Latest News

Schwarzenegger is driven to succeed

Originally published: 9/21/03

One in an occasional series profiling the leading candidates seeking to replace Gov. Gray Davis in the Oct. 7 recall election.

Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn't old enough to drink liquor or vote.

But he already knew what he wanted to do and what it would take to become the world's best-known bodybuilder, a wealthy businessman and one of Hollywood's biggest stars.

"Any man can get whatever he desires in life provided he's willing to pay whatever price it takes," fellow bodybuilder and journalist Rick Wayne recalled the ambitious 19-year-old telling him in 1966.

Schwarzenegger paid the price for his bodybuilding, business and box-office success in the gym, night school and nonstop promotional tours.

Now that he is running to replace Gov. Gray Davis, some have questioned if the price might be too high. He says people have asked if he is "crazy" to give up the millions he makes in movies to expose himself to attacks on his colorful past.

"I tell people ... I wouldn't have any of the things I have accomplished, if it wouldn't be for California," the Republican front-runner told a cheering crowd at the state Republican Party convention last weekend. "California has given me everything, and now it is time to give something back."

Schwarzenegger didn't always feel this way. Before he met his wife in 1977, he has said in various interviews, he only thought of "me, me, me."

He leapt into the sexually libertine '60s lifestyle when he came to this country from Austria in 1968, and his accounts of his sexual exploits have spurred attacks from religious conservatives and feminist women's groups now that he's running for office.

Some also have questioned his racial views because of his father's Nazi past and reports that he made racist comments and told anti-Semitic jokes.

At 56, Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger says he has changed. Married with four children, ages 5 to 13, he devotes much of his time to charity.

He is the global ambassador for the Special Olympics. He spread the L.A. Inner-City Games program to 15 cities. And he helped win voter approval of the 2002 after-school initiative, Proposition 49, although it has yet to provide any money to schools.

In an interview with The Bee, he said he was brought up surrounded by Austria's "unbelievable history of prejudice" but worked to become a different man after he came to the United States.

"You start thinking about all this stuff you've never dealt with ... the Inner City Games and racial issues," he said. "I make myself go in the other direction than where I came from."

He came from the tiny Austrian village of Thal, where his father, Gustav, was the police chief and a former Nazi storm trooper. Schwarzenegger has talked and written extensively about his upbringing, saying his father, a stern disciplinarian and perfectionist, favored his older brother, Meinhard.

He analyzes his own urge to succeed this way: He never received the approval he needed from his parents, so he excelled at bodybuilding to get the attention he craved from others.

"If I'd gotten everything and been well-balanced, I wouldn't have had my drive," he wrote in his 1977 autobiography.

In his book, Schwarzenegger said he set his sights on being the world's "best-built man" and a movie star, like his idol, Reg Parks.

First, he had to serve the year the Austrian government required in the army, but he refused to let that stand in the way of his goals. He went AWOL to win his first bodybuilding title in 1965.

After his discharge, he moved to Munich, where he continued to win titles, managed a gym and bought his first business: the gym where he worked.

In his autobiography, he says this was a "bad time." He had fistfights almost every day, got in "scrapes" with the police and "collected handfuls of tickets." In another self-analytical passage in one biography, he said he "created a situation that forced" his move to the United States.

During his campaign, Schwarzenegger has described himself as a "poster child for immigrants," but his autobiography shows he came here with more advantages than most newcomers: He was 21, owned the Munich gym and had a contract with California bodybuilding pioneer Joe Weider that provided him with a car, an apartment and money.

The campaign's Spanish-language ads say Schwarzenegger began working in construction, laying bricks. But according to campaign spokesman Sean Walsh, he started that company in 1971, three years after his arrival.

In his book, Schwarzenegger also said he spent most of his time training and made money with seminars, a mail-order training business and investing in real estate with Weider's help.

Even before he could speak English fluently, Schwarzenegger realized he was a Republican. As a friend translated the 1968 presidential debates, he found he admired Republican Richard Nixon's free-market approaches and rejected Democrat Hubert Humphrey as too much like the Austrian socialists he had left behind.

"It's very important that you think, 'What is it that's in you?' " he told The Bee. "And in me, I have like two backgrounds. Austrian and ... American. I have the education from Austria. I grew up with the socialism, and being a Republican is like my reaction toward the socialism."

He became the bodybuilding industry's emissary, promoting the sport through interviews, personal appearances and photos - some of which have come back to haunt him in the campaign.

He posed nude and with a topless woman on his shoulders. He cavorted with scantily clad showgirls in a 1983 video, boasted about sexual exploits and gave interviews in which he admitted to taking steroids and smoking marijuana and hashish.

"Arnold was like bodybuilding's Mick Jagger," said John Balik, Ironman magazine's publisher. "Women were attracted to him before he was a celebrity."

Lou Sheldon, the chairman of Californians for Moral Government, wants the GOP candidate to repudiate his "X-rated" past.

"You've got to forget about the '70s," Schwarzenegger said in one radio interview. "I was a different person then."

Karen Pomer, Rainbow Sisters Project founder, said in a statement that women don't "have to turn the clock back to the '70s" to be insulted. She cites interviews the candidate gave shortly before entering the race in which he used vulgar terms to describe a female's attributes and suggested burying a woman's head in a toilet bowl as a good movie fight scene.

Pomer also has cited a 2001 Premiere magazine article reporting that he had groped several women, including two co-stars. Some of those women, but not all, have repudiated the report.

"I have never seen him fondle, insult, demean or harass any man or woman," said Cheryl Maine, Schwarzenegger's publicist.

Bonnie Reiss, a Schwarzenegger employee who has known him for 25 years, said he has an "outrageous" personality but isn't a sexist. "This man doesn't have an anti-woman bone in his body," she said.

In Schwarzenegger's autobiography, he said he initially viewed women as "sex objects ... here for one reason. Sex was simply another kind of exercise."

He said his views changed as he entered into long-term relationships with women. By his count, he had two serious relationships before he met his wife, Kennedy family member Maria Shriver, at a charity tennis tournament in 1977.

He wrote that he learned about giving back to the community from his bride-to-be and her parents, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who founded the Special Olympics in 1967, and Sargent Shriver, who was the first director of the Peace Corps.

He said he also discovered "great joy" in working with the Special Olympics as part of his special degree program at the University of Wisconsin, Superior. He received a bachelor's degree in 1979, majoring in business administration and the marketing of fitness, after completing a correspondence course tailor-made for him.

University spokeswoman Beth George said Schwarzenegger became a "cooperating faculty member" so the school could waive its residency requirements for him to get his degree via correspondence. The university also gave him credit for the night classes he had taken in Los Angeles and for work with the Special Olympics. Within a year, she said, he had a degree.

Three years later, his first big movie hit the screens, "Conan the Barbarian." He was finally a movie star.

In 1983, he achieved another goal. He became an American citizen and began to eye public office.

Around that time, Huntington Beach Rep. Dana Rohrabacher remembers Schwarzenegger telling him: "Some day, I am going to run for governor, and I am going to call you."

"I was very impressed with his energy and his idealism," the GOP congressman recalled.

News reports in 1988 of his father's Nazi Party membership briefly threatened to derail his political ambitions. Schwarzenegger enlisted a powerful ally in Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The actor, who is one of the center's big donors, asked Hier to investigate his father's past in 1990 and again in August when reporters unearthed new information.

Newly released records showed Schwarzenegger's father joined the Nazi storm troops about six months after they ransacked Jewish property on Kristallnacht. Both Wiesenthal Center investigations found no evidence Schwarzenegger's father participated in war crimes.

"We cannot hold the son responsible for the misdeeds of his father," Hier said.

Schwarzenegger has attacked his critics for questioning his views, saying in a radio interview that his father was a Nazi "before I was even born."

But his own activities have provoked many, including Hier.

As recorded in the diary of pop artist Andy Warhol and later widely reported, Schwarzenegger offered a toast at his 1986 wedding to then-Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, a friend who had been accused of lying about his Nazi past in the weeks leading up to the nuptials.

"That was a terrible mistake," Hier said. "And he (Schwarzenegger) has since said so."

Schwarzenegger also visited Waldheim at his home that summer, even though Waldheim was banned from visiting the United States at the time.

"If he had known then what is widely known now, he would not have done or said those things," said Todd Harris, Schwarzenegger spokesman.

Bodybuilders have told biographers that Schwarzenegger also joked about Jews and impersonated Adolf Hitler during workouts. But they said they do not consider him an anti-Semite because he had several Jewish friends.

Wayne, a fellow bodybuilder, recalled Schwarzenegger being booed off the stage at a German competition after giving the crowd a Nazi salute. Wayne said he did not know if it was a deliberate act or merely a modification of a standard bodybuilding pose.

Schwarzenegger told The Bee that the Wiesenthal Center helped him change his attitudes.

"You go through an evolution, an educational process," he said. "It's a growing up. There were many, many issues that I did not have to ever think about when I was in Austria that I had to think about when I came to America."

Wayne also recalled racist remarks Schwarzenegger made to him. But Wayne doesn't believe Schwarzenegger is a racist.

In a heated debate over South Africa's policy of apartheid, Wayne recalled Schwarzenegger told him the country would "go down the tubes" if blacks were given power. Another time, Schwarzenegger jokingly said he was successful because he was good-looking, talented and white.

"He was pulling my chain," Wayne said. "Arnold and I go back to the '60s and '70s when there was no such thing as political correctness."

Author and friend Charles L. Gaines said Schwarzenegger has "never been remotely racist."

"When I read those things, it makes me wonder where they're coming from," he said."

Schwarzenegger has explained away some of his other impolitic statements by saying he did not live his life with the intention of being governor.

But he began laying the groundwork for his current campaign 15 years ago when he joined former President Bush on the campaign trail during Bush's first presidential bid.

Bush subsequently named Schwarzenegger chairman of the president's Council on Physical Fitness. Schwarzenegger held a similar post in California when Pete Wilson was governor.

He says he continued to be active in politics, but records shows that he voted in only three of the last eight statewide elections. With his film career starting to wane, Schwarzenegger debated entering the 2002 governor's race.

He got a taste of the scrutiny he would face as a candidate when a Davis campaign consultant distributed to reporters the Premiere magazine article that claimed he'd groped several women.

Schwarzenegger, who was planning to film "Terminator 3," decided against running. He led the successful campaign for the passage of Proposition 49 in 2002 and was considering a run in 2006 - until the recall qualified for the ballot.

He shocked the political world in August by announcing his candidacy on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." But the news did not surprise some of his friends.

"In a sense, it's his last frontier," said Balik, the Ironman publisher. "He's a guy who definitely revels in the challenge."

* * *

The Bee's Laura Mecoy can be reached at (310) 546-5860 or lmecoy@sacbee.com. Margaret Talev of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.

For more information

For frequent updates on the recall and to read previous profiles of the leading candidates, please go to: www.sacbee.com/recall

* * *

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Party: Republican

Age: 56

Occupation: Actor, business owner and investor

Education: Bachelor's degree in business administration and the marketing of fitness

Family: Four children with wife Maria Shriver

Background: The best-known bodybuilder of all time, Schwarzenegger is a successful businessman who's been a movie star since his first big film, "Conan the Barbarian," in 1982. He led the successful campaign for Proposition 49 last year, the after-school funding initiative that has not yet provided any money to schools because of the state budget crisis. He is a global ambassador for Special Olympics and spread the L.A. Inner-City Games to 15 cities.

  Comments