"My mother went to the family doctor: 'Doctor my son is losing his mind! He's got pictures plastered all over his walls. Of men! Men with oiled bodies, with little posing trunks. He says he wants to look at them! Herr Doktor... Where did we go wrong?'"
So recounted muscly action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger in a recent speech referring to his mother's concerns over his fascination with bodybuilding. Frau Schwarzenegger needn't have worried. Young Arnie's obsession was to propel him from his humble origins as an Austrian farm boy to one of the world's most popular action heroes. Born in 1947 and growing up in an isolated village, Arnold got into bodybuilding working out five hours a day as a ticket to a better life, eventually winning the Mr Universe title at the age of 20 in 1967, and repeating the feat another four times in a row. Then, after scooping the Mr Olympia accolade on no fewer than six occasions, he turned his attention to pursuing the American dream. Arriving in the US in 1968 with $20 in his pocket, he got off to an inauspicious start.
"Nobody's ever made it with that big a body or that bad an accent or that long and foreign a name. You in the movies? Stop it! You're killing me!" laughed his agent.
Nevertheless, after changing his name to Arnold Strong and with his voice dubbed by another actor, Arnie landed his first role in no-budget flick Hercules In New York
. It was a less than spectacular debut which sent him back to the weights room.
"I decided right then that I wanted to weave myself right into the fabric of America. I wanted to become a citizen. I wanted to work hard," he says. The first steps were to set up a mail-order business, buy some real estate and get himself a bachelor's degree in business and international economics.
His next break came in 1977, appropriately enough with a vehicle entitled Pumping Iron.
But it wasn't until he was cast as the knuckle-headed, muscle-bound hero in 1982's Conan The Barbarian
that his box-office drawing power was first demonstrated. The sword-and-sorcery blockbuster was followed two years later by a sequel, and in the same year he teamed up with director James Cameron to make The Terminator
playing a killer robot from the future. Unencumbered by challenging lines, the role seemed tailor-made for Arnie, who was to mint gold in the 1991 follow-up, Terminator 2
Throughout the Eighties he became a well-oiled money-making machine for the studios, churning out a slew of big-budget action pictures including Commando
and The Running Man
. Then, in 1994, he surprised fans accustomed to his bulging biceps with a bulging waistline when he played a pregnant man in Junior
. He had been steadily branching out into comedy, and his dead-pan comic delivery proved almost as popular with movie goers as his shoot-em-up swagger. Alternating action movies such as Total Recall
, co-starring Sharon Stone
, with lighter fare such as Twins
, he cleverly muscled in on the varied and bankable roles that eluded screen rival Sylvester Stallone.
In 1986, Arnie married into American royalty when he tied the knot with TV journalist Maria Shriver, of the Kennedy clan, with whom he has four children. It was a match that surprised many, given Arnold's penchant for Republican politics. During the summer of 2003 he announced that he would run in the October elections for the Governor of California. When his victory was subsequently announced on October 7, he declared "I will not disappoint you. The answer is clear. For people to win, 'politics as usual' must lose." In January 2007 he was sworn in for a second term, cementing a political career many thought wouldn't last. It's a neat Hollywood ending for the man, who perhaps more than anyone else in the business, is the epitome of the immigrant success story.