Schwarzenegger life story packs series of body punches
AMERICA:An autobiography by the actor, body-builder and politician casts light on his immigrant success
WHEN ARNOLD Schwarzenegger was growing up in a little village in Austria, his father beat him. The youngest in the family, Arnold was the last to wash in the dirty water that was carried from the well. But Schwarzenegger always knew he’d succeed.
Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story, Schwarzenegger’s autobiography published this week, is a lesson in the importance of knowing what you want. By age 15, young Arnold had a detailed plan to emigrate to America and become a rich businessman as well as a movie star.
Self-discipline, determination and the conviction that rules are for other people took Schwarzenegger to the top of three professions: body-building, Hollywood and politics. His publisher, Jonathan Karp, calls it “the greatest immigrant success story of our time”.
The character that emerges from Total Recall is as freakish as the dozens of glossy photographs of muscle-bound Schwarzy that illustrate the book. He’s a force of nature whom one might too easily dismiss as a boorish clod.
Schwarzenegger’s first words to Eunice Shriver, the Kennedy sister who would become his mother-in-law, were: “Your daughter has a great ass.”
In Hollywood and politics, Schwarzenegger was underestimated. In an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes programme, he recalled the talent scouts who told him: “It’s Dustin Hoffman. He’s a little guy. Al Pacino. He’s a little guy. Woody Allen. Those are the sex symbols . . . Don’t you get it?”
Schwarzenegger’s heavily accented English and unusual name didn’t help. But he has never taken no for an answer. “When someone tells you no, you should hear yes,” he writes in “Arnold’s Rules” at the end of the book.
By 2003, Schwarzenegger had tired of playing action heroes for $30 million a movie. He went to see the Republican king-maker Karl Rove to suggest he stand for governor of California. “How could Rove have been so wrong?” Schwarzenegger asks. “He was a political genius, and he dismissed me!”
Back in Austria, Schwarzenegger’s father Gustav was the local police chief. He’d been a Nazi storm-trooper during the second World War, but that was never talked about.
“The promise of Hitler . . . that we’re going to create the Third Reich, and we’re going to build this fantastic place for you, and we will . . . rule the world. All of that was gone and what was left was losers,” Schwarzenegger told 60 Minutes.
Silence became a way of life. “That’s the way I handle things. And it has always worked,” Schwarzenegger says. “But . . . it’s not the best thing for people around me.”
When he had open heart surgery, Schwarzenegger told his wife, Maria, he was going to Mexico on holiday. He waited until a few days before he announced his candidacy for governor of California to tell Maria.
They’d been married for 17 years, but it’s a measure of how little Arnold knew his wife that he expected her to be excited. Instead, the niece of John and Robert Kennedy “started shaking. And she had tears in her eyes. I realise that I was stepping into something that was much deeper than just me running and her being a supportive wife.”
Maria gave up her career as a television journalist to campaign for Arnold. He was accused of having groped more than a dozen women. She vouched for him. In his book, Schwarzenegger recounts a “hot affair” with the Danish model Brigitte Nielsen on a film set in 1984. He was already living with Maria. She knew, he told 60 Minutes. There were other women too.
But Schwarzenegger kept silent about the child he fathered with the family’s housekeeper, Mildred Baena, for 14 years. “It was one of those stupid things that I promised myself never to do,” he writes: don’t mess around with the help.
In 1996, Maria and the couple’s three children were away on holiday while Arnold was shooting a film. He found himself “alone in the guest house” with Mildred. Nine months later, she gave birth. Schwarzenegger assumed the child, Joseph, was Mildred’s husband’s. About the same time, Maria gave birth to Christopher, the couple’s fourth child. Joseph played with the Schwarzenegger children. When he was seven or eight, Arnold noticed the strong physical resemblance. He started giving Mildred money.
Maria noticed it too, but dropped the subject when Arnold denied it. Last year, a few weeks before Schwarzenegger stepped down as governor of California, his wife confronted him in front of a marriage counsellor. Arnold fessed up, and Maria moved out three weeks later. Their divorce is pending.
Schwarzenegger says the sexual encounter with the maid “was the stupidest thing I’ve done in the whole relationship . . . I inflicted tremendous pain on Maria and unbelievable pain on the kids”. Yet his written and televised confessions seem guilt-free. Arnold the inveterate optimist says he still loves Maria. He believes “We will come together again.” He’s lied a lot, but a closing line of the memoir rings true: “I was luckier than I deserved to have such a wife.”