Banana George: Don’t Wait for Life to Happen, Make It Happen is the biography of one of the most inspiring and colorful celebrities of recent years. Written by the Blair family (his wife and daughters) along with Karen Putz, author and fellow barefoot water skier, this biography chronicles all of George’s life-affirming ninety-eight years.
Readers journey with George from his childhood and college years to his first marriage and becoming a father and entrepreneur. We experience with him his debilitating back problems and undergoing surgery for them, and then, we are thrilled when he discovers the wonderful world of barefoot water skiing. Ultimately, George was the world’s oldest barefoot water skier, but he was also a natural showman. He always busy sporting his signature yellow clothes; passing out bananas; appearing on major talk shows like The Oprah Winfrey Show, Late Night with David Letterman, and Live with Regis and Kathy Lee; traveling around the world; and meeting famous people. He even became a true ambassador of goodwill between nations.
After reading this book, I came to love Banana George and his zest for life. Most of all, I loved his creative spirit and his refusal ever to believe he couldn’t do something. Most people know Banana George for being the world’s oldest barefoot water skier-he was in the Guinness Book of World Records for that designation, continually breaking his record with each birthday-but what most people may not know is that he was an innovative entrepreneur Banana George. Once he became a father himself, George had a fabulous idea to begin a business that took photos of babies in the hospital so parents could have immediate pictures of their newborns to treasure for a lifetime. Consequently, Hospital Picture Service was born. George grew this business by going around the country selling his services to hospitals. While visiting all these hospitals, George also noticed how many babies were constantly crying and how the nurses couldn’t attend to all of them at the same time, so he invented the Blair Motion Bassinet, which had a motor attached to the bassinet to make it rock back and forth. Of course, he marketed the bassinet to all the hospitals as well.
A large part of the charm of the section about George’s early years before he became famous was the time he spent as a father. The book is filled with the memories of his four daughters and their experiences growing up with their father, from how he would only slow down the car and tell the kids to jump out when he had to drop them off because he was always in a hurry, to how he had to have a lazy susan on the dining room table to make everything easier to reach for everyone. He even installed bidets in his bathrooms because he thought they were more sanitary; his children had a lot of fun demonstrating how bidets worked for their friends who had never seen one.
George didn’t begin barefoot water skiing until he was about forty and after he’d had major surgery for his back problems. One day, he was watching some people water skiing and was asked if he would like to try. He said he was too old, but the man who offered was insistent, so George tried, and he never looked back. Soon the whole family was water skiing and performing at shows. George became a regular performer at Cypress Gardens, and that was just the beginning of his showmanship.
There are too many fascinating and fun moments in George’s career as a barefoot water skier and then a media celebrity to mention in this review, and I don’t want to spoil the fun for readers, but I can’t help but mention that he rode in a racecar with Prince Albert of Monaco and did a water skiing exhibition for King Hussein of Jordan. But that was just the tip of the iceberg for George-he loved to travel and began water skiing all over the world. One of my favorite stories was how, in 1988, George read an article that said the Russian editor of Pravada was an avid water skier. This was during the Cold War, and yet, George decided he’d like to water ski in Russia. He wrote a letter to the editor and, eventually, was invited to perform in the Friendship Cup Tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria (also behind the Iron Curtain). From there, George and his second wife JoAnne visited Russia, traveling throughout the country. George became known as “Mr. Banana” in Russia because people didn’t understand his nickname. Later, in 1995, George would welcome a delegation of Russian water skiers to the United States, thus spreading goodwill between the countries, and the Russians left with favorable impressions of the United States.
Before long, George had skied on six continents. Then his brother-in-law reminded him there were seven so George went skiing in Antarctica. He also once by happenstance ended up attending the Miss Switzerland beauty contest and gave the crowned winner bananas. Before his long celebrity career was over, George even starred in the movie Captiva Island about-what else?-a young rich kid who barefoot water skis and gets advice from several mature men, including George, Ernest Borgnine, and Arte Johnson from Laugh-In.
Banana George Blair proved to the world that you’re only as old as you think you are and it’s never too late to pursue doing the things you love. This is a man who loved to water ski so much that when he couldn’t stand anymore, he used a special chair made to sit in while he water skied.
We should all have George’s energy, and we should all read this book because maybe a little of George’s joie de vivre will rub off on us. The book includes a foreword by Phil Keoghan (host of The Amazing Race), Banana George’s Lessons for Life, and a list of all the places Banana George waterskied and the businesses and affiliations he was involved with. Altogether, Banana George is a treat that will have you going bananas just wanting to make your own life more adventurous.
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