Arnold's Repressed Biography: According to a 1991 story, our new governor-elect has a buried history.
Thursday, October 9, 2003
This story originally ran in the January-February 1991 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review .
When it comes to strong-arming the Hollywood press, some of the biggest muscle belongs to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who hasn''t hesitated to use it, says author Wendy Leigh. And few journalists have been willing to cry foul.
Leigh claims that Schwarzenegger--rumored to harbor national political ambitions--has waged a heavy-handed campaign first to suppress her book, Arnold, An Unauthorized Biography, and then to sabotage its promotion.
Some journalists have found her reporting worthy of attention. Time made it part of a profile of Schwarzenegger that ran in the magazine''s May 28  international edition. And accounts of the contretemps surrounding the alleged attempts to interfere with the book appeared in New York magazine and the Chicago Tribune last May and in Newsday last July.
But for the most part, the Hollywood publicity machine rolls on, and the puffy cover stories on Schwarzenegger, timed to coincide with the release of his latest movies, continue to appear. They rarely contain more than a dismissive mention of Leigh''s book, let alone an independent analysis of its content.
James Willwerth, a Time correspondent for 23 years and the author of Time''s profile of Schwarzenegger, says he''s not a fan of Leigh''s gossipy type of journalism. But, he adds, after checking out her research, using her thirty-four pages of source notes on the back of the book as a guide, he came away with a respect for her thoroughness. "It was very well reported," Willwerth said, "My nose told me that the book was on target."
In Arnold, Leigh persuasively portrays Schwarzenegger as a crude womanizer--perhaps a misogynist--of limited morals who has been given to expressions of racism, anti-Semitism, and admiration for Hitler''s ability to lead.
Citing the Berlin Document Center as a source of documents which have further been authenticated by the World Jewish Congress, Leigh reports that Schwarzenegger''s father, Gustav, police chief of the Austrian village of Thal, applied for membership in the Nazi party in 1938 and was subsequently accepted. And she reminds readers of Arnold''s public support of Kurt Waldheim, even after revelations of the Austrian president''s Nazi past.
Leigh says that Gustav was an alcoholic who raised his two sons, Arnold and Meinhard, as bullies who delighted in publicly humiliating friends as well as rivals. She notes further that Schwarzenegger owes much of his success in bodybuilding contests to an expertly honed aptitude for undermining his opponents psychologically, as well as to the use, according to fellow bodybuilders she interviewed, of anabolic steroids for many years.
Leigh portrays Schwarzenegger as a calculating, intense salesman who at an early age set out to create an image that would propel him to wealth and international celebrity. Bodybuilding was just the first step. National political ambitions followed, with rumors that he might be angling for a run at the U.S. Senate, something that Schwarzenegger has denied. A staunch conservative Republican, he married into the Kennedy clan and was appointed chairman of the President''s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports by George Bush, for whom he campaigned in 1988. Writes Leigh, "Arnold embraced...the ruthlessness and the dark side of the American dream."
Schwarzenegger''s publicist, Charlotte Parker, calls the book inaccurate, but declined requests from CJR for specifics and cut the interview short. Schwarzenegger himself, the publicist said, was unavailable for comment.
Leigh says that as she began researching her book here and overseas she received "strange" late-night phone calls, "whispering that I''d better be careful." She says she went into hiding to write the book, sequestering documents in a bank vault and shredding papers daily.
Her publisher, Contemporary Books in Chicago, says it received phone calls from Schwarzenegger associates, already known to the publisher, offering money and a different book, to be co-authored by Schwarzenegger, if Contemporary would drop Leigh''s book. Someone claiming to be connected with the publishing firm called its printing plant eight times with questions about the book, the company says. Before Arnold, Contemporary says, it hadn''t had a break-in in ten years. Then it had four in one month.
Contemporary says that it moved the production schedule up three weeks, shifted the printing to a hidden location, installed security guards, and began using secret passwords and a fake title.
Leigh says that when she hit the promotional circuit, television show bookings and filmed appearances were mysteriously canceled at the last minute--in one case, even as TV promos ran--as were planned newspaper features for which she had already been interviewed. In at least one case Schwarzenegger himself turned up on the show soon after. Bruce Lynn, Leigh''s former personal publicist, says that he believes that Charlotte Parker threatened producers of TV shows that they wouldn''t get Schwarzenegger again if they put Leigh on the air. "People told me that," says Lynn. Lynn adds that a booker for one national program -- which he declines to name, he says, because he still does business there--told him, "No way. We''re doing Arnold for the movie [Total Recall], and we don''t want to upset him."
"All publicists make deals," says Lynn, "but this is the first time I''ve ever been censored."
Time''s Willwerth says the he wasn''t threatened, but did receive "urgent, demanding pleas" from Parker to avoid mentioning the book. But he says that while she called it unfair, she never claimed it was inaccurate.
Parker categorically denies any efforts by Schwarzenegger or any of his associates to inhibit either the book''s publication or promotional efforts on its behalf.
Schwarzenegger is pursuing a libel suit against Leigh in Britain over information she supplied about him to Rupert Murdoch''s News of the World. Although the paper settled last spring by giving Schwarzenegger £30,000 and a published apology, Leigh''s attorney says she will not settle because the information she gave was accurate. The attorney, who accuses the tabloid of having "embellished" her information and calls the suit against Leigh an attempt at harassment, points out that Schwarzenegger has attempted no court action in this country, where it is more difficult to successfully sue for libel.
Reprinted from Columbia Journalism Review, January/February 1991.©1991 by Columbia Journalism Review.