Arnold Schwarzenegger: The Austrian Oak - Part 2

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Arnold Schwarzenegger: The Austrian Oak - Part 2

(This is part 2 in our ongoing series about Arnold Schwarzenegger, a worldwide icon that sported a gap between his teeth for most of his public life. To read Part 1, click here.)

Better roles

Prior to the worldwide release of Pumping Iron, Arnold Schwarzenegger played in the 1976 dramedy Stay Hungry. In the film, Schwarzenegger played a part that was tailor made for him. He was cast as an Austrian bodybuilder named Joe Santo. The character was training to compete in the Mr. Universe competition. The film was well received by critics. Schwarzenegger played alongside future Academy Award winning actor Jeff Bridges. Though Bridges played the main character, Schwarzenegger was praised as the standout performer in the movie.

Promotional poster for Stay Hungry

(Promotional Poster for Stay Hungry.  Notice that Schwarzenegger does not receive an acting credit on the poster.)

This was a positive signal to many in the film industry. that Schwarzenegger had the acting chops necessary to be on the big screen. He had been taking acting classes for years at this point. Ever the dreamer, he had already perceived himself as being a successful actor well before it came to be. According to his memoir, Total Recall: ‘My Unbelievably True Life Story’ , this perception actually calmed him. He came to accept it as a foregone conclusion, so he had nothing to worry about. However, there was still a great deal of trepidation about casting a bodybuilder in big budget films. His accent was still problematic and he had not yet achieved the incredible heights of fame that he currently enjoys.

Pumping Iron influence

Pumping Iron was a culturally significant film release. It not only made Arnold Schwarzenegger a familiar name to people all throughout the world, but it also changed the behavior of millions of people in the United States and beyond. Arnold’s turn in the film brought professional bodybuilding out of relative obscurity and into the mainstream. Weightlifting gyms began to open up all across the United States. Today, it is normal to see gyms in big and small cities all throughout the land. Before Pumping Iron debuted these gyms were a rarity. Such was the impact of the film on the minds of the masses that millions of men (and some women) in the United States took up the sport of bodybuilding after viewing it.

Pumping Iron promotional photo

Becomes a millionaire (before achieving worldwide fame as an actor)

Arnold is a remarkably intelligent man. If you have any question about that, you should consider the fact that he rose to the top of every profession that he ever entered. He broke records with his consecutive wins in bodybuilding competitions in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. He became the highest paid movie star in Hollywood. He then rose to the top of his state’s political establishment by becoming the Governor of California and serving 2 terms from 2003 to 2011. There is also another astounding accomplishment that he achieved that many are completely unaware of.

You may be surprised to learn that Arnold Schwarzenegger became a multi-millionaire well before he ever ascended to the ranks of movie superstardom .  Schwarzenegger had amassed a decent amount of money from all of his bodybuilding championship wins. When he came to the United States he possessed significant financial resources which he used to begin his new life. He had $27,000.00 in cash when he arrived. To put that into perspective, $27,000.00 in 1968 cash (1968 was the year that he immigrated to the United States) is roughly equivalent to $187,012.24 in 2016 when adjusted for inflation.

Arnold Schwarzenegger earned millions of dollars from real estate before he became a movie star.

One of the things that left Schwarzenegger perplexed about the United States is that people seemed perfectly happy to rent apartments instead of buying their own homes. In his area of Austria, one could not rent a place to live. It was never an option. He thought the idea of paying rent was completely insane. One of the first things that he set out to do when he arrived in the country was to become a property owner. He used his accrued nest egg as a down payment for a modest 4-unit apartment building. The building costed $214,000.00. After collecting rent and using those funds to perform renovations on the building he was able to increase the value of the property and sell it for $360,000.00 the very next year.

With the impressive profit that he earned from his first property in hand, he purchased a 12-unit dwelling. He renovated that building as well (popularly referred to as “flipping” in today’s vernacular) and sold it for an even greater profit. He stepped up to purchasing a 36 unit building. Then he moved up to a 100 unit building. With each purchase he continued the strategy of improving the property and selling it for a fantastic profit. By quickly purchasing new buildings after he sold his old properties, he was able to avoid taxes.

Arnold started a bricklaying company with his friend, Franco Columbu.  Business was originally slow until Arnold put out promotional materials that described them as European Specialty Bricklayers.  He also doubled their prices.  As a result of these marketing practices, their company's fortunes completely reversed.  They soon had more business than they could handle.  They were getting so much work that they were turning prospective clients away due to scheduling conflicts. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu at their bricklaying business.

He also started a mail-order exercise equipment company. Arnold definitely had an entrepreneurial spirit that he employed to find and exploit business opportunities at every turn.

From the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, Arnold went from purchasing a 4-unit apartment to buying office blocks. He purchased a property in Santa Monica for $450,000.00. He ended up selling this property for $2,300,000.00. He earned a profit of $7,000,000.00 from his sale of a property in Nevada that he originally purchased for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

He clearly had an uncanny eye for recognizing up and coming real estate markets. He bought cheap and sold big. The California real estate market was on a path towards exponential growth. He was lucky in 2 ways. Firstly, California was the focal point for the competitive bodybuilding movement in the United States. The location and the timing of his arrival in the United States presented fertile ground for his success. Secondly, California real estate was relatively cheap at this time. These factors, coupled with Arnold’s monetary resources and astute mind for analyzing real estate trends combined to make Arnold wildly successful. This is by no means an attempt to detract from Schwarzenegger’s early accomplishments in real estate. The fact is, timing is everything in business. If he would have arrived in the United States one decade later, he would not have possessed the resources to buy his way into the California real estate market.

Due to his incredible mind and impeccable timing, Arnold was a multi-millionaire by the time that he reached the age of 25. This fortune allowed him to focus on his athletic and acting pursuits without worrying about his personal finances. He reached the heights of multi-millionaire status within 6 short years of arriving in the United States.

This financial cushion would prove to be an important part of Schwarzenegger’s strategy in securing acting roles that he deemed appropriate for his attributes. He did not have to accept mediocre roles in terrible films. He could sit back and wait for the perfect scripts to come to him.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Villain

Today, Arnold owns an enormous amount of real estate all across the country. He owns stakes in high priced houses, office buildings and numerous other holdings. To date, he is tied to over 100 business ventures. His net worth is in the hundreds of millions of dollars and is estimated to be closing in on the 1 billion dollar mark.

Maria Shriver

Arnold Schwarzenegger met Maria Shriver in 1977. They were introduced to each other by longtime NBC lead anchor Tom Brokaw (although Brokaw was not the lead anchor at the time) during a charity tennis event that her mother was hosting. The 2 became an item and 9 years later, on April 26, 1986, they were married. In recent years, their relationship has encountered some rough waters that will be expanded upon in Part 3 of this series.

Arnold Schwarznegger and Maria Shriver get on their wedding day.

The Incredible Hulk

Arnold auditioned to play the titular character in the television series,  The Incredible Hulk. The show’s producers were looking for an actor that was a bit taller than Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger is 6’2” tall. This is certainly tall by the standards of most of the populations of the world. Still, it was not enough to land him the part.

Lou Ferrigno competed with Arnold Schwarzenegger for the part. In this competition, Ferrigno would end up being victorious. Schwarzenegger ended up losing the part to his Pumping Iron rival.

Lou Ferrigno won the part of the Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk was a great success. The show ran for 5 seasons and enjoys cult status to this very day. Lou Ferrigno is 6’4” tall. His massive physique, great height and screen appeal made him perfect for the part.

Conan the Barbarian

Schwarzenegger’s breakout role was his portrayal of the titular character featured in 1982’s Conan The Barbarian. The film was a smash hit at the box office and cemented his star status. The movie centers around a young barbarian as he sets out on a mission to avenge the death of his parents. Critics gave the film sharply contrasting reviews. There was plenty of praise, but there were also fierce detractors. It was little matter because audiences liked what they saw. A sequel, Conan The Destroyer, was released in 1984. It failed to achieve the success of the first film. This had no effect on Schwarzenegger’s newly minted star status. As has always been the case in Schwarzenegger’s life, greater things were yet to come.

Promotional poster for Conan The Barbarian

Becomes an American citizen

In 1983, Arnold Schwarzenegger became an American citizen. He described it as one of the proudest days of his life.

The Terminator

Schwarzenegger’s next role would define his career. In James Cameron’s 1984 horror/science fiction film The Terminator, Schwarzenegger played the part of a cybernetic organism that was sent back in time to assassinate a pregnant woman before the birth of her son, John Connor. The unborn child would grow to lead a revolution against machines, which had taken control of the world in this version of the future.

Promotional Poster for The Terminator

Schwarzenegger was originally considered for the role of Reese, a soldier under the command of John Connor that was sent back in time to protect Connor’s mother from The Terminator. James Cameron thought that he would just go through the motions with Arnold. He never intended for him to be involved with the project at all. Cameron did not find that Schwarzenegger was suited to the role of Reese. However, to his surprise, he was very excited about the idea that Arnold would play The Terminator. He was absolutely perfect for the role.

Principal photography began in March of 1984. Schwarzenegger only had 18 lines and spoke less than 100 words throughout the entire film.

Orion Pictures did not believe that the movie would fare well with critics or moviegoers. Schwarzenegger himself was skeptical about participating in the film. James Cameron, the film’s writer and director, was unproven at that point. Arnold thought that the film was likely to be bad but the release would be low-key enough that it would not ruin his career to have appeared in it. Even some of the movie’s supporting cast thought that the concept was silly. It seems that only James Cameron saw the true potential of the work that they were doing.

Schwarzenegger’s turn as the cyborg assassin was enthusiastically received by audiences and critics alike. The movie became a smash hit. It went on to become a franchise that featured movie sequels, novels, comic books, video games and a television series.

The Terminator has aged remarkably well. It is widely regarded as a classic film. In 2008, The Terminator was selected by the United States Library of Congress for being culturally significant to the United States.

I’ll be back

One of the most popular lines ever delivered in a film are when The Terminator says “I’ll be back” to a police officer that is behind a desk at a police station where his prey, Sarah Connor, is being protected. Due to his Austrian accent, Schwarzenegger had trouble saying the contraction “I’ll”. He wanted to change the line to “I will be back”. He also thought that a cyborg would not speak in contractions. Cameron vetoed the idea. It became not only the most memorable line of the movie, but one of the most memorable lines of all time. The movie’s incredible success was totally unexpected by the financial backers, distributors and even the actors.

The Terminator says his most popular line in this scene

Schwarzenegger was now an international movie superstar. He would go on to star in highly successful films such as:

  • Commando
  • Predator
  • Total Recall
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day (one of the most acclaimed films of all time)
  • True Lies

The Terminator franchise exists to this day. He reprised the role of the T-850 Model 101 in 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and 2015’s Terminator Genisys.

With Hollywood conquered and his trademark gap tooth smile in tow, he set out to conquer the world of politics.

Political Leanings

He became a member of the United States Republican Party after gaining his American citizenship in 1983. He recalled seeing a speech in 1968 given by then-Presidential Candidate Richard Nixon shortly after his arrival to the United States. He was very attracted to the values that Nixon extolled in his speech. He asked somebody what Nixon’s political affiliation was. When the person responded that the candidate was a member of the Republican Party, Schwarzenegger replied “I am a Republican.”.

Arnold Schwarzenegger poses with President Ronald Reagan

The Austria that Schwarzenegger grew up in was governed by the Social Democratic Party of Austria. His experience with left wing politics led him to believe that the government was too obtrusive in civilian affairs. The grinding poverty and lack of opportunity that was widespread in his homeland led him to believe that socialist policies ruined opportunities for a country’s citizenry. Without knowing the well-defined distinctions between United States Democrats and Republicans, he instinctively sided with the right-wing spectrum of politics. Nixon’s words exemplified his political leanings and he immediately identified with his ideals.

Schwarzenegger has described himself as a socially moderate, yet fiscally conservative Republican. He is in support of same-sex marriage, stem cell research (supported by taxpayers) and a woman’s right to choose.

Schwarzenegger held an official appointment in President George H.W. Bush’s (Bush 41) administration. He was Chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. He started the position in 1990 and maintained it until President Bush left office in 1993. By all accounts, he was a remarkable representative for the cause of physical fitness. He lobbied all 50 United States governors to support the cause of fitness programs in U.S. schools. Interestingly, he eschewed using government funds in his travels, choosing to travel in his own airplane on his own dime.

Schwarzenegger during his time on the President's Council on Sports and Physical Fitness

After his time at the federal level came to an end, Arnold turned his attention back to the state of California. His film career continued, but now that he had the experience of working in government he felt the need to continue on in that capacity. He became Chairman for the California Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. He served under Governor Pete Wilson. True to form, while in performance of his duties Schwarzenegger had his eyes on a much bigger prize; he wanted to be Governor of California. 

(To read Part 3, click here.)

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