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Schwarzenegger’s Friends Swoop In to Defend His Honor

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the movies, action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger never needs rescuing. But at the surreal intersection of Hollywood, the media and California politics, where a star’s popularity at the box office has been known to translate into success at the ballot box, it’s another story.

The muscular actor, who has recently been putting out tiny feelers about his prospects as a future Republican candidate for governor, has been mugged, his Hollywood friends say, by an article in the March issue of Premiere. The movie magazine, which hit newsstands a week ago, features an article titled “Arnold the Barbarian: Sex, Pecs and the Videotape.” It claims the 53-year-old Schwarzenegger has pig valves in his heart and accuses him of swinish behavior toward women.

Faster than you can say, “I’ll be back,” some big Hollywood names have rallied behind Schwarzenegger. Leading the charge are four of his well-known female co-stars. Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis’ top political strategist has faxed copies of the Premiere article and two related tabloid stories to political news desks around California.

In letters of protest dashed off to Premiere and released to other media, Jamie Lee Curtis, Linda Hamilton, Kelly Preston and Rita Wilson have disputed the story. Curtis called it “a politically motivated hatchet job.” Hamilton said it was false, “infuriating” and “outrageous.” Preston said she was “taken aback,” and Wilson said it was a “smear campaign.”

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Curtis, Hamilton and Wilson elaborated on their letters in telephone interviews.

“RE: AH-nuhld’s Piggish Behavior (Maybe It’s the Pig Valve?),” suggests a fax cover sheet by Garry South, of the Governor Gray Davis Committee. “If you haven’t already read it, here’s the Premiere expose on might-be gubernatorial wannabe AH-nuhld Schwarzenegger. . . . This piece lays out a real ‘touching’ story--if you get what I mean.”

Premiere is standing by its story, which Editor in Chief Michael Solomon said was “well-researched and vetted by our lawyers.” He suggested that the flurry of letter-writing was orchestrated by the actor’s powerful publicity machine. “It seems to clear to me that this comes from Arnold’s camp,” Solomon said, promising to print some of the letters in the magazine’s May issue. “I think it’s pretty clear that he’s encouraging his friends and supporters to write letters.”

“Nobody was put up to anything,” Wilson retorted. Schwarzenegger’s publicist, Jill Eisenstadt, also denied that there was any organized effort at spin control.

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Schwarzenegger and his wife, NBC’s Maria Shriver, are not commenting. But others, including “Terminator” director James Cameron, “Eraser” producer Arnold Kopelson and the actor’s heart surgeon and lawyer have also written letters to Premiere.

Dr. Vaughn A. Stames, chairman of Cardiothoracic Surgery at USC’s Keck Medical School, vouched for Schwarzenegger’s good health and disputed the story’s assertion that pig valves, which are less durable than human valves, were stitched into the actor’s heart in 1997. “His valve was replaced by two human valves and not four pig valves as stated in the article,” Stames wrote. He added that Schwarzenegger’s surgery was the result of a congenital condition, not steroid use.

Bulldog Hollywood litigator Martin D. Singer wouldn’t say whether he’s planning legal action. But he said he has hired investigators to look into John Connolly, who wrote the Premiere article, and his sources. And Singer has warned South to stop disseminating what he called “false and defamatory” material.

Schwarzenegger’s supporters dispute several incidents cited in the story and attributed to anonymous sources. They include allegations that Schwarzenegger was caught in a compromising position in his trailer during filming of “Eraser” and that, during filming of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” he groped co-star Hamilton in a limousine in front of director Cameron, whom she was dating and later married and divorced. In addition, the story says, the actor behaved inappropriately toward host Denise Van Outen during a December taping of the British chat show “The Big Breakfast.” Van Outen is famous for interviewing her guests in bed. “As always, you were a fantastic guest,” wrote Van Outen’s producer in a letter to Schwarzenegger.

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The four co-stars and others vouched for Schwarzenegger’s character on and off the set, describing him as a devoted husband and father and as a tireless champion of the Special Olympics and his own charitable foundation, which organizes the Inner-City Games for underprivileged children.

“I’m so upset. I think he’s a terrific guy, and I’m sorry he’s being slammed,” said Curtis, who worked with Schwarzenegger in “True Lies.” She added, “Does he have a ribald sense of humor? Yes. Is there a sense of playfulness to him? Yes. Do I love that side of him? Yes.”

That’s why Premiere has made her mad enough to scream, Curtis said last Friday. “I just find it really disgraceful that they would do a hatchet job on somebody who has just given so much to so many people.” A day earlier, Curtis, a Democrat, had presented the former Mr. Universe with an award at an industry awards dinner, laughingly introducing him as “the next governor from the state of California.”

“I’ve never seen Arnold do anything even remotely inappropriate,” said Hamilton, Schwarzenegger’s co-star in the “Terminator” films. “I have left Arnold and Maria’s house jealous of his incredible devotion to his children and his wife.”

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“I have known Arnold since I worked with him on ‘Twins’ and have never known him to be anything but kind, respectful and a true gentleman,” Preston wrote.

“What was the point of that article?” asked Wilson, who worked with Schwarzenegger in “Jingle All the Way.” She added, “What was I supposed to learn from that?”

Hamilton and Cameron said that the limousine groping tale is untrue.

“The alleged ‘disgusting’ incident you describe is made all the more disgusting by its never having happened,” Hamilton wrote. “Let me be perfectly clear. In my near 20 years of friendship with Arnold Schwarzenegger, I have never witnessed any hint of the behavior you so carelessly ascribe to him.”

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“Have you guys lost it over there? This stuff is pure fiction,” Cameron wrote. “The occurrence you describe did not happen, in a limo or anywhere else . . . and though I object in principle to your printing of pure fabrication like some cheesy tabloid, I particularly object to the unfair and absurdly off-the-mark picture it paints of Arnold, who is as good a man and human being as I have known.”

In Sacramento, the ripples from the Premiere piece are also being felt. South, Davis’ political advisor, said he distributed the stories to political reporters and editors because “that’s what I do. . . . I don’t understand your question. Arnie Schwarzenegger has raised his head . . . and we’re responding to it.”

Asked if he feared running Davis against a Hollywood hero, South said: “I am not afraid of anybody.”

Not everyone sees it that way. “If they aren’t running scared, it certainly comes across that way,” said political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe. “That is the perception, and in politics the perception is the reality.”

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