After wading through 646 pages of narcissistic gush and breathtaking vulgarity in the accents of Dr Kissinger and Dr Strangelove, I am consoled by the thought that the ordeal has not been entirely a waste of effort. Frequently able to put the book down, yet obliged every time but one to lift it up again, I have found the exercise has wonderfully enlarged, defined and beautified my deltoids, trapezii, latissimus dorsi and other muscles too intimate to mention. Now, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, I can gaze into looking glasses with intensified Gemutlichkeit.
If I obey ‘Arnold’s Rules’ — especially the advice, ‘When someone tells you “no”, you should hear “yes” ’ and ‘Don’t overthink’ — will I, too, in the brief period at my disposal, be able to become a champion bodybuilder? Will I also become a shrewd dealer in real estate, a multimillionaire action hero in motion pictures, a political leader of the free enterprise system, an author of an autobiography like this one, which he calls ‘an international event’, and a master of ‘joke-telling skills’? Perhaps not. Arnold’s world is divided into two sorts of people, sweethearts and assholes, and there is always a danger of falling into the lower category, a risk of terminating as a bionic bore, a cyber schmuck, as he keeps demonstrating.
All his successes, he says, have been brought about by his charm, strength and determination. The few glitches along the way have been caused by other people’s faults. His father, a Nazi police sergeant, was paternally harsh and unimaginative when Arnold was born, in 1947, and brought up in Thal, a village in Austria, where they had to draw water from a well and there were food shortages.
Bodybuilders, who compensated with overeating and anabolic steroids (then legal in their bizarre sport) should not have encouraged him to go for the Mr Universe title, which is presumptuous, and maybe false, as there are probably even more grossly inflated physiques somewhere else, if not in our own galaxy. Arnold could not help it, right after migrating to the United States, when President Nixon inspired him to swear everlasting allegiance to the Republican Party, confusing him when he married Maria Shriver, a devout member of the Kennedy-Shriver clan of Democrats. She failed to dissuade him from becoming a Republican Governor of the State of California, with its unfair-to-Arnold left-wing legislature and incurable budget deficits.
After Milton Berle had taught him to jazz up his conversation, Arnold uttered his most famous wisecrack, when he first met Eunice Kennedy Shriver, his prospective mother-in-law. ‘Your daughter,’ he said, ‘has a great ass.’ Fortunately, no Kennedy-Shriver could be easily shaken, even by this epitome of Schwarzeneggerism. ‘That’s very nice,’ Mrs Shriver replied.
At the age of 18, while serving as a conscript in the Austrian army, he won the title ‘Best Built Junior Athlete of Europe’ and ‘felt like King Kong’. He arrived in America at 21, with a 57-inch chest and a 32-inch waist, and appeared in his first movie the following year, Hercules in New York, which most people have been kind enough to forget.
His second starring role was in Conan the Barbarian, almost certainly the most tedious swordplay epic ever filmed, which Dino De Laurentiis, the producer, presented as an expression of Nietzschean philosophy and Arnold enjoyed as ‘a fun ride’.
From then on, he never left home without $1,000 in cash and a no-limit credit card. Maria’s family was loaded and she was making top dollar in network television news, but he never touched her money. The Conan sequel led to the Terminator series, worldwide adulation and election to the California governorship, all together providing the autobiography with so many photographs of the author, dressed and mostly undressed, that fans can appreciate his story without actually having to read the words.
He remembers an early mistress-in-residence who didn’t work out:
We usually got along very well, and had lived together for more than three years. But she was a normal person and wanted normal things, and there was nothing normal about me. My drive was not normal. My vision of where I wanted to go was not normal. The whole idea of a conventional existence was like Kryptonite.
She moved out.
Years later, when Maria went on a trip, leaving him alone with their housekeeper, he made her pregnant. What did his wife expect? He was known for ‘groping’ women he wasn’t married to. And how was he supposed to know that when she discovered he was the father of the housekeeper’s child there would be a divorce? After all, he did say he was sorry. For a while, his telephone stopped ringing; but it soon rang again, when Sylvester Stallone wanted him to co-star. Hollywood gives any number of further chances to a schmoozer who is boffo at the box office.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 3 November 2012