In the 1977 disastrodrama The Cassandra Crossing, Ann Turkel played one of a trainload of potential victims of a terrorist bent on spreading the deadly "pneumonic plague." Today Turkel is fighting a far greater scourge: flab among the rich of the Hollywood hills. Turkel and her Austrian boyfriend, Hans B√ºhringer, run Now Or Never, Inc., a personalized fitness service that delivers good health door to door.
For about $45 an hour, Now Or Never will send a muscleman to your driveway in a van loaded with electronic muscle-stimulant machines, weightlifting apparatuses, biofeedback devices and vitamins. Now Or Never was one of the first mobile health clubs to roll into the Southern California fitness boom. Turkel and B√ºhringer say they have brought fitness to such glittering figures as Rod Stewart and superagent Swifty Lazar.
Both Turkel and B√ºhringer are admirable examples of Southern California physical well-being. They're lean, lithe and tanned. Their gymmobile venture got on the road soon after they met at a party last summer, and B√ºhringer, a self-styled singer-composer, would-be Olympic skier and swimmer and self-proclaimed ace kinesiologist, designed a workout program for Turkel. Though she may already have been the most smashing woman to admit to being more than 30 since Cheryl Tiegs, she lost 12 pounds by following B√ºhringer's regimen and developed her pectorals so much that she had to get a bra two inches bigger.
One night, she balked at B√ºhringer's demands. "I don't want to do it now," she said.
"I said better now or never," recalls B√ºhringer. "I'm going to help you now or never. That's how Now Or Never, Inc. came about."
The two eventually worked out a program that starts with a complete physical by B√ºhringer. "He's a doctor in these areas," says Turkel. B√ºhringer claims to have a Ph.D. in nutrition from the medical faculty of the University of Vienna—the same institution, he points out, that produced Sigmund Freud. "We have a lot of very big minds in Vienna," he says.
Ah, but B√ºhringer left Austria at 18, the age at which most Austrians are just finishing high school. And the Vienna medical faculty simply doesn't offer Ph.Ds., and the name Hans B√ºhringer doesn't appear in any university records. B√ºhringer insists, though, that Mom has his diploma tucked away in a drawer somewhere back home.
B√ºhringer also says that in Austria he used to model under the name Michael Jon and sing as John Lewis. He says he even had a couple of hit singles, Oh, My Darling and King of Bomp. But a check of the Western European record industry indicated that these "hits" never made the charts. B√ºhringer will even tell you he was on the '76 Austrian Olympic skiing and swimming teams. Well, maybe he wasn't on both teams, he'll later concede, maybe it was just the swim team, if that. Anyway, he was in shape and ready to serve if called. But on third thought, he's pretty sure he once made the Austrian Olympic ski team. "Track down Karl Cordin and ask him if I was on the Olympic team," B√ºhringer suggests. "He was twice, no, three times an Olympic champ. He knows me." Alas, Cordin, who in fact never won an Olympic medal, is no more enlightening. He says he doesn't remember B√ºhringer, or Jon, or Lewis. As one dachshund said to the other in Central Park, "Back in Germany, I was a St. Bernard."
The B√ºhringer fitness program includes special diets, nutritional supplements, structural and breathing therapy, aerobics, muscle stimulus by electrotherapy and testing for allergies. When pressed to expand on the concepts behind his program, B√ºhringer tends to wander into a jumble of pop psychology jargon. He explains his radical theory of allergies in an Austrian accent that seems to come and go: "If you have an allergy your body reacts in two ways. One, trying to dilute it with water and you gain weight. The other way the immune system gets all upset and you just collapse." He says he tests for allergies with "foods and different pills. Anytime you incorporate any kind of food, any kind of material, any kind of metal, your muscle will tell you in your aura, your body will react. Weak or strong to you. If it is weak, it is rejecting it. If it is strong, it's needing it. Like needs like."
To determine whether a vitamin deficiency might be affecting a person's aura, B√ºhringer has his clients lie down and hold various bottles of vitamins over their stomachs while he raises and lowers their right legs. SI's Los Angeles correspondent, Jack Tobin, watched B√ºhringer examine a woman in Turkel's presence while the Now Or Never van was parked in the woman's driveway. B√ºhringer concluded that she had a vitamin C deficiency. The woman pointed out that she took 8,000 to 10,000 units of vitamin C a day—the equivalent of a small grove of oranges.
"Yeah," said Turkel, "but if it's not the right one, it would have a deleterious effect." B√ºhringer recommended a change of brand.
"Ann, take down Allison Plus [a brand of vitamin]," he said. "I could even do it [the testing] verbally, just knowing the chemical construction of the vitamin myself. By touching her, my aura transfers to her. It's part of the Chinese. You don't have to have the vitamin in your hand."
It's questionable how much medical validity all this has, but the attitude in the Hollywood hills seems to be, if it makes you feel good and it's not hurting anybody else, then it's nobody's business but yours and your kinesiologist's. "Holistic medicine is a meridian flow," says B√ºhringer. And in Southern California, you've got to go with something.