A few notes on Rheo Blair and Roy Hilligenn

Irvin Johnson and Roy Hilligenn at a party ca. 1953
Roy Hilligenn, much loved and a bit of a character in his own right, is but a footnote in the life of Rheo Blair. But between these two fascinating men both a certain contrast and a few parallels are worthy of at least brief mention. We begin with the latter.

We touched on Rheo's public singing performances at Health Conventions in a recent post. More than a decade earlier at a party we find him teaming up with Roy Hilligenn to sing a duet. The two of them can be seen in the upper left portion of the image to the left in which Rheo (in his Irvin Johnson days) has his hand around Hilligenn. You can tell he is not shy about opening his mouth to sing. Both gentlemen can be seen in all three photos within this image which was published in Tomorrow's Man in 1953 (click on the image for bigger view). The caption reads "Open house at the home of Philadelphia specialist, Dr. T. Ealy, drew a happy crowd of celebrities in the bodybuilding field. TOP LEFT: Irvin Johnson and Roy Hilligenn join in a duet while Jack Delinger prefers to "sit this one out."

Both have been called "entertainers" and "charismatic." Roy was the "smiling superman" and Rheo the great singing imitator of Nelson Eddy. In earlier days Rheo was also known as the "singing milkman of Sommerville" (NJ). Both succeeded in no small part because of an unusually positive attitude, a pleasing personality, and a huge amount of determination. 

And at early points in their respective lives both were both the proverbial "90 pound weakling." But enter here a critical and noteworthy contrast: they chose and maintained throughout their lives very different dietary philosophies and roads to health. Rheo's devotion to healthy proteins, fats, amino acids etc. needs no elaboration here. Roy was the vegetarian opposite. He wrote "I believe being a vegetarian all my life is a secret to [my] youthful countenance and longevity and perfect health." Roy says he has "never" eaten, turkey, fish, chicken or red meat. "I truly believe," says Roy, "that fruit is the body's cleanser, vegetables are the bodies healer, and meat is the bodies premature aging agent." He built his body with vegetables and weights. He turned out to have the God-given gift constitutional gift of being an "easy gainer."

Not so, Rheo. In his youth he experimented with every sort of diet in attempting to simply feel good. He left nothing out, not even the carrot juice fast. He also tried weightlifting. But weightlifting was of no use other than to deplete and leave him in a weakened state -- until he coupled exercise to a nutrient-dense diet of animal-sourced fats and proteins with supplements, the latter to aid in assimilation and usage of the former. This began for him with the classic raw-milk diet-cure which turned is life around. He then got his first real job, delivering milk while studying voice on the side; hence the "singing milkman of Sommerville."

I never with spoke with Rheo about Roy Hilligenn but then I had never heard of Roy Hilligenn until I began this project. But Rheo did give me an earful, at every opportunity,  about what he considered the utter futility of vegetarianism (for the record, I do not agree with him on this; see my words below on different metabolisms). For the usually happy, gentle soul who was practically always smiling and singing,  it was surprising to see him get animated and riled when the subject of vegetarianism came up; one of the few things that truly irritated him. Perhaps because when he was in his young, weakened state, all it did was tear him down further.

On a personal level, a low fat, low protein, vegan sort of diet also does not work for me although I have had more than one "one-size fits all militant vegans" try to convince me otherwise. I do best on a very high animal-fat/ protein diet. BUT I do understand that people are different. My father is a very young and vibrant 83 year old who swims an hour every day and thrives on veganism -- and so did Roy Hilligenn. And that is because we all have different metabolisms. Biochemical individuality is a reality. Rheo understood, acknowledge and preached biochemical individuality. And to this end each of his students underwent blood work to determine their glandular profile which in turn helped Rheo individualize each clients' program. But Rheo could be as rigid in a paleo-diet sense as vegans are about their ideas.

Rheo's mentor, Carlton Fredericks, had Dr. Robert Atkins on his radio program in the middle of June 1983, about 10 days before Rheo and I travelled to New York to appear on that same radio show (as well as The Morning Show with Regis Philbin and Cyndy Garvey -- another story for another time). I listened to a tape of the Fredericks/Atkins episode recently and Dr. Atkins related an interesting phenomenon: while the assumption is that steak/meat/fat doesn't generally cause blood sugar spikes and carbohydrates do, blood tests show that a small number of people with certain protein sensitivities do experience a blood sugar spike when beef is eaten. Beef is not healthy for such people. For these same people, carbohydrates may be less of a problem food than for most of the rest of us. Carlton Fredericks and Dr. Atkins understood this but I am not certain that Rheo did. In any case, one size simply does not fit all. And by the way, if you can ever get your hands on any tapes of those old Carlton Fredericks broadcasts, they are fascinating.

I would love to have been able to discuss Roy Hilligenn's vegetarian diet with Rheo. It would have been a lively conversation.

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Information found on Rheo H. Blair: The Book is meant for educational and informational purposes only, and to motivate you to make your own health care and dietary decisions based upon your own research and in partnership with your health care provider. It should not be relied upon to determine dietary changes, a medical diagnosis or courses of treatment.