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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Fantastic The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger by Laurence Leamer

Fantastic:  The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger by Laurence Leamer  published in 2005 by St. Martins Press,  362 pages or 401 with the notes.  This book  was a gift to me that has languished at the back of my "books to be read shelf " all these years.  Arnold has since released his own biography and of course the news of his infidelities, love child right under Maria's nose, ending  with their  divorce have captured the rest of the story and likely dimmed any further political hopes  for this rising star, a hero figure to many who achieved the immigrant's dream.  The story begins in his native Austria and follows him as he makes his way and name through bodybuilding, coming to America and not just surviving but thriving. an endearing story of rags to beyond riches.

I can  still hear his "fantastic" proclamations about everything,  it was one of his favorite expressions, we wondered if he knew other adjectives, and a fitting title.  This is a part of history of which I lived and participated fully,  California  in it's heyday and then it's beginning decline though it was not so recognized at the time.  Arnold was the last governor of California  for whom I worked.  I have a fancy personal proclamation signed by him awarded to me at my retirement from California state service in 2005,(I know  the gala was 2004 but I was on the books and returned  briefly until 2005), Arnold wrote wishing me all good luck, etc. in the future.  I had always intended to frame and display it, but it resides today somewhere on a closet shelf with other  political memorabilia.  Yet another example of what seemed so important in my career days is beyond irrelevant to my life today.  Actually I prefer my "Remarkable Women of Clifornia" t-shirt from Maria to the proclamation. 
I  like the way the chapters flow and are organized in this  biography which reportedly was written with cooperation of Arnold and Maria.  However,  I noticed inaccuracies from the beginning of the book, so that kept me reading with a skeptical eye, the mention that Arnold is  6 foot 2 made me laugh out loud!  I remember being surprised  the first time we saw Arnold in person at one of the campaign events during the Grey Davis recall election, he is a short man about maybe 5 foot 9 inches max who wears lifts to make himself taller.  Yes, he has very broad shoulders  and an imposing stature but he is not that tall. 

This is an interesting chronicle of his youth in Austria and his body building endeavors and achievements, his absolutely driving and perseverance,  his  rise to Hollywood stardom as an action hero, though robotic (Terminator)  at times, his decade long affair with Maria and their marriage, his election as Governor of California, where this story stops. 

Page 23 is an accurate harbinger of the man's personality..."Bodybuilding was the vehicle that carried Arnold away from Thal.  He was a natural athlete who could have made his mark in any number of sports.  He has said that he liked bodybuilding because it was not like soccer, which required him to share his acclaim with others.  With bodybuilding the glories were his alone.  He had no team mates in bodybuilding.  He alone determined how he worked .......Although Arnold celebrated the solitary competitive nature of a bodybuilder, he did not like to be alone and was a natural participant in the boisterous camaraderie of the sport.  .....Arnold enjoyed the banter and the manly fraternity."     It was this manly fraternity that would create difficulties all his life in his treatment of women, what he believed as fun was deemed insensitive to abusive by the more  politically correct.  Reading his back ground and that of the gymnasium work out behaviors gives insight into his character.

Pages 174-175 .."Arnold is a man who knows what he knows and what he does not know.  He knows how to learn and when to learn.  ...if you say something he doesn't understand he'll say, "What is it?"  The least introspective of men, unconcerned with the foibles and failures of the past, Arnold took what he needed from his earlier life and moved on."  I wonder but suspect  he still does this today.  

The help that Arnold received from the Kennedy's was not so much the political acumen and advice although that came in spades but it was the unwavering support.  It was California and none of us were amazed at the Kennedy's clan rallying for a Republican.  Partisan allegiance did not dominate and after all it was the Kennedy clan.    Page 186..."Arnold was not only the great love of Maria's life but her great project too.  She taught him more than anyone he had ever met. ...she took a rock and made him into  a gem, polished him..."  I am not so sure of this because clearly he was quite influenced by the Joe Weiders and before that  local Austrian politicians as well as his distant almost abusive father and his mother whom he adored all her life.

Back jacket of the book
 Page 324..."His optimism was the crucial quality Arnold brought to Sacramento, not a thought out ideology."  Amen to that, we wondered why he didn't carry out the huge  reforms he'd promised but reality became the political.  When he could not get  his budget passed on time, he showed frustration but  with humour at least to many of us, he unleashed on the legislature, calling them "girlie men."    I remember the rancor of  the legislature, especially his  nemesis John Burton and the very  liberal Senator Sheila Kuehl who accused Arnold of homophobia. 

Arnold was  more adept at dealing with the media than any other politician of that time,  pg. 347..."Arnold's attitude toward the media had grown originally from his experience with bodybuilding and the Weider publications.  ...Over the years he had developed a justifiable suspicion of the press but his attitude now was not simply about containing the damage that he might suffer from what he considered  biased liberal journalists.  As he saw it, all journalists could be a problem and they had to be contained and harnessed to his will.  Arnold usually fed reporters like squirrels in the park, .."

Pg 355 is the gist of what happened in California in Arnold's gubernatorial reign..."The cheerful excitement Arnold brought to governing was the essence of the man, and it spilled over onto almost everyone who came in contact with him." 

Reading how the Los Angeles Times editor had assigned a full investigative team of reporters to ferret out Arnold's  philandering  or any smut they could during his run for the recall, I pondered how they managed to not learn about his live child.  Apparently Arnold outsmarted or outmaneuvered all of them as they tried to get to blood in the water.  Maria's skillful defense of him when the groping allegations were revealed minimized the concerns and we all went along our way, paying it no attention.   

I give this  book about 3 1/2 stars  ***   It may have been of more interest to me than the average bear reader because I participated in his election and was awed by his tactics.   

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