By Hillel Aron
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“As with everything,” says S, “you have those visions and those goals, and the closer you get the more you feel like, ’Oh, it is within reach.‘ I had this guy, Reg Park, who was my idol. And I remember the things that I saw in the magazines, him as a family man with all his children and his beautiful wife, and I thought, ’Well, that‘s cool,’ that‘s where this whole thing goes. He had this gymnasium empire in South Africa, which in those days was 10 gymnasiums. Nowadays you would franchise 500 or something like this. He gave lectures at universities, and I read that as a kid at the age of 14 and thought, ’Wow, this is unbelievable.‘ And he won Mr. Universe. And he made movies, where he took the money and then built the gymnasiums. So that whole thing was like . . . I said to myself, ’So this is all from working out? And becoming Mr. Universe? I‘m in. This is it.’ It was not just Mr. Universe, it was the package. ‘If I could copy that, I will be home free.’ I was 13, 14 years old, you know. So I went after that. So of course I knew the steppingstones that he took: Mr. Universe. Then getting into movies. Then investing in business.
Starting in 1969, S based himself in Santa Monica, which remains the center of his movie, business and philanthropic empire today. While training and competing constantly as a world champion bodybuilder and power lifter, he took many college courses, at Santa Monica College, West L.A. University, UCLA Extension, and the University of Wisconsin, where he received his bachelor‘s degree in business. He also became, somewhat surprisingly, an avid collector of contemporary art.
”I became very good friends with Andy Warhol, used to hang out at the Studio in the ’70s, because he was a big believer in bodybuilding and [like other hip celebrities Schwarzenegger befriended] helped get bodybuilding out of the dungeon to make it a hip activity to do.“ He also loves sculptures, especially Western bronzes by Charles Russell and Frederic Remington.
And then there were movies. ”I was very fortunate that six months after I was in America, some little company cast me in a movie called Hercules in New York or Hercules Goes Bananas, two titles. So I felt like: ‘Wait a minute. Are we talking about that I have, now, arrived?’ I had no idea what levels there are in motion pictures, you know, like the guy off the boat!“
Schwarzenegger‘s patron of the time, muscle-magazine publisher Joe Weider, had told the producers that he was actually a Shakespearean actor from Germany. S laughs. ”They thought, ’It‘s incredible that we find a guy with a body like this who is a Shakespearean actor.’ You know, little did they know. Literally, I couldn‘t even speak the English language well enough to say my lines. I had to study day and night to just say the lines so someone can loop over the lines. But that really was the moment when I saw it really could happen, that I could be a movie star. So I went after it even more strongly.“ a
With help from Jack Nicholson, who linked him with acting and dialogue coaches and recommended him to Bob Rafelson, who directed S in his first serious feature film, Stay Hungry, S avidly pursued movie stardom even as he reigned over the world of bodybuilding.
Ironically, though, it was a documentary film about bodybuilding, Pumping Iron, that first established S’s cinematic charisma in his first and ultimately greatest role, that of Arnold S. Pumping Iron showed him to be a natural politician, able to charm potential supporters and manipulate opponents. Indeed, the joke then in that movie was that he and Jane Fonda (two Santa Monicans at the time) should run against each other for president.
While all this was going on, S was pursuing various business ventures, buying real estate in Santa Monica, Denver and other locales, running a bricklaying company with longtime compadre and fellow bodybuilding champ Franco Columbu. And he became involved in philanthropic activities with the Special Olympics.
”It was such a pleasure coming from Europe because no one here said ‘You can’t.‘ Over there, there were 5,000 regulations and you couldn’t make a move. It was so simple here, it was like spectacular. Even though there were obstacles, like I couldn‘t go to one college and get all the credits because I was here on a working permit and I couldn’t apply for a student visa simultaneously.“
Philanthropy and politics emerged from the mix. ”Politics was not my goal,“ says S, ”but I married into a political family. You get together with them and you hear about policy, about reaching out to help people. But I was working with Special Olympics before I met Maria, and her mother, who created Special Olympics. I was exposed to the idea of being a public servant, and Eunice and Sargent Shriver became my heroes. Not that we agreed on everything politically, but we totally agreed on using your talent to reach out and influence people. So I became really heavily involved in Special Olympics, took over the President‘s Council on Physical Fitness for President Bush. You know, one thing leads to the next, so I got involved with the after-school programs.“