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Role Reversal: 'Predator's' Prey Stalks Statehouse

Schwarzenegger's dreams of fame and power go back at least to 1970. But the candidate's personal liabilities may extend even further.

August 07, 2003|Joe Mathews and Doug Smith | Times Staff Writers

In 1987, celluloid brought them together.

The future governor of Minnesota played a bit part as one of a team of U.S. Army commandos that heads into the South American jungle on a political mission and ends up doing battle with a murderous extraterrestrial.

The future candidate for governor of California portrayed the commando leader.

Sixteen years after "Predator" opened in theaters, Arnold Schwarzenegger debuted as an aspiring politician Wednesday, attempting to follow a trail blazed by his onetime co-star, Jesse "The Body" Ventura. His prey will be Gov. Gray Davis, as well as the hearts and minds of Californians voting in the Oct. 7 recall election.

While he is a novice as a candidate, the prospect of a political career for Schwarzenegger is at least as old as "Predator." His dreams of fame and power extend back long before his arrival in California as a champion bodybuilder in 1970 -- and his personal liabilities could stretch back even further.

"As you know, I'm an immigrant. I came over here as an immigrant. What gave me the opportunities ... was the open arms of Americans," he said Wednesday outside the NBC Studios in Burbank, where he had told Jay Leno and a "Tonight Show" audience of his intention to run. "I have been adopted by America."

In what could prove to be an early sign of political skill, Schwarzenegger managed to keep his decision a secret until the moment he announced it. In fact, his staff had encouraged speculation that he would bow out of the race in favor of former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.

The result: His announcement landed with the force of an explosion from a Schwarzenegger movie.

Whether Schwarzenegger's political career is ultimately measured in weeks or years will likely turn on whether the star can translate the hallmarks of his life story -- fierce ambition, an exhibitionist streak and uncommon marketing savvy -- into political success.

Schwarzenegger, who turned 56 last week, was born in a small town in Austria, the son of a policeman. He took up weightlifting in Graz, Austria, at age 15, moved to Munich, Germany, at 19 and landed in the United States two years later. By the age of 23, Schwarzenegger had established himself as the world's top bodybuilder. Between 1970 and his 1975 retirement, he won the Mr. Olympia contest six consecutive times.

In his 1977 autobiography, "Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder," he wrote: "I knew I was a winner. I knew I was destined for great things. People will say that kind of thinking is totally immodest. I agree. Modesty is not a word that applies to me in any way."

His first big movie, "Conan the Barbarian," made $100 million in 1981. One reviewer called his English so stilted that he appeared to be "pronouncing his lines phonetically." It didn't matter. Schwarzenegger had a knack for marketing and self-promotion.

Soon he ran off a string of movie hits: his defining role as the "Terminator," "Commando," "Running Man," "Red Heat," "Predator," the comedy "Twins," "Total Recall," "Kindergarten Cop" and "Terminator 2." While he is responsible by one count for nearly 300 on-screen murders, he also was pregnant and gave birth in one picture.

His political life began to take shape in earnest shortly after he married TV journalist Maria Shriver, niece of President Kennedy, in 1986. They have four children. In 1988, he campaigned in the Midwest with then-Vice President George H. W. Bush, who later named him chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness.

He also burnished his business resume, earning a University of Wisconsin correspondence degree in business. He has owned restaurants and buildings, many of them along Santa Monica's Main Street. And he has embraced education as a cause.

While frequently commenting on the state's problems with poor facilities and low test scores, he took on projects that posed little political downside, such as the Inner-City Games, a national network of after-school programs.

Last year, Schwarzenegger was the lead sponsor of Proposition 49, a successful California ballot measure that could steer up to $455 million a year to after-school programs.

Riding on the popularity of organized after-school activities, the measure easily passed, even though many education officials worried that directing limited education funds away from the classroom would tie their hands during budget decisions.

Throughout, Schwarzenegger has remained coy about many of his views, and has declined to discuss policy specifics. He describes himself as a fiscal conservative with moderate views on social issues. He supports legal abortion and adoption rights for gay couples. Schwarzenegger has been described as moderate on gun control. But on offshore oil drilling, the fiscal crisis, smog, immigration, the state's electricity mess and other big California issues, Schwarzenegger's ideas are mostly a mystery.

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