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REAL HOLLYWOOD MUSCLE : No Star Makes More Money, Wields More Power or Has More Fun

August 04, 1991|PAUL CIOTTI... | Paul Ciotti is a staff writer for this magazine. His last story was "The Scud That Hit Greensburg."


"Right here, Arnold. Right here."

"Oh, that's perfect, perfect, perfect."

An impeccably tuxedoed Arnold Schwarzenegger is standing tall and handsome in the main banquet room of the Century Plaza Hotel while photographers crowd around, muttering their photo mantras and firing flash cameras in his face. But, far from looking annoyed, Schwarzenegger--here to receive the Simon Wiesenthal Center's National Leadership Award --looks as comfortable as if he were standing in the shower waiting for the steam to rise.

Whatever else can be said about Schwarzenegger, no one can claim that he doesn't love being a movie star. He revels in the TV interviews, the guest appearances and, a new favorite, the frenzied adulation of the masses. The instant he steps off the movie set, he is engulfed in a sea of people: friends, executives, agents, lawyers, a child from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. "He is always happy, up, alive, energetic," says "Terminator 2" co-producer B. J. Rack. "I can just visualize him in one of his big Hawaiian shirts, having had four hours sleep, smoking a cigar, laughing, cutting a swath through the crowd."

One would think all the fuss would irreparably inflate his already substantial self-esteem, but "he's incredibly not stuck on himself," says Heather Richardson, an executive with an East Coast charitable trust, who has worked with Schwarzenegger. "He has a lot of warmth and radiance." He's forever putting his arms around people, joking with the women about their boyfriends and love lives. "He is tactile, physical, elemental and raw," Richardson says. "He is a very male animal."

He's also such a busy animal that it's impossible to see him without a longstanding appointment. Even old friends, with whom he goes out of his way to maintain relationships, sometimes have to wait a week to see him. For low-priority, loose-cannon magazine writers, arranging an interview can take several months. Although I first called his publicist/ doorkeeper in mid-February (and called back every few weeks), it wasn't until late one June afternoon that she suddenly called to say I could "have" Arnold for 45 minutes the following day.

I was delighted and unsettled. His friends had described him as this charismatic, larger-than-life, elemental force of nature that could electrify a room just by walking in the door. At the same time, his detractors had been saying he was a shrewdly manipulative control freak with the soul of corn dog.

SCHWARZENEGGER'S OFFICES ARE IN THE OLD Venice gas company building across the parking lot from the Rose Cafe. It's an old warehouse of a place with high ceilings, Persian rugs and so many movie posters, trophies and film artifacts that it looks like it's a one-man museum. Shortly after 9:15, Schwarzenegger shows up from an early-morning workout at the Venice World Gym, wearing battered loafers (he is not only loyal to his friends, he's also loyal to his shoes), blue jeans with a silver belt buckle and a cheerfully gaudy shirt patterned with black and white sheep dogs.

Because Schwarzenegger is always photographed in his movies from a low angle, standing tall against a pale blue sky (or an exploding fireball), you expect him to be far bigger than he really is--6 foot 2, 215 pounds. In person, he looks almost normal, a bit larger and more muscular than average, but otherwise a regular guy: low key and comfortable, delighted with the world and his place in it.

As he should be. He's married to television journalist Maria Shriver, who is charismatic and ambitious herself. They have a 1 1/2-year-old old daughter, Katherine, and another child on the way. He lives in a sprawling Spanish-style mansion in Pacific Palisades. He appears on the covers of as many as five magazines a month. And he jets around the world in his own $12.5-million Gulfstream III, meeting with prime ministers, presidents and beautiful people everywhere.

As a movie star, Schwarzenegger could hardly be bigger. During the past decade, his films earned more than a billion dollars, and his latest movie, "Terminator 2," looks to be the biggest of all, earning $53 million over its first weekend; the gross could hit $400 million. Premiere magazine, in a recent survey of agents and executives, ranked Schwarzenegger the No. 1 international star, ahead of Mel Gibson, Tom Cruise, Sean Connery, Harrison Ford and Jack Nicholson--remarkable for someone who has been regularly attacked by critics for making movies that are gratuitously violent, shallow, one-dimensional and politically incorrect.

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