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Forrest Shaklee Sr.; Health Firm Founder

December 19, 1985|BURT A. FOLKART | Times Staff Writer

Forrest Shaklee Sr., who presided with all the moralistic fervor of an evangelist over the health food and nutrient firm he founded nearly 30 years ago, is dead.

Shaklee, a veteran of turn-of-the-century tent shows who became a nutritionist and chiropractor before founding his food production and sales firm with his two sons, was 91. He died Sunday in a Castro Valley, Calif. hospital.

Although he had nominally retired several years ago, he remained a force in Shaklee Corp., contributing his "thoughtmanships" to the company magazine read by the more than 100,000 people who comprise an international sales network.

A youthful disciple of such colorful carnival characters as weightlifter and food faddist Bernarr MacFadden and the hypnotist Santinelli, Shaklee became a film distributor and then a chiropractor who once entered a 50-foot replica of a spinal cord in a parade in Iowa.

Naysayer of Negativism

He numbered Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford among his friends and established an early reputation as a flamboyant nutritionist. He also was a much-in-demand lecturer as a naysayer of negativism ("The trouble with most people is that they emulate the humble sheep. . . .")

He was over age 60 when he and sons Forrest Jr., an insurance salesman, and Raleigh, an accountant, began producing in 1956 such exotic food supplements as Pro-Lecin, a protein and lecithin supplement, and Vita-Lea, a vegetable compound.

Their timing could not have been better for the health food faddism that was to sweep the country in the 1960s was beginning to surface in California. (The Shaklees' first food manufacturing effort was in the basement of their Oakland home.)

The religious-like zeal that was to mark the Shaklees' enterprises surfaced along with the initial orders.

Dealers were encouraged to also be hosts and invite friends and neighbors to home parties where they were shown how the Shaklee products could improve both physical and financial condition.

Lured by Commissions

The nucleus of what 30 years later would be a sales force of tens of thousands doing $400 million worth of business a year was formed. Men and women were lured by 35% commissions, extravagant bonus plans and free travel to the several Shaklee conventions scattered around the country each year.

At those conventions they heard the Shaklee "master coordinators" describe how they were earning $100,000 or more a year and listened to "Dr." Shaklee preach a doctrine of naturalism, morality and profits.

The meetings themselves were not unlike evangelical rallies. The sales force marched around the auditoriums singing "I Can, You Can, We Can" or "The Shaklee Way" with all the fervor of religious converts.

Several years ago lagging profits forced the Shaklees from their management positions. The elder Shaklee retired, and his sons gave up direct control of the family operation.

But over the weekend, as Shaklee lay dying, his sons reportedly forced the resignation of J. Gary Shansby, chairman and chief executive officer, in a dispute over the sale of a Shaklee unit in Japan.

A source at the San Francisco Shaklee board meeting told the Wall Street Journal that the sons again appeared to be in control of the company that their father had built largely on inspiration.

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