During a film festival in October 2017, a well-built, yet aging actor was waxing lyrical about his career during a live Q&A session. The performer in question was Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Austrian-born bodybuilder who later became a Hollywood action hero and politician. It was here, at this movie event, that the star confessed to a prank he once played on a big screen rival. As you might have guessed, it caused a major stir.
Schwarzenegger was speaking to an audience at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, Los Angeles, when he made his startling confession. He was primarily there to discuss his successful films The Running Man and Predator, which were being screened as part of their 30th anniversary celebrations. But the jamboree for those landmark action movies was somewhat overshadowed by the bombshell admission of a prank that Schwarzenegger had once played.
The prank itself was an elaborately planned one, and likely took many people in the audience by surprise. Furthermore, for those old enough to remember, it brought back memories of an intense rivalry that Schwarzenegger had with the victim. After all, this person was himself a leading action hero of his era. The enmity between Schwarzenegger and this actor was so real, in fact, that they regularly badmouthed one another in the press.
So, who did Schwarzenegger play this extravagant prank on, and why? Did it succeed, and what effect did it have on his relationship with the once-bitter rival he played it on? Well, we’ll get to all the juicy details of that a little bit later. Firstly, though, we should rewind right to the start and take a look at the amazing life and career of the story’s chief protagonist.
Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger entered into the world on July 30, 1947. His place of birth was the central European nation of Austria, specifically in a small village called Thal, which itself is in the state of Styria. His home village of Thal is situated around two miles outside Graz, the country’s second biggest urban center.
Schwarzenegger was the second child of Gustav and Aurelia, who tied the knot in October 1945. His elder brother Meinhard was born almost exactly a year earlier than him on July 17, 1946. However, the younger Schwarzenegger’s formative years in his childhood home were far from what we might call idyllic.
Schwarzenegger endured a stringent Catholic upbringing, regularly attending church for Sunday mass. He addressed his parent’s tough nature in a January 2000 Q&A on his personal website. “Back then in Austria it was a very different world,” he wrote. “If we did something bad or we disobeyed our parents, the rod was not spared. It was still the yardstick at school. You put your hands out there on the table and BANG! But it wasn’t just me. It was this way for every kid at the time.”
Nonetheless, his father’s treatment of him apparently went beyond the harsh disciplining common in those bygone days. In truth, Schwarzenegger suffered physical and emotional abuse from Gustav, who was a chief in the local police force. A strict authoritarian, Gustav often beat Schwarzenegger. And he did precious little to encourage his son, apparently showing a discernible preference for his elder brother Meinhard.
Gustav’s dislike of Schwarzenegger is believed to have at least partly emanated from his apparently groundless inkling that the boy was not his own, biologically speaking. In their youth, Schwarzenegger and his brother were often forced to compete in athletic challenges against one another, with Schwarzenegger’s elder brother Meinhard often triumphing and earning their father’s praise. It was a tough learning environment for the younger boy.
Chillingly, it was later discovered that Gustav was a committed Nazi. Indeed, Schwarzenegger’s father willingly joined the party in 1938, the same year in which Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany. Investigations found that Gustav served in the Nazi’s Sturmabteilung and fought for the Axis in World War II, before his wartime efforts came to an end in 1943.
Schwarzenegger himself attended school in Graz, and while he never excelled academically, he was a well-mannered kid with a keen interest in sports. One of his favorites was soccer, and it was because of this that he stumbled into the pursuit that would first make his name. This, of course, was bodybuilding.
You see, when Schwarzenegger was part of a soccer team, his coach took him and his teammates to a gymnasium. Whilst there, Schwarzenegger got his first real taste of weightlifting – and he became quickly addicted to it. Not too soon after, he quit soccer and eventually began to seriously pursue a livelihood as a professional bodybuilder. This was despite his father’s objections, who wanted his boys to pursue ice sports.
Schwarzenegger was hugely ambitious. And he also acquired a love of movies – particularly those of Reg Park, who was himself a bodybuilder and had starred in a series of Hercules flicks. Schwarzenegger dreamed of making it to America and he started to plan his route there. Basically, he was to rise to the top of the bodybuilding world.
Schwarzenegger’s parents however, thought he was crazy. So much so, in fact, that they felt he needed a psychiatrist. Schwarzenegger was deadly serious, though, and he pushed on with his dream. And to be fair, alongside his regular work in the gym, he also studied psychology. That, however, was out of a desire to learn how to master the head over the body.
Aged 17, Schwarzenegger started competing, but he was then obliged to serve in the Austrian army. Here, he toiled as a tank driver. At one point, though, he snuck out of the army camp and traveled to a bodybuilding completion. This ultimately landed him in military jail, but the officers who imprisoned him then realized something. Schwarzenegger had won that contest, and it was no minor title. It was, in fact, Mr. Europe Junior.
Schwarzenegger was conveniently relieved of his tank driving responsibilities and reallocated to becoming a bodybuilder. With that, the remainder of his military service was spent preparing for more competitions. Soon, he had taken the more senior Mr. Europe title. Now, he was on the way to becoming a major bodybuilding star.
Schwarzenegger became the biggest name in bodybuilding, his ultra-competitive nature seeing him pick up a remarkable five Mr. Universe and seven Mr. Olympia titles. He was the archetypal self-made man and subsequently started to appear in TV commercials and magazines in America. The 1977 doc Pumping Iron – which centered around his attempts to defend his Mr. Olympia title – was a big hit.
Schwarzenegger had clearly achieved what he first set out to do in bodybuilding – and much more besides. He had also fulfilled his dream of moving to America, having immigrated in 1968. But the Austrian would suffer some heartbreak in the early 1970s, though. Firstly, his brother Meinhard died in a traffic collision whilst driving under the influence in 1971. His father, meanwhile, suffered a stroke and passed away a year later. Schwarzenegger would attend neither funeral, however.
Having conquered the bodybuilding world, Schwarzenegger turned his attention to becoming a Hollywood star. But it wouldn’t be easy for him, as he later recalled in a 2000 Q&A on his website. “It was very difficult for me in the beginning – I was told by agents and casting people that my body was ‘too weird,’ that I had a funny accent, and that my name was too long,” he wrote. “Basically, everywhere I turned I was told that I had no chance. But this only made me more determined and inspired me to work harder.”
Schwarzenegger’s unshakable determination slowly began to pay dividends. He made his big screen debut in the 1970 movie Hercules in New York, before making an uncredited appearance in Robert Altman’s thriller The Long Goodbye three years later. A further three years on he put in an acclaimed turn in Stay Hungry opposite Sally Field. But Schwarzenegger was destined to be an action hero.
Indeed, Schwarzenegger was the perfect action idol for the genre’s golden age, from around the late 1970s to the early 1990s. His major breakthrough was the role of the titular character in the fantasy action yarn Conan The Barbarian, which first hit screens in 1982. He would reprise the role two years later in Conan The Destroyer.
Schwarzenegger quickly became one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars. In the 1980s he starred in action-packed hits such as Commando, Predator and The Running Man. And in 1984 he also appeared in the acclaimed first installment of a franchise that would arguably become the most synonymous with him. This, of course, was The Terminator.
However, Schwarzenegger was far from the only action hero on the block during this period. No, in actual fact, there were several other hugely bankable – and impressively muscly – actors around at this point in time. And Schwarzenegger built up quite a bitter and nasty rivalry with one of them in particular.
That actor was Sylvester ‘Sly’ Stallone. The star of the Oscar-winning boxing yarn Rocky, Stallone was essentially the biggest action star of the 1980s not named Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yet the two of them didn’t see eye to eye. In fact, for many years during their respective heydays, they seemingly despised one another. Hollywood, it seems, wasn’t big enough for the both of them, or their sizable egos.
It was a real battle between two of the biggest – and most physically imposing – stars of their era, with neither prepared to give up an inch to the other. Fast-forward to Beyond Fest in 2017, and Schwarzenegger was reflecting on the whole saga. As he recalled, “We were attacking each other in the press relentlessly. We called each other names and called out our weak points, and it was so competitive.”
The war extended beyond words and eventually settled on their respective physiques. Schwarzenegger said, “It became so silly that all of a sudden it became a competition about who has the most muscular body. So, I said, Sly, forget about that now. Because there’s only one seven-time Mr. Olympia, and it’s me!”
If you thought the competitiveness would end at who had paraded the biggest muscles on screen, you’d be wrong. Schwarzenegger recalled, “Then he had to use bigger weapons. So, then it was a competition of who had the biggest gun, and then who uses the biggest knife. Do you remember the Rambo knife became so big it was like a sword? No one has a knife like that! But Stallone had one built, so I had to come in with a bigger one.”
Schwarzenegger concluded, “This is how it went. Who has the most unique killings? Who kills more people on screen? Who makes more money at the box office? Who has less body fat when he goes into production? All of this s**t started happening, and it didn’t stop! It was unbelievable.”
The actors’ relationship got so bad that in the early 1990s Schwarzenegger deliberately played a remarkable prank on the unsuspecting Stallone. The ingenious set-up would help the Austrian-American get one over his long-time rival in a quite hilarious way. There were rumors of the epic ruse for many years, but it was at Beyond Fest that Schwarzenegger confirmed that they were accurate.
The story goes that sometime in the early 1990s, Schwarzenegger was given the script for a prospective action-comedy movie entitled Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. But he was not impressed by what he read. “I read the script. It was so bad,” he told the audience at Beyond Fest. “You know, I’ve also done some movies that went right in the toilet, right? That were bad. But this was really bad.”
Though he didn’t like the sound of the movie or want to be in it, an idea came into Schwarzenegger’s mind on how to get one over on Stallone. As he explained, “So, I went in – this was during our war – I said to myself, I’m going to leak out that I have tremendous interest [in the movie]. I know the way it works in Hollywood.”
Accordingly, Schwarzenegger let it be known publicly that he was keen to star in the movie. But he had a cunning plan to ensure that Stallone would be the one that the film’s producers turned to. “I would then ask for a lot of money,” he revealed. “So, then they’d say, ‘Let’s go give it to Sly. Maybe we can get him for cheaper.’”
The Terminator star’s devious sleight of hand evidently worked the way that he had intended. Speaking before the gripped audience at Beyond Fest, he said, “So, they told Sly, ‘Schwarzenegger’s interested. Here’s the press clippings. He’s talked about that. If you want to grab that one away from him, that is available.’”
Stallone walked straight into Schwarzenegger’s carefully laid trap. “He went for it! He totally went for it,” Schwarzenegger explained. “A week later, I heard about it, ‘Sly is signing now to do this movie.’ And I said, ‘Yes!’” As if to emphasize the point, the star pumped his fist at this point.
The film itself was a total failure, deemed “thoroughly witless and thuddingly unfunny” by Rotten Tomatoes, on which it holds a shocking 8 percent critical rating. It fared little better with audiences, and worst still, it earned Sly the humiliating Worst Actor gong at the 1993 Razzie Awards. Stallone was left with a huge egg on his face. Schwarzenegger had outmaneuvered his rival.
Thankfully, though, Stallone’s career would recover from the unmitigated disaster of Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. Better still, his ugly war of attrition with Schwarzenegger would eventually cool off. It was not before time, really, for the two action superstars in Hollywood to draw a line under their beef.
The starting point of that reconciliation can perhaps be traced to the early 1990s, when the pair teamed up in the business world. The launch of restaurant chain Planet Hollywood – which also received patronage from Die Hard star Bruce Willis – made it necessary for the pair to be civil, as they were required to do many promotional photoshoots together. Many years later, though, the one-time enemies would finally team up on the big screen.
Towards the end of his second term as Governor of California – yep, that really did happen – the man nicknamed The Governator would begin filming for a new action movie. More to the point, this was a film written and directed by a certain Sly Stallone. It was to be called The Expendables.
Though not a hit with many critics, the film was a success at the box office and helped to reignite the careers of Schwarzenegger and Stallone. The Expendables was an exercise in nostalgia, a return to the era when Arnie and Sly ruled Hollywood with their big budget action movies. It also featured contemporaries like Die Hard’s Bruce Willis and Dolph Lundgren.
The Expendables has birthed two more sequels to date, and is clear proof that Schwarzenegger and Stallone have buried the hatchet. And as for Schwarzenegger specifically, we’ll just have to wait and see what he does next. Perhaps it’s time now for the 72-year-old to put his feet up? But with his work ethic and unrivaled ability to achieve his dreams, you wouldn’t bank on it.