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  • Writer's pictureMeirion Harries

DAY EIGHTY ONE The Man on the Streets of Munich

A slightly bizarre choice – but I would quite like to have been in Munich on that cold day in September 1967 when Arnold Schwarzenegger walked the streets in his posing pouch.

Arnie walking the streets of Munich in September 1967

His purpose was to get publicity for Rolf Putziger’s gym where he trained: 'He had me walk around the city on a freezing day in my posing briefs. Then he called some of his newspaper friends and said, “You remember Schwarzenegger who won the stone-lifting contest? Well, now he’s Mr. Universe, and he’s at Stachaus Square in his underwear.” A couple of editors thought that was funny enough to send photographers. I led them all over the city: from the market to the Hauptbahnhof, where I made a point of chatting up little old ladies to show I was friendly and nice and not some kind of monster.'

Arnie at the Hauptbahnhof

My reason for choosing this day is to ask a question that I have wanted to ask him since the 1960s - why did you do this to yourself?

In the absence of time travel, a partial answer comes perhaps from a book written by Samuel Fussell entitled Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder – 'unlikely' because Sam was 26 years old, an Oxford graduate and a publisher in New York when he started to pump iron. His ostensible reason: 'The problem, you see, was New York. It terrified me ...The rapes, the muggings, the assaults, the murders … I felt trapped by the teeming populace, dwarfed by skyscrapers, suffocated by the fumes from factories and expressways. My New York days I spent running wide-eyed in fear down city streets, my nights passed in closeted toilet-bound terror''.

In amongst his paragraphs are also glimpses of a family where he found it difficult to fit in. His father, Paul Fussell, was a decorated war hero, wounded while serving with the 103rd Infantry in Alsace, and author of the classic work The Great War and Modern Memory.

Sam's life crisis seems to have come when Oxford invited him to continue to a PhD. He turned the offer down because he believed his undergraduate work had not been good enough: 'Until then, everything was set. The son of two university professors of English, I was next in line to assume the academic mantle'.

So he got a job in publishing but, enviable as it might have been, his mental state slowly deteriorated. Out of a belief that salvation lay in bodybuilding, he left his job and went to Los Angeles to eke out an existence in a world of extreme exercise and muscle-enhancing drugs: 'I remember the puking from heavy squats, the bleeding when the steroid syringe popped into my skin, the sweat from heavy lifting, the scraping of flesh and resultant blood from the deadlifting bar barking up my shins'.

Sam Fussell in competition in Los Angeles (c) Samuel Fussell

Sam never got beyond the amateur ranks, but then he started ten years later than Arnie. But a difficult family background is one thing they had in common . Arnie had a poor relationship with his father who had a clear preference for his elder boy:one biographer has suggested that his father had an (unfounded) belief that Arnie was not his child.

His father also subjected Arnie to what 'would now be called child abuse': 'My hair was pulled. I was hit with belts. So was the kid next door. It was just the way it was. Many of the children I've seen were broken by their parents, which was the German-Austrian mentality.' When Arnie's elder brother was killed in a car crash at age 24, Arnie did not go to his funeral – nor did he go to his father's funeral. Arnie's first serious girlfriend recalled that 'he informed her of his father's death without emotion and that he never spoke of his brother'.

His father had wanted him to join the police but Arnie saw a way out through bodybuilding. 'I became a rebel. Every time I got hit, and every time someone said, 'You can't do this,' I said, 'This is not going to be for much longer because I'm going to move out of here. I want to be rich. I want to be somebody.' So he did. When he walked round Munich in his posing pouch, he was already Mr Universe and on his way.

For Sam, life went differently. He did win an amateur competition but immediately dropped out of bodybuilding: 'Behind that huge frame and those muscular sets, I felt shut up in a kind of claustrophobic panic. Not flexing but drowning'. These days he finds some kind of peace in self-sufficiency in Montana, making his own furniture, growing food, hunting for meat and chopping his own logs. His human contact is his work as a recovery diver for the local sheriff.

When his book came out, 'My father and mother were delighted. “What a talent! He’s made!” my father wrote to my mother. And, yes, to be a writer as the son of writers pleased me. I finally fitted in my own family, even if most of the members of that family no longer spoke to one another.'

Samuel Wilson Fussell Muscle - Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder

(Poseidon Press, 1991 and available on Kindle)

Arnold Schwarzenegger's Blueprint Training Program -

Arnie's motivational film - watched by 4,324,732 devotees -

Something bodybuilding-related that you may remember -

And Percy Sledge singing the best song to come out of Muscle Shoals -

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