Bodybuilder, actor, restaurateur and now a politician, Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the world's most recognisable (and bankable) celebrities. His political handlers sell him as the embodiment of the American Dream, an immigrant who came to America with $20 in his back pocket and ended up a millionaire. Certainly, his success in several different fields indicates a man who is fiercely dedicated to personal achievement. After a fallow period in his screen career, in late 2003 he romped home as the winner of California's gubernatorial election.
"I was always interested in proportion and perfection. When I was fifteen, I took off my clothes and looked in the mirror. When I stared at myself naked, I realized that to be perfectly proportioned I would need twenty-inch arms to match the rest of me."
Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger was born on July 30, 1947 in Thal, a small Austrian town near the Slovenian border. He had one older brother, Meinhard. His father, Gustav, had an authoritarian background. He voluntarily joined the National Socialist German Workers Party in 1938, and became a member of the SA in 1939. Although he served in an Austrian military police unit on the Eastern Front during World War II, there is no suggestion he was involved in any kind of war crimes. He joined the Austrian police following the war, raising his children strictly.
Schwarzenegger Snr. pushed his son into after-school athletics, where, at the age of fifteen, he discovered a natural aptitude for weightlifting. Physical fitness quickly became a passion, and anecdotes abound about him doing reps until he collapsed, or breaking into the gym so that he could work out on Sundays. In 1965, aged eighteen, he began his obligatory year of national service as an M-47 tank driver. This he relished, as it enforced rigorous exercise routines and diet. However, in the first weeks of basic training, he went AWOL, jumping a wall and catching a train to Stuttgart to compete in the junior Mr. Europe competition. Winning the event, he said later, "I felt like King Kong. I loved the sudden attention. I felt I was already one of the best in the world. Obviously, I wasn't even in the top 5000; but in my mind I was the best." Back at boot camp, his superiors disagreed somewhat and put him in the stockade for a week.
"In the beginning I was selfish. It was all about, 'How do I build Arnold? How can I win the most Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympic contests? How can I get into the movies and get into business?'"
Competitive bodybuilding, and the recognition it afforded, obviously appealed to the young Schwarzenegger. A fruitful career in European competition followed. He won four titles in 1966, including Mr. Europe as well as amateur Mr. Universe. He took the 1967 Mr. Universe title, as well as the 1968 German powerlifting championship.
But however well he was doing in Europe, Schwarzenegger's dreams had always been of elsewhere. A childhood friend has spoken of his three main ambitions: to live in America, to be an actor, and to marry a Kennedy. The first of these he accomplished in 1968, when he moved to California. Naturally, his bodybuilding success continued in the New World, with 1968 seeing a slew of titles and championships, not least the professional Mr. Universe title.
1970 saw another significant moment for Schwarzenegger - his big screen debut. While bodybuilding provided some recognition, it seems his ego was not well enough served by a job based around posing pouches and baby oil. Schwarzenegger played Hercules in the low budget Hercules in New York (sometimes titled Hercules Goes Bananas). Dubbed due to his thick accent and under the screen name "Arnold Strong", his performance did not go over too well. One reviewer commented that the bear suit "Strong" wrestled with was the better actor.
Despite this, his bodybuilding went from strength to strength, as it were. He went on to be Mr. Universe twice more, then Mr. Olympia for six successive years from 1970. This record was unmatched until 1990 and earned Arnie the nickname "the Austrian Oak".
At this time, he also put his muscles to work earning a living as a brick-layer. This went towards subsidising his intellectual efforts, earning a correspondence degree in business from the University of Wisconsin Superior. This success allowed him to start a construction company with fellow bodybuilder Franco Columbu. The scheme at the time was to use the profits from this company to fund a mail-order fitness business. However, he turned his attention to investment in real estate around Santa Monica.
His dominance of the bodybuilding scene ultimately served as a springboard into showbiz proper. Following a couple more poorly received acting performances, "the Oak" came to the attention of the world in general following George Butler's documentary Pumping Iron. This followed several bodybuilders in training for Schwarzenegger's old stomping grounds, the Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia competitions. As an aside, the contestants included Lou Ferrigno, later to pip Schwarzenegger to the part of the Incredible Hulk in the TV series of the same name. Schwarzenegger's confident manner and grandiose statements won over many audiences. Debuting at the Cannes Film Festival, Pumping Iron did much to popularise weightlifting and bodybuilding - and, of course, our man Arnold. He later commented, "The way to get headlines, to promote the sport, was to make outrageous statements."
After this break Schwarzenegger's second ambition was quick to be realised. After one or two more bit parts, 1982's Conan the Barbarian established his muscles, if not his acting proficiency, as a competent lead. This led to an audition for the Terminator.
However much Schwarzenegger's role in this film is ingrained into the popular psyche, it was not his first choice of role: he initially intended to try for the part of Kyle Reese. As he walked into the restaurant to meet the film's director, James Cameron, Cameron exclaimed, "You're a machine!" He cast him as the Terminator on the spot. Long on physical presence and short on, well, any expression at all, the part of everyone's favourite cybernetic organism seemed custom-made for Schwarzenegger. His performance propelled him to superstardom. The image of the emotionless, unstoppable Terminator clad in leather and black shades became iconic.
From here, his role as one of Hollywood's biggest action stars was assured. The early eighties saw a string of violent parts in violent films (Commando, Predator, The Running Man), all testing his trigger finger if not his acting gland. Many of these early performances could have been cut-and-pasted from one film to the other: the tough but unconventional military man, who ends up triumphing against seemingly insurmountable odds. Of course, this model left itself inherently open to ridicule and satire, in everything from Hot Shots! to the Simpsons.
1988's Twins saw a break from form as Arnie tried to move away from his hugely typecast lead parts. This was an attempt at endearing comedy, with Schwarzenegger playing the babe-in-the-woods genetic experiment who finds in Danny deVito his long-lost test tube twin brother. A mild box-office success, Twins initiated a rough pattern in Schwarzenegger's later films, as he interspersed more traditional shoot-'em-up fare with lighter comedies.
This rough R-PG-R pattern led from Kindergarten Cop (tough but unconventional cop ends up triumphing against, er ... a class of five-year-olds) to the spectacular Terminator 2: Judgement Day. T2 is often cited as his best film. It marked his second collaboration with Cameron, occasionally called the only director to ever get a good performance out of Schwarzenegger. He reprised his role as a Cyberdyne Systems T-800 - this time not the Terminator, merely a Terminator. And an outdated model, at that. At 44, this may have been becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. The film was the most expensive ever made, with a hefty chunk going on the ground-breaking computer generated effects that allowed Robert Patrick's T-1000 to morph between shapes. By this time, a similarly hefty portion was going into Schwarzenegger's wallet. His fee for Terminator 2 was $15 million.
This proved to be arguably the high water mark of his screen career. His next film was Last Action Hero, a tongue-in-cheek poke at superhero screen cops. Unable to decide which of Arnold's categories it wanted to fit into, Last Action Hero vacillated between winking comedy and fireball-propelled action. Trying to have it both ways by adhering to action film conventions while simultaneously cocking a snook at them, it bombed. It cost $100 million to make, and took back around $28 million at the US box office.
While Cameron's direction on True Lies (1994) provided some of the old bad-guy slaughterin' magic, Schwarzenegger never did as well again. His films from the latter half of the nineties on - Junior, Eraser, Jingle All the Way, Batman and Robin, End of Days, The Sixth Day, Collateral Damage - all petered out at the box office, as well as being critically panned. Due to this less than illustrious string, Schwarzenegger has the accolade of having the most nominations for a Razzie award (although he has never won). Fortunately, by this time another avenue had presented itself.
"I would rather be Governor of California than own Austria."
Fulfilling his final childhood ambition in 1986 by marrying JFK's neice, Maria Shriver, Schwarzenegger's interest in politics has extended further than his marriage into America's foremost dynasty. His aspirations have been well known for a time, being gently sent up in the 1994 film Demolition Man ("They made him President?"). Initially, his political involvement was in, fairly naturally, sporting projects, such as being an ambassador for the Special Olympics and chairing George Bush Snr.'s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
He received the Humanity Prize and the Leadership Award from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre for increasing awareness of the Holocaust. He is now one of their most significant donors, following their investigation of his father's war record. Schwarzenegger did not attend his father's funeral. He had claimed this was because it interfered with his training for the Mr. Olympia contest but later admitted this was untrue. His father's Nazi past has been a source of both personal shame and political embarrassment for Schwarzenegger. This continued to dog him when he made a public toast to former Austrian President Kurt Waldheim at his wedding. (Waldheim had been censured for attempting to conceal his involvement in war crimes).
High profile participation in Republican fund-raising ensued. This coincided with a series of initiatives aimed at bringing inner city schoolchildren into after school sports activities. They were intended to increase their fitness and ultimately keep them out of the destructive cycle of substance abuse and gang violence.
His growing importance on the Californian political scene was underlined when Proposition 49, a measure again concerned with after school provisions for schoolchildren, was passed in a state referendum by California's electorate. This bill was co-authored by Schwarzenegger.
His increasing political presence led up to 2003's Californian gubernatorial election. Governor Gray Davis, having presided over a catastrophic budget deficit, lost the confidence of the electorate. Under Californian law, if a majority of the electorate so wishes, a governor can be removed from office partway through his or her term. Appended to the ballot is a list of possible candidates - if the governor is indeed recalled, whoever of these receives the most votes will become state governor. And it was in this election, entered by porn stars, porn magnates and billboard models, that Arnold chose to make his run for public office.
His image is basically that of a moderate Republican. While initially very coy over any of his leanings at all, his campaign has taken pains to reveal more substance in a series of interviews and commentaries and can be broadly summed up as fiscally conservative and socially liberal. He is pro-business but environmentally friendly. He supports the right to choose, but is in favour of the death penalty. True to form, education reform and after-school programs are promised a high priority. His views on the budget crisis do not reassure those who worry that the potential governor is a figure better known for wrestling with foes than figures: "It's disturbing to realize that after taking a close look at California's budget, it's hard to make any sense out of it." After Davis' budgetary wranglings, he does make the promise that if a budget is not returned on time by the state congress, neither the legislators nor the governor will be paid. Cynics could say that this is easy enough for a multi-millionaire screen star to bear.
In the October 7th vote, Schwarzenegger won with a great deal of daylight between him and the nearest candidate, Cruz Bustamante. The results showed a sixteen percentage point difference between the first and second place candidates - translating to more than a million votes.
While some feel that he essentially relied on his star power to win (with not only campaign buses but ripostes to opponents riffing on his film career), it is difficult to deny the slickness with which the Schwarzenegger campaign was run. Boasting former Clinton advisors as well as Rob Lowe's added glitz, the run for election resulted in a win of a magnitude that surprised even some Schwarzenegger supporters.
In his acceptance speech, Schwarzenegger said, "Everything I have is because of California ... I came here with absolutely nothing, and California has given me absolutely everything. And today, California has given me the greatest gift of all -- you have given me your trust by voting for me."
And special thanks to Ereneta for correcting me about Proposition 49.