Sunday 25 February 2018

Arnie: pumping irony

Born in Austria in 1947, as a young man he got into bodybuilding and became the best in the world. He moved to Los Angeles at the age of 21. Within 10 years, he was a millionaire businessman. After 20 years, he was the world's biggest movie star. In 2003, after just over 30 years in America, he was governor of California and a household name around the globe.

It's the unbelievable yet true story of Arnold Schwarzenegger's life. And he tells it in his own, painfully blunt fashion. In 1977 Arnie had just met his wife-to-be, the journalist and Kennedy family member, Maria Shriver. Turning to his future mother-in-law, the venerable family matriarch Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Schwarzenegger decided to lay his feelings on the line: "Your daughter has a great ass," he told her.

The moment was pure Arnie and is just one of a multitude of cringe-inducing anecdotes in the Terminator's new biography, Total Recall, a 646-page tome about Schwarzenegger's rise to acting and political stardom and the demise of his 25-year marriage to a Kennedy princess.

Schwarzenegger's marriage collapsed in 2011 when it emerged that he had fathered a secret love child with the family's beloved housekeeper, Mildred Baena. Baena gave birth to a son in 1997, a child that subsequently accompanied his mother on multiple occasions to the Schwarzenegger home and unwittingly played with his half-siblings.

Like all good Hollywood couples the truth came to light in a therapist's office in January 2011 -- the very day after Schwarzenegger left office as governor of California -- when his wife confronted him about her long held suspicions about Baena's son who shares an uncanny resemblance to the star.

"The minute we sat down, the therapist turned to me and said, 'Maria wanted to come here today and to ask about a child -- whether you fathered a child with your housekeeper Mildred'," Schwarzenegger writes.

Although Schwarzenegger admits that he had numerous affairs throughout his married life, he devotes scant details of his relationship with Mildred. When it comes to his dalliance with the hired help, total recall it is not.

The affair with Mildred was "one of those stupid things that I promised myself never to do", he writes. It was 1996, Maria and the kids were away on holiday and Arnold was home alone working on a movie. "All of a sudden we were alone in the guesthouse. When Mildred gave birth the following August, she named the baby Joseph and listed her husband as the father. That is what I wanted to believe and what I did believe for years."

You nearly feel sorry for Schwarzenegger until he recounts his efforts to reassure his long-suffering wife that "it was my screw-up, that she should not feel that it had anything to do with her".

"You're the perfect wife," he told her in their therapist's office. "It's not because anything is wrong, or you left home for a week, or any of that. Forget that. You look fantastic, you're sexy, I'm turned on by you today as much as I was on the first date."

Maria Shriver does not turn up until page 221 of the book but her appearance is worth the wait. Clearly obsessed with this bright and enigmatic Kennedy star, Schwarzenegger devotes the remainder of the book to their union, her enthusiastic support for his political career and her qualities as a "fabulous" mother.

"I could go on for hours about what draws me to Maria but still never fully explain the magic," he writes, gushing that she had been his first girlfriend "who didn't treat my ambitions as an annoyance."

The couple met at the RFK celebrity tennis tournament in 1977 when he was the star of 'Pumping Iron' and she was at the cusp of her journalistic career. Despite his crass comment about her assets to her mother, Maria and Arnie were instantly attracted to one another and soon they were living together.

Maria's "personality, her look, her intelligence, her wit, what she brought to the table and how much she was able to participate without missing a beat were what mattered to me. . . I got addicted to her," he writes.

But not addicted enough to stay faithful. Just weeks before he married Maria in a lavish ceremony in Massachusetts in 1986 Schwarzenegger admits that he was still engaged in a "hot affair" with his Red Sonja co-star model Brigitte Nielsen.

Schwarzenegger's honesty is not just reserved for his extra-marital activities. The Terminator star is equally candid about his lacklustre tenure as California governor from 2003 to 2011, a role he fully admits that he was wholly unprepared to take on -- a sentiment that many of his critics would resoundingly endorse.

After announcing his candidacy for the post in 2003, Schwarzenegger writes how he got a call from top journalist Matt Lauer of the Today show.

"As he pressed me for specifics on how I would bring back the California economy and when I would release my tax returns, I realised I was unprepared," Schwarzenegger writes. "Unable to answer, I finally had to resort to the old Groucho Marx stunt of pretending the connection was bad. 'Say again?' I put a hand to my earpiece. 'I didn't hear you.'"

The actor also admits that it was probably a bad idea as governor to call his fellow California legislators "girlie men" when they refused to comply with his demands and complete budget talks.

As Schwarzenegger shops his book around the talk show circuit in the US this month, the actor is reluctantly waiting for his divorce to Shriver to come through -- and hoping for a miracle.

"You can call this denial, but it's the way my mind works ... I'm still in love with Maria. I am an optimist," he writes towards the end in a heartfelt appeal to his wife to take him back.

Despite recent tabloid photographs of a pained and stony-faced Shriver going it alone with her four kids, Schwarzenegger still clings to the "hope that Maria and I can come back together as husband and wife and as a family with our children".

He ends his book on a positive note with a chapter called "Arnold's Rules" -- his go-to guide on how to achieve success in life. "Don't overthink," he urges, "When someone tells you no, you should hear yes," and "Change takes big balls."

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