Profile of Charlene Prickett
by S. E. Blair
Drawn from an article published in the fall, 2000 issue of The Piper, the Lyon College alumni magazine
The transverse abdominal connects directly into the thoracolumbar fascia on your spine.
Not words you expect to hear when the television screen shows a vivacious brunette in lycra tights doing repeaters to snappy music.
That incongruity caught the attention of Dr. Jerry Hunter of Las Vegas, Nevada, the first time he walked through the living room while his wife was exercising to Charlene Prickettís "It Figures," the longest running fitness show in North American television history.
Charlene was barefoot on her first tv set which sported the famous wicker chair.
As a family practitioner with a number of geriatric patients, Hunter often sees the ill effects of inactivity. "Thatís why Iím always looking for ways to encourage the habit of fitness in my patients whatever their age," he said.
He began to hang around whenever his wife, Diane, tuned in to the show or popped one of Charleneís award winning videos into the VCR.
"I have been impressed with the information Charlene gives during her work-outs," Hunter said. "It makes medical sense, not at all faddish or sensational. And she cites respectable sources."
The doctor had identified a trademark of this woman who is often spoken of as a pioneer in the fitness industry. Her motto? Absolutely no frivolous, fraudulent information. Admirers say this is what separates Charlene from other sculpted and buffed women flashing beauty queen smiles at us from rows of boxes at the video store.
"Iíve always enjoyed science," said Charlene, "and I want people to understand why remaining active can lead to a healthier, longer life. I also want them to know how to protect themselves from injury while they ski or climb mountains or lift a hefty toddler."
To this end Charlene keeps abreast of current medical research through her own extensive reading as well as through a network of colleagues in the medical science field.
"Iím not a researcher," she said. "Iím the link between the researchers and the public. Just a messenger."
All "It Figures" shows were taped by crews from various versions of Calgary Television
"A very accurate messenger," Hunter emphasized to a group of fellow fitness enthusiasts this last October. He and his wife had traveled to the Canadian Rockies to attend High Adventure Week, an annual fitness retreat presented by Charlene in partnership with Chateau Lake Louise at Banff National Park. Every year the event draws participants from across North America. Americans from the deep South join Canadians from the most northerly provinces to hike, canoe, take fitness classes and learn more about wildlife and mountaineering in a magnificent setting of emerald lakes and gleaming glaciers. They also hear Prickett put the value of exercise into a larger perspective.
"If you donít move much, you can lose a sense of your body as an efficient, functional, wonderful machine Ė a means to an end. Iím as interested that my knees work, that my thighs are strong enough to get me up and down these rugged mountains as I am that I fit into my favorite little black cocktail dress. I like them both, but the functional one is as important to me as the aesthetic one."
Like the Hunters, many of the High Adventurers had been loyal viewers of Charleneís syndicated TV show "It Figures" which originated in Calgary, Alberta. The show was broadcast from 1976 to 1997 in Canada, the U.S. and Great Britain, as well as throughout the world wherever U.S. troops were stationed.
"I panicked when I heard It Figures was going off the air," said Cathy Cornwell-Brown, who was enjoying High Adventure Week with her sister.
"My schedule is very tight," said the busy mother of three who teaches in a one-room school in an isolated area of Manitoba. "I canít make the 90 mile round trip to the nearest health club. Thank goodness, Charlene also makes those great videos."
In fact, the production company Charlene Prickett Inc. has turned out over 40 of those popular fitness videos which consistently receive top reviews. The magazines Shape, Self and American Health, the newspaper USA Today and NBC-TV "Today" show, all continue to enthusiastically recommend Prickett products to their readers and viewers.
Dr. Kenneth Cooper, "The Father of Aerobics," and founder of the prestigious Cooper Institute in Dallas, Texas, has long been a fan. Charlene has served as adjunct instructor at the Institute and stays in close communication with Cooper and scientists on his staff.
Charlene presented the first walking class at the ACE Honolulu convention
As a television personality Charlene has hosted a talk show, done documentaries and provides color commentary for such televised events as the National Aerobics Championship and the Calgary Stampede Parade.
Although she hasnít lived in the U.S. since 1968, she holds dual citizenship and frequently refers to her home state of Arkansas with great affection. Those references, combined with the slight twang that occasionally rings in her voice, leave no doubt as to her origins. It isnít surprising that almost every interview of her begins with the same question. "How did someone from Batesville, Arkansas, wind up on Canadian television?"
"Simple," she always says. "I married a Canadian."
When Charlene graduated from Lyon College (then known as Arkansas College) in 1968, she headed for Leicester University in England on a Rotary International Scholarship. Thats where she met her husband Jim. He was a Canadian Rhodes Scholar studying at Oxford University. Charlene delights in pointing out she wasnt the first Arkansan Jim met in England. He had already become friends with a fellow Rhodes scholar, "a chap by the name of Clinton."
After Charlene and Jim married, they moved to Calgary, the largest city in the western province of Alberta. Jim hung out his architectís shingle, and Charlene went to work at the local TV station. She had a "menial job" writing promos, but her goal was to get in front of the camera.
When she heard that the station was going to produce something new, an exercise show, she thought, "By golly, I can do that."
Unfortunately, her boss didnít share her opinion. He had a short answer to her request for an audition. "Nope. Not with that accent."
Charlenes promotional head shot from the early 1980s
Good-natured Charlene didnít take offense. "OK. Let me know if you change your mind."
When the scheduled auditions failed to turned up anyone suitable, he reconsidered.
"This was 1976," Charlene recalls. "Before Jane Fonda, before anybody but Jack LaLanne. No one had the slightest idea how to do this, and none of the people trying out could touch their toes and talk at the same time. I had danced, been a cheerleader, and was a drama major with a lot of performance experience."
The combination of fitness, coordination and stage presence proved too much to resist, and Charlene got the job.
"Accent and all," she recalls gleefully, tossing in a couple of extra syllables.
She (and her accent) have been in television ever since.
"In the business Iím what is called an independent producer," Prickett explains. "Independent refers to small projects where the producer has a hand in everything: planning, developing, hiring, filming, editing, marketing. Luckily, thereís no part of it I donít like. I would like it even if I werenít on camera."
How does one prepare for a career that combines science and show biz, sales and visual arts? Charlene says she canít imagine a better preparation for television production than a liberal arts education such as she received at Lyon College.
Her days at Lyon were not only among her happiest, they proved most valuable.
"Those four years shaped my life." she said.
Charlene was a drama and speech major as well as a member of the Arkansas College Lassies in what may be described as their hey-day. The Lassies, part of the college choir, were an ensemble of ten with as full a schedule as many professional entertainers.
As ambassadors of the college they performed in Arkansas as well as at national events like the New York Worlds Fair and American Medical Association meetings. But their most demanding work was that they did with the United Service Organizations.
In those days the USO had funding to send amateur groups to entertain American troops at military bases around the world. The Lassies participated in four USO tours: to the Northeast (Greenland, Iceland, Labrador, Newfoundland), to the South Pacific (Hawaii, Midway, Guam, Korea, Japan), to Germany and to the Philippines.
In addition to the Lassie tours and rehearsals, as a drama major, Charlene had a role in most plays that were produced by the theater department.
Charlene and Dr Ken Cooper are honored by the American Council on Exercise
"And remember," she laughs, "we also were expected to make good grades." Charlene lived up to those expectations by graduating summa cum laude. "It taught me to be really time efficient."
She also learned to shift quickly from one task to another, a lesson that has served her well. On any given day she may read through the Physician and Sports Medicine Journal, choreograph a new step aerobics routine, work on a market analysis for video sales, hire a film crew and turn up the sparkle as the subject of a television interview. And thatís just Monday!
Charlene and her husband still live in Calgary in a hundred year old house that Jim has restored. They have a daughter Xanna who often appears on Charlenes videos and is busy launching her career in television production.
This article was published in 2000, but 2008 finds Charlene just as passionate about hiking in the Canadian Rockies and still grateful for her good health. She is currently plotting the filming of her next video. "It will be a demanding, frisky, step aerobics workout, and all of us on camera will be past menopause, several over 60." The errant little twang skips through her words and her eyes sparkle. "Iím calling it Ė Hot Babes."