Rags to Riches, Part III: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger by Monica Sanders

Rags to Riches, Part III: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

He came to the United States with less than twenty dollars and a whole lot of muscle. But Arnold Schwarzenegger's legendary ambition transformed both things into Hollywood stardom and guaranteed place in the political spotlight.

by Monica Sanders
updated January 11, 2021 · 3 min read

As a youth in Austria, the man many refer to as simply "Ah-nuld" developed a fascination with physical fitness. He loved going to the gym so much that his father tried to limit his trips to three times a week, encouraging him to give up bodybuilding to play soccer. The younger Schwarzenegger responded - he built a gym at home.

Soon after, Arnold left to serve a mandatory year in the Austrian Army. During this time, he snuck away from his post to compete in and win the Mr. Europe bodybuilding competition. Afterward, he worked in the United Kingdom for a short time before leaving for America in 1968. Like many clichés about the American dream, Arnold got here with little more than ambition, but that ambition proved priceless. Arnold was to become a legendary figure in bodybuilding.

He's won five Mr. Universe titles and has been crowned Mr. Olympia seven times. While working on his form, Arnold made sure he was more than just a set of bulging biceps. He attended the University of Wisconsin-Superior and completed a degree in business and economics. He used what he learned in school to invest his contest winnings in real estate and to market gym equipment and exercise supplements. Arnold turned out to be just as good as a businessman as he was a bodybuilder, becoming a millionaire before age 22.

Success in bodybuilding and business was just the beginning for the young Austrian. He decided to try acting. Struggling with his accent and a last name producers found too hard to pronounce, he was cast in a few low budget movies. After gaining international attention in the film Pumping Iron, Arnold established himself as an action star with Conan the Barbarian and solidified his place in the Hollywood pantheon with the Terminator movies.

Arnold Schwarzenegger had become one of the biggest of the Hollywood stars; he brought in box office takes exceeding the 100 million dollar mark. Conan and Terminator were followed by other movies that highlighted both the actor/bodybuilder's impressive physique and, through his famous one-liners, that legendary Austrian accent. That's quite a return on twenty dollars.

It was well known that the staunch Republican, an anomaly in Hollywood, dreamed of running for political office. To gain access to the political arena, Arnold used his love of physical fitness. The actor served on the California Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports under Pete Wilson and on the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports from 1990-1993. He also campaigned for other candidates, most notably Ronald Reagan in the '80s (in whose footsteps he hopes to follow) and both Presidents Bush. His first personal political victory came in November of 2002 when his After School Education and Safety Program passed in California. The program made state grants available for after-school programs.

In 2003, rolling blackouts and a bloated budget however would propel him to achieve even greater goals. Californians had grown weary of Governor Gray Davis. When the state held a recall election, Arnold jumped in with both feet. Even though most thought he wouldn't really run, let alone win, Arnold campaigned hard. In the end, the same combination of discipline and ambition that had made him Mr. Universe earned him his current title: "Mr. Governor."

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About the Author

Monica Sanders

Monica Sanders covers topics on celebrity legal troubles, business success stories, the court system and more. She has b… Read more