Before he was the Governator, the Terminator or even Conan the Barbarian, Arnold Schwarzenegger was a 28-year-old aspiring actor promoting his movie, Stay Hungry, during a visit to Tucson in August 1976. The Austrian-born newcomer was a relative unknown except for those in the international body-building world who knew him as the former Mr Universe and Mr Olympia. The documentary, Pumping Iron, had yet to be released and his future had yet to be defined.

Tom Bingham / Tucson Citizen

Once upon a time, there was a body builder who started a film career. He visited Tucson and caused a little stir.

From the Tucson Citizen, Aug. 7, 1976:

 

His name is Arnold and He Must Be SOMEBODY

By Steve Chandler
Citizen Staff Writer

He is enormous and almost glows with energy as he steps between cars to cross the street in downtown Tucson.

He is dressed in a dark shirt and light blue, brushed velvet slacks with leather sandals on his tanned feet. His movement is graceful, not catlike but almost hydraulic, like a powerful machine in very low gear.

The traffic stops for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

His name might not be a household word yet, but he believes it is just a matter of time. Regardless, people stop and stare. Women do startled double-takes, nudge their companions and smile … they think he must be Somebody.

Smiling his own confident smile, the idol and king of the rapidly growing body-building craze in the United States enters the Tucson Health Studio, owned and operated by Arnold’s close friend and fellow body-builder, Carlos Rodriguez.

While the two friends talk excitedly about Arnold’s new film career, the men working out in the gym slowly gather around. They who have just been hoisting enormous amounts of weight and groaning like jungle beasts, gather hesitantly, like children.

So this is Arnold, the man whose picture is all over the workout gym and most noticeably next to a hand-scrawled sign that says, “Pain is Gain!”

In the subculture of body-building, Schwarzenegger, the five-time Mr. Universe, is known in gyms throughout the world as “Arnold.” He is a 28-year-old status among his fans that he no more needs a last name than does Elvis. Or Cher. Or O.J.

Soon, if Arnold has his way, that fame will spread and expand like the muscles across his shoulders and back. He is talking to his friend Carlos about the two movies he’s just finished, “Pumping Iron” (yet to be released) and “Stay Hungry” (just released in Tucson).

The height of Arnold’s new ambition, discussed over breakfast at the Doubletree Inn where he stayed while spending a day promoting his new film in Tucson, seemed, at first, a little excessive.

“What I am after now is the kind of success in the movies that I achieved in the world of body-building.” He says softly as men and women alike stare across the coffee shop at him.

Breakfast is briefly interrupted by a well-built, well-dressed young man in sunglasses who stops by Arnold‘s table and tentatively extends his hand in greeting.

“I know you probably have this happen to you all the time,” he says, shyly, “and I can’t believe I’m doing it, but … aren’t you … Arnold Schwarzenegger?”

Arnold smiles and the sparkle in his almost navy-blue eyes is genuine. He enjoys being recognized by someone who knows his name. Two young women two booths away continue to sneak looks, smile at each other and speculate: Surely, he is Somebody.

“I want to play parts I can identify with and enjoy,” says Arnold, returning to his scrambled eggs and sausage. “Actors like Charles Bronson and Burt Reynolds impress me. They can play tough parts in film after film without changing their main character. I’d like to do that myself. I think I can build a good film character.”

At first glance, success for him on the screen seems unlikely. A mightily-muscled, gap-toothed Austrian body-builder with a strong accent carried by a basso-profundo voice cannot be cast too many ways.

“That won’t be a weakness at all,” he insists. “That will be part of my strength.”

Arnold has learned about manipulating weakness into strength.

“I have no reason to demonstrate how many parts I can play,” he continues. “There can be as much range and depth of human emotion in one ongoing film persona as in many parts. I love the outdoors and the masculine role. It would be silly for me to play a banker or an accountant just to prove I can do it.”

He believes his appearance, which he has built with the obsession of a passionate sculptor, will be his greatest asset. And it is quite a piece of work. Soaring up from a 31-inch waist are 22-inch biceps and an intimidating 57-inch chest.

His domination of the international body-building competition over the years has earned him the mythical title of World’s Most Beautiful Man. He intends to put that to even greater use in film than he did posing on stage.

Now retired from competition, Arnold still puts in a “casual” daily workout to keep the figure. Each day includes 500 sit-ups within 15 minutes, a swim, a mile run and an hour-long gym workout during which he lifts an average of 40 to 50 tons of iron. Pain, as the sign says, is gain.

Arriving at his first television studio appointment in a good mood, Arnold smiles playfully at the staring office workers trying desperately to figure out who he is. Is he Somebody?

“I never dress for the day to emphasize muscle definition,” he says quickly. “I never even tuck my shirt into my pats. I don’t wear loud cloths, and try to dress down whenever I can.”

Yet not standing out is difficult. And his confident, churning stride and deep tan don’t help conceal him.

His first television interviewer is a young woman whom Arnold almost instantly dislikes. She has led him to a sofa for a pre-interview warm-up, and his irritation turns to near-hostility. His blue eyes have turned unusually cold.

“May I ask you what you are doing,” he says to the woman in a soft voice. “Because if you think I need this rehearsal I don’t appreciate it. Don’t you trust my gut reaction or think that viewers would rather watch how I react the first time instead of seeing something rehearsed?”

The woman continues questioning him, insisting that she means no insult, but the harm is done. He does not like the implication that he is incapable of intelligent spontaneity. Though his Austrian accent is always there, he is very good with words.

Now, as he climbs into his chauffeured limousine, his United Artist publicist, William Scholl, is clearly worried. He had accompanied Arnold all the way from Los Angeles to see that the day’s promotional work went smoothly. He admires Arnold and respects him, but judging from this first incident with the TV interviewer, he is beginning to wonder if Arnold isn’t a little too outspoken and candid for this game of self-promotion.

“I’ve seen some of the real prima-donnas in this business over the years,” says Scholl, “and Arnold’s definitely not one of them. You know, they’ve changed the entire advertising concept of the film “Stay Hungry” because of him. When it first came out, it went to art theaters as an intellectual film, and it didn’t get much reaction. Then they put Arnold out front in the campaign instead of Jeff Bridges and Sally Fields and the results have been fantastic. He’s making the movie go.”

By the time he arrives at the next television studio, Arnold is back in good spirits. There is plenty of time before the interview, so he relaxes in the studio lobby, talking animatedly about his creative drives as a youth.

“I did a lot of crazy things when I was younger,” he says, smiling. “I used to drive cars over 160 miles an hour. There was one time in Munich when we drove around with a shotgun shooting out the traffic cameras in the city so they wouldn’t record our violations. I got into barroom fights because I was young and a little too aware of my own strength. Of course I don’t do things like that anymore. I’m so much older and wiser …”

As his voice trails off, his eyes acquire the telltale sparkle. It is a signal that he is not too serious about himself.

It’s that very expressiveness and humor which, if successfully captured on film, will make his reach for superstardom seem reasonable.

His second television interview is ready to go, but the receptionist in the lobby has just drawn her girlfriend into the room for a look at the young man about to be video taped. He obviously has to be Somebody.

“My girlfriend says you are an Olympic wrestler,” says one of the girls as the other giggles embarrassedly.

Arnold throws up his enormous arms in mock-exasperation as the actor in him surfaces with a wicked smile.

“No, I am not a wrestler,” he says sternly, his eyes betraying him, “but I was wrestling with a woman while I was watching the Olympics!” The remark is in bad taste, but no one objects.

Outdoors, the interviewer is a smallish, slightly-built sportscaster whose serious approach seems to delight the interviewee. At least this man did not think it necessary to rehearse his subject.

“Tell me, Arnold, don’t you find that women tend to prefer thinner men’s bodies to one like yours … that women are usually pretty much turned off by the way you body-builders look?”

Arnold is amused, almost threatening to ruin the first take with a roar of laughter in response to the question.

Women, he explains patiently, may not be interested in all the flexing and posing that body-builders do during competition, but a beautiful build in a relaxed state does not turn too many women off.

Finally, with an expression of despair, Arnold cannot resist the temptation to say something outrageous again.

“I have women following me around everywhere I go!” he says. “Everywhere!”

With the morning sessions over and the second interview having gone much better than the first, Arnold is ready to return to the motel for a swim.

And when Arnold Schwarzenegger, 210 pounds of muscle, swims at a public poolside at the Doubletree, eyes begin to turn his way. He walks in front of a young woman sunbathing on her abdomen with her halter top untied. For a moment, she forgets herself and rises for a closer look, dropping quickly down to her towel when she remembers her state of dress.

Arnold enjoys these moments. All those hours of pumping iron (lifting weights) in sweaty gyms are rewarded in moments such as these. A child brings a young friend up to see him closer and exclaims, “Wow. Look at those muscles.”

He is smiling now, delighted in the children’s reaction to him.

“I would never push a child of my own into something like body-building,” he says with seriousness. “It would be too much to ask. But I’d be glad to see a child of mine go into some other sport and do well.”

Other girls watch him swim across the pool. He pretends to be unaware of their attention. He complains about the chlorine in the water, and the discussion turns to music.

“In the gym, while working out, I prefer high-energy music,” he says. “Something like hard rock. But at home I like softer music, and I really love country music the most. In the movie I get to play a fiddle in one of the scenes!”

The idea of Arnold playing a violin is hard to immediately digest, especially because part of the mythology of body-builders has it that they are so muscle-bound they have trouble opening their own doors.

“Did you see me opening the door to the motel room?” Arnold asks with mock-pride. “Did you make note of that?”

He believes most of the myths surrounding his sport are slowly being dispelled. He’s especially annoyed at the persistent idea that body-builders usually are homosexuals.

“That stupid idea only occurs in America,” Arnold nearly yells. “America seems to be obsessed with sex. They think because homosexuals come out in large numbers to watch us, we must be homosexual too. In all my years of body-building I’ve only known of two people who were homosexuals.”

After his swim, he enjoys a relaxed lunchtime interview with a newspaper reporter he later learns is a film critic. Looking up from a body-building magazine in a gym equipment store that afternoon, Arnold realizes the critic could not have seen “Stay Hungry” yet because it was to be released a few days later.

“Hey, that’s good,” he says. “Maybe now he’ll be prejudiced in favor of the movie.”

To Arnold, it could not be otherwise. How could anyone who has met him and had a relaxed talk with him not like him?

Such confidence would be excessive and unattractive in most personalities, but somehow this body-builder pulls it off. It’s as if pumping his own films up were as elementally simple as pumping iron — be aggressive, be confident, and, above all, don’t take yourself too seriously.

“I’d be crazy to have taken any of this seriously,” he says with that sparkle.

Later that afternoon, in the gym, all eyes remain on Arnold. He settles under some barbells and pumps for a photographer, with mock pain on his face.

As he says his farewells to Carlos, a young female has pushed her way in past the “private area” wall of the gym. Carlos Rodriquez asks her to step back past the wall, but she already has seen Arnold Schwarzenegger and that puzzled look of recognition — that look that follows him everywhere — crosses her face. He is Somebody.

Arnold said he was older and wiser at the time this article was written. But he managed to make some big mistakes later on anyway, as most of us do.

He did manage to make a huge name for himself in the film industry, as he predicted.

One must suppose that at 28, he hadn't planned on entering politics.