He Won a Golden Globe For One of His First Roles
Schwarzenegger landed a handful of supporting roles throughout the 1970s as his acting career was building up steam. One of those roles was Joe Santo, a bodybuilder training for the Mr. Universe competition, in the Jeff Bridges film Stay Hungry.
Schwarzenegger was clearly a natural choice for the part, as he was essentially a real-life Joe Santo, but he threw himself into the role anyway. He lost a significant amount of weight for the film, which wound up causing him some problems in his bodybuilding career, but he won a Golden Globe for his performance.
He’s the Youngest Mr. Universe In History
Before he was traveling through time as a relentless cyborg, battling villainous sorcerers and aliens, Schwarzenegger was a champion bodybuilder. (We know, it’s hard to believe.) He won the annual Mr. Universe competition at age 20, becoming the youngest person ever to do so.
He didn’t rest on his considerably muscular laurels after that record-breaking win, either. Schwarzenegger continued to compete, and went on to win the Mr. Universe title a staggering four more times before retiring from bodybuilding at age 33 in 1980.
He Had a Legendary Career as a Bodybuilder
Schwarzenegger always dreamed to move to the United States and become a famous actor, and he figured the best way for a poor Austrian kid like him to do that was to become a champion bodybuilder. It’s hard to argue with his results.
In addition to his history-making Mr. Universe title at age 20, Schwarzenegger also thoroughly dominated the Mr. Olympia competition. He won the Mr. Olympia title 7 times, nabbing his first victory at age 23, making him the youngest champion ever.
He had a Successful Bricklaying Business
Before he became a legendary bodybuilder and world-famous actor, Schwarzenegger was already a successful businessman. He began his rags-to-riches journey in just about the most unlikely place imaginable – by starting a bricklaying business in California. We suppose if you’re going to hire someone to lay bricks, it might as well be Arnold.
Schwarzenegger started the business in 1968, when he was only 21 and had just moved to the United States. His partner in the venture was Franco Columbo, a fellow bodybuilder whom Schwarzenegger eventually dethroned in the Mr. Olympia competition. The business was remarkably successful, owing in part to Schwarzenegger’s well-known business savvy and a rise in demand for building materials following the San Fernando earthquake in 1971.
He Was the Governor of California
After acting in Hollywood for three decades, Schwarzenegger decided to try his hand at running the state that had become his home. He served as the 38th governor of California, after Governor Gray Davis was recalled in a special election in 2003.
Schwarzenegger won the election by a massive margin of 1.3 million votes. He won his re-election by an almost identical margin. To date, Schwarzenegger is only the second foreign-born governor of CA, serving from 2003 to 2011.
He Had a Difficult Home Life
Schwarzenegger’s desire to become a self-made man and leave his home country of Austria might have had something to do with the fact that things at home were very strained. He had a terrible relationship with his father, an Austrian police chief who had sided with Germany in World War II and regularly abused Arnold.
Part of his father’s overbearing nature was due to the fact that he didn’t believe Arnold was his biological son, favoring Arnold’s older brother Meinhard. When Schwarzenegger finally left Austria for America, he didn’t look back. Although he maintained a close relationship with his mother, he didn’t attend his father’s funeral, nor his brother Meinhard’s.
He Was Originally a Soccer Player
Although he was always athletic, Schwarzenegger wasn’t immediately drawn to weightlifting. Much like the rest of us, Arnold got his start in sports by playing soccer, mostly to try and impress his overbearing father. According to him, he was in shape, but pretty skinny.
Arnold’s soccer coach took him and his team to do some weight training at a local gym when Arnold was 14 or 15. From that moment on, Schwarzenegger was hooked. He gave up soccer and began pursuing a career as a professional bodybuilder.
His First Film is a Camp Classic
Schwarzenegger’s first foray into the world of film was the title role in the legendary B-movie Hercules in New York (1969). In the film, Hercules becomes bored with life on Mount Olympus and travels to New York City to engage in delightful hijinks, which include fighting a bear in Central Park and chasing a car full of mobsters in an actual chariot.
Schwarzenegger had only recently learned English, and his accent was so thick that the producers of the film were worried nobody would be able to understand him. So, his voice was dubbed over by another actor for the film’s release. You can find the film now with Arnold’s original voice track.
He Was Influenced by Other Athletes-Turned-Actors
Schwarzenegger is a smart guy, but he didn’t come up with his success plan of segueing a bodybuilding career into a Hollywood career on his own. He claims he was heavily influenced by athletes-turned-actors who had followed a similar path, including Johnny Weissmuller, who famously played Tarzan in a series of films in the 40s and 50s.
Schwarzenegger credits seeing these movies as a kid with his initial inspiration to come to America as a hulking metahuman and become an action-adventure star. He was particularly inspired by Steve Reeves, a fellow Mr. Universe champion who went on to a successful acting career.
He Became a Competitive Bodybuilder at Age 17
Schwarzenegger became so obsessed with working out and sculpting a bodybuilder’s physique that he made sure he lifted every single day. Unfortunately, his local gym wasn’t open on the weekends, but he didn’t let that stop him.
Arnold would actually break into the gym when it was closed, just so he could get in his crucial Saturday and Sunday workouts. He trained this way for several years as a young teenager before he finally went pro, officially beginning his career as a competitive bodybuilder at age 17.
He Helped Care for His Nephew
Despite their estranged relationship, Schwarzenegger didn’t turn his back on his brother’s family when Meinhard was tragically killed in a car accident. Schwarzenegger paid for his brother’s then 3-year-old son Patrick’s entire education, and later provided support for him to immigrate to America.
Patrick got a law degree from the University of Southern California School of Law, and worked for both Sony Music and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office. He has since become a partner in a California-based law firm, and acted as an advisor to his uncle when Schwarzenegger briefly hosted The Celebrity Apprentice.
He Served in the Austrian Army
Like all Austrian men, Schwarzenegger was required to devote one year of his life to military service when he turned 18. At least, we assume it’s required of all male citizens. They may have just looked into the future, seen Arnold in Commando, and decided to invent the rule just for him.
Unfortunately, that year of service happened to interfere with Schwarzenegger’s bodybuilding career, which was just beginning to get off the ground. He went AWOL to compete in a bodybuilding competition and was thrown in military jail for a week as a result.
He Lived With His Bodybuilding Coach’s Family
Schwarzenegger found little love and support in his own household, but he found a sort of surrogate family when he moved in with his bodybuilding coach’s family in London. His coach, Charles Bennett, had been a judge at Schwarzenegger’s first Mr. Universe competition, and although Arnold didn’t win, Bennett saw potential in him and offered to be his coach.
Schwarzenegger’s family had always been poor, so consequently he didn’t have any money to pay for room and board while he trained. Bennett moved the 19-year-old Schwarzenegger into his home in London to live with his family while they prepared for Arnold’s second Mr. Universe competition.
In addition to getting appropriately swole for the competition, Schwarzenegger began to learn English, of which he had previously spoken very little.
He Moved to America with Nothing
Schwarzenegger grew up extremely poor in post-war Austria. In fact, he can still remember when his family purchased their first refrigerator, because it was such a momentous occasion. However, he was determined to pursue his dream of becoming a successful actor in America.
Schwarzenegger moved to America when he was just 21 years old. He barely spoke any English and had just as much money to his name, but he started training at Gold’s Gym in Venice, California to prepare for the Mr. Olympia competition. He befriended a few professional wrestlers during his training, including Superstar Billy Graham.
He Was Told His Name Was Too Long and Confusing
Schwarzenegger had virtually everything going against him when he started his acting career. He was told his body was too muscular, his accent was too heavy, and his name was too confusing for him to ever become a success.
In his first few roles, including Hercules in New York, Schwarzenegger was actually credited as “Arnold Strong.” Arnold quickly dropped the cheesy pseudonym and insisted upon using his real name, which turned out to be the right choice – not only did audiences have no trouble pronouncing “Schwarzenegger,” it’s become synonymous with badass action and is one of the most recognized names in the entire world.
His First Big Hit was a Documentary
Schwarzenegger’s first big success was the documentary film Pumping Iron, which documented the training of several bodybuilders for the 1975 Mr. Olympia competition. The documentary is notable for giving an inside look at the world of competitive bodybuilding, and also for featuring future Incredible Hulk star Lou Ferrigno.
Despite purporting to be a “documentary,” the film actually dramatized several elements to build up a rivalry between Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno. In fact, the film essentially frames Schwarzenegger as kind of a villain, which technically marks the first time in his career he played a bad guy.
He Did a Number of Guest Spots on TV
Like many actors, Schwarzenegger spent his early career making guest appearances on television in the 1970s. In addition to guest spots on The Streets of San Francisco and The San Pedro Beach Bums, he had a cameo as a handsome masseuse in the TV movie Happy Anniversary and Goodbye with Lucille Ball and Art Carney.
Arnold landed a starring role in the 1980 made-for-TV movie The Jayne Mansfield Story, in which he played Mansfield’s husband Mickey Hartigay. Hartigay, the father of Law and Order: SVU star Mariska Hartigay, was also a bodybuilder-turned-actor and former Mr. Universe champion.
His Two Most Famous Roles Were Only Two Years Apart
Audiences in the 1980s had an appetite for action movies, and after a decade and a half of bodybuilding and honing his acting chops, Arnold was ready to deliver. His breakthrough film Conan the Barbarian opened in 1982, which saw him flexing and swinging a sword through his enemies as the titular ruthless barbarian.
Conan the Barbarian was a hit and spawned a sequel, the PG-rated and much less successful Conan the Destroyer, in 1984. But 1984 would still turn out to arguably be the most important year of Schwarzenegger’s career, as it saw the of his most iconic film The Terminator, which made him a superstar.