Terry said that watching her battling physical and emotional pain without complaint all those years was the most inspiring part of his life.
Terry, I will miss seeing you, as well as our great phone conversations. Rest in peace, dear friend. IM