At first glance, one might ask “What could Arnold Schwarzenegger possibly teach me about life?” In all honesty, that was my reaction when I saw that there is a new documentary series titled “Arnold” on Netflix. After all, the mega rich, super successful, once powerful players in Hollywood have little to do with the likes of us… or do they?
Twenty-five years of living in the LA/Beverly Hills during its golden era, brought unexpected “brushes” with the “stars.” And thus, the new Netflix limited series caught my attention. “Arnold”, is indeed, a story of a life lived to the full.
My brief encounters with Arnold, gave me much to reflect upon once my binge- television- viewing- marathon had concluded. Arnold’s journey was similar to that of my own husband, Bernard (ZLB, Of Blessed Memory), whom I refer to as “Hubby” in my articles connected to him. Perhaps that is why we were aware of his life choices and growth throughout the years.
“B.B.” (Before Barbara…“moi”), Hubby was a body builder and entered “the ring” of boxing in order to make a bit of spending money in his youth. He and Arnold worked out in the same gym in London and received offers of small acting “bits” when strength and “body-beautifuls” were required. Arnold’s success in the competition circuits fascinated everyone connected to the world of sport, health, vitamins, and entertainment.
Years later, when Hubby and I married in the early 70’s, we moved into an apartment on sixth street … walking distance from the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica. Living one level below us was Arnold himself, single, and just beginning his career documented in the series I watched with fascination. I recall needing to go into his apartment so that he could give me a document of some sort, and being taken aback by the sight of his dining room table which was entirely covered with vitamin bottles and supplements. A similar table was featured in the documentary, filled to the brim. It reminded me of his connection to Joe Weider, entrepreneur in the world of athletics, sport, vitamin supplements, and body building. Indeed, he gave much credit to Ben in the series. Hubby explained to me that body builders used steroids to develop their muscles, but that he would not do so. There were potential dangers with them, even when supervised by a doctor. Arnold spoke of this directly, and when he had life-threatening, multiple heart by-pass surgery, Hubby shook his head as if he had expected this result.
When, Arnold was guest of honor at a Simon Wiesenthal Center black-tie fundraiser, Hubby and I went to chat with him on the podium and the two men reminisced about their days in London and at “Gold’s Gym” in Venice Beach, California.
Years later, we again found ourselves in the world that Arnold adored… Sun Valley Idaho, where we skied every year and Arnold owned a large home. Both he and Hubby loved nature and the challenge of the ski-slopes. Sun Valley was frequented by many “stars” who wanted a modicum of privacy and normalcy in their lives… Bruce Willis…Demi Moore…Tom Hanks…Jodie Foster… and most importantly… Ernest Hemingway sequestered there to find solitude. He eventually ended his life in this idyllic spot.
Behind the bravado, glamour and success of Arnold, there lurked a soul which was more complicated than the image reflected. Raised by a father who was often terrifying and violent when angered, Arnold knew that he needed to get away not only from his family, but from Austria with its dark history during World War II. At one point, I recall being told years ago by executives at the Simon Wiesenthal Center (of which Hubby and I had been “founder”-members), that Arnold had asked them to research his own father, whose past had been hidden from his own children. The investigation was done, and an excellent report on its findings can be found at: https://aish.com/arnold-schwarzenegger-and-his-nazi-father/. Arnold became outspoken about antisemitism and in this documentary reflects on Austria’s antisemitism and stained history toward the Jews. He speaks of a nation of “broken” men who returned from war defeated, along with Hitler. Arnold was quite desperate to leave the place of his birth behind and to make his way to the brave new world.
The series is divided into many sections: the Body Builder, The Actor and The Politician, and then the aftermath. It is a journey which succeeded on all fronts, except for the fourth critical area of his life… his family.
It was very moving to watch the growth of a man who believed in his own abilities and had the focus and fortitude to not only pursue them, but immerse himself in each endeavor with total commitment in order to maximize his own potential. Having fulfilled each dream, he looked for the next challenge. If one had looked at the young body-builder who won the “Mr. Universe” title multiple times, one would not have foreseen a person who could transform himself into an acting “mega-star” much less the governor of the State of California…, actually a veritable nation unto itself with more than 40 million people to govern. The self-same man who thought only of his own success, then turned himself admirably to serving the people and the nation which had given him the opportunity to thrive and fulfill his own dreams. It was in this position of responsibility that Arnold focused on the needs of others rather than himself. Not all politicians care about their constituency more than their own selves. Perhaps this is why the mega-successful (aka mega-rich) can become excellent leaders “in their own right.”
The public announcement that Arnold had fathered a son with their live-in nanny of many years, was a devastating blow to his marriage and his family relationships. His gorgeous and massively successful wife, Maria Shriver of the Kennedy clan, subsequently ended their marriage after more than twenty years together. The man who had achieved his every goal in life and just plummeted from his most important role as father and husband over a relationship which he regrets every day of his life. He does not regret however, the son it brought forth whom he loves as he does his other children. Still, he acknowledges the damage of this life choice which brought suffering upon so many of those who mattered to him immensely.
Undoubtedly, the similarities between Arnold and my own husband have brought these thoughts to my fingertips…and as I watch them pop up on my computer screen, I realize that the conditions of life during and after World War II, created a passion on both the part of my husband and Arnold, to escape what birth had gifted-them. To change their country, to fulfill their dreams, to maximize their individual potential.
Ultimately, we all have the option to accept what we have been handed by “fate”, or to break the mold and make this life as meaningful as we can for our allotted time on this earth. Many of us have been fortunate to know “an” Arnold in our lives. Some of us have actually devoted ourselves to similar rich experiences. Although Arnold’s journey resulted in massive wealth, that is not the measure of his achievements. The little-frightened boy became a man who fulfilled his dreams…with all the human frailty that encompassed.
At second glance Arnold Schwarzenegger’s journey is definitely a life worth documenting. Watch the series to the end… it is worthy of your time and consideration.