I was first introduced to Terry Robinson by Bill Pearl and Leo Stern in the late 1960’s and I was immediately impressed by his appearance and friendly demeanor. His enthusiasm and zest for life was infectious and his jovial personality always drew a crowd. As the years rolled by we became firm friends.
Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1916, Terry, a natural athlete, won honors in track & field, baseball, football and swimming while in high school. After high school 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.
He served in the US Army in WWII 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 Terry was destined to help people which he did all of his long life.
Terry won the 1948 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 80’s and 90’s and until his retirement in his mid 90’s, had 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 1950’s the studios asked him to take the responsibility of training one of its biggest stars, Mario Lanza – a fabulous singer who enjoyed the “good life”, resulting in huge bodyweight gains between films. It became a full time job with Terry moving in with the family; with he and Mario becoming best friends. Tragically Lanza died in 1959 at the age of 38; his wife dying just 5 months later. The courts awarded Terry guardianship of the four Lanza children and he enjoyed being “Father”. In 1980 Terry and Raymond Strait, a writer who has achieved international recognition for his celebrity biographies, teamed up to co-author “Lanza, His Tragic Life”.
Terry, a multi-talented individual, was a very accomplished artist in watercolors and oil; we cherish all the letters, notes and Christmas cards we have received that are adorned with copies of his work and most of all the beautiful words he wrote.
When I asked him who was the most inspirational person in his life, he mentioned John Grimek, Mario Lanza, Jack LaLanne and a few others, but more importantly, “My wife, Silvia”. In the early 1970’s Silvia was struck by a drunk driver; a promising ballet dancer-now a paraplegic to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. Her sister who worked at Terry’s club told him about Silvia’s plight and Terry asked her to bring Silvia to the club. It was at love at first sight! Terry told me that to see her all these years battling physical and emotional pain without complaint has been the most inspiring part of his life.
Will miss seeing you and our great phone conversations.
Rest in peace, dear friend.
George and Tuesday Coates
San Diego, California