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Profile : Everything's Jake

August 07, 1994|NANCY MILLS | Nancy Mills is a frequent contributor to TV Times and Calendar

When Jake Steinfeld was a teen-ager, he and his grandmother went to see "Pumping Iron" in a New York theater. "All during the movie, I kept wondering, 'Where's Arnold?' " recalls Steinfeld, referring to the then-Mr. Olympia and his personal hero Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"Afterward, Arnold was in the lobby, and I shook his hand for what seemed like two hours. Then my grandma and I stood around and watched him talking to other people. She said, 'He's a regular guy. Go ask him your questions.' But I was too shy. Finally she took me over and said, 'My grandson wants to ask you something.' I blurted out, 'What do you do for your calves?' He told me, and he was very nice about it.

"Arnold was always bigger than life to me, although not any more. He did for bodybuilding what I hope I've done for personal training."

Today, Steinfeld, 36, has established himself as a fitness expert, partly because of his physique and partly because of his good-natured personality. His 100-episode series "Big Brother Jake" runs daily on the Family Channel; his "Body by Jake" exercise series has airs on cable. And, most recently, he's developed a Cable Health Club program, segments of which air daily in Southern California on the Family Channel.

Steinfeld says he recently turned down an action series, but he's still looking at TV and film possibilities.

"Pacino and De Niro don't have to be worried," Steinfeld says with a laugh. "In fact, not a soul should worry. In the fitness industry I'm the guy, but in the acting world I'm still a beginner and I'm treated like that."

How did Steinfeld move from hiding behind his grandmother to heading a multimillion-dollar company? A combination of wishful thinking, luck and determination.

Flash back to young Steinfeld's boyhood on Long Island: "I was a fat kid with a terrible stutter. When I was 14, my father bought me a set of weights. It was summertime, and he called me out to the backyard to show me the bench press. I had Twinkies in my hand.

"I didn't touch the weights all summer. Fall came and my father asked me to put them in the basement, where I lived. Finally I decided that instead of studying, I'd try out the weights. All of a sudden, I stood up straighter, I cared about what I wore and girls began paying attention."

After graduation, Steinfeld went off to State University of New York College at Cortland to play lacrosse but quickly had a revelation. "I called home and told my mother, 'I'm going to California to be a bodybuilder,' " he says. "I heard her yelling, 'Herbie, pick up the phone. I'm putting my head in the oven.' There weren't a lot of Jewish bodybuilders, but in the end they supported me. I always knew if I failed I could go home."

But he didn't fail. After training for a year, Steinfeld came in second in the 1979 Mr. Southern California contest. "I got a tiny orange plaque," he says.

Meanwhile, Steinfeld's father decided to take his eldest son under his wing. "My father was a salesman," Steinfeld says. "He published 'The Guide to Better Living,' which went to local real estate places. He came to Los Angeles, made me put on a shirt and tie and took me with him on sales calls. He bought me lunch for two weeks, which was great because I didn't have any dough.

"Then he said it was my turn to go out. He sent me to a florist to try to sell him a back cover for $600. Unbeknownst to me, he called the florist and told him, 'Give the kid a hard time but take the ad.' I went in, asked him if he wanted an ad, he said 'no,' and I said, 'OK,' and left."

His sales career at an end, Steinfeld got a job on the Universal Studios Tour, playing one of the Incredible Hulks. "I was in green paint for 14 hours a day until the TV show was canceled," he says. "Then I was catching rays outside my apartment when a friend of a friend (actress Sandra Will) asked me to help get her in shape for an audition.

"I went to her boyfriend's house and improvised workouts with broomsticks and towels instead of dumbbells. We kept it fun, and I injected my personality into it." The results were quickly apparent.

"She went to parties and talked about this guy who came to her house and helped her work out. No one did this. I had an unlisted phone number. If people can't get hold of you, they want you more. Soon I was hearing from Harrison Ford, Teri Garr, Bette Midler, Warren Beatty and George Lucas."

Steinfeld soon realized the business potential. He formed a company, Body by Jake, and hired his twin brothers to help him as trainers. "I had a terrific relationship with some of the most influential people in Hollywood," he says.

"I met Steven Spielberg when 'E.T.' was up for an Academy Award, and I trained him for 10 years. He used to let me sit in on budget meetings at his house. Here I was with these people. They're no different from us, but they had dreams and didn't take 'no' for an answer."

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