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Most of the time autobiographies are much better than the biography version as they generally come at a time when the subject in question has done his or her best stuff and using the book to reignite interest and so being controversial to achieve that. A big chunky tome is their literal gravestone. But biographies tend to be the better option when the person in question is the biggest of names and not about to let an editor to trim down his of her grandiose tome, the bigger the name the bigger the book, definitely the problem here with Mr Schwarzenegger, this one as big and pompous as the man himself. Whether the autobiography is as boring as he is I will never know as I have never met the bloke but my word this could have been chainsawed down to 500 or so pages. Clearly Arnie has very high opinion of himself and not about to surrender a book to the publisher less than any other film star on his pay grade.
The first 100 pages are on life growing up in Austria in the small town of Meinhold, dad injured in the war but installing discipline in his kids to the last making Arnold the man he would be today, whether that's a good thing or not. There is not a lot on the Hitler Youth stuff that was of most interest to the reader in that part of his life and clearly something he wants to airbrush from his and his fathers life, unfortunate providence coming into the public domain when a British tabloid ran the story in the United Kingdom, the internet back then not able to syndicate it around the world and so able to keep control of the damage. His father was in the NAZI set up but as some sort of community policeman and didn't do anything bad, the kids Cub/Scouts over there every different to ours during the war.
We learn Arnold was an alpha male from a young age and empowered by bodybuilding in his mid teens, his dream to be the best in the world at his sport and travel to America to be famous, a bit of a bully around the bierkeilers by all accounts. Just as Arnie labored over the weights and checking himself out in the mirror, that introspective vanity lingers in the book, way too much on his rise through the bodybuilding world detailed here. By page 200 we are still on that stiff as he takes us through all his triumphs of being the youngest guy to win this title and that title to eventually becoming Mr Universe when he finally made it to America. I didn't really learn much in that first quarter of the book other than he was a tank driver during national service in between clunking weights. I didn't know Austria had any tanks. He does, however, admit taking steroids on the body building circuit.
The book moves to his life in America as the classic Land of the Free arrival. On his first week in there he manages to get involved in a bad car crash but soon settles down and involved in the Californian bodybuilding scene down at Muscle Beach in Venice. Here he would need to earn money to be able to live and compete and grow his name in America, acting plans now on the agenda as he piled up the titles and exposure, enabling to start a mail-order company selling bodybuilding stuff and buying into some property in Santa Monica. I did chuckle when he set up a building company using fellow bodybuilders, quite a sight on the roofs of Southern California.
It's not until page 250 before we get into his film cannon, why I read the book and most readers already bored of this book by this point no doubt, 'Hercules in New York' that film. It was never released due to unpaid debts although available on DVD much later as a novelty item when Schwarzenegger became famous. I don't think Arnie ever wanted that film released anyway, which features the hulking Austrian in a loin cloth riding a chariot down 5th Avenue!
Pumping Iron (1977) would be the film that got him noticed and a cracking little documentary too about the rivalry between him and the Incredible Hulk himself Lou Ferrigno to win Mr Universe and then My Olympia. From there little jobs popped up, including a cheesy appearance in the Lucille Ball Show (available on YouTube). But it would be his next film Stay Hungry that really got him noticed in Hollywood, bizarrely winning him a Golden Globe for Best Actor, playing Joe Santo, a gym owner who holds out against property developers in Santa Monica who want to level his bodybuilding gym. The sacrifice for Arnie was he had to lose some of his bulk for the role, meaning he would no longer be the biggest built man in the world and so cut back on competitions.
That Schwarzenegger personality and ego was now ripping out of his shirt as the 80s rolled up and no stopping the big mouth from Austria. But the film roles were more of the same and a reflection of the body and the man, the Conan films the most notable, but paid $250 grand for Conan one and double that for film two and so now in demand. Arnie muscles and personality was box-office and the work was piling up. But it would be a film about a time travelling robot that would send him into the big leagues. Arnie was reticent to do the film, telling his then agent that he didn't want to do 'a crappy robot film', expecting to pay the freedom fighter Michael Bein roll as Conner. He just didn't want to play the villain meathead any more and nearly turned down the roll. Somehow director James Cameron persuaded him that playing the Terminator was the toughest part in the movie and involved the most acting. What Cameron meant was you can't act so just play a monosyllabic robot and take the fat paycheque. But for Arnold, who had taken acting lessons previously in his career, he would make the robot role his own and steal the movie, which he did, in most film fans action movie top ten even today. It would also be the movie to propel James Cameron to the very top.
The rather tedious Red Sonja was next, where he would have a fling with co-star Bridgette Nielsen, who then dumped Arnie for Sly Stallone. Neilson's tagline as the masculine leggy sword wielding warrior was 'no man can have me unless they beat me in a fight'. But again no real fleshing out of commonly known showbiz trivia in this book The classic dumb action movie Commando followed as Arnie piled in more of that macho comic one-liners to match every dead body, the 112 confirmed kills a then record in Hollywood movies.
Raw Deal wasn't any more intelligent and it needed the brilliant Predator to get him back moving forward for his first million dollar film. This would be the first spreadsheet movie where all the mercenaries are cast to draw in the maximum male audience, a formula very popular today, every ethnic group present with a WWF wrestler, Jessie Ventura, thrown in for good measure, Native American Sonny Landham (Billy) also turning up. The set stank of testosterone and pectoral flexing throughout, Carl Weathers always in competition with Arnie for cigar size, the boys as competitive on set as off. It was at this time that Sly and Arnie were in competition to see who could have the biggest minigun in their films, director John McTiernan (Die Hard) ripping off a gun from the side of a Vietnam Huey helicopter for the jungle scenes to outdo Sly's Demolition Man weaponry. It needed a hidden 3ft high battery pack to fire and weighed 80lbs! We also learn in the book that the original Predator was to be played by none other than Jean Claude Van Damme, who was plenty nimble to glide through the trees but too short to be intimidating to play a scary alien. Some of his scenes remain but most are played by 6ft, 9inch Kevin Peter Hall, Harry in Harry and the Henderson's.
It's here in the book we are introduced to Maria Shriver, his future wife, marrying her just 48 hours after the completion of predator after a grueling shoot in the Central American jungle. Shriver was a member of America's royal family, that of the Kennedys, their politics as far part as can be to staunch Republican Schwarzenegger. Bit the book fails to get remotely intellectual on this clash of cultures and again glossed over. Far more readers would have liked to have got into that over all that stuff on bodybuilding. You can sense from what there is on it that they looked down on him and maybe even used to him to keep their fading powerbase.
Another movie misfire followed with Red Heat, but The Running Man and Total Recall much better efforts. Its here Arnie decides its time to try and shake off the macho man and try more comedy in the work, entertaining films like Twins, Junior, Kindergarten Cop and the much derided but enjoyable big budget flop The Last Action Hero quadrupling his bank account, followed by the enjoyable True Lies and action film Eraser, playing on that contrast of his image. But the big bucks would come with Terminator 2, earning massive box-office, the first film to cost $100 million dollars in Hollywood(James Cameron doubling that budget with Titanic six years later of course) and making half-a-billion back to date. We also learn that it was at this point in Arnie's life he made Humvees 'street legal' and he also bought a 747 off Singapore Airlines to lease out for his ego business projects. Stinkers 'Jingle all the Way' and Batman & Robin dented his image and so resorted to type with Millennium movie cash in 'End of Days'.
After heart surgery the big man backed off movies for a while, word getting out about his surgery costing him roles, unsure if he could now complete grueling shoots. But the 6Th Day proving he could and the career continued as was, or so he thought. The badly timed Collateral Damage about a fireman battling terrorists clashed with 911 and a couple of kid's films soon after were pointing to the slow death of his film career. But by now Arnie had earned political ambitions through his many friendships with the new Republican Whitehouse. He was already running a national fitness campaign for America's kids and appointed 'Fitness Tsar' to the nation so he could introduce exercise schemes to schools. But running for 'Governator' would be expensive and so Terminator 3 pushed forward to help pay for it, sure to make close to that $500 million of the second movie, how much you need in American politics these days to sustain a challenge. He would eventually win that seat in the legislature when a rare recall vote unseated the sitting Governor Gray Davis, opening the door where anyone can run for the position on a straight vote on the day, 134 people entering the lottery. Arnie would beat Democrat Phil Angelides to get a second term in 2006 just before the credit crunch hit California. Previous Californian politicians had got involved in cheap 'social mortgages' to win ethnic votes and that left the state $25 billion in debt, California's economy bigger than the whole of the United Kingdoms and the eleventh biggest in the world.
At the end of that second term he would separate from Maria Shriver in 2010, his wife pointing to an illicit child with his maid from 14 years ago as reason enough to call it a day. A recent return to his film career with the Expendables franchise followed and The Last Stand and the Escape Plan not too bad. The fact US presidents must be born in America closed off any future political dreams. The big man has six more films in production or given the green light, including a third Conan film and Expendables 3 and Terminator 5, all this at the grand old age of 67.
As far as the book goes I just can't recommend it, especially to film fans. Bodybuilding fans maybe. Its way too long and self centered and nothing really knew here. The last 100 pages on his political achievements are really tedious and not really more than 100 pages here of remotely interesting stuff. It's just too egotistical and Arnie certainly doesn't want to deal with his personal faults and certainly not willing to blame himself for his bad movies. But for one of the worst actors ever he is certainly a genuine movie star and so worth risking the purchase here to read more about his incredible life. It's just a shame that his book is as painful as dropping his dumbbells on your toes.