Hasta la vista, Arnold

BY Bruce Vilanch

November 07 2005 1:00 AM ET

I wrote some
stuff for Arnold Schwarzenegger before he became political.
His friends Dick and Lili Zanuck had taken on the widely
coveted but strangely hard to fill job of producing
the Oscars show, and I was the head writer. Nobody
ever wants to appear on the Oscars, but everyone wants
the gift baskets; plus, it is a chance to score a free gown
or tuxedo, and you can never underestimate how people
who can afford everything will do almost anything to
get something for nothing. The people who appear are
nominees or previous winners or people deemed by the
production staff as Hot This Year. Then there are the other
people, the big names who have no particular reason to
be there but are doing it as a favor or because their
mothers have told them it would be nice to see them
all dressed up on a red carpet for a change instead of naked
on a movie screen.

Arnold fell into
that last category. He was a friend of the Zanucks, and
we’d all seen the nude shots. He was presenting one
of the technical awards, which didn’t thrill
him: It’s rare that anyone in the audience
recognizes the winners—chances were, Arnold would be
stuck onstage with some very excited but very obscure
toilers in the field. So to juice it up, we made a
short movie all about special effects. It featured Arnold
driving his own Hummer around Los Angeles while, thanks to
the magic of computerized effects, things blew up
everywhere he went. It was cute, but that was the year
the Oscars show actually crossed the four-hour mark,
and the Zanucks decided the movie had to go—a
difficult decision in that Lili had directed it.
Instead, Arnold came out and made some remarks I wrote
about special effects, which went over pretty well.
Afterward, I’d bump into Arnold every now and
again, and we would laugh about the great lost movie
we’d worked on and how it would be unearthed years
from now by enterprising film scholars. We would
laugh, even though he knew I was gay and I knew he was
Republican.

The last time I
saw him was a few years ago, just before he got overtly
political. It was at an anniversary party thrown by the late
photographer Herb Ritts and his lover, Erik Hyman. The
party was at their house, which hovered just above the
waterline at Malibu. The place was packed with
celebrities and also with other gay couples who
weren’t famous but just part of the many
circles in which Herb and Erik traveled. Arnold arrived
with Maria Shriver. He wore a leather bomber jacket and had
a cigar hanging out of his mouth that probably cost
more than the jacket. I was sitting on the deck with
k.d. lang. Arnold strode over and effusively greeted
us by name. Later, a cake appeared and people sang and the
happy couple kissed—not Arnold and Maria, Herb
and Erik. Not long after that, Herb’s silent
infection found its voice and shouted him out of this
world.

It’s hard
to imagine that the Arnold who stood and celebrated the love
and devotion of these two men could be the Arnold who,
against the will of the elected officials of the
people, vetoed same-sex marriage legislation in
California. But politics and ambition make people do
unimaginable things. I wonder if it keeps him up at night,
asking himself how he came to betray all the Eriks and
Herbs he had embraced in his life by negating their
love with the stroke of a pen.

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