Vic Tanny

Victor "Vic" Tanny (born Victor A. Iannidinardo; February 18, 1912 – June 11, 1985) was an American bodybuilder, entrepreneur and physical culture advocate. He is considered a pioneer of the modern health club.

Vic Tanny
Vic Tanny 1961.png
Victor A. Iannidinardo

(1912-02-18)February 18, 1912
DiedJune 11, 1985(1985-06-11) (aged 73)
RelativesArmand Tanny (brother)

Tanny was born into an Italian family in Rochester, New York. His father was a tailor.[1] Amid anti-Italian sentiment during World War II, some of his family members legally shortened the surname, Iannidinardo, to Ianni. From this, Victor made a new surname, Tanny.[2]

In 1935, while a full-time school teacher, Tanny opened his first fitness club.[1] Located in his parents' Rochester garage, the gym uniquely had carpeting, bright colors, and background music.[1] In 1939, he closed that gym, which had done poorly, moved west, and, for a teaching degree, attended the University of Southern California.[3]

Tanny's younger brother, Armand Tanny, had also moved west in 1939.[3] That year, the two emptied their joint bank account of its $500, borrowed another $200, and opened their first gym, West Coast Tanny, near Santa Monica Beach.[3] Two more locations—one in Long Beach, and one on Wilshire Boulevard—opened in 1941. The war dwindled gym users, and both new locations soon closed.[3]

During the postwar resurgence in gym users, Tanny's gym entered a new location, a former USO facility of 7 000 square feet, in Santa Monica, "and it soon became the hub of every famous Muscle Beach regular, including Reeves, Eiferman, and future gym heavyweight Joe Gold".[3] Of the Tanny brothers, it was Armand with the physique to compete among the bodybuilding elite.[3]

Vic Tanny aggressively expanded, geographically and demographically.[3] Earlier gyms invited mostly three, mutually exclusive types—either bodybuilders, housewives, or celebrities—whereas Tanny's were widely inviting.[1] Some had bowling alleys, with a new invention, the automatic pin setter.[3] Many had movie screens and ballet classes.[3] Some were Swiss chalets with skating rinks, or had palm trees behind glass walls.[3]

Tanny's vision was, as now understood, "less perspiration than aspiration, and Tanny was anointed the era's dream maker".[4] The hardcover magazine Wisdom, following issues that featured Einstein, Disney, and Jesus, placed Tanny on its December 1961 cover.[4] Yet Tanny's excesses—gilding one gym in real gold, even down to plating the barbells and dumbbells—brought parodies of Tanny and of his gyms to media.[4]

Vic Tanny Centers flourished from the 1950s through the early 1960s, attaining some 100 locations in the U.S. and Canada.[2] Tanny also pioneered the annual membership,[4] and offered a budget plan to draw working-class families.[2] Yet he demanded, of salespersons, sales tactics so aggressive that the New York State Attorney General responded by imposing a fair-practices code on all gyms.[4]

New constraints on business fostered backfire of a Tanny strategy: maximize a location's membership, and offer expected revenue to borrow money to open a new location.[4] In the 1960s, apparently by over-expansion, poor management, and insufficient capital, the franchise entered bankruptcy.[5] Tanny's centers closed or sold, some retaining his name. Others joined the Bally Total Fitness network.[6]

During semi-retirement in Florida, Tanny made a few, unsuccessful attempts to restore his brand.[7] In 1985, at age 73, after a debilitating stroke,[7] Tanny died of heart failure in Tampa, Florida.[2] Although the earlier, traditional gyms might have eventually evolved similarly without him, Vic Tanny was a visionary—the other most arguably being Jack LaLanne[8]—who rapidly outmoded them and ushered in today's familiar, modern fitness club.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e Jonathan Black, Making the American Body: The Remarkable Saga of the Men and Women whose Feats, Feuds, and Passions Shaped Fitness History (Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press, 2013), p 36.
  2. ^ a b c d Folkart, Burt A. (12 June 1985). "Vic Tanny, first big gym chain developer, dies". Los Angeles Times.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Jonathan Black, Making the American Body (U of Nebraska Press, 2013), p 37.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Jonathan Black, Making the American Body (U of Nebraska Press, 2013), p 38.
  5. ^ "Vic Tanny, health club owner and body builder, dies at 73". The New York Times. Associated Press. 12 June 1985.
  6. ^ International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 25 (St. James Press, 1999).
  7. ^ a b Jonathan Black, Making the American Body (U of Nebraska Press, 2013), p 39.
  8. ^ Supposedly, Tanny's friend Jack LaLanne himself credited Tanny's gyms as the first with a modern, inviting style, including amenities such as mirrors and carpets.

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