Rarely has anyone been more driven to succeed than Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Austrian came to America in the 1960s and became a champion bodybuilder. Refuting advice that his accent was too thick, his body too developed, and his name too confusing, he became the biggest box office attraction in the world thanks to films like 1982’s Conan the Barbarian and 1984’s The Terminator. That would satisfy most ambitious people, but Schwarzenegger then went a step further and became governor of California in 2003.
With the “Austrian Oak” currently reigning over the streaming charts with his new Netflix series Fubar, and celebrating his 76th birthday on July 30, we’re taking a look at some of the most interesting facts of his life and career.
1. Schwarzenegger went AWOL in the Austrian military.
Born July 30, 1947 near Graz, Austria, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s family did not lead a comfortable life. Their home had no plumbing and no telephone. Schwarzenegger’s father, Gustav, was the village police chief and also a member of the Nazi party, which his son didn’t learn until much later on in his life. His father also pitted Schwarzenegger against his older brother, Meinhard, in various athletic contests, but it wasn’t until Arnold discovered bodybuilding that he found his calling.
Schwarzenegger, who made his own weights at a local metalworking shop, trained while performing a compulsory one-year tour of duty in the Austrian Army beginning in 1965. (Thanks to the balanced meals and protein offered by the military, he also gained 25 pounds.) During his time there, Schwarzenegger fled the base without permission so that he could enter a bodybuilding competition in Germany. He won, then spent seven days in military prison for the offense.
2. He also learned how to drive a tank.
While serving in the Austrian military, Schwarzenegger was given instruction on how to operate a tank. The vehicle apparently held some sentimental value for him, as he later acquired it and brought it to America. In 2000, he loaned the tank to the Motts Military Museum in Ohio, then had it returned to him in 2008 with plans to offer rides to disadvantaged youth in Los Angeles as a reward for working hard in school.
3. Schwarzenegger used psychological warfare to defeat his bodybuilding opponents.
Schwarzenegger arrived in the United States in 1968 to pursue his bodybuilding career and enjoyed tremendous success, eventually winning seven Mr. Olympia titles. But it wasn’t solely due to his physique. In 2015, Schwarzenegger told podcast host Tim Ferris that he purposely engaged in psychological warfare to distract and shake the confidence of other competitors.
He might, for example, ask a bodybuilder if they had a knee problem. “And they say, ‘Why are you asking?’” Schwarzenegger said. “I said, ‘Well, because your thighs look a little slimmer to me. I thought maybe you can’t squat or maybe there’s some problem with leg extension.’” The contestant would then feel self-conscious, and Schwarzenegger—always possessed of immense confidence—would capitalize on their insecurity, upstaging his opponent in front of the contest judges.
4. He once appeared on The New Dating Game.
Before finding success in films, Schwarzenegger was able to score some work on television. In 1973, the Oak appeared as a contestant on The New Dating Game, where men and women are tasked with choosing a prospective partner from behind a partition. You can see how well he fared in the video above.
5. Schwarzenegger was already a millionaire before he got into acting.
Though he was successful in his bodybuilding career, Schwarzenegger wanted to have a reliable source of income beyond prize purses. He invested the money he won in competitions in California real estate, profiting immensely off the rise in property values in the 1970s. In doing so, he was able to be selective about the opportunities he chose to pursue in acting.
6. Mark Hamill told him to lose his accent.
When his bodybuilding career began winding down, Schwarzenegger started looking to acting as his next challenge. Getting the title role in 1970’s Hercules in New York (where he was billed as Arnold Strong) did little to advance his ambition, as the movie was poorly received and his heavy Austrian accent was dubbed over by an American actor.
Later, after 1977’s Star Wars became a hit, Schwarzenegger asked Mark Hamill for advice. Hamill told him to lose the accent and his last name to give himself the best chance for success. Schwarzenegger obviously ignored the advice. He later said that he ultimately felt the accent was a benefit, since it made him a more distinctive commodity in Hollywood.
7. Schwarzenegger almost starred in a Hans and Franz musical.
Schwarzenegger had a sense of humor about Hans and Franz, the over-pumped Austrian bodybuilders played by Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon on Saturday Night Live. According to writer Robert Smigel, the actor was even interested in appearing in a big-screen Hans and Franz movie musical in the early 1990s.
The characters would have been depicted as heading to California to pursue stardom, with Schwarzenegger appearing as both a version of himself and as the duo’s grandmother. The film was never made, though co-writer Conan O’Brien eventually had Carvey and Nealon perform scenes from the script on a 2023 podcast, The Lost Hans and Franz Movie.
8. His childhood home is now a museum.
As the pride of his tiny hometown of Thal, Austria, Schwarzenegger’s childhood residence is now a museum. The announcement came in 2011, with visitors able to go inside the first-floor flat and view Schwarzenegger’s old bed, a motorcycle from The Terminator, weightlifting equipment, and a copy of the desk he used while he was governor of California.
9. Schwarzenegger directed a Christmas movie.
While Schwarzenegger has never directed a major feature film, he has gotten behind the camera several times. In 1990, the actor directed an episode of the popular HBO horror anthology series Tales From the Crypt. In “The Switch,” an elderly man decides to buy new body parts to impress a younger woman, with predictably dire results.
Apparently satisfied with how that turned out, Schwarzenegger later directed Christmas in Connecticut, a holiday film that aired on cable channel TNT in 1992. It was a remake of a 1945 Barbara Stanwyck film of the same name, in which a cooking columnist falls for a soldier. In the newer version, Dyan Cannon gets interested in a forest ranger (Kris Kristofferson). The Los Angeles Times labeled Schwarzenegger “Conan the Director.”
10. Schwarzenegger will be president (in a movie).
Because he was not born in America, Schwarzenegger is ineligible to run for the office of president of the United States, which is something the actor said he would have done if he had been able. (And no, he can't become vice president, either.)
But there is no such law barring him from playing one in a movie. The actor will appear as the U.S. president in Kung Fury 2, a sequel to the 2014 short film parody of 1980s action movies directed by and starring David Sandberg. The flick is set to be released on Friday, November 17, 2023.
A version of this article was originally published in 2020 and has been updated for 2023.