BOOK OF THE WEEK
Be Helpful: Seven Tools for Life
by Arnold Schwarzenegger (Penguin Random House £20, 262 per person)
A few years ago, a friend was at a restaurant in Beverly Hills when, with great enthusiasm, Arnold Schwarzenegger entered with his then-wife, Maria Shriver, a scion of the Kennedy clan, and their children.
Naturally, most of the restaurant was starstruck, especially when the waitress started taking their order.
“I’ll have the salmon,” Arnie said, and paused before continuing in that rich Austrian accent: “…grilled.” Later he ordered dessert. ‘I’ll have the ice cream,’ another pause: ‘…vaneeella.’
The deep voice, the intonation, and letting it be known that the Terminator eats salmon and has a penchant for pudding are the kinds of facts that help the world turn.
It’s Arnie’s authenticity and humor that endear him to us, as well as his kindness – for such a huge man, he comes across as a warm, kind and even gentle human being.
Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator, first released in 1984. Despite his success as an action hero, Arnold quickly decided to become a leading man.
Now 76 years old and after undergoing open-heart surgery, the bodybuilding champion, movie star, great philanthropist and former governor of California has embarked on a fourth career.
Not so much Conan the Barbarian, but more Conan the Librarian, Arnie wrote a self-help book.
And a guy who rose from a difficult childhood in a small Austrian town to become one of the most famous men in the world, with hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank, is probably worth listening to.
It’s not an autobiography (although he tells us many secrets) but it’s a guide to living better, told with humor – he wants his money back after a course on how to lose his accent – the charm characteristic self-deprecation, honesty and endearing profanity (“F*** Plan B. It’s an excuse for failure”).
It’s probably best to read the book with a guttural Austrian accent. The title, Be Useful, is the only advice his father gave him.
It’s all there, and you could think about it yourself: have a vision (Arnie, it’s America, its Cadillacs and its skyscrapers that make the tallest building in Austria look like a tool shed), think big and work hard, because as Arnie says “hustling is the only thing that works 100 percent of the time for 100 percent of the things worth doing.”
In his early days in Hollywood, studio executives wanted to change his name to Arnold Strong or something similar.
But no, Arnie said, because his view at the time was that he could see his name – SCHWARZENEGGER – in big block letters above the title of most of his films.
In Be Useful, Arnold’s guide to living better, he draws on his own life experience and advises readers to have a vision, think big, and work hard.
Soon, he wanted to prove that he was more than just an action hero; he wanted to be a leading man.
His goal was to star in comedies, which meant studios made fun of him.
He and director Ivan Reitman came up with the idea for Twins, about brothers played by Schwarzenegger and Vito’s Danny, an idea so good that we almost don’t need the movie.
Yet no one wanted to finance it: Hollywood couldn’t consider Arnie as a comedy lead. Finally, they got a whistle: None of them would take a salary; instead, they would take a cut of the net profits if the film made money.
Of all his films, it was still the one that made Arnie the most money, as he writes with a certain pride. This is good problem solving.
How many times you’d like a global star worth hundreds of millions of dollars to tell you “anyone can do it” is up to you, of course. But I would try.
The impetus for the book was the end of his governorship and the breakdown of his marriage to Mrs. Shriver, when, as he put it with encouraging frankness: “I blew up my family.” He doesn’t talk about it here, but asks us to go to Google to find out what happened.
He would be a brave man who disobeyed the Terminator, so it is possible to discover that in 1996 he had an affair with his housekeeper, Mildred Baena, who had a baby, a few weeks before Arnie and Mrs. Shriver had their fourth child.
Her marriage struggled in 2011. Ms. Shriver wanted to know if Ms. Baena’s child was hers. Since Joseph Baena, now 26, looks more like Arnie than Arnie himself, the answer was clear.
As a champion bodybuilder, Arnold posed on the beach in Venice in 1977. Since then, he has had several careers, including movie star, philanthropist, former governor of California and now personal development guru.
Arnie had to make a choice: “I was face down in the mud in a dark hole, and I had to decide whether it was worth cleaning myself up and starting the slow climb, or just giving up.
But the last thing the Terminator does is give up. Today, he says happily — he can laugh at himself but you can never accuse him of false modesty — “people were paying me as much as past presidents to introduce myself and give motivational speeches.”
Like any sporting champion, he wants fitness to be a path to excellence and emphasizes that there are many paths to a happy and fulfilling life outside of the university system. He is a great advocate of vocational education.
It supports “plumbers, electricians and furniture finishers, professionals in trades they learned while (working) in the real world… (they are) the glue that holds the economy together.”
You can “build the life of your dreams with a hammer and nails, with a comb and scissors, with a saw and sandpaper.” There aren’t enough people doing this work in the UK and the Eurozone, he tells us, and he’s right.
He lets things drift from time to time: we’ll probably learn more than enough about the interstices of California’s Sacramento district politics, and if you want to build those calf muscles, this is the book for you.
The secret, apparently, is to cut off your sweatpants, so all your training partners can keep an eye on your calves and will probably start laughing if you don’t put in the hours.
But in my opinion, anyone who makes fun of Arnie for not working hard enough at the gym should have their head examined.
Arnold is pictured on the set of the 1984 film Conan the Destroyer. He later focused on acting in comedies, but it took a long time for movie studios to support him.
And, my word, he knows everyone and is not afraid to invoke their names: from Muhammad Ali to Nelson Mandela, every American president after Lyndon B. Johnson, Mikhail Gorbachev and even, he admits with surprise disarmingly, the Dalai Lama and two other Popes.
The “two different” is a nice touch, I think. Even Marcus Aurelius gets a nod.
Regardless, Arnie learned from everyone, as one of his key lessons is “Shut your mouth, open your mind, and be curious.” None of us can argue with that, although few will exchange views with a pope or a president.
Above all, it’s a book filled with Arnie’s overwhelming positivity…and who couldn’t enjoy that?