The Observer Magazine cover story of 10 November 1991 is an extract from George Butler’s ‘Arnold Schwarzenegger – A Portrait.’ This was around the time of Total Recall and Terminator 2 and, arguably, the peak of his film career. The main thing that comes across is Schwarzenegger’s obsession with his image and how he controls it, and the implied insecurity.
When they travel to Austria to meet Arnie’s mother, Aurelia, Schwarzenegger refuses to allow a picture outside her old house. He wants us to see the big new house he has bought her instead. Aurelia tells us that, at 14, he would sneak out while his father was asleep, hitchhike to a football stadium and lift barbells, only returning home for a few hours’ sleep. If he was locked out, he’d sleep in the barn.
Butler aims to reveal the unknown side of a friend he calls Oak, though it’s mostly revealing about Schwarzenegger’s will to power. This ‘poor, uneducated immigrant from Austria’, whom Butler had co-directed in the documentary Pumping Iron (1977), about his bodybuilding days, was ‘always dreaming about very powerful people. Dictators and things like that.’
This is from Schwarzenegger’s ‘Master Plan’, which Butler calls a ‘mixture of Nietzschean philosophy and a Soviet Five-year Plan’: ‘I will become the greatest bodybuilder in history… I will go into the movies as an actor, producer and eventually director. By the time I am 30, I will have starred in my first movie and I will be a millionaire…’
Ultimately, Arnie is upset that Butler’s book – ostensibly about their friendship – doesn’t have more pictures of him with famous people. ‘But Oak, my pictures are about light and form and character. I’m not interested in celebrities. I’m from New Hampshire, where the only celebrity is Salinger.’ ‘Who?’ replies Arnie.