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There’s a generation growing up today that doesn’t know Arnold Schwarzenegger was a bodybuilder. They know him as the governor of California and as a movie star in flicks like The Terminator series. But as an M&F reader, you recognize Arnold as a bodybuilder first and foremost. Perhaps the greatest one ever—an icon, really. You’ve imagined his biceps peak when training your own arms, joked around with guys in your gym like they were Arnold’s friends Franco Columbu or Mike Katz, and tried, in your own way, to enjoy life and achieve your dreams as voraciously as Arnold did. You’ve no doubt wondered what it would have been like to be around The Oak in his prime, when no one and nothing could stand in his way on the bodybuilding stage and when life in Venice Beach was a lifter’s paradise.
Now is your chance to find out.
Talking a Big Game…
Arnold lived in a small one-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica, CA. According to Bill Grant, the 1974 Mr. World and a fixture at the original Gold’s Gym on Pacific Avenue in Venice, Arnold “drove a beat-up red Volkswagen.” But as early as his arrival in Southern California in 1968, he had total confidence about his place in history. “He said things like, ‘One day, they’ll be talking about me the same way they do about Steve Reeves.’ ” At that time, Reeves was probably the biggest physique idol in history. “You gotta understand,” Grant says, “he hadn’t been here too long and was already talking like he was the greatest guy in the world.”
That enviable sense of confidence, or perhaps arrogance, has always been central to the Schwarzenegger mystique. Mike Katz, 1970 Mr. America and co-star to Arnold in the 1977 bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron, says it didn’t bother any of Arnold’s friends. “You’re never going to be successful if you don’t think highly of yourself,” Katz says. “I think a lot of us think highly about ourselves, but not as highly as Arnold does. I think that’s where he gets that edge.”
…And Backing It Up
It’s one thing to strut when you have seven Mr. Olympia titles on your résumé, but it’s something else when you’re a struggling immigrant who doesn’t know the language and has to work extra jobs to make ends meet. Imagine training an hour or more a day (add another session if a contest was coming up), taking college courses, and working as a bricklayer on top of magazine photo shoots and making public appearances. “Everyone thought that Joe Weider gave Arnold everything,” Grant says. “That is very far from the truth. Arnold worked menial jobs with Franco [Columbu] as a mason, a carpenter. He went to school at night. Arnold was a hustler, man.”
And no matter what challenges he faced, Arnold met them with enthusiasm. Mike Katz remembers that Arnold didn’t tolerate any less from people he was close to. When Katz, a schoolteacher in Connecticut, took a summer off to train in California, he complained to Arnold about money troubles and missing his family back east. The Oak wouldn’t hear of it.
“If you were negative, he’d put up with you for a day,” Katz remembers. “But if you didn’t stop, he’d drop out on you. He wasn’t going to get drained of his charge by a negative person. So Arnold told me, ‘I’ve never met a Jew who was a quitter.’ That meant a lot to me. I was never negative in front of him again.”
If a positive attitude opened the door to Arnold’s success, his desire to learn allowed him to barrel through it. He wanted to find out anything he could from everyone he could, according to Frank Zane, three-time Mr. Olympia and another friend and training partner. “He valued my friendship because I taught him mathematics,” says Zane, who taught high school math in Pennsylvania before settling out west. “His girlfriend at the time, Barbara, taught him English, and he loved that.”
To read the rest of our in-depth look at what made Arnold such a fearless competitor be sure to check out the November 2011 issue of Muscle & Fitness magazine, on newsstands now!