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Arnold still loves the camera

September 17, 2006|Joe Mathews | JOE MATHEWS, a Times staff writer, is the author of "The People's Machine: Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Rise of Blockbuster Democracy." joe.mathews@latimes.com

LAST WEEK'S disclosure by The Times of an audio recording of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger musing in his Sacramento office about Republicans and ethnic blood-mixing produced condemnations, chuckles, a mea culpa, a California Highway Patrol investigation and questions about how staffers for Democratic challenger Phil Angelides managed to obtain it. But the real surprise about the recording was its format: It was only in audio.

When it comes to recording his meetings, his thoughts and his life, Schwarzenegger has long been a video man. While researching a book about his political career, I came across more than 100 videotapes of Schwarzenegger engaging in various political, public service and charitable endeavors. There were tapes of public speeches and private meetings from his time promoting physical fitness on behalf of President George H.W. Bush. Schwarzenegger's charitable work with after-school programs in Boyle Heights and elsewhere was recorded, as were some of his preparations for public office.

Angelides compared Schwarzenegger's taping to the infamous recordings of President Nixon. In truth, Lyndon B. Johnson and Dwight D. Eisenhower also taped private conversations. Such men -- and Schwarzenegger certainly considers himself a historically important figure -- tape with history in mind.

For Schwarzenegger, videotape has always been an essential professional tool, as important as a compass to a ship's navigator.

As a budding movie star, he secured videotape of his talk-show appearances and, with his publicist Charlotte Parker, dissected and analyzed them like a football coach, looking for flaws in his salesmanship.

For years, he has cemented friendships by making funny tapes of himself. One classic, recorded so his friend Warren Buffett could show it at a Berkshire Hathaway meeting, is a takeoff on "An Officer and a Gentleman," with Schwarzenegger as Louis Gossett Jr. and Buffett in the Richard Gere role.

George Butler's film of Schwarzenegger's workouts and life during the mid-1970s, first shown to the public in the 1977 movie "Pumping Iron," helped make him famous. After that, Schwarzenegger preferred to be filmed while promoting his book and the benefits of fitness across the country. In a tape on file in the library at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, where Schwarzenegger lectured on fitness and earned his bachelor's degree, the future governor looks repeatedly into the camera.

"Gee, I look ugly on this screen," he says mid-lecture, spotting the camera's viewer. "The lighting must be off."

When Schwarzenegger began to contemplate public service, videotape became a constant. Schwarzenegger and Danny Hernandez, co-founder of the actor's charity, the Inner City Games, made sure that his appearances and even some meetings were taped for the record. Most of Schwarzenegger's visits to all 50 states as the nation's physical fitness czar from 1990 to 1992 were captured on tape.

John Cates, a retired professor from UC San Diego and Schwarzenegger's aide during his physical fitness work, said that Schwarzenegger was adamant about having a video record of governors and other state officials saying they wanted to add more PE classes. Schwarzenegger wanted the tapes so he could remind politicians who didn't live up to their commitments.

In 1999, after the launch of his website, Schwarzenegger.com, the star went a step further. He had staffers from a Hollywood production house specializing in movie trailers follow him to charitable events, premieres and film sets to shoot behind-the-scenes footage. The "Arnold cam" became a regular feature on his website.

And in early 2001, when Schwarzenegger first contemplated a run for office, he began his planning by making a video recording of his unvarnished views on issues. The tape of this "authenticity interview," as it was called, was shown to focus groups.

In office, Schwarzenegger has been careful to keep a record. Audio recordings such as the one disclosed by The Times -- made by speechwriters to satisfy his demand that they capture his unique syntax -- are the least of it. As many as three still photographers appear at gubernatorial events, and he has an official videographer and a personal one: Dieter Rauter, a friend and onetime stunt double for Schwarzenegger.

What happens to Rauter's footage remains a mystery, even to aides. But it is likely the tapes end up in Schwarzenegger's archive, the contents of which can only be guessed. The governor long ago purchased the rights to all the "Pumping Iron" footage and outtakes, some of which appeared in a 25th anniversary DVD of the film.

Combined with the visual record of his gubernatorial work, Schwarzenegger may one day leave behind the most extensive video record ever produced by an American political figure -- if the public ever gets to see it.

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