Gypsy Boots (right) and Dr. Harry Lehrer c. 1960
August 19, 1914
San Francisco, California
|Died||August 8, 2004
|Other names||Boots Bootzin
Gypsy Boots (August 19, 1914 – August 8, 2004), born Robert Bootzin (and also known as Boots Bootzin), was an American fitness pioneer, actor, and writer. He is credited with laying the foundation for the acceptance by mainstream America of "alternative" lifestyles such as yoga and health food. His books Barefeet and Good Things to Eat and the memoir, The Gypsy in Me, gained him a cult following.
Life and career
Bootzin was born in San Francisco, California to Russian Jewish immigrants. His father, Max, was a broom salesman. His mother, Mushka, raised Bootzin and his four siblings in a vegetarian household, while also leading the family on hikes in the hills, performing Russian folk dances and feeding the homeless with her homemade black bread.
By 1933, he had dropped out of high school and left home to wander California with a group of self-styled vagabonds. In the 1940s, Bootzin, along with 10-15 other "tribesmen," lived off the land in Tahquitz Canyon near Palm Springs, slept in caves and trees, and bathed in waterfalls. Decades ahead of the Hippie movement, Bootzin and his companions lived a carefree existence and were seasonal fruit pickers. The group became known as "Nature Boys". A combination of the philosophy of the "Nature Boys" and growing counterculture of the 1950s and 1960s in California may have been responsible for the emergence of California Spirituality, in the 1960s.
In 1958, Bootzin married Lois Bloemker, a conservative, academic woman from Fort Wayne, Indiana and settled in the Hollywood area. They had three children, Daniel, Alex and Freddie (who died in 2001). The two divorced in the late 1990s.
His health food store "Health Hut" was one of the first of its kind in the world (if not the first), and was patronized by dozens of Hollywood celebrities in the early 1960s. The original Health Hut, located on Beverly Blvd just west of La Cienega Blvd, had an authentic "Tiki" style to it made with leaves and bamboo.
Bootzin personally advocated never eating meat, drinking alcohol, or smoking tobacco. He was an early believer in the health properties of organic foods. One of these organic foods was garlic—and he later became a spokesperson for the "Kyolic" variety. He also did work for a Sonoma cheese factory. He would often have a garlic-spiced cheese, "Sonoma Jack," at his booth at health festivals and fairs in Sonoma Valley," along with his all-natural, sugar-free "Boots Bars", wheat grass, spirulina, and kyolic garlic, as well as "honey sweet" Medjoule dates from his orchard.
His childhood vegetarian lifestyle was something Bootzin continued with his own family as his son Daniel Bootzin corroborated.
When friends came over, Bootzin said his parents offered the guests fresh carrot juice, a novelty in the 1960s.
Bootzin died in Camarillo, California, just 11 days short of his 90th birthday. He was survived by his former wife, Lois Bootzin, two of his sons Daniel and Alexander, three grandchildren, and a sister. His son Freddy died in 2001.
Bootzin received national exposure in 1955, when he appeared as a contestant on Groucho Marx's network TV show You Bet Your Life (September 30, 1955 Season 5 Episode 3). Introduced as "Boots Bootzin," he cheerfully espoused his philosophy of clean living, exercise, and healthy eating. Even though he was over 40, he acted like a gangly, goofy, but polite teenager, causing mildly sensational reactions from the audience. When asked by Groucho to demonstrate how he sold figs, he stepped toward the edge of the stage, shouted an attention-getting sales pitch for a few seconds, and then performed a perfect pratfall (the type where one falls sideways after swinging one leg to knock the other one out from underneath). In the game portion of the show, he correctly whispered the spelling of the word "motif" to his partner, who overruled him and miscorrected it to "motiffe". Groucho, who usually displayed little tolerance for extremists, admired Bootzin's rugged individualism and said so, on camera. He also seemed to appreciate the perfect execution of one of vaudeville's classic bits.
His wife appeared on the same programme a few years later with a man who worked as an organ grinder with 13 children who had a monkey that looked and walked like Groucho. She appeared very conservative and polite and nothing like her former husband's appearance who was as described above. She recalled how she met him while she practiced her ballet on a beach. Bootzin was standing on his head. She found his antics interesting enough to approach him and the relationship developed from there. Her connection with him was not mentioned on the show and perhaps because of the organ grinder, may have been overlooked due to time and Groucho's interest in the monkey act.
Bootzin made personal appearances with the Spike Jones musical-comedy troupe, speaking about health foods. He was a regular guest on American television talk shows in the 1960s, appearing 25 times on The Steve Allen Show. On the Allen show he would often play up his role as a health advocate by swinging from a vine on stage as a "Nature Boy", and persuade Steve to drink one of "Gypsy Boots"-concocted fruit health drinks. He referred to this drink as a "smoothie", giving credence to Gypsy Boots as one of the originators of the popular style of blended natural fruit health drinks. He also made frequent appearances on George Putnam's Talk Back, which came at the tail end of the popular KTLA George Putnam News in Los Angeles, California.
He released a record album, Unpredictable, on Sidewalk Records in 1968.
Gypsy loved to participate in parades, including the annual, wildly creative and non-commercial Santa Barbara Summer Solstice Parade. Boots appeared at the Annual Calabasas Pumpkin Festival in 1973. Even in his late 80s he would energetically dance, make music, and holler all the way up the parade route for a couple of miles. He would show up for weekly farmers' markets in his wildly-painted van promoting kyolic garlic, and would always be a showman with the gift of gab and giving out free garlic samples.
Bootzin was an avid fan of the USC Trojans football team, where he was known for eccentric clothes and an ever-present cowbell. He also regularly attended Los Angeles Dodgers, Lakers and Raiders games with spirited cheers, noisemakers and streamers. At age 86, he was still able to throw an American football at least 40 yards.
- Gypsy Boots -- quirky health fanatic who reached the masses
- Original ‘Nature Boy’ Gypsy Boots Remembered
- Elaine Woo, Gypsy Boots, 89; Colorful Promoter of Healthy Food and Lifestyles, Los Angeles Times, August 10, 2004, Accessed December 22, 2008.
- California's first health guru dead at 89
- Gordon Kennedy: Children of the Sun: A Pictorial Anthology From Germany To California 1883–1949. Nivaria Press (1998), 192 pp., ISBN 0-9668898-0-0
- Celebrating Fruits of a Healthy Lifestyle
- DAVID FERRELL. GYPSY At 75, `Nature Boy' Is a Free Spirit With a Healthy Sense of Humor. Los Angeles Times - April 20, 1986
- Gypsy Boots official website
- Gypsy Boots personal website
- AP Obituary, San Diego Union-Tribune, August 9, 2004
- "Remembering Gypsy Boots", All Things Considered, NPR, August 10, 2004
- Gypsy Boots at the Internet Movie Database