Total Recall

Schwarzeneggers business scams

What excites Arnold Schwarzenegger these days? It's not gangbangs, or even what seemed to excite him during summer interviews promoting Terminator 3—shoving an actress's face into a toilet bowl. No, these days, what excites Arnold is learning about "all those issues" he would deal with as governor of California—at least, that's what he told Oprah Winfrey during his recent appearance on her show. Drawing on her journalistic background, Oprah asked the tough follow-up: "Like, are they at your house to—teaching you stuff every night?"

They are. Like, every night. Oprah was impressed by Arnold. Arnold was impressed by Arnold. The audience dutifully applauded. Everyone was happy—except, it seems, home viewers.

The message board on Oprah's website has more than 420 comments about Oprah's show featuring Arnold and his wife, Maria Shriver. Of these, approximately 400 are negative. The words used most often are "disappointed" and "angry," as in this post from grammitr: "I was shocked and disappointed today by Oprah's flagrant use of her program to gain votes for her best friend's husband." (Oprah says Maria has been one of her best friends for more than 20 years.) And someone posting under the name dcitti summed up the feelings of many, writing, "Giving Arnold free air time is just another way of making a campaign contribution."

Sometimes the best thing a talk-show host can do for a celebrity pal is nothing. This is certainly the case with Jay Leno, whose Tonight Show was the launching pad for Schwarzenegger's campaign. During a 1981 appearance on the show, Arnold told then-host Johnny Carson a story that adds an important detail to some recently uncovered illegal behavior on the part of Schwarzenegger. But so far, Leno has remained silent about this part of his show's history.

"Like so many of us," the narrator says in a Schwarzenegger commercial running on Spanish-language radio, "he came to his country with a dream in his eye. He started as a bricklayer, and through sheer determination and hard work, he achieved the goals he set for himself." While it's very nice to have a dream in your eye, a Sept. 21 story in the San Jose Mercury Newsreveals there's a problem with this uplifting story of Arnold the noble immigrant: at the time, he was in this country on an H-2 visa. As the Mercury News explains, "H-2 visas were created to allow workers from other nations to come to the United States for short periods to take on temporary jobs such as picking seasonal crops, cooking at summer resorts or working as ski instructors." Starting his own masonry business was a clear violation of the terms of his visa—a deportable offense—but that is exactly what Arnold says he did.

In several interviews over the years, Arnold has told the story of how he formed European Brick Works in Santa Monica with his friend Franco Columbu, a bodybuilder from Italy, after the Sylmar earthquake of 1971. "We had 16 people working for us, and we were all over town, building chimneys after the earthquake," Arnold told Interviewmagazine in 1985, leaving out a detail he told Johnny Carson four years earlier about his chimney-building days.

During his 1981 appearance, Arnold explained to Johnny how his bricklaying business worked. Franco and Arnold would call on a homeowner. Arnold, always good with the public, would keep the homeowner busy, discussing prices and such. "In the meantime," Arnold recounted, "Franco climbed up on the roof to check the chimney—and he, of course, is a very strong guy and a [weight] lifter—he pushed all the chimneys over so they fall down. So these people come and say, 'Oh, thank you so much for helping us. This could have fallen on somebody's head, you know. Thank you for doing it for us.'"

Johnny was impressed. "What a racket," he told the immigrant with a dream in his eye. "You go and push chimneys down and then rebuild them."

"Exactly," Arnold replied.

A videotape of this interview is available in the Tonight Showarchives at the Museum of Television and Radio in Beverly Hills. Arnold's friend Leno could play the tape of the interview so the public could see for itself. But that seems unlikely. So far, only Mickey Kaus of the online magazine Slatehas gone to Beverly Hills to view the tape. Schwarzenegger's campaign insists Arnold was just "joking around with Johnny Carson" about ripping off unsuspecting homeowners in the wake of an earthquake that killed 65 and did more than $500 million in damage.

 
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