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The relationship Arnold Schwarzenegger began with Cannes in 1977 with Pumping Iron was made in promotional heaven. It was as if the festival was waiting for someone like the 29-year-old Austrian, who bought a new beige linen suit for the occasion, to take advantage of a hype machine 30 years in the making. This was not someone who was shy about over-the-top press events. Through the decades, Schwarzenegger would return with much bigger, well-financed occasions for splash, with everything from 1993’s Last Action Hero (which wasn’t in the fest, or even finished, but dominated the landscape with a 40-foot inflatable balloon of the star) to 2014’s The Expendables 3 (he and the cast rolled into town on two tanks).
But that first year, the bodybuilder was just a shirtless guy with big muscles doing pec jiggles on the beach for a dozen dancers from the Crazy Horse nightclub to promote George Butler’s $190,000 documentary about weightlifters. “There must have been 50,000 people there watching,” recalls Butler, who estimates the film has grossed $50 million worldwide. “Arnold suddenly became the subject of every conversation at the festival.” (It capped a wave of Arnie-mania that included a Jackie O-hosted lunch in Manhattan and a portrait by Jamie Wyeth.) Schwarzenegger also did interviews with French TV while kissing an unnamed blond woman in a gold lamé bikini who accompanied him around town.
The Austrian bodybuilder had won a Golden Globe the previous year for best acting debut in a motion picture for his portrayal of Joe Santo in the bodybuilding drama Stay Hungry, and the success of Iron furthered his fame. THR, which in its Pumping Iron review noted Schwarzenegger’s “engaging charm and an open smile,” had a milestone of its own that year in Cannes. This outlet decided to increase its coverage, sending more staff, prompting fest director Maurice Bessy to gush, “The presence of The Hollywood Reporter in Cannes brings the full perfume of the American Cinema to the Croisette.”
This story first appeared in the May 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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