Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Letter from California: Arnie’s just an LA “Hard Hat”

There may have been one or two South Carolina governors that could do 500 sit-ups, but I doubt that any of them has ever had a bikini wax. California may soon have a governor that can handle both!

Everybody thinks it’s funny that Arnold Schwarzenegger is a serious contender for Governor here, and they’re right. It’s hilarious. Schwarzenegger is a real candidate, but he’s also an almost endless source of wisecracks, punch lines, and headlines that write themselves.

This is a man, after all, who bought a Humvee back when the only guys who had them wore olive drab and carried M-16s. When he works out at the gym in Venice Beach where he earned his Mr. Olympia titles, he parks on a marble parking space. I’m not kidding; they really gave him a personal marble parking space.

Most importantly, Arnold has a real knack for sounding ridiculous. Partly, it’s the accent. Partly, it’s the robotic deep voice. Mostly, though, it’s what he says. He told Jay Leno that deciding to run for Governor was the hardest decision he had made since he first decided to get a bikini wax back in his bodybuilding days. He recently threatened Wall Street guru Warren Buffett with 500 sit-ups if he mentioned property tax increases again. Buffet, for his part, would probably find it easier to turn $500 million in stock profits than to turn out 500 sit-ups.

As funny as it may be, it’s not altogether surprising, and if you look at it the right way, it even makes sense. Follow along with me if you will:

A smart kid from a poor family somewhere in the rural south in the 1960s leaves home when he turns 18 because he wants a chance to make something of himself that doesn’t seem available to him where he grew up. He catches on at a textile plant and finds that he’s got a knack for the business and works his way from crew chief to plant manager. He’s now well known and prosperous, always seeming to find a way to change the products to make more people want to buy them.

A few years go by, and he’s made more friends. Some of those friends put together some money to start a major new textile operation and turn to him to run it. It works, and their new company creates more profits than almost any other textile outfit in the world. Our smart kid is now a wealthy, well-known leader in a major local industry. Soon, he decides he’d like to make things better in the place that gave him so much, so he starts dabbling in politics. One thing leads to another, and then some friends suggest that he run for Governor…

Ok, now just replace the rural south with California and replace the textile industry with movie making and that’s pretty much Arnold’s story. He’s got rags-to-riches credibility to match anyone. The son of a policeman, Arnold lived in a walk-up apartment in Austria as a child. He and his brother had to bring in water from a well for the family each day. That covers the ‘rags’ part.

As for the ‘riches’, Arnold’s now a pampered, ostentatious movie star who parks his monstrous SUV on marble, but if you’d met him 35 years ago, he was just another young hopeful bucking for a bit part in a movie. He guessed that he could use his physique to improve his odds, since he has, let’s say, less-than-stellar gifts as an actor. In his first movie, the director decided to have his spoken lines overdubbed with another actor’s voice.

In fact, in a town where almost as many people spend time making movies as they do watching them, being in show business is a real lunch-bucket affair. Being an actor, or a stage hand, or a special effects engineer, or a script assistant, or a best boy, or a guy who hauls the heavy cans of film across the studio so that the director can watch the previous day’s prints makes you a regular hard hat in this town. Like a steel worker in Pittsburgh, a tobacco farmer in the Carolinas, or an oiler in Texas, Schwarzenegger started as a hard hat, L.A. style, and just made it big.

I don’t know if Arnie (a lunch-bucket name if there ever was one) would make a good governor, but I’m not surprised he’s running. Amused, entertained, yes, but not surprised. It’s like Arnold said about himself years ago: “I will not change. If you’re successful and then you change, then you’re an idiot.”

Did I mention that he had a knack for making himself sound ridiculous?

For more fun Arnold quotes, visit http://www.welovearnold.com.


Post a Comment

<< Home