Born in 1931, Debbie Drake was a real fitness pioneer. She is the first woman to ever star in a daily exercise show entitled The Debbie Drake Show, which premiered in 1960. The said show aired every morning on several stations across the United States. The Debbie Drake Show premiered its follow-up entitled, Debbie Drake’s Dancercize, which continuously stayed on the air until 1978. During that time, Debbie Drake became one of the country’s leading fitness gurus. She even expanded her fame by doing guest appearances on several TV shows such as The David Frost Show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, What’s my Line?, and The New Steve Allen Show.
Debbie was a multimedia star because, aside from her TV show, she also wrote a book back in 1961 entitled Debbie Drake’s Easy Way to a Perfect Figure and Glowing Health. She also has two recorded albums, namely How to Keep Your Husband Happy and Look Good! Feel Great! It is clear to see that with an album title like that, Debbie Drake became the perfect fitness star for the Mad Men era.
The Debbie Drake Show Controversy
As we mentioned, the Debbie Drake Show went on air in 1961. However, the show did not just advise women on how to stay fit and healthy; it also talked about the consequences of having an unhappy marriage if a woman did not take good care of their bodies. Back then, Debbie Drake had a media outreach, which included books, exercise albums, a newspaper column titled “Date with Debbie,” as well as a Barbie-like doll that was sold in Sears during the 1960s. Debbi Drake was always seen wearing sexy tight-fitting leotards, which emphasized her unbelievable figure. That is why, along with her show’s success, Drake was also reported to be more distracting rather than encouraging as a fitness instructor. This was supported by the fact that most TV stations air her show during off-hours, which guarantees that more male viewers could watch the show and appreciate her sexual appeal.
On Drake’s 1964 exercise album cover, she put pressure on women to follow the evolving fitness and beauty standards during the era. The album was entitled “How to Keep Your Husband Happy: Look Slim! Keep Trim! Exercise along with Debbie Drake”, and the cover shows a man reclining in slacks and vest while visualization Drake working out in different poses in a thought bubble. The back cover of the album features other words of advice such as, “Nothing is quite so good for the ego as an admiring glance from the man you love. Money won’t buy it, but dieting and exercising will accomplish it.” An expert observed that Debbie Drake did not make any reference to a woman’s health. Instead, she told women that maintaining her body was a way for a woman to show her love for her husband.
Drake eventually expressed her frustration regarding the difficulty of keeping Americans involved in an exercise regimen for longer than a few months. Even if more women started working out during Drake’s relatively brief career, most of them felt enjoyment that was tempered with fear, which is why most of them simply gave up.
Despite what may seem like mid-century sexism, Debbie Drake’s show aired until 1978. She became one of the few identifiable female fitness stars before Jane Fonda and the 1980s fitness industry boom. Unfortunately, information about the later years of Debbie Drake’s career is somewhat challenging to find. In fact, it is even hard to search in Google if she is still alive. That is why we hope that historians will pay more attention to Drake’s life and legacy.