Thursday, May 16, 2013

Twilight of the Idol: Arnold Schwarzenegger

Waiting for Arnold Schwarzenegger when he returned to his hotel in London after winning Mr. Universe--his second Mr. Universe--was a telegram from Joe Weider, the muscle-culture magnate whose products--equipment, magazines, supplements, videos--had instructed and inspired countless bodybuilders for decades. The telegram read: "Congratulations on your victory. You are the new young sensation. You are going to become the greatest bodybuilder of all time." This was by way of inviting Schwarzenegger to make his maiden voyage to America.
Schwarzenegger had been among the beneficiaries of Weider's products and their promise. A long and fervent disciple of those magazines and their advertisements, he would retrospectively come to think of Weider as "sort of the Hugh Hefner of the muscle world: he owned the magazines, had his picture and column in every issue, and included his wife, Betty, a gorgeous model, in almost every beach shot." He would tear out and hang on his wall pictures of the great bodybuilders, most particularly his idols Reg Park and Steve Reeves (the latter of whom had also starred as Hercules). The magazines gave shape and color to his ambitions, rendered them actual, and, in doing so, perpetuated those ambitions and facilitated their enlargement.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Silk Thread: The Strange Mystery of Jim Thompson

In the study of the Jim Thompson House & Museum in Bangkok, just above Thompson’s old desk, are two separate horoscopes, foretold and framed, hanging on the wall. One of them predicts good luck in 1959, the year Thompson chose to move into this house, retired from the U.S. Army and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), having already relocated to Bangkok and gotten rich revitalizing the Thai silk industry. The other horoscope included in the frame predicts bad luck at the age of 61 for he who was born in the Year of the Horse. Thompson had been born in the Year of the Horse, and in 1967, at the age of 61, he went for a walk in the woods of Malaysia just south of here and never came back. Not even his remains have ever been found.

Thompson’s house is now a museum, although during his lifetime this city would never have accommodated such a thing. He perfected a popular silk that was better than other silks—a silk cut from lengthier cloths and colored by stronger and faster-acting and better-varied dyes. When it was chosen for all the silks used in the movie version of The King and I (1956), it became more popular still. At the time, Thailand had given up on its own silk industry, importing a cheaper fabric from other countries. The localized empire Thompson established would improve the lives of Bangkok’s citizenry, handsomely employing them in a business benevolently run. Still, his enemies were legion, and they extended all the way up into society’s highest strata. The mystery of just why and how Thompson disappeared, and by the agency of whom, is one that persists still and probably always will.