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The World According to Arnold

Hollywood superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger knows what he wants—and usually gets it.
David Shaw
From the Print Edition:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Summer 96

The call comes at 4:33 p.m. on a Monday.

"Arnold's cigar dinner is tonight, at his restaurant. I know it's last minute, but if you can come, I can get you a seat at his table."

The caller is James Stankard, Arnold Schwarzenegger's major-domo. Schwarzenegger has been busy with various ventures, including filming Eraser, which figures to be his big summer hit, and this is the first time since I'd put in a bid to see him several weeks earlier that he has some time.

Almost four hours later, I find myself standing in the middle of a milling crowd as Schwarzenegger walks into Schatzi on Main, the restaurant he owns in Santa Monica, California, two blocks from the Pacific Ocean.

He's wearing a gray T-shirt, khaki slacks, a brown leather jacket and that big, familiar, gap-toothed smile. Because he was a world champion bodybuilder--five times "Mr. Universe" and seven times "Mr. Olympia"--long before he was an international box office star, I'd expected his physical presence to fill the room, much as Muhammed Ali once did and Wilt Chamberlain still does. But Schwarzenegger has none of that awesome physical presence. Nor, for that matter, does he--on first sighting--have that magnetic, galvanizing star appeal that automatically stops conversation and turns all eyes toward him. He makes no grand entrance. There is neither hush nor buzz. He's just there. Just Arnold. Just one of maybe 200 guys standing around with a cigar in his hand.

He's 6-foot-2, 212 pounds--about 36 pounds below his competitive bodybuilding weight--but apart from his bulging biceps and thick neck, he almost looks small, or at least not uncommonly large. Maybe that's because one subconsciously expects him to look as dominating in person as he does on-screen, where he seems even bigger and more menacing than he really is.

As Schwarzenegger makes his way across the room, we meet and shake hands--he's not a bone-cruncher--and when we reach his table, he introduces me to several of our seatmates and says, warmly, "You sit here, next to me."

Schwarzenegger's nephew, Patrick Kennedy, newly out of law school, is on the other side of me. Across from him is Stan Winston, a four-time Academy Award winner for makeup and special effects (Alien, Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park). Others at our table include Schwarzenegger's agent, Lou Pitt; actor Luke Perry, formerly of television's "Beverly Hills 90210"; and Keith Barish, one of the founding partners (as is Schwarzenegger) of Planet Hollywood, which is about to go public with a $170 million stock offering.

Savvy financial people can tell, Schwarzenegger says, when a celebrity is just lending his name to a venture and when he's "really involved." Schwarzenegger is really involved--in the worldwide Planet Hollywood empire, in the development of a shopping, restaurant and entertainment complex in Denver and in a variety of other enterprises. He's not "just" a movie star, albeit one of the most famous, recognizable people in the world, a self-made cinematic sensation who commands up to $20 million up front--and a significant percentage of the gross box office receipts--on each action movie he makes; he's also a very successful businessman, real estate mogul, restaurateur--and a man who has Republicans salivating at the mere prospect that one day he just might deign to run for high public office. Not bad for a guy who came to this country in 1968 with little more than $20, a gym bag full of sweat clothes and a dream.

Schwarzenegger was born on July 30, 1947, in the tiny Austrian hill town of Thal-by-Graz (pop. 800), where his father was a village cop and the family house had neither telephone nor television. But unlike many who come from humble beginnings and strike it rich in Hollywood, Schwarzenegger has neither forgotten nor forsaken his roots, and seated directly across from him at Schatzi tonight are two of his oldest friends from his bodybuilding days, Franco Columbu and Rolf Moeller. Schwarzenegger even paid tribute to Columbu with an inside joke in Last Action Hero, giving him an on-screen credit--"A Franco Columbu Film"--on the movie-within-a-movie in that big-budget epic.

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