The gropenator has been a professional politician for more than five years. He remains “movie-star” popular and has successfully avoided both scandal and character assassination in an era of tabloid journalism. Is that a miracle, or what? I think not. Unlike most politicians, Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t deny any of his checkered past—or so it seems. With astonishing wit and humor, he apparently tells it like it was and leaves the media hyenas holding the proverbial bag. They’ve never gotten a story—except an old story which is worse than no story at all.
So these days—despite his failed policies, a golden state with no gold left, and marrying a Kennedy—Arnold is still the naturalized citizen of the century, an all-around good guy. Yet nothing may be forever….
Before franchised gyms homogenized physical fitness, the original Gold’s gym in Venice, California was Mecca for serious bodybuilders. In 1968, my brother, the artist William Tunberg, was pushing iron there with Frank Zane, George Butler, Zabo and other bodybuilders when Arnold walked in, fresh from Austria. While he stood apart from the regulars—the big, new kid on the block—he quickly became one of them by his very presence. He was always at the gym. When he wasn’t training, he was learning the ways of his adopted country. In our entrepreneurial spirit, he started a bricklaying business with Franco Columbu, another immigrant and serious bodybuilder. Was Arnold responsible for the ’71 Sylmar earthquake? No, but he sure as hell sold a lot of bricks in its aftermath. Along with “the chemist,” Frank Zane, Arnold also became an amateur pharmacist, experimenting with vitamin supplements, amino acids, growth hormones and steroids—whatever he believed would give him an edge in competitions. Much of this time was chronicled in George Butler’s excellent documentary, “Pumping Iron.” Yet above all, in those days, Arnold was a world-class Casanova. Ask any girl who ever walked through the doors of Gold’s gym or happened by the Astroturf stage at Muscle Beach. If sexual harassment had been in vogue then, Schwarzenegger would still be doing time.
While Arnold was particularly fond of thoroughbred American women, he still preferred German cars. He convinced my “buy American” brother to trade in his Pontiac for a new BMW. Of course, that was in 1968. In this century, Arnold drives a modified Hummer and dreams of building hydrogen stations on Interstate 5 which may not be as easy as winning all those Mr. Universe titles.
When Joe Gold opened up World gym in 1977, Arnold and the regulars moved down to the new place on Abbot Kinney. Yet some things never change. If you hadn’t guessed, what do serious bodybuilders do between sets? They talk. Most of the regulars had known more about Arnold than his girl friends, business partners or anyone else for a long time. When he was off winning competitions or shooting movies, someone always had a new “Arnold story”—even after he’d launched his political career and said “Hasta la vista, baby” to the bodybuilding world.
The morning after Arnold was first elected governor, the regulars were at World gym, watching him on the TVs, telling Arnold jokes, sharing Arnold memories, lewd, crude and otherwise. George Butler walked in, saw all the familiar faces, waited for the clank of barbells and talk to subside, then announced in a loud voice, “Man! Look at all the book deals in here!”
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