I had breakfast with the most beautiful body in Hollywood the other day.
Jamie Lee Curtis? Cybill Shepherd? Nah! Forget them. I'm talking a body that can sell tickets all by itself. Doesn't need Robert Redford in the cast, a chorus line--even a story line. Not since Jean Harlow has a body alone been able to break box office records such as this one.
Its dimensions? Well, how about 57-33-33?
Sound a little top-heavy to you? Well, suppose I told you this body belonged to someone named Arnold?
You got it! Schwarzenegger, right? The American Hercules. About 220 pounds of solid beefcake. Mt. Gorgeous.
Lots of Americans would like to be able to shoot baskets like Magic Johnson, pass like Joe Montana, bat like Kirk Gibson or punch like Mike Tyson.
But, to a man, they all want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. He's got muscles they haven't even catalogued yet. Someone once said he looked in profile like a relief map of Colorado. He's got so little body fat, when he flexes, you can see every vein and artery in his body. He looks like an X-ray of a complicated phone line. When he inhales, you think he's going to explode.
He's one of the great athletes of our century. Someone once called him the Babe Ruth of body building. Seven times, he swept the boards in the World Series of body building, the Mr. Olympia contest, and whatever else was lying around. He's been Mr. Universe, Mr. World or Mr. USA so often, he was in his own league.
He's built like a brick roundhouse. Michelangelo couldn't do any better with a hammer and chisel and a hunk of marble. You'd think they found him in the Vatican on a pedestal.
Usually, when Hollywood gets hold of something like this, they put it in a turban with a ruby in the center, gauze pants with a scimitar in the belt and curled-up shoes. Then they let him guard a harem. He doesn't talk, he just trumpets like an elephant and travels by vine. Under no circumstances do they let him wear his shirt on screen. He's America's Chest, the most famous set of pectoral muscles this side of Dolly Parton.
Hollywood let him run around tearing the heads off whole armies, flattening camels with a punch, winning the Cold War with a headlock. No one ever mixed him up with Olivier. Baron Munchausen, perhaps. He had this music hall German accent as if he were wearing a spiked helmet and talking through a tuba.
But the public loved him. Newman had his blue eyes, Gable had dimples, but Arnold Schwarzenegger had his pects. Women admired him, men envied him. None of his flicks came up for Academy Award consideration, but they sold better than car crashes in the South. He was Rambo without the Uzi, John Wayne without the horse. Dirty Harry with an accent.
He wasn't going for Cary Grant roles. He was "Conan the Barbarian," "The Terminator," "The Predator," a one-man catastrophe. It didn't matter what language he spoke because his longest dialogue was a grunt. His co-star was a dragon.
They didn't think the public would accept him in anything but a loincloth, but when he put on a suit and tie, they broke down the doors anyway. He was as big a star as Bogey.
Hollywood has always been a magnet for star athletes. A sound stage looks like a lot easier place to make a living than the Chicago Bears' three-yard line or the ropes in a Tyson fight.
But most of them don't make it. Why did this athlete?
There is probably a greater kinship between play acting and body building than there is between throwing or catching a football or baseball or left hook.
But it was the body builder who was different. Arnold Schwarzenegger didn't roll out of bed with his ability, he worked hard for it all his life. Born in postwar Austria, where food and money were scarce and Russian soldiers were everywhere, just existing took a little ingenuity. The ghetto is a tough place to grow up, but so were the ruins of Europe.
He bought every American body building magazine he could send away for. Fortunately, there was plenty of scrap iron around. He got so he could bench-press 100 yards of railroad track. His family wanted him to stick to soccer but, if he had, he'd probably be kicking field goals for the Atlanta Falcons today. Instead, he began to win Mr. Universe contests all over Europe.
Brought over by the entrepreneur, Joe Weider, he fell in love with America--and it was requited.
His ambition is not to win an Oscar, it's to get recognition for body building as a sport as legitimate as golf, tennis or prize fighting. It was harder, he insists, to become the heavyweight champion of body building than to become the heavyweight champion of the World Boxing Council. For one thing, the competition was tougher.
He cashed in, in a sense, on the renaissance of interest in this country in fitness. But Schwarzenegger still decries the perception in the United States of a body builder as a narcissistic jerk who goes around eating artichokes and slathering himself in oil and tormenting the girls--or the boys--on the beaches at Santa Monica.