By Peter Carlson
Sunday, June 23, 1991
SO THERE WE WERE, me and Arnold Schwarzenegger, sitting in the Jacuzzi, talking about movies and the meaning of life.
It had been a long day of frenetic activity. Schwarzenegger -- the chairman, or "Main Man" as he puts it, of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports -- was in the middle of a six-day, 11-state tour to promote the idea that American kids ought to get off their fat butts and exercise. That morning, he'd breakfasted with Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer, led exercises at a gym class in a Maryland elementary school, held a press conference, spoken at a "fitness rally" and then flown on his private jet to Maine, where he'd lunched with Gov. John McKernan, led exercises at another elementary school, held another press conference, spoken at another fitness rally, delivered a "distinguished lecture" at the University of Maine, held a "fitness summit" with state leaders and then flown to Albany, N.Y., where he would begin a similar schedule the next morning.
After checking into the Albany Hilton, Schwarzenegger, 43, had headed down to the basement, where he'd spent about half an hour pumping iron on the hotel's exercise machine. Then he'd stripped down to his bathing suit and plopped into the Jacuzzi.
So there we were, sitting in the hot, swirling water, while Arnold regaled me with stories about the filming of his latest movie, "Terminator II," which premieres on July 3, and about the filming of some earlier movies too, like "Conan the Barbarian," a film in which Arnold, playing the eponymous hero, bit the head off a vulture and chopped the head off James Earl Jones. His stories were great, and he told them well, particularly the one about the schnapps-drinking contest he had with a reporter during the filming of "Conan" in Spain a decade ago, a contest Arnold lost because he was actually drinking shot after fiery shot of the schnapps, while the sneaky reporter was surreptitiously pouring his shots into a potted plant, a ruse that enabled the puny scribe to walk away unscathed while the great bodybuilder collapsed like a felled oak.
Anyway, we were sitting there in the Jacuzzi, with the steam rising and the sweat falling, and I figured it was time to ask Arnold a heavy, profound philosophical question.
"So, Arnold," I said, "what is best in life?"
Chairman Schwarzenegger smiled. "Crush enemies," he said. "See them driven before you. Hear the lamentation of their women."
OF COURSE, AS EVERY SCHWARZENEGGER FAN KNOWS, THAT question and answer are the most memorable lines of dialogue from "Conan the Barbarian." Probably the only memorable lines of dialogue from "Conan the Barbarian."
Characters in Schwarzenegger movies tend to let their weapons do the talking, but there is usually one line of dialogue designed to become a pop catch phrase, thereby advertising the movie. In "Total Recall," for example, Arnold, playing a construction worker whose brain is controlled by Martians, shoots his wife, who's in cahoots with the Martians, and then proclaims, "Consider that a divorce!" And in "The Terminator," Arnold, playing a robot sent to Earth from the robot-controlled future, tells the guard at a police station, "I'll be back!" and then, true to his word, he drives his car right in the front door and starts shooting everybody. That line -- "I'll be back!" -- was so popular that it was reprised by Schwarzenegger's characters in "Twins" and "Kindergarten Cop," inspiring an over-excited Village Voice critic to theorize that the line "has intimations of the Eternal Return."
I'd never seen a Schwarzenegger movie until a few days before joining the fitness tour, but I made up for lost time by renting and watching eight Arnold flicks in a little over 48 hours. It was a prodigious feat of background research that might have killed a lesser journalist. In those 48 hours, watching "Conan" and "Predator" and "The Terminator" and "Total Recall" and "The Running Man" and "Twins" and "Red Sonja" and "Raw Deal," I saw Chairman Schwarzenegger do many amazing things: He levitated on a stretcher of fire! He burst out of the body of a fat lady! He cut off the head of a giant snake! He stuck a pair of pliers up his nose and removed an electronic device from his brain! He gouged out the eyes of a sea serpent! He calmly removed his own wounded eyeball with an Exacto knife and then casually covered the bloody socket with a cool pair of shades! He strangled a homicidal hockey player with barbed wire! He shoved a roaring chain saw into a psychotic motorcyclist's crotch! He cut off an enemy's arm with a giant sword, then casually tossed the still-quivering limb aside!
Quickly, I realized that Chairman Schwarzenegger, though a novice to the Washington scene, definitely possesses the toughness necessary to survive in the jungle of the federal bureaucracy.
Bleary-eyed and mind-boggled, I ended my little Schwarzenegger Film Festival with another blazing flash of insight: A great American theme runs through the Arnold oeuvre, I realized, the same great theme that runs through detective novels and cowboy movies and Superman comics -- the theme of the lone hero who rides into town (frequently on a horse) to save the innocent from evil.
And so it made perfect poetic sense -- at least to a mind battered by eight Arnold opuses -- that now, on his fitness tour, Chairman Schwarzenegger was riding into various towns (in his private jet) to save innocent American children from the modern evils of flab, cholesterol and clogged arteries. Or, more accurately, to persuade American kids, and their keepers, to save themselves from those evils by exercising daily and eating right.
It was, in fact, a quintessentially American quest -- a metaphysical mating of the cowboy myth and the self-help ethos, a combination of John Wayne, Charles Atlas and Norman Vincent Peale. And the Chairman, a firm believer in the power of hype, figured he could sell fitness the same way Hollywood sells movies or Roger Ailes sells presidents: with a full-blown whistle-stop razzle-dazzle media extravaganza.
The only question was: Could the big guy pull it off?
"THIS IS INFORMATION NObody should know," Chairman Schwarzenegger whispered to the kids.
He was talking to a gym class at the Sylvio T. Gilbert elementary school in Augusta, Maine. He'd just led them through a series of jumping jacks, knee-bends and push-ups, and now he beckoned them closer so he could share a secret.
"You go home," he whispered, "and you see your parents watching TV, right?"
"Right," they said.
"So you say, 'Mom, Dad, get up off that couch and exercise with me!' "
The kids giggled.
"This is cool because all the time they tell you what to do, right?"
They giggled again.
"This is the time you tell them what to do. Okay? Is it a deal?"
"I can't hear you. Do we have a deal?"
"This is just between us," he said. Then he stopped whispering. "And keep exercising. Stay away from alcohol, tobacco and definitely drugs. Okay?"
With a wave, the Chairman was off, trailed by a small army of aides and school administrators. In the gym office, he wiped his sweaty face on a white towel and donned his official red and blue president's council warm-up jacket. Then he bounded outside to address a fitness rally. As soon as he strode through the door, the crowd -- a couple of hundred kids and parents -- exploded with a noise rarely heard since the Beatles stopped touring, a combination of cheers, screams and shrieks.
The Chairman waved, blew a kiss, then motioned for quiet. It never came, but he started speaking anyway, reciting the depressing statistics of the steady corporeal decline of American youth -- 50 percent of them can't run a mile in 10 minutes, nearly 50 percent already show signs of cardiac risk factors: obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure . . .
"We're barely in the top 20 of youth fitness," he said. "The first excuse is for people to scream, 'We need more money.' But it takes will, not money. I've never paid for a push-up or a sit-up and I've done millions . . . It doesn't cost anything to take the junk food out of the school vending machines . . . The parents have to participate. Turn off the television set and go out of the home and play sports with your children . . . Help the school raise the money so you can have daily quality physical education . . . "
The crowd was noisy and there was no microphone, so Chairman Schwarzenegger cut short his standard stump speech. "I believe in the slogan of the United Negro College Fund: 'The mind is a terrible thing to waste.' But I believe also that the body is a terrible thing to waste. Let's make the '90s a fitness decade . . . "
As soon as he started saying goodbye, the crowd surged forward, surrounding him, grabbing at him, shoving scraps of paper toward him, begging for autographs.
"Arnold, I love you!" a woman yelled.
"I touched him!" whispered another. "I touched him!"
Quickly, he darted through the door, and somebody closed it after him, keeping the rabble at bay.
"He could have at least taken off the jacket," muttered one disappointed mother.
IF ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER IS NOT COMpletely serious about this fitness crusade, then he is a far better actor than most movie critics would have us believe.
He was serious enough to lobby President Bush for the job, serious enough to vow that he'd visit all 50 states and serious enough to stuff his head with facts and figures on everything from fitness test scores to school budget cuts so that he'd be taken seriously when he got to those states.
He seems so serious, in fact, that wherever he goes, reporters wonder if he isn't perhaps using this tour as a warm-up for something really serious, like a political campaign. He denies any such plans. "I have no agenda there at all," he says. "My agenda is to make America healthy."
America has been good to him, says the Austrian immigrant, and he wants to give something back. When a college kid in Maine asked if he missed bodybuilding competitions, Arnold replied, "To me, the goal of making American children fit is a challenge that is much greater than anything I've ever done."
John Cates believes him: "He's a sincere guy, and there's no hidden agenda."
Cates, a professor of physical education at the University of California at San Diego, is one of many experts Schwarzenegger summoned to advise him after his appointment. "It was supposed to be a half-hour meeting," Cates recalled. "Three hours later, we were still there, and he was all over the room, all fired up about what we could do. All of a sudden, his secretary tells him he's only got a half-hour before the christening of his daughter, Katherine. I thought, 'The guy's really into this. I've really got to get involved with this.' "
So Cates, 56, took a sabbatical and became what he jokingly calls "Arnold Schwarzenegger's flunky," a nonpaying job that requires him to plan the tour, set up the meetings, dig out the facts about education and politics in each state and compile all the information in briefing books for the Chairman.
Right now, the Massachusetts briefing book was on the Chairman's lap. He was several thousand feet above the Bay State, sitting at a little table on his plane, which was headed toward Boston, and he was studying for his meeting with Massachusetts Gov. William Weld while absently munching the mix of nuts and raisins that he prefers to the "junk food" he denounces at every rally.
"The 50-state tour was my idea," he said. "As soon as I learned that educational issues were state issues and local issues, I said the only way to do this was to go to all 50 states. People said to me, 'You're nuts. Don't even say that because you'll have to do it.' And I said, 'That's exactly why I'm going to say it right away because then I have to do it.' I always like to put it out there, so then the pressure's on. When I was 15 years old, I said to people, 'I want to be the world champion in bodybuilding.' And they said, 'You're nuts.' And the pressure was on and I went nuts with the training to make it a reality. The same with the movies: The first few interviews, I said, 'A few years from now, I will be right up there on top.' And people said, 'Forget it.' And it's the same with this. I've set high goals and we've chipped away 24 states. Of course, I had to get the plane."
Of course. The Chairman couldn't take commercial flights to all 50 states. That would put an awful crimp in his frenetic schedule. Nor could he travel in his usual mode, which is to borrow a private jet from a movie studio. "They'd give me a plane," he said, "but I have to book those way in advance and there's no room for improvisation because Clint Eastwood is flying with the plane and Tom Cruise is flying with the plane and Bruce Willis is flying with the plane, so it's very tightly scheduled. So we felt the only way to do this was to get a plane right away."
So he bought this Gulfstream III jet, which costs about $10 million, out of his own pocket. And he staffed it with a pilot and a co-pilot and a stewardess named Tammy. And he picks up the tab for housing and feeding the entire entourage, taking not a nickel from the federal government in salary or expenses.
"This must be costing you a hell of a lot of money," I said.
"Yeah, but compared to what I make . . . " He shrugged his massive shoulders.
What he makes is more than $10 million per movie, plus the income from his rather extensive real estate empire. And, of course, his wife, Maria Shriver, has a good job too.
"When you add it up," he said, "there will be a big chunk spent, but every cent is spent wisely and spent well. So I don't even ask how much it costs. It's someone else's problem. Let the accountants worry about it."
One more sign of the Chairman's seriousness: To avoid the wrath of purists and puritans, he's given up his cigars, those humongous, delicious, long black $25 Cuban Davidoff stogies that he loves so much. At least he's sort of given them up. "Every so often I have one," he admitted, "but I don't smoke in public."
SO WE WERE SITTING IN THE RESTAURANT AT THE ALBANY HILton, me and Tammy the stewardess and Steve Guback, who works for the president's council, listening as Arnold told the famous story of the lady who stripped in the bookstore.
It happened in Detroit in the late '70s, when Arnold was promoting one of his bodybuilding books. He'd already appeared in "Pumping Iron," the documentary on bodybuilding, but he wasn't yet a mega-celebrity, so the bookstore owners were a little shocked when hundreds of people came to get his autograph, many of them with the kind of button-bursting upper bodies not frequently seen on the people who come to meet, say, John Updike. Anyway, Arnold was sitting there signing hundreds of books, and he was so new at this business that he painstakingly signed his entire name, all 20 letters, plus cheery little messages to each customer, which took quite a while. And finally, after waiting on line for hours, this lady got to Arnold and demanded, quite adamantly, to know why he was wearing a shirt. Arnold replied that he generally wore shirts in stores. And the lady said that she'd driven 60 miles and waited on line for hours and, dammit, she wanted him to take his shirt off. Joking, Arnold said he'd take his shirt off if she'd take her shirt off. Big mistake. The lady proceeded to do just that. She took off her shirt, as well as several other key garments. Even as the guards dragged her away, she was still yelling, still demanding that Arnold start stripping.
"It made all the papers," Arnold said. "It was great publicity."
Stuff like this just seems to happen to Chairman Schwarzenegger. His presence causes humans to act oddly. They scream, they swoon, they run after his car literally for miles to get him to autograph a picture of himself in his Mr. Universe days.
Just tonight, a strange thing happened, Arnold said as he ate his swordfish dinner. When he arrived at the hotel, he called to see if he could get his laundry washed, only to learn that it couldn't be ready until 4 o'clock the next afternoon. Planning to check out at 7 in the morning, he decided to skip it. A few minutes later, a woman who worked at the hotel called to say that she'd do his laundry at home. So he gave it to her.
And now, several hours later, he was beginning to wonder if he'd ever see it again.
Needless to say, that little anecdote inspired much comic speculation around the table as to what might have happened to his laundry.
A few minutes later, however, the woman appeared, ready to deliver the freshly laundered clothes to Arnold's room.
Her name was Elaine Johnson Hamlin, and she's the 36-year-old manager of the hotel's bar. Intrepid reporter that I am, I called her a few days later to check out the story.
"I was on my way out the door when I heard that he couldn't get his laundry done," she said. "So I said, 'What are we talking about here? Are we talking suits? What does he need done?' "
When she heard that it was just workout shorts and polo shirts, she volunteered to wash them. But her house is half an hour away, so she went to a friend's home nearby. "She has a 13-year-old daughter, and they were so excited that we were christening her washer and everything. We were hysterical! We took pictures and everything! We had a ball! We were hold- ing up the shirts and everything. We were hysterical! I've never been so excited in my life."
Then she paused. "I suppose this all sounds kind of silly, right?"
"Of course not," I said. "It's perfectly normal. He seems to have that effect on people."
CHAIRMAN SCHWARZENEGGER HAS A THEORY: Physical fitness can be sold to Americans kids just like Ninja Turtle cereal or $100 inflatable sneakers.
"It's the same thing as selling a car or a philosophy or a politician or whatever," he told the "fitness summit" in Maine. "Everybody who turns on the television or reads the paper should know what we're talking about."
Arnold believes in the power of promotion, in media blitzes and advertising campaigns. And why not? They've always worked for him. He arrived in America with just a gym bag, determined to become famous in a sport -- bodybuilding -- that was widely considered the province of narcissists and perverts and dumbbells. But Arnold, with his charm and his charisma and his innate ability to manipulate the media, promptly made himself famous and bodybuilding respectable, even hip. Since then, his life has become a series of exclamation points. He became a movie star! And a millionaire! And, with his marriage to Shriver, a Kennedy! Not to mention a friend of President Bush! And, now, a presidential appointee! And he attributes it all to the mass media. "Nothing that I have ever done," he said, "was done without the help of the press. Nothing."
He's sold the American public books and movies and himself, and now he figures he can sell fitness too. "This traveling around is just talking about this message over and over, the same message, and eventually it will sink in and have some effect," he said. "What we are promoting is the idea that fitness and exercise are a part of our lives as much as sleeping and eating . . . And that can only be accomplished if we can indoctrinate that idea into the minds of the children from the kindergarten on."
Chairman Schwarzenegger has lots of ideas about how to indoctrinate the kids. He'd like to produce exercise videos and send them to all the schools. He'd like to see an exercise-oriented Saturday morning cartoon show. He'd like to see a series of TV commercials -- "inspirational ones that really encourage children to get fit."
Who will pay for all this? Not the taxpayers. Schwarzenegger is a Republican -- "Conan the Republican," the president calls him -- and his "Republican philosophy" doesn't permit the raising of taxes for even so noble a goal as healthy children. No, he figures the insurance companies should pay the bill. After all, if exercise creates a healthier populace, the insurance companies will make more money, right? It's a lesson he learned from European socialism, of all things.
In Europe, he said, kids are fitter because the schools have serious daily physical education programs. "The reason for that is, of course, because in a lot of the socialist countries, where the government controls the schools and also the insurance companies, it's one hand washes the other," he said. "They know that $1 spent in the schools saves four spent later in medical care."
"Sounds like a good advertisement for socialism," I said mischievously, knowing that the Chairman is a disciple of Milton Friedman, the guru of capitalist economics.
"Well, no, it's not really," he replied.
The Chairman has a Republican alternative: He plans to gather a coalition of insurance company executives and persuade them to fund his massive media campaign for fitness. "I'm not talking about a little race here or some monkey business there just for image sake," he said. "I'm talking about big serious money -- millions and millions of dollars that it takes to do the kinds of programs that I'm talking about . . . The insurance companies make good money -- and they should make good money. But spend some of that money on preventive medicine. And I think we can accomplish the same thing as socialist countries do in a much better way."
"MY WIFE WANTS TO MAKE love in the back seat of the car," Chairman Schwarzenegger said as he sat in his plane, waiting for takeoff. "The only problem is, she wants me to drive."
Arnold Schwarzenegger was doing Rodney Dangerfield. He laughed, then fired off a couple of more "I don't get no respect" jokes. "I love his humor," he said.
The Chairman likes to kid around on the plane. Sometimes, he'll have Tammy the stewardess take out these weird Velcro baseball mitts, and he'll start tossing this Velcro ball around the plane with John Cates or the people from the president's council. He likes to keep things loose. Of course, he likes to get his work done too.
"So, John," he said as the plane neared Boston, "what should I know?"
"A lot of stuff," Cates said, and he started briefing the Chairman while Tammy served a huge plate of shrimp as big as chicken wings. "Massachusetts has one of the worst attitudes about phys ed in the country. The whole state seems to be down on physical education. The state requirement for grades one through 10 is 60 clock hours a year. That's a little more than an hour a week. In high school, there's no requirement for grades 11 and 12. They don't have to take it at all. Not only that, but recently a House bill -- I've got the number here, 1324 -- was introduced to cut the 60 hours in half."
"What's the reason?" Arnold asked. "Because they don't believe in physical fitness or because there's a budget problem?"
"The whole state just seems to be anti-phys ed."
"Okay," Arnold said. "The next question is: What condition are the kids in because of that?"
"They don't test," Cates said, "so they don't know."
"There's no way of knowing what the level of fitness is?"
"It's all done by the individual schools," Cates said. "Nobody compiles information for the whole state."
This news did not please the Chairman. If the kids aren't being tested, nobody knows whether or not they're fit, he said. And nobody knows which phys ed programs work and which don't. Yet deficit-plagued school systems around the country have been cutting back on fitness testing. Schwarzenegger has lobbied against those cuts in California and other states. Now, he decided to do the same in Massachusetts.
"We can talk about it at the summit," he told Cates.
THE SUMMIT WAS CONVENED in a basement room of a nondescript government building, behind a door decorated with a poster bearing a picture of a condom. "Prevent AIDS," it said. "Use One."
This summit, like those in every state on the Chairman's tour, was a meeting, organized by Cates, of representatives of various groups with an interest in fitness or kids or both -- the PTA, the YMCA, the state medical association, teachers' groups, legislators and so on. The idea is that Arnold's name will attract the people and his enthusiasm will inspire them to work together for youth fitness after he leaves.
"Let's get casual," Schwarzenegger said, stripping off his warm-up jacket to reveal biceps that seemed ready to burst through the sleeves of his polo shirt. Immediately, several fitness bureaucrats took off their jackets too, revealing, alas, that their sleeves were perfectly safe.
The Chairman launched into a passionate pep talk about the need to work together for youth fitness. As he effortlessly rattled off yards of facts and figures, you could almost see the people around the table thinking, My God, he's serious! But when he urged the group to lobby the state legislature for a bill requiring all schools to test the fitness of the students, he met with some resistance.
That bill had been defeated several times, said Paul Torney, head of the Governor's Committee on Physical Fitness and Sports. Now, his group was pursuing a new strategy: Pass a law urging voluntary testing and then fight later to make it mandatory.
Schwarzenegger disagreed. "It's hard to go back and change that," he said. "You will not get another shot again for a long time." He recommended hiring a lobbyist and pressing a vote on the mandatory bill. "I'm quite familiar with the way this works on a state level as well as the federal level."
But with the state in a fiscal crisis, there was just no money to pay for it, said a man who'd lobbied for the bill. "I knocked on a lot of doors, and it was like selling motherhood and apple pie," he said. "But then when it comes down to 'How are we going to finance it,' that's when the doors begin to close."
"Let's get that bill passed and then let's think about how we're going to get that money," Schwarzenegger said. He suggested asking insurance companies or sporting goods manufacturers to donate the quarter-million dollars needed to finance the tests. "Maybe they can also benefit from this by calling it the Nike Fitness Test or whatever. Let them throw their name on it. But at the end, you'll know what kind of physical condition the kids are in."
Around the room, faces looked skeptical. Obviously, these people had not shared Schwarzenegger's success in extracting large sums of money from American corporations. Strangers probably didn't volunteer to do their laundry either, or swoon at the sight of them. Such prosaic lifestyles tend to constrict one's view of what's possible.
"I'm here to open up a can of worms and then it's up to you to deal with it," the Chairman said, smiling. He promised to help out any way he could. "You won't be hanging out there on your own. You'll get a response from me." He delivered a heartfelt pep talk on how anything is possible in America. Then he paused theatrically and smiled. "So let's get going with it and kick some butt, okay?"
After Arnold left, the group vowed to keep working together and set the date for another meeting. "It was a good shot in the arm for us," Torney said a week later. "He got people who had lost interest motivated again because of his enthusiasm."
SO THERE WE WERE ON THE WHITE HOUSE lawn, me and the Chairman and the president and the First Lady (and several hundred other people), watching two kids wearing cross-country skis inch their way across a long gray rug that was laid across the grass.
It was the second annual "Great American Workout" -- the culmination of the Chairman's fitness tour, the kickoff of National Fitness Month and a full-blown, all-out, show-biz media event. The Chairman had been hyping the Great American Workout at every stop on his tour. He seemed to believe that people watching clips of the event on TV would get so excited about exercise that they'd leap off their couches and immediately jog to the nearest gym to start pumping up. But the bizarre scene on the White House lawn left me somewhat skeptical about that.
The lawn was crammed with tiny blue platforms, each packed with kids performing various physical activities. Arnold, beaming broadly, escorted the Bushes from one platform to another, so they could pretend to join in the exercises while scores of TV cameras recorded the photo ops -- the First Lady on a treadmill! The president scoring a soccer goal! The Chairman rewarding him with a congratulatory hug! (This was three days before the president's heart began to fibrillate while he was jogging, which was not the kind of advertisement for exercise that Arnold had in mind.)
Anyway, I was dutifully recording these important events in my notebook when a White House aide, her countenance contorted by the solemn duties of her high office, scurried up to me, hissing, "Go back to the press pen! Go back to the press pen!"
Obediently, I hustled back to the press pen, only to find myself standing, by sheer chance, next to a platform occupied by Willard Scott, the TV weatherman, who was wearing the kind of lime green jacket that only he can get away with. He was watching the "Today" show on a TV monitor -- King Kong was perched atop the Empire State Building, fighting off enemy aircraft.
"Ladies and gentlemen," an emcee announced from the stage across the lawn, "the president and Arnold are at the White House tennis courts and will be back in a minute! And Tony Orlando will be here to lead a sing-along! We're gonna hear from Tony Orlando!!!"
The emcee seemed very excited about that prospect; the crowd, less so. Meanwhile, King Kong, under heavy aerial attack, plunged to the street.
"Ladies and gentlemen," said the emcee, "can we get a round of applause for recording star Tony Orlando!!!!"
Orlando, wearing an Army sweat suit, bounded to the stage and started belting out an extremely up-tempo version of "America," the Neil Diamond Vegas-style ode to the immigrant experience.
As he sang, Chairman Schwarzenegger slipped into the press pen and hopped up on Willard Scott's platform.
Orlando was ad-libbing some new fitness-oriented lyrics: "They come to America! Working out in America!"
I looked down and noticed a tiny woman wearing a T-shirt decorated with a flag made out of red, white and blue sequins. She looked like Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the famous sex expert. In fact, she was Dr. Ruth Westheimer.
She'd met Arnold in a Rhode Island hotel during his fitness tour, she explained, and he'd invited her here. "Where else but in America would somebody like me -- a Democrat -- get invited to the White House?" she said, grinning broadly. "And look what I'm wearing -- a child's T-shirt with a flag on it!"
By then, Orlando was belting out the stirring conclusion of his song and Arnold was gesturing to him, furiously drawing his index finger across his throat -- the universal show biz signal to sit down and shut up.
But Orlando didn't see him. "Now, we'll do 'America the Beautiful'!" he announced.
"No!" Arnold yelled, furiously pantomiming the slicing of his own throat. "No! No!"
Finally, Orlando -- who is no doubt familiar with the Chairman's history of shooting, stabbing, strangling, slicing and dicing his cinematic enemies -- surrendered. "Okay, Arnold!" he said, feigning terror. "Anything you say, Arnold!"
So Orlando didn't sing "America the Beautiful." Instead, Arnold bantered with Willard about fitness, and then they announced the 100th birthday of a woman who'd once known the Wright brothers, and then Arnold grabbed Willard's fat belly and mugged for the camera, and Willard faked an upper cut to Arnold's flat belly and mugged for the camera and . . .
"IF THE IDEA WAS TO GET KIDS EXCITED about exercise," the guy from Fox TV news was saying into his video camera, "it seems to be working -- because nobody gets the kids' attention like the Terminator!"
No. It was no good. He tried again: "If the idea was to get kids excited about exercise and shedding a few pounds, it appears to be working -- because nobody gets the kids' attention like Arnold Schwarzenegger."
No. Still no good. He started again. "If . . . "
He was standing outside the Capitol, in front of the huge stage where the second Great American Workout rally of the day was just ending. Tony Orlando had sung the national anthem. Tom Foley -- congressional weight-loss champion and speaker of the House -- had praised Arnold, and Arnold had praised Foley, and there had been demonstrations of aerobics and ice skating and rope-jumping and then, in one of the great moments in the grand and glorious history of American kitsch, a martial arts group, which included several congressmen, put on a synchronized demonstration of vicious kicks and punches and karate chops, all to the tune of "The Star Spangled Banner."
As the show wound down, an aerobics instructor mounted the stage and attempted to lead the crowd in exercises. "1! 2! 3! 4!" she yelled as she flailed her arms. "1! 2! 3! 4!" she yelled as she kicked her legs.
The crowd stared at her, motionless. Nobody flailed their arms. Nobody kicked their legs. The only people moving were the ones who were leaving, and there were quite a few of them.
"Where are you going?" the instructor yelled. "Come on, we gotta exercise!" By then, though, most of them were on their way out.
Could this, I wondered, be a metaphor for the Chairman's entire media fitness campaign -- a lot of flash and dazzle but not much staying power? Would American kids flock to see Arnold exercise and then slump back to their usual sedentary ways? After all, it wasn't a media campaign that persuaded Schwarzenegger to start pumping iron. It was his own unquenchable inner drive to build himself, quite literally, into something bigger and better. And now here he was, attempting to promote vigorous physical activity through a medium -- television -- that stupefies millions. I wished the big guy the best of luck, but somehow I found it hard to believe that even his potent powers of inspiration could overcome the soporific effects of the tube.
Obviously, the guy from Fox TV news disagreed. "If the idea was to get kids excited about exercise," he told his camera once again, "it appears to be working . . ."