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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

(continued from page 7)

"Yes--if there's a need for it. If I really think that I can provide something. If I've done everything in my profession." He looks away. "That's a lot of 'ifs.'"

At that moment, the chef from the Grand Havana Room appears at our table with two heaping plates of kaiserscharren, a dish that resembles a cross between chopped-up French toast and the Jewish breakfast specialty matzo brie, topped with raspberries. Schwarzenegger explains that it's an old Austrian dish, created by some nineteenth century emperor or other ("King Ludwig, I think") who wanted his subjects to be able to eat the same thing he did, at least once a day (a noble and--dare one say it--decidedly democratic idea).

His continuing appetite for Austrian breakfast fare notwithstanding, Schwarzenegger says he "felt deep down inside of me that I was an American" from age eight or 10 on. School studies, newsreels, American pop culture--all gave him a sense of "the size of [America] and the possibilities." As he grew older, he found himself wondering, "What am I doing in this village here, with the farmers?" He wanted to live in the United States. He was 15 when he began the activity that would make that possible.

His father wanted him to excel at soccer, and the training camp for his youth soccer team was next door to a weightlifting room. He wandered in one day and did a few simple weight-training exercises to strengthen his legs. "When I saw those animals climbing around the chin-up bar and doing 20 chin-ups and then going over to the squat rack and squatting 200 kilos [440 pounds], and then another guy snatching up 315 [pounds] in one movement, it outweighed by far everything that I'd seen on the soccer field."

Schwarzenegger began lifting weights and doing bodybuilding exercises so obsessively that his parents limited his trips to the gym to three times a week. Solution: He converted an unheated room in the house to a small gym and continued to work out, hour after hour after hour, following a strict routine.

 

"I lived by the training program, the eating program, the competition program," he says. "I was always the master in writing out the programs. I knew that as soon as I put it down, the last thing I ever wanted to do is disappoint myself. I knew that I had to look in the mirror every day and I could not look in the mirror and say, 'You know something: You're a fucking loser; you cannot even do the kind of sets and exercises and eat the kind of food that you wrote down.' I didn't want to face that."

 

Schwarzenegger's hard work and singlemindedness paid off. He competed all over the world and became the best--and best-known--bodybuilder since Charles Atlas. He was dubbed "The Austrian Oak" (his company is now called Oak Productions), and after winning his second Mr. Universe contest, in London, he came to the United States to compete. He came first to Miami Beach, but when he decided to stay, Joe Weider, the bodybuilding impresario, urged him to live in Southern California, in Venice--Muscle Beach--the mecca of bodybuilding. He made the move and says he instantly felt "this was where I'd always been meant to be. I felt-- 'Ahhh, now I'm at home.' "

Schwarzenegger has always had self-confidence. In his 1977 autobiography, Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder, he wrote: "I knew I was a winner. I knew I was destined for great things." Having settled in Los Angeles, he wasn't content to be "just" a world champion bodybuilder; he immediately set out to be a world champion capitalist as well. While Weider paid him $60 a week (in addition to providing him an apartment and car) to write articles for his bodybuilding magazine, Schwarzenegger started a bricklaying and masonry business with his weightlifting friend Columbu, who'd been his training partner in Germany and who doubled as a bricklayer. Columbu had moved to the United States nine months after Schwarzenegger, and they employed several of their fellow gym rats in the business as well. They also began to offer mail-order courses in bodybuilding, astonished by how easy it was to start a business in this country, compared with all the bureaucratic red tape and regulation they would have encountered trying to start a similar enterprise in Austria.


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