Bit by bit, Arnold Schwarzenegger chips away at his myth. The stories he told in the 1970s of orgies and pot smoking and cruel tricks were fantastic fibs, he now says, a way to draw attention to himself and his beloved sport of bodybuilding.
But the men who sweated beside him in those years -- fellow Mr. Olympias and Mr. Universes -- say Schwarzenegger is tidying up his past as he eyes a new crown, the California governorship. The Schwarzenegger they knew was extreme in everything, from the weights he pounded to the anabolic steroids he consumed, from the merciless tricks he played on lesser men to the women he stole from friends.
"If he wanted your girlfriend, he'd take her. If he wanted your bodybuilding crown, he'd grab that too," said Bob Delmonteque, an 84-year-old psychologist and bodybuilder whose physique has graced muscle magazines for 65 years. "Whatever it took to win and stay the center of attention, Arnold did."
Schwarzenegger, 56, still boasts about his grueling two- and three-hour workouts at the old Gold's Gym in Venice. But like many champion bodybuilders, he rarely speaks about the pharmaceutical shortcuts he took.
In his books and interviews, Schwarzenegger mostly skirts or downplays his use of steroids while conceding their health risks, which can include liver and heart damage. "I took them under a doctor's supervision once a year, six or eight weeks before competition," he told Playboy magazine in 1988. Schwarzenegger said he began taking steroids when he arrived in the U.S. at age 20 because "all you want to do is be a champion and you take what anyone else is taking."
But Schwarzenegger's old gym mates say he consumed far more muscle-building drugs over a longer period than he has acknowledged. They say Schwarzenegger told them that he began taking Dianabol, a popular steroid, at the age of 17 in Germany and routinely injected other testosterone-like substances after arriving in America in 1968.
"I was in Munich in the 1960s, and Arnold gave me my first bottle of Dianabol," said Rick Wayne, a former Mr. Universe who has chronicled bodybuilding in magazines and books. "He was 19 at the time and said he had been taking them for several years."
Without steroids, Wayne and others say, Schwarzenegger would not have surpassed his greatest rival, Sergio Oliva, the one bodybuilder who made the "Austrian Oak" look small.
On Sunday, Schwarzenegger would not respond to assertions that he relied more heavily on steroids than he has acknowledged. His spokesman, Sean Walsh, would say only that Schwarzenegger has publicly admitted using steroids at a time "when the impacts and health concerns were not well known."
Out of the Basement
From 1970 to 1980, Schwarzenegger won seven Mr. Olympia titles, the last one decided by judges who were his business partners and close friends -- a contest that to this day stirs heated debate. More than anyone, he took lifting weights out of the basement of the local Y and turned it into an integral part of America's fitness craze.
Back in those early years, Schwarzenegger could take over a room with his heft and humor, his former gym partners say. But often he could be mean-spirited. According to several of those workout partners, Schwarzenegger played a particularly cruel joke on his now-deceased bodybuilding friend Don Peters.
At the time, Schwarzenegger was single and made no secret of his attraction to Peters' girlfriend, a beauty contest winner. One day after a fight with Peters, the girlfriend went home with Schwarzenegger. That night, Schwarzenegger told her he needed a favor. Would she mind calling his lawyer to reschedule an appointment? Schwarzenegger dialed the number, but it wasn't to the lawyer's house, according to several bodybuilders familiar with the incident. Instead, he had phoned Peters.
It took only a moment for the ruse to become clear. As Peters and his girlfriend discovered each other's voices, Schwarzenegger shouted into the phone. "I just [made love to] her. I just [made love to] her," recalled Gene Mozee, a bodybuilder and muscle magazine editor who was friends with both men.
"Peters drove over and banged on Arnold's door, but he wouldn't answer," Mozee said. "All he heard was Arnold laughing."
Mozee said that Schwarzenegger told him the story and that he confirmed it through Peters. When contacted by The Times, the old girlfriend said she did not want to discuss the past.
As for Schwarzenegger, he could not recall the specific incident, according to spokesman Walsh. "Don and Arnold were longtime friends, and there was no conflict between them about any of the women the two men dated," Walsh said.
Sometimes, Schwarzenegger enjoyed disgracing his targets in full public view, veteran bodybuilders said. Gold's Gym regular Norman Williams recalled the time an earnest young man walked in seeking advice from his hero. No matter how hard he worked, he told Schwarzenegger, his muscles wouldn't grow.