In his memoir, Total Recall, Arnold Schwarzenegger lays it all on the table. The actor, former California governor, and former bodybuilding champion takes a cold, hard look at the mind-set that brought him from a small town in Austria to the top of three careers and ultimately the scandalous affair that destroyed his marriage. His publishers call it “the greatest immigrant success story of our time.” We’ll let you decide.
1. Daddy IssuesAware of his father’s previous involvement with the Nazi Party from a young age, Schwarzenegger describes him as “angry … frightened” and “bitter.” He writes that his father would come home drunk once a week and begin yelling at his wife before sometimes coming after young Arnold with a belt. Although never excusing his actions, Schwarzenegger does sympathize in some ways: “Think about it: you are promised you will be a citizen of a great new empire … Instead, you come home to a land in ruins, there’s very little money, food is scarce, everything needs to be rebuilt. The occupying forces are there, so you’re not even in charge of your country anymore.”
2. Workout WarriorIf the thought of Arnold Schwarzenegger in a tank isn’t scary enough, imagine walking into an army latrine to find him practicing his poses. Such was the case in the early 1960s, when Schwarzenegger’s bodybuilding ambitions overlapped with his military service. Joining as a tank driver because he loved “big things,” he writes that he would often sneak to the bathroom to refine his poses and even set up a workout room in the barracks. After his drill sergeant refused to excuse him from basic training to compete in the Junior Mr. Europe competition, Schwarzenegger said “fuck it” and decided to go anyway. The stunt earned him 24 hours in military detention, but when officers discovered he had won, they duly released him.
3. Political AwakeningSchwarzenegger’s political commentary is weaved throughout the book, but it’s first introduced upon his arrival in America. He describes watching the 1968 election with Artie Zeller, “a die-hard Democrat, liberal, and total atheist.” During the debate, Vice President Hubert Humphrey kept talking about welfare and government programs, which Schwarzenegger thought was “too Austrian.” Then he cast his eyes toward Richard Nixon, who sounded very “American,” he writes: “‘What is his party called again?’ I asked Artie. ‘Republican.’ ‘Then I’m a Republican,’ I said.”
4. Meeting Ms. Perfect Having risen to the top of the bodybuilding world, Schwarzenegger met Maria Shriver, his dream girl and “a force to be reckoned with.” He says Shriver was “the first girlfriend I ever had who didn’t treat my ambitions as an annoyance.” He cared for her so much that he even drove around with Teddy Kennedy stickers on his car, though secretly he “was hoping that Ronald Reagan would be elected president, but no one was asking my opinion.”
5. The Playgirl Shoot That Never WasIn 1978 Schwarzenegger agreed to pose for a photo essay to appear in Playgirl magazine. The setup was his idea: “It would be a traditional beer hall, but instead of hefty German woman serving the beer steins … it would be young sexy girls with bare tits.” Shriver, whom he had had just started dating, hated the idea and convinced him to pay $7,000 to have the story killed.
6. Becoming the TerminatorWith his acting career beginning to take off after the success of Conan the Barbarian, Schwarzenegger was offered the role of a lifetime—although that’s not what he thought at first. He was hesitant to play a villain so early on, fearing it was “career suicide” and that his dearth of lines in the script would make people think he was avoiding speaking roles. But he couldn’t stop envisioning the character, and with a little convincing from director James Cameron, he finally came around: “The Terminator felt right. Here was a project that would get me out of a loincloth and into real clothes! The selling point would be the action, not just me ripping off my shirt.”
7. Affairs, AffairsLong before his devastating affair with Mildred Baena, then employed as the family housekeeper, Schwarzenegger says he had a fling with Red Sonja costar Brigitte Nielsen, despite being in a long-term relationship with Shriver. Nielsen had a “personality filled with laughter and fun,” he writes. After a “hot affair” on set, they set off together for a romp around Europe. Schwarzenegger assumed the affair over when he returned to Los Angeles, but Nielsen had other ideas. He refused her advances, and she settled down with Sylvester Stallone, a relationship Schwarzenegger says was “love at first sight.”
8. A Broken HeartLiterally. After discovering Schwarzenegger had the same heart problem as his mother, doctors told him that he would need surgery in the future. That was in 1997, when Shriver was pregnant and he was busy promoting Batman and Robin. When the time came to replace the valve—which doctors said had about a 30 percent chance of failure—he scheduled the surgery for immediately after the tour, all part of a plan not to tell his wife: “‘I will tell my family that I’m going to Mexico,” I said. ‘I’ll say I need a little vacation for a week. And then we do the heart surgery.’”
9. Candidate SchwarzeneggerHeart surgery wasn’t the only thing Schwarzenegger sprung on his wife. With rumors swirling about his potential bid for governor of California, Schwarzenegger already knew he was going to run, and he told Shriver of his plans while they relaxed in a Jacuzzi. Shriver didn’t take the news too well: “’She said, ‘No, no, come on, please tell me that you’re not serious.’ Then she added, ‘Don’t do this to me’ … As I rattled on, I was astonished to see my wife start to tremble.”
10. The Self-Described Visionary Not shy of touting his own achievements in office, Schwarzenegger reserves particular praise for his ultimately unsuccessful attempts to reform California’s health-care system. He writes that although his advisers didn’t want him to take on the issue as soon as he did, his proposition to strengthen the individual mandate and focus on prevention has since been studied across the country. He said these measures addressed the “perceived weaknesses” in Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan, adding: “Our health-care reform became America’s, and California led the way.”
11. Coming CleanThe second-to-last chapter of the book is ominously titled “The Secret.” And for good reason. Schwarzenegger describes his last days as governor and the tense meeting with his and his wife’s marriage counselor when he finally told of his secret life. Writing of the affair with the housekeeper that produced a child out of wedlock, he writes: “‘It’s true.’ Then I turned to Maria. ‘It’s my child,’ I said. ‘It happened 14 years ago. I didn’t know about him at first, but I’ve known it now for several years.” Schwarzenegger said the affair happened while the kids were away on vacation and he was finishing Batman and Robin. Schwarzenegger said he learned the truth while he was governor, when Baena showed him pictures proving the child’s resemblance to him.