| Arnold Schwarzenegger and wife Maria Shriver leave after voting at a polling station in California. (Reuters)
San Francisco, Oct. 7 (Reuters): Arnold Schwarzenegger has never set modest goals for himself and may now be poised to become governor of California without a day’s experience in elected office — that is if last-minute allegations about his past don’t drag him down.
“His goal setting was just phenomenal,” Barbara Outland Baker, the 56-year-old Schwarzenegger’s girlfriend from 1969-75, said. “Every New Year’s Day he would sit there with his index cards and create goals, and they were absurd goals.”
“He almost accomplished every single one of them.”
With opinion polls showing him leading all other candidates in the race to become governor, Schwarzenegger may be in sight of his grandest goal as voters in California packed polling stations today to pick the winner in a race that has been described as too close to call. But with only days to go before the vote, he was hit by a barrage of bad publicity about his past actions, including allegations that he groped women and once praised Hitler.
Born in an Austrian village in 1947 during tough post-war times, Schwarzenegger put his legendary drive and focus into bodybuilding, transforming the sport as he achieved his goals of becoming Mr Universe and Mr Olympia numerous times.
His fame in the limited circles of bodybuilding generated an invitation to move to California in 1968. He never left, becoming an American citizen in 1983 and an unabashed enthusiast for California. “I knew I was a winner. I knew I was destined for great things,” he wrote in his 1977 memoir. “People will say that kind of thinking is totally immodest. I agree. Modesty is not a word that applied to me in any way.”
Schwarzenegger next set his sights on conquering Hollywood. He scored his first lead role in the 1970 film Hercules in New York. It was an inauspicious beginning. Producers dubbed his heavily accented voice in English and changed his unpronounceable name in the credits to Arnold Strong.
“I couldn’t see any future for him as an actor,” his co-star, comedian Arnold Stang, said in a recent interview.
He received a few roles in the 1970s, but it was the 1977 documentary Pumping Iron that proved key to creating the Schwarzenegger myth of a superhuman strongman.
His Hollywood breakthrough came in landing the lead to the hugely successful 1982 film Conan the Barbarian, a role for which — like many of his later parts — he was typically bare-chested, action-oriented and uttering limited dialogue.
“Waiting for Arnold to win an Oscar is like leaving the porch light on for Jimmy Hoffa,” comedian Milton Berle once joked, referring to the long-missing union leader Hoffa.
The first of three Terminator films followed in 1984, and Schwarzenegger was soon among the highest-paid and most prominent action stars in Hollywood. His 1986 wedding to Maria Shriver, niece of former President John F. Kennedy, realised another goal of marrying a beautiful, savvy American woman.
Politics has long attracted the bodybuilder-turned actor, and as early as the 1970s he was boasting he was born to lead. Journalists have long asked him about following in the footsteps of actor Ronald Reagan to the political arena. He made that leap in August when he entered the race to replace governor Gray Davis in a special October 7 election.
“Although I admire the people who run for office, I cannot conceive of taking the risks and making the sacrifices they make,” he told Playboy in an interview published in 1988.
He has experienced some of what goes on in political campaigns in recent weeks as journalists have dug into his past, finding controversial statements he made on sex, drugs and even in praise of Adolf Hitler, a man he says he abhors. He has accused the Los Angeles Times of engaging in “puke politics” by printing accounts from women who claimed he groped them and made obscene remarks.
Although he has not run for office before, Schwarzenegger did volunteer work in the late 1980s and 1990s, including work for the Special Olympics and other sports programmes.
Last year, he spearheaded a ballot initiative that authorised $550 million a year for after-school programmes for California kids. The measure was approved but never funded amid the state’s budget crisis that helped fuel public anger against governor Davis.
On the campaign trail in recent weeks, Schwarzenegger has proved popular with crowds and skilled in handling a massive press corps, often using humour to deflect difficult issues.
He has also poured millions of his own money into the effort, which, like most of the contests he has faced in life, he refuses to believe he can lose.