As for how to deal with California’s most urgent problem, its $8 billion deficit, Schwarzenegger is not saying much yet, except that, in the end, it’s all about leadership. And leadership is one thing we know for sure has fascinated Schwarzenegger for years. His implacable ambition, from the world of bodybuilding to Hollywood, is the most legendary part of his legend. “Arnold has been interested in power and authority—political power, financial power—forever,” says George Butler, a co-director of Pumping Iron, the 1977 documentary that made Arnold a star in the world beyond bodybuilding. “I was born to be a leader,” Schwarzenegger once told Britain’s Loaded magazine. “I love the fact that millions of people look up to me.”
So let’s agree that Arnold has his triumph-of-the-will side. So do Madonna, P. Diddy and Norman Mailer. Beyond a consuming ambition and an unshakable faith in his destiny, what is he about? Even longtime friends say he can be a little mysterious. “If you follow Arnold carefully, he always has a new circle of people,” says Butler. “He’s not keen on having people get too close to him and know too much about him before he moves on to the next group.” Or you can look at it the way Lou Pitt does. Schwarzenegger’s former agent says, “He reminds me in some ways of Clinton. He’s incredibly personable and very connected to people, very much a people person.”
One crowd that Arnold has stayed with for a while are old bodybuilding friends, a faithful circle that includes Franco Columbu, the Sancho Panza of Schwarzenegger’s early days, who says Arnold is running for Governor to give something back to the country that has been so good to him. “He wants to do a big, beneficial thing, more than a movie—like straightening out this problem in California.” Schwarzenegger also keeps up with Joe Weider, the onetime head of the International Federation of BodyBuilders who brought the 21-year old Austrian to the U.S. in 1968 when Schwarzenegger was already a two-time Mr. Universe, the youngest ever.
Schwarzenegger, his wife Maria Shriver and their four children—Katherine, 13; Christina, 12; Patrick, 9 and Christopher, 5—live in the kind of place that Hollywood-Kennedy royalty would be expected to inhabit. Their home is a five-bedroom, 11-bathroom, Tudor-style pile. It measures 11,000 sq. ft. on six ocean-view acres in Brentwood. Visitors to their home bring back tales of Arnie’s lavish humidors, the enormous ceilings and the Warhol silkscreen of Shriver. It all goes with Arnold’s fortune—estimated at several hundred million. That comes largely from movies—he was paid $30 million for Terminator 3—but also from real estate like the Columbus, Ohio, shopping mall he invested in.
The Schwarzenegger-Shrivers, both avid skiers, also keep a home in Sun Valley, Idaho, where the locals include Democratic presidential contender Senator John Kerry. “They named one of the runs there the Schwarzenegger run,” says Al Ruddy, a movie producer and family friend. “You’ve got to have balls just to look down there. I wouldn’t go down it for $100,000. But Arnold attacks the mountains.”
Another group of friends is drawn from family, like his nephew Patrick Knapp, a lawyer, and Bobby Shriver, his wife’s brother, who is a political activist and movie producer. Friends say the Kennedy-Shriver clan has softened the edges of Schwarzenegger’s politics from the time he came into their orbit in the late 1970s. “Arnold was quite right wing when I first met him in 1972,” says Butler. “Maria has moderated that quite a lot.”
In 1999 Schwarzenegger told George magazine of his bitterness about the frenzy over Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton and the waste of time and energy it represented. “That was another thing I will never forgive the Republican party for,” he said. “I was ashamed to call myself a Republican during that period.” But Arnold may identify with Clinton for any number of reasons. Two years ago, when he first considered a gubernatorial run, Gary South, a strategist for Governor Gray Davis, sent reporters a story from Premiere magazine that accused the star of repeatedly groping female interviewers and detailed various extramarital shenanigans on the sets of his films—claims that Schwarzenegger denies.
The article also raised the issues of Schwarzenegger’s steroid use, which he has admitted in several interviews but claims to have ended at an unspecified time in the distant past. Just when that was and whether it was related to the heart-valve-replacement surgery he underwent in 1997 are questions that are sure to dog him during the campaign. So is the rumor that he is on dialysis, a consequence of steroid abuse. “Absolutely not!” says Columbu. “The first time I heard the dialysis rumor was when we were skiing in Sun Valley. I got a call from someone telling me that Arnold was on dialysis, and I said, ‘No he’s not. He’s here skiing with me.'”
Arnold’s contradictions—if that’s what they are—are an outgrowth of his two formative experiences: an iron-heel upbringing in Austria followed by all the lubrications of sun and fun and wealth that we still call California. He was born in the Austrian village of Thal, near Graz, in 1947, in the struggling years right after World War II. His mother was a homemaker. His father was a policeman and an avid performer of military music, which may help explain why Schwarzenegger sometimes reminds you of a one-man oompah band.
And most significantly perhaps, the elder Schwarzenegger was a Nazi. Wendy Leigh, a British free-lancer who published an unauthorized biography of Schwarzenegger in 1990, discovered that Arnold’s father had joined the party on July 4, 1938, just months after the Anschluss, Germany’s annexation of Austria. Regardless of whether that was a step Arnold’s father took gladly, in America we don’t visit the sins of the father onto the children. All the same, Arnold did not always take care to avoid those associations himself. One of the guests he invited to his 1986 wedding to Shriver was Austrian presidential candidate Kurt Waldheim. At the time Waldheim was revealed to have been a former Nazi Party member. But Schwarzenegger has tried to neutralize that question many times over. In the past decade he raised millions for the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles and the center’s Museum of Tolerance.
After the Leigh biography was published he asked Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Wiesenthal Center, to confirm whether his father had joined the Nazi Party—which researchers for the center eventually did, adding that he was no war criminal. Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger has had close Jewish friends from the time he left Austria. Paul Wachter, a financial adviser who heads Schwarzenegger’s chief charity, the Inner City Games Foundation, is even chairman of the Austrian Holocaust Reparations Committee, a body formed by a U.S. federal court to administer the Holocaust settlement fund of the Austrian bank.
In any event, as with many kids, home was a place that Arnold was looking to escape. When his father died while Arnold was living in the U.S., he did not return for the funeral. He has said variously that he was too deep into his training or that he was hospitalized. He had long since made his escape from home by way of bodybuilding. At 19 he went AWOL from his Austrian army base to enter a competition that he won. At 20 he won the first of five Mr. Universe titles, the hypertrophies of the sport. By that time, Schwarzenegger was literally a self-made man, exploring ways to reach hard-to-perfect areas of his body. “I became my own researcher,” he once told TIME. “I would do a curl, for example, and turn my wrist in a certain way, and the next day it would feel sore on the outside of the biceps. If I didn’t turn my wrist, it wasn’t sore. So I wrote it down.”
It was just weeks after he arrived in the U.S. in September 1968, during the Nixon-Humphrey presidential campaign, that Arnold began thinking of himself as a Republican. Humphrey’s promises about big government programs sounded too much to him like the sluggish socialism back home in Austria. It wasn’t long after his arrival in the U.S. that Arnold also lost at his third attempt at the Mr. Universe contest, held that year in Miami. In his 1977 autobiography, The Education of a Bodybuilder, he claims that he cried himself to sleep that night. But by the next day, he had got himself together. “I’m going to pay [the Americans] back,” he decided. “I would use their food and their knowledge and work it against them. I would make it in America too.”
During his years as a professional bodybuilder, Arnold made his living partly by organizing bodybuilding shows, publishing workout manuals and endorsing muscle products in the pages of Weider magazines. We have all done embarrassing things, but if Schwarzenegger is elected Governor, he will certainly be the first major American political figure to have once advertised “strong arm bracelets” with the tag line, “Are you man enough to wear them?” All along, he plotted his film career with the same determination that devised his flesh. He had started in the early ’70s with roles in movies like Hercules in New York—sometimes also titled Hercules Goes Bananas—that are good for a laugh if you can find them in video stores. Keep in mind that Ronald Reagan once made a chimp movie called Bedtime for Bonzo.
When he first hit it big in 1982 in Conan the Barbarian, there were those who doubted that he would ever move beyond myth-and-muscle vehicles. But he arrived on the scene in the post-Star Wars years, when once-despised genres like science fiction and action-adventure were raised into big-budget and big-profit status. Acting could be secondary to spectacle, and Arnold was a spectacle all by himself. Who cared whether he talked with an accent that could make a killer robot sound as if it had stepped down from a Salzburg cuckoo clock? With those early films he proved that he wasn’t just another guy in a loincloth. He used to have just his biceps. Now he could flex his box office.
And soon his political muscles. By 1988 he was campaigning aggressively for George Bush, telling crowds that Michael Dukakis would be the real Terminator if he ever made it to Washington. A grateful Bush later made Schwarzenegger the chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, a position that gave Arnold the power to talk to school groups about fitness and conduct push-up drills for Colin Powell on the White House lawn.
The position that Arnold has in mind for himself requires more than muscle. Now that he has a campaign, he has been assembling a team that includes several veterans who helped get former California Governor Pete Wilson elected. The first thing they need to do is move past messages like the one Arnold delivered last week: “We have to make sure everyone in California has a fantastic job.” We know he has a fantastic job in mind for himself. What he might have in store for other Californians is hard to say.
—Reported by Jeffrey Ressner/ Los Angeles and Angela Leuker/Vienna