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Arnold the Barbarian

By John Connolly
March 2001

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 über-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.”




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