In the first century bc, the wrestler Nicophon of Miletus was said to have a physique which would have made Zeus himself tremble. He literally outstripped his rivals at the Olympic Games. Nicophon’s mere name, Victory Voice, announced a champion, just as that of Schwarzenegger did in the Mr Universe — and, more recently, in the Mr Governor of California — contests. He had only to flex himself for the rest of the field to wilt.
Fantastic is the lid-off Arnie of Thal, an Austrian village in which his father, once of the Nazi party, was postwar police chief. Laurence Leamer’s low-down becomes a pedestal on which Arnie’s occasionally lovable hunkishness is jacked up even higher. How high can he go? Although the Constitution of the United States expressly requires a presidential candidate to be born on US soil, what’s an iron rule when the Terminator gets his hands on it?
In the present climate of American justice (in which, as Gary Indiana says, the Supreme Court can decree George W. Bush ‘elected’ president, because it saves wasting time on recounting votes in Florida, but with the rider that their ‘verdict’ should not be taken as a precedent because it’s a phoney), why shouldn’t an inarticulate, inanely ambitious lout not imagine that he can muscle his way to the White House?
D.H. Lawrence, despite his faible for manly men, once wrote a poem ‘The Gods, the Gods’ about a time when ‘all was dreary, great robot limbs, robot breasts/robot voices’. Arnie, thou art the deity. Why should the pap-fed audience not believe — key word in the modern soundbite, pseudo-evangelical pol-speak — Our Hero to be as fantastic as he finds his own steroid-assisted ascent? Has he abused women? They love it really. Is he an admirer of the late-lamented Adolf’s rhetorical skills? Relax: our guy wants to be a paranoid psycho for good causes. Is there any point in repeating about Arnie what Karl Kraus said about Hitler: when I think about him I find I’m thinking about nothing? Hey, listen, Adolf killed real people, and Arnie only slaughters extras and computer-generated grockles. Plus, Arnie has contributed generously to the Simon Wiesenthal institute and — let’s hear it for him — he has a lot of Jewish friends. Heil, Arnie! Why not?
As an antidote, try the only slim volume in this bunch. Gary Indiana’s Schwarzenegger Syndrome is a polemic in which a little guy whom Arnie would call a girlie-man dishes all the necessary scheisse on the Terminator, his crap movies and all the meatheads who think Arnie really is an action hero. Indiana vents his spleen with a plethora of anal imagery and accurate scorn, but when he comes to cite his list of heroes of our time they include the ‘noble’ (sic) Eric Hobsbawm, your very own Companion of Honour, who still thinks that the Soviet Union was a ‘worthwhile experiment’. OK, so Arnie’s dad was in the SA and his kid uses his own private Austrian army tank as a runabout; he didn’t run the Gulag, did he? I’d sooner shake Arnie’s hand than Hobsbawm’s.
Next up for Hero of Our Time, Sinatra, Francis Albert, the Chairman of the Board, ole blue eyes, the greatest performer in pop history, with a voice that, like an old flamenco singer’s, grew more moving as it lost its cords. Anthony Summers and his wife Robbyn Swan add candour to the usual candy in the comfortable knowledge that, Sinatra gone, two guys from Sicily won’t come calling to sew up their loud mouths.
Sinatra’s fascination with tough guys can be traced back to the native village of one side of his family, which pretty well shared a cradle with Lucky Luciano, a fellow never at a loss when it came to chipping his way out of a concrete bunker. Sinatra perjured himself to avoid obviously valid charges of consorting with mafiosi (whose bagman he sometimes was), but that was because people were out to get him if he didn’t.
Like Macbeth, Frank was from his mother’s womb untimely (and not very skilfully) ripped, and he bore the scars for ever. The little guy had a golden voice, but his career needed a little help from his friends, and got it. When he smiled, the girls swooned; and when he saw red, smart traffic stopped in its tracks. If Frank had been given (or built) a body like Arnie’s and kept the same temper, he probably would have been riddled with bullets before he came of age or swung a mike.
Sinatra did things his way, and it was often despicable, but he made tawdry lyrics into poems and self-pity a kind of manliness. He was Nicophon in a small size, except — so myth insists — for his sexual equipment. Summers and Swan, although diligent collectors of dirt, don’t quote one of Frank’s mistresses (friend of a friend of ours) who, asked what he was like in bed, replied, ‘Frank? Strictly push and squirt.’ With others, he may have been the great lover, but Ava Gardner was a greater leaver and he never got over it, poor little sonofabitch.
No doubt, the career was mob-assisted, but then so, thanks somewhat to Francis Albert, was Jack Kennedy’s. Joe Kennedy was the Irish Luciano, but Frank had from-way-back connections with the mob in Chicago. The presidency won, Jack and Bobby thought it prudent to lose the Italian connection: Frank was the gopher who had to go. Jack was Hal to Frank’s skinny Falstaff-cum-fall-guy. A genuine Roosevelt democrat (his mother was a ward boss in Hoboken), Sinatra switched to the Republicans and sang along with Ronnie Reagan and the older Bush.
The ladies in Hollywood are seldom on top, and then briefly. Jane Fonda stayed there longer than most, due partly to her father Henry’s renown (lineage counts, even when the crowns are tinsel). He gave her a bankable name, but small affection. Her often absentee mother, once a beauty, grew neurotic and sick and killed herself when Jane was 11. Her father was otherwise involved ‘romantically’, and acting in Mr Roberts, in which I saw him give a cool performance on Broadway in 1949.
Without ghostly help, Jane makes a seemingly honest attempt to spell out all her lives, attitudes and follies. From the charming Roger Vadim (who introduced her to threesomes and stole her money), through left-wing Tom Hayden (egalitarian enough to screw their baby’s nurse), to the darn-tootin’, right-wing vanity of Ted Turner (who kept his money where he could see it, in 20 different ‘homes’), she has played in just about every sexual position (some of them on camera) into which a plain Jane — as she sees herself, or says she does — could hope or fear to twist herself.
It all comes down, pretty well, to a girl whose heart belonged to daddy and whose daddy has a heart of stone. Even Katie Hepburn, a tough old fighter, got bruised when, late in the day, she tried to get cosy with Hank while they were all making On Golden Pond, which won Katie and Fonda père valedictory Oscars, and made a bunch of change for producer Jane.
She makes a good case for her once- scandalous visit to Hanoi at the height of the Vietnam war, though she concedes that it was bad PR to be photographed in the hot seat of an anti-aircraft gun when, supposedly, a US raid was in progress. She just needed to sit down was the truth. It says here.
Goldie Hawn, by contrast, is a hundred and one pounds of honest-to-God fun. Her dad was a cornered loner and her mom a loud-mouthed embarrassment (but you have to love her for yelling ‘Bored!’ as an exit line at a celebrity audience). A rag-doll promoted to stardom, Goldala danced her way damn near to the top, and tells her story in cute detail and, OK, with heart-warming modesty, until — just when she needs it — she finds true love with Kurt Russell (a Mr Nice Guy just her size). Music up, and out!
Schwarzenegger Syndrome by Gary Indi- ana (The New Press, &
#163;19.99, pp. 140, ISBN 1565841515)
Sinatra: The Life by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan (Doubleday, £20, pp. 576, ISBN 0385609248)
My Life So Far by Jane Fonda (Ebury Press, £18.99, pp. 599, ISBN 0091906105)
A Lotus Grows in the Mud by Goldie Hawn with Wendy Holden (Bantam Press, £18.99, pp. 446, ISBN 0593053575)