Box-Office Brawn

Body builder to megastar: Arnold Schwarzenegger has a huge following everywhere and the world on a string. It could only happen in the movies.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger is a director too. This year he did The Switch, a 25- minute episode on the cable-TV series Tales from the Crypt. It's a little morality play that asks the question, What do you have to do to become Arnold Schwarzenegger?

To win the love of his fickle girlfriend, a rich, withered old man named Webster spends $1 million on plastic surgery; he trades faces with a young Adonis named Hans. But the girl still finds Webster repulsive, so he spends $2 million more for Hans' handsome torso. Webster is a big hit on Muscle Beach, but when he's in a swimsuit his spindly legs make his lady ill. So he squanders the last $3 million of his fortune on Hans' legs and one or two other appendages. Perhaps finally he can win his beloved's heart? No; she's eloped with Hans, who now has an old man's body and $6 million. As for Webster, he's got a great physique -- but pity the guy. He still looks puny compared with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Who could hope for money, fame, power, love, brains and muscles? Only Arnold, as he is everywhere known. Just now he is the movies' top star, the one whose name above the title of a film -- Conan the Barbarian, The Terminator, Predator, Twins, Total Recall or his new Kindergarten Cop -- guarantees that people will buy tickets or snatch up the videocassette. He didn't need a plastic surgeon or a movie-agent Mephistopheles to become Arnold; his eminence is a triumph of the will. Even if he weren't a celebrity, he would be richer than Webster; his shrewd entrepreneurship and real estate investments have made him tens of millions. As for the girl, he got her: Maria Shriver, NBC newscaster and Kennedy niece. When he is not chumming with the clan in Hyannis Port, he is stumping for George Bush or serving as chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. Conan is a Republican.

And $6 million wouldn't come close to buying Schwarzenegger's body, not even for a single movie. He asks and gets twice that price, and the moguls know it is a fair deal. He will show up on time, throw his beautifully beveled body into every scene, take direction conscientiously -- and when it comes time to promote the picture, press the flesh till fingers go numb. "Arnold loves being a movie star," says Ivan Reitman, his director on Twins and Kindergarten Cop. "He approaches the role with great gusto and charm. He is a throwback to the classic movie stars of the '40s, who were proud of their profession. If you're going to do it, why not do it all the way?"

Schwarzenegger knows no other way to do it. His first notable Hollywood film was Stay Hungry, and that might be the key to his success. "You've got to be hungry," he says, "otherwise you can't be motivated." The hunger, the motivation, the four-wheel drive, have helped this Gargantua from Austria embody a real-life American Dream story -- poor boy to champion body builder to movie curiosity to nonpareil megastar -- that is so improbable even Hollywood would be embarrassed to put it into production. They have also made him, at 43, the most potent symbol of worldwide dominance of the U.S. entertainment industry.

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