Arnold the Barbarian
Premiere Magazine, March 2001
By John Connolly
Once, he was a box office terminator. But now that Arnold Schwarzenegger has lost some of his muscle in Hollywood, stories of his boorish behavior can no longer be routinely erased. Then again, he'd make a helluva politician.
The tabloid press got a nice Christmas present late last year when Arnold Schwarzenegger tore through a day of publicity work in London, promoting his latest film, The 6th Day, which had just opened there. In less than 24 hours, the star was said to have attempted to, as high school boys used to say, cop a little feel from three different female talk-show hosts. The level of consternation expressed by those who received this hands-on treatment from the hulking, Austrian-born international superstar ranged from none whatsoever (Denise Van Outen of The Big Breakfast invites her guests to lie on a bed with her and, hence, probably has a rather elastic definition of what constitutes inappropriate behavior) to irked (on tape, Celebrity interviewer Melanie Sykes looks a little thrown off after Arnold gives her a very definite squeeze on the rib cage, directly under her right breast) to, finally, righteously indignant. Anna Richardson of Big Screen claims that after the cameras stopped rolling for her interview segment, Schwarzenegger, apparently attempting to ascertain whether Richardson's breasts were real, tweaked her nipple and then laughed at her objections. 'I left the room quite shaken,' she says. 'What was more upsetting was that his people rushed to protect him and scapegoated me, and not one person came to apologize afterward.'
No apologies, indeed: A subsequent statement from Schwarzenegger attorney Martin Singer characterized Richardson as someone trying to get her '15 minutes of fame.' After all, why else would she create such an 'outrageous fabrication' (Singer's phrase) against a married man? Schwarzenegger has been wed to NBC's Maria Shriver since 1986 - a father of four, someone who ceaselessly espouses family values in the press? On the other hand, the stills of Schwarzenegger grinning as he pats Van Outen's hip or of his give-me-some-sugar-baby expression as he tries to draw Sykes close to him are a little unsettling. Was Arnold jet-lagged? Going through a midlife crisis?
'You don't get it,' says a producer who's worked with Schwarzenegger. 'That's the way Arnold always behaves. For some reason, [this time] the studio or the publicists couldn't put enough pressure on the women to kill the story.'
Terminating bad press was once relatively easy for Schwarzenegger, who for much of the '80s and a good part of the '90s was a veritable money-making machine for the studios. And while some of his most recent films have enjoyed less-than-stellar box office performances, he is still a very huge star and one of the highest-paid actors in the world: He reportedly received $25 million for his work in the 1999 disappointment End of Days. Accordingly, Schwarzenegger films are always big-budget affairs; as such, they provide lots of jobs to lots of people and generate lots of money to lots of studio suits and other peripheral players. Arnold is not just a rich movie star; he's the straw that stirs the drinks. The sort of person, in other words, who tends to get indulged. A lot.
'The second I walked into the room,' Anna Richardson says, several weeks after the incident, 'he was like a dog in heat.' Other stories about Schwarzenegger tend to fit her simile. During the production of the 1991 mega-blockbuster Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a producer on that film recalls Arnold's emerging from his trailer one day and noticing a fortyish female crew member, who was wearing a silk blouse. Arnold went up to the woman, put his hands inside her blouse, and proceeded to pull her breasts out of her bra. Another observer says, 'I couldn't believe what I was seeing. This woman's nipples were exposed, and here's Arnold and a few of his clones laughing. I went after the woman, who had run to the shelter of a nearby trailer. She was hysterical but refused to press charges for fear of losing her job. It was disgusting.'
A former Schwarzenegger employee recalls another incident from the T2 days. At the time, director James Cameron was married but having an affair with one of the film's stars, Linda Hamilton. One evening, while riding in a limo with Cameron, Hamilton, and others, Schwarzenegger suddenly lifted Hamilton onto his lap and began fondling her breasts through the very thin top she was wearing. The witness says, 'I couldn't believe Cameron didn't have the balls to tell Arnold to get off his girl. The whole thing made me sick.'
A female producer on one of Schwarzenegger's films tells of a time when her ex-husband came to visit the set. When she introduced the man to Schwarzenegger, the star quipped, 'Is this guy the reason why you didn't come up to my hotel room last night and suck my cock?'
A woman who went to the set of 1996's Eraser recalls the friend she was visiting there being asked to retrieve Schwarzenegger from his trailer for a shot that was ready to roll earlier than expected. 'He asked me if I wanted to meet Arnold, and I said sure. When we opened the door to his trailer, Arnold was giving oral sex to a woman. He looked up and, with that accent, said very slowly, 'Eating is not cheating.' I met him again about a year later and asked him, in German, whether or not eating was cheating, and he just laughed.'
It's clearly convenient for a guy who preaches family values in interviews - particularly when he's promoting the Inner-City Games Foundation, his youth charity, and citing single parenting as a major social woe - to have some loose parameters as to what constitutes cheating on one's wife. (It depends on what your definition of define is.) By some accounts, Maria Shriver has not had it all that easy. Two people witnessed an incident at a 7 a.m. tennis game that Mr. and Mrs. Schwarzenegger were playing at their hotel, during the shooting of Total Recall. One of the witnesses says, 'Maria started throwing up. She couldn't play, and Arnold started berating her and then stomped off the court. At noon that day, the smiling couple announced that Maria was pregnant.' Schwarzenegger was also seen carrying on with his Total Recall costar Rachel Ticotin. A journalist who once accompanied the (then) married Ticotin and Schwarzenegger on an evening out says, 'The three of us had gone to dinner, where the two of them were all lovey-dovey. We then went to a nightclub, but I left to go back to the Hotel Nikko MÃ??Ã?Â©xico soon thereafter. When I left them, they were making out and were all over each other on a banquette. The next day, I saw Arnold and Maria strolling out of the elevator. Maria gave me the look a married woman does when she knows that you know her husband is cheating on her. I felt terrible for her.'
A lot of people must feel the same. A lawyer who frequents CafÃ??Ã?Â© Roma, a Beverly Hills bistro that is a hangout for real and wannabe wiseguys, says, 'When ever I see Schwarzenegger and his crew [walk into the place], I leave quickly and go to another restaurant. This guy is a real pig. He will say the most disgusting sexual things to women he doesn't know. Everybody knows he is Arnold Schwarzenegger. . . . But in any other city, somebody would have cracked him by now.' In Hollywood, though, nobody cracks a billion-dollar box office gorilla.
Schwarzenegger's extraordinary rise to international stardom can be traced back to the release of the 1977 documentary Pumping Iron, directed by George Butler and Robert Fiore. The film, an extension of the book of the same title, about the world of bodybuilding competitions, portrays Schwarzenegger in a fascinating light; the practically Machiavellian way he psychs out contest opponent Lou Ferrigno (the muscleman who later went on to portray the Incredible Hulk on television) is something to behold. (As is a prior film of Schwarzenegger's, 1970's Hercules in New York, a no-budget Z-picture that paired the muscleman, appearing in the title role under the stage name Arnold Strong, with archetypal nebbish Arnold Stang.)
It wasn't until 1982's Conan the Barbarian that Arnold demonstrated his box office drawing power. Conan producer Edward R. Pressman says, 'We signed Arnold to a three-picture deal, which called for him to be paid $250,000 for the first film and the same for each sequel. The movie turned into a monster hit, and we sold our sequel rights. I'm sure Arnold was able to renegotiate his salary for the sequels.' Within just a few short years, he was on his way to becoming one of the highest-paid movie stars in history. Because he has achieved such an enormous level of respectability and credibility, it's easy to forget that early in his Hollywood career, he was seen by many as a walking cartoon, if not an out-and-out joke. (He might have experienced an unpleasant frisson while costarring in a 1980 TV-movie biopic of Jayne Mansfield, playing Mickey Hartigay, Mansfield's bodybuilder-turned-actor husband, who spent the latter portion of his acting career in such ultra-shlocky Italian horror pics as The Bloody Pit of Horror.) As do most megastars, Schwarzenegger has a retinue of agents, managers, advisors, and hangers-on (to whom he has often demonstrated great loyalty; his former agent Lou Pitt recalls that Ã??Ã?Â¼ber-agent Mike Ovitz 'tried to steal my client Arnold from me any number of times - he was all over Arnold like a cheap suit!'but that Arnold brushed Ovitz aside, staying with Pitt for almost 15 years). Still, he has largely made his own decisions. He has always done it, as the song says, his way. Which is entirely in keeping with his self-image.
'I was born to be a leader. I love being a leader,' he told Britain's Loaded magazine two years ago. He's not the only person impressed with his alpha-male mien. 'He has a completely single-minded style. It is his agenda or no agenda,' says a longtime associate of Schwarzenegger's. A producer who worked with Arnold on True Lies says, 'Arnold is incredible. At one of the marketing meetings, Arnold got up and spoke and not only knew the direction we should take in marketing the film, but was so full of confidence, he inspired everyone in the room.' But confidence can cut a lot of different ways, and Schwarzenegger's can manifest itself cruelly. During the filming of Terminator 2, Schwarzenegger had a dresser who, it was generally conceded, had not been hired for his looks. Often, in front of the whole crew, Arnold would order the man, 'Sit, you ugly dog,' and the man would drop to his knees like a trained dog. Crew members would laugh, perhaps nervously, but no one spoke up in protest. The man was finally put out of his misery when a producer witnessed the spectacle - and fired the man rather than allow him to continue to be abused by Schwarzenegger.
'I love the fact that millions of people look up to me,' Schwarzenegger told Loaded. One reason people continue to look up to him is because he - and the people around him - have been so successful at hiding the real Arnold from the world. The star cleaned house several years ago, not only letting go of Lou Pitt but also longtime publicist Charlotte Parker, who, for years, had reputedly been a veritable bull when it came to protecting her client. In 1990, Team Schwarzenegger attempted to derail the publication of an unauthorized biography of Schwarzenegger by Wendy Leigh. At the time, Leigh was engaged in a lawsuit with Schwarzenegger over her contribution to a piece about the star in Britain's News of the World; she was offered a settlement on the condition that, among other things, she not publish the book. She didn't accept that condition; the suit was settled some time later. Charles Fleming reported in Spy magazine that before Leigh's book was published, Franco Columbu, a longtime bodybuilding associate of Schwarzenegger's, offered Leigh's publisher, Contemporary Books, the choice of either a large amount of money or an 'authorized'bio, written with Arnold, if it would agree to cancel Leigh's book. Contemporary Books refused. Once Arnold: An Unauthorized Biography was published, Parker went into overdrive to bury it. Fleming wrote, 'When Time did a cover story on Arnold and was granted an interview, Parker explained that the interview would be ended instantly if the reporters introduced the subject of Leigh's book.'
A source close to Parker says, 'When Charlotte couldn't kill a story about one of Arnold's infidelities, he canned her.' Parker had done her best. The story was originally slated to be a feature on a television entertainment-news show; it wound up as a small gossip-column item that didn't make many waves. (When Parker, who no longer does publicity for the star or the Arnold Classic, a Schwarzenegger-affiliated bodybuilding competition, was first approached about this story, she said that she would answer specific questions; later, she politely demurred: 'I prefer to not participate in your story.' Schwarzenegger, too, declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this article.)
Schwarzenegger and his people have also been able to use the ever-intertwining tendrils of media conglomeration to their benefit. A onetime reporter for the now-defunct tabloid TV show Hard Copy recalls, 'I had been working on a story about Arnold's use of steroids. Hard Copy was owned by Paramount. I was told, in no uncertain terms, to forget the story. Paramount was afraid that if we did the story, they would never get Arnold to do a film.'
The old saw says that if you've got your health, you've got everything. It is probable that this man, once named chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness by the first Bush Administration, is not as healthy as he would like the public to believe.
In April of 1997, Arnold's then publicist, Catherine Olim, informed the world that Arnold had undergone elective heart surgery to replace an aortic valve, at the USC University Hospital in Los Angeles. In a statement attributed to the then 49-year-old star, he assured his fans, 'Choosing to undergo open-heart surgery when I never felt sick was the hardest decision I've ever made. I can now look forward to a long, healthy life with my family.' Olim told the press that the operation was to correct a congenital heart condition. 'Steroids,' she declared, 'have nothing to do with this.'
But Pumping Iron director George Butler, who shot 6,000 still pictures of bodybuilder Arnold in various poses before he started work on either the book or the movie, and who has maintained a relationship with Schwarzenegger for more than 20 years, says, 'During the operation, doctors removed his heart from his body and replaced one of the heart valves with a pig valve. During his recovery, he was rushed back to the operating room, where the doctors again removed his heart and implanted two more pig valves.'
A patient undergoing valve-replacement surgery has several options. An aortic valve can be replaced by the patient's own pulmonic valve, after which a valve taken from a pig replaces the pulmonic valve. Mechanical valves are also an option. The advantage of using pig valves, according to Dr. Leonard Girardi, assistant professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Manhattan's New York Weill Cornell Medical Center of New York Presbyterian Hospital, is that 'you do not need to be on blood thinners; you could just take an aspirin [which acts as a blood thinner] and that would be sufficient.' The kind of medication required to maintain a mechanical valve, Girardi says, doesn't jibe well with an athletic lifestyle. Still, pig valves have a downside: They deteriorate. 'A pig valve, in general, will last an average of 12 years or so. I have seen them last as long as 20 years.' This is not necessarily an issue for a patient who undergoes the procedure at age 78; but Schwarzenegger's surgery occurred several months before his 50th birthday.
Carla Ferrigno, the wife of bodybuilder Lou, has, like Butler, known Schwarzenegger for more than 20 years; she says, 'It's funny how he is trying to change history.' She says she has spoken to two doctors who were in the operating room during Schwarzenegger's procedures, and the account she heard squares with Butler's.
A doctor who's friendly with the Kennedys (Schwarzenegger's wife is a Kennedy niece) says he is well-acquainted with the details of the operations and speculates that Schwarzenegger's medical problems might be related to his use of anabolic steroids during the years he was a bodybuilder. Another doctor, Alan Leshner, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in Bethesda, Maryland, describes some of the effects of steroid use: 'Steroids interfere with protein function; they work by promoting protein growth and body mass. At the same time, they are all related to androgens in one way or another. So if you put on a big protein load, you could have kidney trouble. . . . You could have cardiovascular problems because it affects the heart as well.'
Over the years Schwarzenegger has either downplayed the amount of steroids he used (in a 1987 interview in Playboy, he said, 'I don't worry about it, because I never took an overdosage') or skirted the question entirely. But Wendy Leigh's book goes into detail about his use of the drug, as does True Myths, British film critic Nigel Andrews's book on Schwarzenegger. According to Andrews, Austrian bodybuilder and trainer Kurt Marnul introduced Arnold to steroids in the old country. In the book, Marnul said, 'There was no weight lifter in the world who did not take them. You could get prescriptions for them from the doctor. Arnold never took them, though, without my supervision.' When asked, 'Was Arnold taking them? 'in Andrews's book, the late Vince Gironda, owner of Vince's Gym in North Hollywood - where Arnold first trained when he moved to California - replied, 'Is a frog's ass waterproof?'(Schwarzenegger has hedged about drug use in other ways as well. In the Playboy interview, he denied ever having used any kind of recreational drug; yet in Pumping Iron, there's a sequence showing Arnold basking in the glory of his Mr. Olympia win, enjoying what George Butler says was a substantial joint.)
Despite the diminishing domestic box office returns of his pictures, studios still pony up big bucks for Schwarzenegger's services. He is still slated to star in Terminator 3, though the possibility of its being made seems to grow dimmer with every announcement or news story. The fact that his star may be waning has led to renewed speculation that Arnold the Kennedy might pull a Ronald Reagan. Schwarzenegger has long espoused right-wing politics - he campaigned furiously for George Bush in 1988, concocting (or at least pronouncing) the infamous sound bite, 'I only play the Terminator. When it comes to the American future, Michael Dukakis will be the real Terminator!'He's also often hinted that he might eventually seek political office. In the Loaded article, he said, 'In America I could go all the way to Speaker of the House. I think I could bring a little spice to the job. I think I could put a little fire up their asses.' The governership of California has been mentioned; that would be another jewel in the crown, another fitting step-up in a life story so amazing that if you had made it up, nobody would have believed it. In a recent interview with Christina Valhouli of Salon.com, Schwarzenegger dances around the question of whether he will run for political office. In answering her question, 'Is it true that you're thinking of running for Governor of California?'Schwarzenegger replies, 'I have thought about it many times in the past, but I have no specific plans at this point.' Perhaps he knows to quit while he's ahead.