Like most profoundly unfunny people, Arnold Schwarzenegger is very proud of his sense of humour.
Hardly a page goes by in Total Recall, his whopping 650-page memoir, without a reference to some sticky situation he got out of through cunning use of deadpan or a passing zinger – for example, when he debated Arianna Huffington during the 2003 California gubernatorial race:
“If she got overly dramatic, I could say, ‘I know you’re Greek’ or ‘Switch to decaf.’”
The other thing you learn from Arnie’s book is that everything in life has a bodybuilding analogy. Once in office, losing a dispute with the labor unions was like “losing to Frank Zane in Miami [Mr Universe, 1968] when I first came to America.”
Bonnie Garcia, the state legislator he got into trouble with for referring to as “very hot” because of her “black and Latino blood”, reminded Arnie of “Sergio Oliva, the Cuban weightlifting champion I battled for the Mr Olympia title back in the 1970s.” I’m sure Ms Garcia was thrilled by this news.
There are many, many more delights in the book, particularly if you imagine them being read aloud to you by Schwarzenegger. Here are 15 of the best:
1. As a boy in rural Austria, Arnie was given a Hitler storybook, depicting the triumphs of the Third Reich, with space for a child to stick in his own pictures, and which was one day quietly removed from the house. When he asked his mother what happened to it, “All she would say was, ‘We had to give it up.’”
2. Arnie was so obsessed with coming to America, he tried translating his name into English, but it didn’t really work. “Black corner” was the nearest he got, although “‘black plowman’,” he writes, “would be closer.” In his first film, a B movie called Hercules, producers suggested he be billed as Arnold Strong, since no one could pronounce Schwarzenegger and it was too long for the movie poster. His accent was so thick they dubbed over him.
3. At 18 years old, Arnie had 19-inch biceps and built a bodybuilding routine to put Zoolander to shame.
“I started to see how I could choreograph my moves and ride the melody like a wave – quiet moments for a concentrated, beautiful three-quarter back pose, flowing into a side chest pose as the music rose and then – wham! – a stunning most-muscular pose at the crescendo.”
4. This is an actual sentence in the book:
“Finally, I smiled and hit my double-biceps pose, one of my best. That brought a roar from the crowd. Sergio answered with his trademark two-arm overhead victory pose. Again, the crowd went nuts, chanting ‘Sergio! Sergio!’ I executed a chest pose, which he started to match but then thought better of it, shifting to a ‘most-muscular’ shot. More screams for Sergio. I did my best trademark pose – the three-quarters back – but that wasn’t enough to turn it.”
5. He thinks Nixon was a great guy and a fabulous president, if you overlook Watergate.
6. In his early 20s, Arnie put down every last cent he made as a bricklayer and from his mail order fitness pamphlets, on a six-family block in LA that became the foundation of a multimillion-dollar real estate empire. (The building cost $215,000. He put down $27,000, borrowed another $10,000 from a friend, and took out a mortgage on the rest. He quadrupled his money in three years. Within 10 years, he was in position to buy an entire city block in Santa Monica: $7m for 39,000 square-feet. For any of you with lingering doubt: he’s not a dummy.)
7. When Arnie was in his 20s, his father would still return letters he had written to him with spelling mistakes marked up and corrected.
8. After meeting a 21-year-old Maria Shriver at a celebrity tennis tournament, the first words Arnie said to Eunice Kennedy Shriver, her mother, were: “Your daughter has a great ass.” (Eunice replied, “That’s very nice.”) As Arnie says, meeting these kind of people could have been intimidating, but luckily, he had “the kind of personality that put people at ease”.
9. Arnie thought Shriver was beautiful, brilliant and an amazing catch. Or as he phrases it, “The fling with Brigitte Nielsen underlined what I already knew: I wanted Maria to be my wife.”
10. Arnie despairs of most artists’ crapness with money and rightly points out that:
“Picasso would go into a restaurant and do a drawing or paint a plate for a meal. Now you go to these restaurants in Madrid, and the Picassos are hanging on the walls, worth millions of dollars. That wasn’t going to happen to my movies.”
11. This is an actual sentence in the book:
“I was mad as hell because I felt that every one of the killings in Conan [the Barbarian] was well shot and extraordinary. So what if the first thing you see is Thulsa Doom raiding Conan’s boyhood village and that his mother’s head goes flying through the air?”
12. It is a very, very long wait for the first reference to Mildred the housekeeper. Arnie summarises his affair and the birth of his love-child thus:
“Mildred had been working in our household for five years, and all of sudden, we were alone in the guest house. 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.”
13. He presents his reticence on the matter as an extension of his devotion to public service:
“At the time I found out for sure that Joseph was my son, I didn’t want the situation to affect my ability to govern effectively.”
14. He is sorry and would like to get back together with Maria.
15. This is an actual sentence in the book:
“Maria and I are very different in that way. She grew up in a world where a sharp line was drawn between friends and the help. With me, there is almost no line.”
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