The World According to Arnold
Hollywood superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger knows what he wants—and usually gets it.
From the Print Edition:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Summer 96
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Kopelson asks Schwarzenegger's chef what holds the dumplings together.
"Whole eggs," the chef replies.
This leads to a Kopelson diatribe on eggs, cholesterol and heart disease. Schwarzenegger cuts it short: "That's bullshit." He tells us about a friend whose cholesterol shot up 40 points after he gave up eggs. "Cholesterol is mostly a matter of heredity," he says, certain that on this--as on so many other issues--he has The Answer.
Kopelson starts to leave, but first he echoes producer Grazer's praise of Schwarzenegger's enthusiasm for promotion. He also praises his generosity--specifically thanking him for an Elie Bleu humidor that Schwarzenegger recently gave him. "The green inlay matches the carpet in my office perfectly," he says. That sets the actor off on one of his favorite gripes--most people's lack of creativity, specifically (in this instance) the boring similarity of most other humidors. "They're all the same--shiny wooden boxes," he says. "I found some antique jewelry boxes and sent them to a humidor maker to have them cedar-lined and transformed into humidors."
On his way out the door, Kopelson asks Schwarzenegger if he plans to market them. Or give them away as gifts.
"No," he says. "I just want to show them they're behind the times in creativity. A shiny wooden box isn't always the best. We just bought a home in Sun Valley, and it wouldn't fit with the rustic decor there."
After Kopelson leaves, Schwarzenegger pulls out a humidor--a shiny wooden box--and offers me a cigar. He has humidors all over--in his houses, his office, his trailer--and this one is filled with what he says are Cohibas, bearing a special red, "Arnold S" band. "They're a gift from Rick Dees [a local disc jockey] to thank me for a favor," he says.
Schwarzenegger lights his Cohiba with a larger version of the blow torch he used at Schatzi; the thin bolt of flame looks hot enough to incinerate the entire trailer. As we smoke and sip espresso, he talks about parenting. He didn't have an early call today--he's awaiting the call for his next scene right now--so he wanted to take four-year-old Christina to school again this morning. But she demanded that her mother accompany them. She cried and pretended to throw up. Schwarzenegger wanted time alone with her, though, and he insisted that they leave Maria behind. Christina not only got over her upset, he says--the proud parent is talking now--but once they got to school, she wrote down her numbers from one to 15 and then sounded them all out, "and then I said, out of nowhere, 'OK, sound them out in German,' and she did that, too. The teacher said 'Wow!' She was very pleased." Because of his own strict upbringing, Schwarzenegger is much more the disciplinarian with the children than Maria is. "Her upbringing was more lenient, more positive," he says. "In an Austrian home, the emphasis is on what you did wrong, what you did bad, rather than what you did well. There's a lot of things that I had to learn--to be positive, to reinforce the positive, to give kids the confidence."
A few days earlier, the Los Angeles Times had published a Valentine's Day story on several prominent couples, Schwarzenegger and Shriver among them. The story said that on the day the two met, Schwarzenegger told Maria's mother, "Your daughter has a great body." I thought that seemed a bit brazen, even for Schwarzenegger.
"Did you really say that?" I ask.
"No. I said, 'she has a nice ass.'"
As it turned out, she has more than that. But even though Schwarzenegger says he knew on their first date alone that she was the woman for him, it took nine years before he was ready to get married. He carried the engagement ring around for six months, changing his mind several times about the right moment and the right setting to propose marriage, before he finally popped the question in a rowboat on a lake, near where he grew up in Austria.
"I never saw myself as a guy that could settle down," he says. "I was always very derogatory about the station wagons that people used in the '60s and '70s, with the dog and the cat and the kids screaming--and now I'm driving around with the dogs, the puppies, the kids screaming in the back, the wife in the front seat, trying to calm everyone down."
Schwarzenegger wants to talk more about family, not just his own, but family in general, the family in trouble. I interrupt to ask how, as the father of three young children, he justifies making such gratuitously violent movies. In 1988, the National Coalition on Television Violence named him the most violent actor of the year after he averaged a mind-numbing 146 acts of violence an hour in Running Man. I tell him that I'm opposed to censorship but that I banned the TV show "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" from our house when I realized that my six-year-old son, Lucas, was much more likely to hit and kick and act aggressively after seeing it. But Schwarzenegger insists that his movies don't have a bad effect on children. His two-year-old son sees no violent movies--"not even mine"--but he "kicks everything that he sees. Things like smacking the girls in the face--he realizes he can cause damage. He picks up a frying pan and he sees everyone running from him. That's when he's in his glory," he says. "Kids have a certain amount of aggression stored away. You go through stages. Then you grow out of it."
He talks about his own experience as a young man, then says, "Violence is a social problem in this country, created by the very politicians that now complain that movie violence is causing it. It is them, by not having run the country well, that have gotten the kids into that. The inner-city problem is not a creation from the movies. The violence that is going on there--the shootings in the schools and all of that--is not created by our movies."
No. But study after study has shown that children exposed to violent images on television and in the movies do behave more aggressively, even violently. Schwarzenegger doesn't want to hear about it. He'd rather talk about what he's doing to address the problems of inner-city violence--and inner-city alienation, frustration and failure.
Schwarzenegger is the chairman of the Inner-city Games Foundation, which sponsors more than 40 sports and recreation activities in 17 cities nationwide. In Los Angeles alone, more than 100,000 inner-city children and teenagers participated in the games last year.
Danny Hernandez, who has long worked with youths in the Latino neighborhoods of East Los Angeles, founded the Inner-city Games in 1991 and--attracted by Schwarzenegger's star appeal and his work on the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports--asked him to help. Schwarzenegger has provided free office space to the foundation and--more importantly--he delivers the foundation's central message directly to the kids.
"I wanted the kids to see that if you work hard, you can go far, and I knew Arnold would tell them that and show them that," Hernandez says. "He's been totally hands-on. He comes to the centers so often that the kids call him 'Arnold.' He helps raise money all over the country, and he brings a lot of his celebrity friends in to help, too."
From the world of sports have come, among others, Muhammad Ali; former Olympic champions Bruce Jenner, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Edwin Moses and Bob Beamon; and boxers Evander Holyfield and Oscar de la Hoya. From Hollywood: Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, Edward James Olmos, Jay Leno, Arsenio Hall.
Although the focus of the program is on competitive sports, the foundation also sponsors academic competition and arts programs and awards scholarships to promising inner-city youngsters. Schwarzenegger is clearly proud of the work the foundation is doing. He sees it as an opportunity to act on his conviction that family and a sense of belonging are crucially important to keeping kids off drugs, out of gangs and out of prison. (Schwarzenegger has been criticized for using steroids himself as a bodybuilder, but he says he always used them "under a doctor's supervision," never suffered any side effects and never allowed drugs to take over his life, as so many in the inner cities and Hollywood alike have done.)
"The reason kids join gangs, to large extent, is because they want to be part of a family," Schwarzenegger says. "They have no family at home. One parent is missing or there are terrible conditions at home. They want to feel needed, loved, to have a sense of responsibility. With the Inner-city Games, what we provide is an alternative. They belong to a family at the gymnasium."
After he turns on the VCR in his trailer and shows me a short promotional tape on the Inner-city Games, Schwarzenegger complains about recent budget cuts in big-city recreation programs across the country.
"For every dollar they pull back today," he says, "we're going to spend $10 later on."
I tell him that sounds like an argument I'd expect from a liberal Democrat, not a conservative Republican. After all, it's the Republicans who have slashed social spending, the Republicans--the Reagan and Bush administrations--whose social and economic policies have greatly exacerbated the pressures on poor and middle-income families alike.
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