Television Pioneer, First Lady of Fitness,
Fashionista and so much more
Do you think Jane Fonda was the first celebrity fitness guru? Or that it is just in the last decade or so that young girls have taken up gymnastics?
Think the Travel Channel has a lock on amazing trips and journeys into rare and exotic places? Think Jay Leno has the most amazing antique car collection?
What makes you think "What Not to Wear" was the first makeover show? Well think again.
As you read about the life of Paige Palmer, nationally recognized fitness and exercise expert, broadcast personality, author, art collector, radio host, world traveler and fashion expert, you will find her name attached to a lot of firsts (and bests!).
Young Paige Palmer
Paige Palmer was one of four children from an affluent Akron family. Paige's father was a dentist. She says they were one of the lucky few families that were not affected by the Depression.
"We never knew what the Depression was. I only knew that women were wearing gloves with bare fingers and selling apples on the street."
She was active from very early on - swimming by the age of 3 and a YWCA life guard at age 12. By 18, she was the Physical Education Director of Our Lady of the Elms having been recommended by the University of Akron. At 14 she taught dancing and tennis at the YWCA and also taught dance at the University of Akron.
At the age of 16, Paige opened a dance studio, The School of Expression. She saved her money and rented a large old house. She convinced some friends to rent space in the house from her. She taught dance and they taught knitting and saxophone. Her parents did not know about the school until she sent them an invitation to the opening.
Paige knows she was very lucky to have a landlord trust a 16 year old girl with a commitment like that, but she thinks the landlord was probably counting on her father to bail her out if things did not work out.
Paige did not just happen into the world of fitness and fashion - she worked hard to get to the top. She studied ballet and tap dance and throughout the 20's she took acrobatic classes. She has taken classes in physical education, nutrition and even pre-med.
Paige Palmer at Portage Lakes in 1937
Her philosophy was simple. "You can make your dreams come true - but it means working on your dream 24 hours of each day. There is no time out if you want to be successful in your chosen field. Each day one succeeds is a little more toward your goal. It can be the biggest adventure of your entire life."
In 1943, Paige Palmer was a promotions director for the largest textile manufacturer in the world, Cohn-Hall-Marx in New York City (later known as United Merchants and Manufacturers). They became the sponsor of her first show, which she hosted and produced. The show was called "Fashion for Women".
She stayed with that show until a visit home for the holidays in 1947 when she learned of the opening of the first television station in all of Ohio, WEWS. She remembers Mr. Halle of the local department store scoffing at the idea that television could ever sell fashion.
Career Gal Paige Palmer
Paige met with Jim Hanrahan, the CEO, and was offered a job creating a show for women on this new station. "I was given complete authority on producing and planning the program," says Paige. She went to work for the station on January 13, 1948. This was the very first televised exercise and fitness program for women anywhere in the country.
She planned on staying thirteen weeks and then returning to New York. Thirteen weeks turned into 25 years! The show was seen all over Ohio, parts of Pennsylvania and into Canada. Every weekend she went back to New York. "I had the front part of the Penthouse in the hotel behind the Waldorf, (Lexington Hotel) and Arthur Godfrey had the back part"
She used her New York connections to book some of the most famous designers of the time and many national celebrities and personalities for the show. "Oleg Cassini loved me. He used to make special dresses for me."
She describes Cassini as "every bit the royalty. You could not help but love him. He would name his clothes and dresses 'This is the girl next door. This is the girl in the street." It was too funny. His home was like a royal palace with a second floor balcony. "
Paige Palmer and June Allison in New York City
She says she is the "Only one that could ring the bell and go up into Dior or any of the French designers. For some reason they enjoyed me and I enjoyed them."
She traveled to New York with Don Unger, the station photographer.
Paige was also well known for her hats, something not everyone can wear. "I have an extremely perfect face for hats." Mr. John, the famed hat designer for the stars loved to see her wear his hats and would often design with her in mind.
Paige Palmer with Mr. John - 1957 Cleveland News
The caption stated: "Glamorous Miss Paige Palmer of WEWS is assisted by world-famous couturier-milliner and fashion originator Mr. John, as she wears the most outstanding creations at the preview opening of Mr. John's 1957 Autumn and Winter Regency collection."
She had twenty or more fur hats which she donated to Kent State University for their Fashion Museum. She could wear almost any kind of hat, including the pill box hat made famous by Jacqueline Kennedy.
Paige Palmer at the May Company in 1957
The lovely Ms. Palmer was entered into a "best legs" contest promoted by The Cleveland Plain Dealer. She was victorious over the celebrity and pin-up model known world-wide for her legs - Betty Grable.
Paige Palmer's award-winning legs
Paige will not leave her house if she is not dressed to the nines and she is never without massive amounts of stunning jewelry. Her nails are always perfectly manicured and every hair is in place. Needless to say, her clothes scream "haute couture" and she carries it all like the diva she is.
Paige says she used to hope to make enough money to afford a face lift, but once she could afford one decided she would never want one. "What are people thinking with face lifts? It takes away from their personality."
Paige has always been very in tune to healthy living, eating and exercise. "To this day I put my legs on the back of the sofa and send blood to the brain. I used to tell my viewers to put an ironing board at the end of the sofa and make a slant board."
Paige was a frequent guest on the Mike Douglas Show. At the height of her career, Paige was on the "A" list for parties and events. She was always invited to the designers' homes and of course, to all of their runway shoes.
Scripps Howard, WEWS Channel 5 was the home of The Paige Palmer Show for 25 years (1948-1973). One reason for its longevity was that she reached a second generation. "I not only had all the mothers of Northeastern Ohio, but all their children exercising with me every morning."
Old WEWS Channel 5 Scripps-Howard TV camera
When the children grew up, they were familiar with her and attended her personal appearances and continued to watch her show. She says television through the 1960's was a wonderful tool for teaching. She had fresh flowers on the set for every show. It was a daily show (Monday-Friday), but she always had fresh, new flowers.
Paige did all of her shows live and knew that anything could happen on live television. She says the viewers watched closely trying to find mistakes. They would call her to point out a run in her hose or if a false eyelash fell off. Even her commercials were live and she never used "idiot boards" or cue cards.
The Paige Palmer Show - early days
She recalls one Christmas commercial that took a bad turn. "I had a Waring Blender Commercial and I was told that I could lift the lid and push the content down with a spatula. I was making cranberry and orange salad and what they didn't tell me was not to touch the blade. I did, and we had orange cranberries all over me and over the crew. I said that is not what one should do, but I sold a lot of Waring blenders."
Then there was the time her assistant, Audrey Dahlgren was in a swan shaped bathtub doing a commercial with Paige for bubble bath. Audrey had to stay in the tub, as the water turned colder and colder because she had dropped the towel and could not get out.
Audrey Dahlgren and Paige Palmer in 1974
Paige also remembers November 1950 when Cleveland experienced one of its worse snow storms ever. She was doing a prime time show for The Ford Motor Company and she recalls how beautiful the interior of the auto was and the lovely fashions designed for her models.
The weather was so bad they could not leave the station and Paige, along with her models and crew, kept the station on the air for five days! The storm caused other problems as well "A huge light fell off the boom and landed on my Padre Hat. The crown was hard enough not to sustain injury."
Betty Cope was the director of Paige's show and has since gone on to be the President of WVIZ, public television. "I had a wonderful crew and Betty Cope was my director... Before the show each morning we had a morning hug."
Paige Palmer filming live
She ran an exercise class on her show that included, for the first time, a stretch rope and beauty bar. "Even Joe DiMaggio got on the floor to do fanny bumps. He got out of breath and the camera had to cut the scene."
Paige Palmer - Fitness Pioneer
"I wanted to prove that a woman could be an athlete and still be feminine. I was always so feminine. Back in the days when I was in school, the physical education teachers were always so masculine." She used "fanny scoots" and bumps to get women involved in exercise.
She was always telling mothers to include their babies in their exercise routine by bouncing them on their stomach. She developed and promoted her own line of exercise equipment known as The Complete Home Gym and her own line of exercise clothes.
She was the first to teach expectant mothers the benefits of exercise and actually show the routines on the air. She herself was pregnant and took advantage of this time to teach other expectant mothers.
Paige Palmer exercising
She often had doctors on her show to promote good health. The renowned Dr. Page, the doctor who performed the very first artery transplant was her guest. His patient was on the show with him before and after the surgery.
Pap tests for women were first introduced in the 1940's and Paige, always ahead of her time, taught women about them and prompted them to have one annually.
Health & Fitness Pioneer Paige Palmer
Along with exercise, Paige promoted good healthy eating. Her show included chefs to show women how to cook healthier and eat better. She herself does not eat fried foods, potato chips, or pizza, although she says pizza is okay, she is "not condemning it."
She was one of the first to try and convince people of the benefits of yogurt. "I couldn't get my staff or even my family to try it."
She says she does not eat a whole meal but instead eats every three or four hours. Even when she goes to restaurants, she asks for smaller portions. She eats a lot of yogurt, which she says is important to line your stomach for good digestion and a lot of cheese. She does not eat any meat or poultry but eats fish and shellfish. She thinks, "Everybody should have fish at least twice a week it's wonderful brain food."
Paige Palmer modeling with an umbrella
Those familiar with the show will remember her saying, "Count your blessings and then your calories."
Her show was not just fashion, beauty and health - it went further than that. She invited local religious leaders to come on the show and discuss upcoming holidays and the traditions and customs associated with them.
She even had a segment called "Who's Liable?" with neighborhood civil issues. Her guests would include a judge and two lawyers. She had antique dealers and artists teaching the fine points of their business.
Paige Palmer was also the first person to do make-overs. She had women come in with problem areas and she would take their measurements and weight every week and watch the progress they made on the work out advice she gave them. She also had a make up expert do their make up and Paige would recommend the best clothing styles for their proportions and life style.
Paige also knew the dangers of "The Empty Nest Syndrome" in which a woman devotes all of her life to raising her children and then, when they leave home, she is left with an emptiness and often depression. She stressed the importance of women having a hobby while her children where young and at home and then possibly turning that hobby into a career when they moved out.
Paige knew John Kenley, of the famed Kenley players, well and loved working with him. She appeared in the play "The Women" with Gloria Swanson and Marilyn Maxwell. She remembers Swanson declaring that no one (other than Swanson herself) was to be dressed in all black.
Paige Palmer in black leotard
Paige was playing a physical trainer so of course, a black leotard was the "mode du jour" and Paige was not about to don the alternate white leotard. She was sure she would look like she was wearing underwear. In the end she wore the black outfit.
Before the curtain rose for her first scene, Paige could be heard chanting her well-known phrases "Up, over, bend and stretch." The audience instantly recognized her voice and she was greeted by thunderous applause.
Gloria Swanson loved Paige's son Perry (who was about 5 at that time). Swanson had had a bus made into an RV like a hotel room and she drove it everywhere. Paige describes her as "just a little thing."
Celebrity dancer Marge Champion was also in the show with them. Paige says Gloria Swanson could never remember her lines but still "She was Gloria Swanson and nobody seemed to notice."
The always fashionable Paige Palmer and guest Hildi
Although a recent newscast promoted the "first ever fashion show of clothes available through Goodwill", the fact is that as far back as 1960 Paige had such a show. She used her models and once a month they had a Goodwill Fashion Show.
When her show ended in 1973 it was due in large part to her being diagnosed with Meniere's Disease, an inner-ear disorder that affected her balance, often causing vertigo. Hers was a very severe case, and it often caused her to faint. Her housekeeper had to travel with her because when she had an attack she would become very dizzy and would hear loud noises in her ears.
She believes it to have been caused by something that happened when she had her appendix out, although at the time there did not seem to be a problem. When she interviewed the Dali Lama, he told her that her problem was manifested in her ears, but was the result of the appendectomy.
When the news of her illness came out, she said she was bombarded by letters from people with the same symptoms hoping she could give them advice. She is no longer affected by the disease. "I am an extremely positive person and very psychic. I can usually rise up above things which most people cannot do. I overcame it completely. I never let anything get me down. I am never ever negative."
When she left T.V. she went on to do a radio show for WELW for the next ten years.
One might think a woman like Paige would have been battling sexism and male chauvinism all her life, but that is not the case. She never felt she was held back because she was a woman. She believed strongly in equal rights for women, but not in "burning bras.
What did that have to do with equal pay?" She took part in a meeting in Washington about women's rights. Gloria Steinman and Betty Friedan were both at the meeting and Paige wound up walking out. "They were there to promote themselves not women."
She acknowledges that things were very, very different in her day, and she prefers the upbringing she had to the way it is today. "The idea of giving an eleven year old contraceptive pills - I just don't understand. I think what is shown on TV is terrible. I wasn't even allowed to advertise bras and panties - it was all taboo!"
She remembers the night before her wedding she still had an 11:00 curfew. The fact that she was getting married the next day did not keep her parents from being furious because she came in at midnight.
Paige Palmer - Fashionista
Paige has always loved to travel and both her work and personal life afforded her many opportunities. She says there is no place she has not been. She has been to the Arctic Circle - close enough to walk to Russia from where she was. She was the only American to be invited to the coronation of the Prince of Spain.
She was in Rome on a fashion excursion one year. "It was fabulous. All of the top designers loved me so they all invited me to their shows. I got to meet Grace Kelly at one of them and she took a liking to me". She invited Paige, again the only American, to the Party of the 400 in Rome, an annual event put on by Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier.
India is a favorite spot for Paige. She says there is a story around every corner. "Every state in India is different. The food, the dialect, absolutely everything. To know India you really must know their religions. India is a society of religions. Southern India even has a lot of Jewish people from the lost tribes. It is a fascinating country."
Paige Palmer's passport photo taken in Bombay India
She goes on to say that for a writer, there is always something interesting to write. "In New Delhi you have ultra modern - fabulous buildings built like USA - magnificent in every way. Wonderful food, very elegant. Then you take a car and go down to southern part - Old Delhi. There you go into a store where the man is sitting on floor and you sit on floor looking at fabrics or whatever. Even when [you are] buying something like gold, you sit on floor."
While Paige was on one of her trips to India, the Dali Lama of Tibet was forced into exile in India. Paige was offered the opportunity to interview him for fifteen minutes through an interpreter. Paige was the first to conduct an interview with him. When they met, he sent the interpreter away and decided to try and do the interview himself.
Paige says, "His English was perfect and we talked for over an hour. We had a long chat. He expressed his two wishes to me. The first was that he could return to Tibet and the second was that he wanted to go to the United States." The Dali Lama called in his photographer to have their picture taken together. Of course, the story made the international wires. Scripps Howard gave Paige a $500 bonus for the exclusive interview.
In 1955, Paige went to Russia where she interviewed then Prime Minister Nikolai Bulganin and General Zukoff. They were very pleased with the interview and awarded Paige medals for her work.
Paige was in Austria the day the Austrian people were freed from Communism. She says, "It was a wonderful thing to behold. Everyone was dancing in the hotels and they were tearing down the pictures of Stalin."
Paige Palmer goes abroad
In Paris she met with President Rene Coty and his family in their Presidential Palace, she swam in the royal pool of Pakistan's first Prime Minister, Ali Khan and had dinner on Aristotle Onasis' ship. She earned her Reindeer Drivers License in Lapland, which unfortunately has not been renewed. While in Rome, she had an audience with Pope Pius XII.
When she travels Paige says, "When I am in their country, I do as they do. I become a native of the country I visit."
Paige has written dozens of travel books on India alone, in addition to those on different exotic destinations. She also wrote travel articles for ITN (International Travel News). She had her own column. "Worldwide Travel Advice" in which she concentrated on the day to day things people needed to know if they were going to follow in her footsteps and head off to Kuala Lumpur, New Guinea, India, China or Alaska. She has won many awards for her travel articles and has received letters from around the world from grateful readers who took her advice and travel tips.
Paige is also an automobile aficionado. She was a member of the Crawford Auto Club for years and its President, Fred Crawford, was thrilled with the way she brought the Club to life.
Bill Snyder, Marilyn and Dick Roddie and Paige Palmer
at a 1999 Classic Car Club Outing
"I always had a fleet of cars. I had the first Mercedes convertible that came into Ohio. I had Lincolns and Cadillacs - I had a fabulous Cadillac made just for me. I never had a Rolls because my husband said they required a heated garage and you would have to start it every day."
Her husband raced cars with Paul Newman and "Paul and his wife [Joanne Woodward] and kids would all come and we'd watch the other races together."
Paige Palmer in the latest convertible
Her first job as a print journalist was in the early 50's when she began writing for Healthways Magazine. By the 60's (and still sometimes to this day) she was writing for the Times of Lorain. It was not until after she left television that she started writing her travel articles, which she also continues to today.
Paige enjoys life and loves to talk to intellectual people, but does not like talking to boring people or making small talk. "There are so many wonderful things to talk about. I get so annoyed when people want to just talk to hear themselves talk and have nothing to contribute to a conversation."
Paige is most proud of the camaraderie she had with her television moms and their children. She believes, and justifiably so, that she was part of bringing harmony to these moms and their children.
She has a wonderful attitude. "If you really want to do it - you can do it. If you want it badly enough you can do it. Just don't put it on side burner - do it! I always tell everybody take every thing you can from life - you never know what will become your life...After all I am the one who is going to make my day"
Paige celebrated her 90th birthday in 2006 with an invitation-only tea party put on by Kent State University Museum. Palmer has been a major benefactor of the museum. In addition to many of her fabulous outfits and examples of the high fashion of her day, Paige also donated hundreds of pieces of Ohio-made pottery from her vast collection.
Paige Palmer with priceless vase
Part of her success and happy life she says is that she is constantly "Surrounded by wonderful, wonderful people."
"I feel a special need to reach out and say hello to family and friends and my television viewers who mean so much and who have given me happiness, love, friendship, caring and sharing making every day of the year a little better more exciting, more challenging."
"It's been a wonderful life I thank God for keeping me active and healthy." Paige is still a social butterfly and enjoys all of the parties she is invited to and the good friends she has made. She says she loves the Western Reserve Historical Society and going to museums and libraries.
She lives by the words of Winston Churchill who said that if you make it you are obliged to give something back.
In 2003, the Ohio Bicentennial Committee published a book, "Profiles of Ohio Women". Included in the book were such famous names as Doris Day, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Erma Bombeck, Gloria Steinem, Judith Resnick - and of course, Paige Palmer.
Ohio Governor Bob Taft welcomes Paige Palmer
into the Ohio Women's Hall of Fame
Congress named her "The first Lady of Fitness" because of her pioneer work in physical activity and exercise. "Even the Academy of Medicine did not recommend physical fitness then. I wanted to put on exercise classes for employees of companies. I went to the rubber companies, all the stores of Cleveland and Akron. They thought I was out of my mind." Paige, once again was ahead of her time.
Today many, if not most, of the large companies have fitness centers and are following many of the same regiments that Paige recommended more than sixty years ago.
Paige's amazing life and memorabilia of Paige Palmer were displayed at the Kent State University Museum in 1999 in an exhibit called "Panache: Paige Palmer - A Salute to 50 Years of Fashion and Fitness. She also donated $100,000 worth of pottery she had collected. "I never knew men loved pottery so much. The pottery show brought more new people into the Museum than ever before."
The collection included works by Rookwood, Weller and Rosenthal as well as Roseville Pottery. In 1999, The Paige Palmer Gallery was dedicated at the museum in honor of her generous gift.
Paige Palmer at the microphone
Paige was honored in 1953 by AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) with an award for "Best of the Best". The following year the same group awarded her with the "Best Of Women's TV Award"
In 1993 she was entered into the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Lower Great Lakes Chapter along with Del Donahoo, Howard Hoffman, Jack Moffitt, Chuck Schodowski and Neal Van Ells. She is the well deserved recipient of literally hundreds of additional awards and commendations.
Until his recent death, Paige spent many wonderful years with her husband, Caryl Ashbaugh. He is a man she describes as "a wonderful, caring person. He was my best friend and my sweetheart."
In Paige's own words..."I have enjoyed a very full fabulous life of good health, positive thinking, happiness and super social activities. I have many caring friends, three terrific sons and super special grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchildren. It would be wonderful to make it to 100 years to see my great great grandchildren develop."
The legendary Paige Palmer
Paige Palmer is more than just an entrepreneur, a writer, a television host, a health, fitness and nutrition expert, a fashion expert, a travel expert or a philanthropist. There really is no category that encompasses all of the things she has done or the adventures she has had. You can call her an icon, but even that falls short. Certainly, she is a pioneer.
Possibly the best way to describe Paige is not with a one or two word title, but rather by her attitude. She is a "no-holds-barred-I-can-do-it-if-I-try-don't-tell-me-no-I-am-my-own-destiny" person with the history to back it up.
Paige Palmer at 90
When she looks over the last ninety plus years, she can proudly say, "Yes, I can and Yes, I did." When we look over her last ninety plus years, we can only say, "Wow!"
Profiled by Debbie Hanson (1/08)
See More Photos of Paige Palmer
Update: Sadly, Paige passed away in the early hours of Saturday November 21, 2009. She was a true pioneer and will be missed.
Top of Page
Back to Profiles of Cleveland Seniors