Before Arnold there were Conan comics...
In 1971 I was sitting at the Pioneer Inn in Lahaina, Maui. It was morning, and I was waiting for some friends to pull into harbor to sail on their
catamaran. It was a violent time on the island because some Hawaiians
hated haoles (new arrivals), especially if you had long hair.
Sitting at another table was a long-haired tourist who had struck up
a conversation with me after I warned him under my breath not to
agitate the two hulking Hawaiians that were looking at him sternly.
He mentioned that I reminded him of a comic book character named
I never heard the name. He said that he was leaving the island,
but when he came back he would drop off some Conan comic books.
I never saw him again, but a stack of Conan comics were in front of
my Lahaina apartment door a few months later.
At last I saw a long-haired
hero who protected women
and who was the best example
of what defined a man for me.
At the age of 22, I had yet to
see an example of a body in
action the way the comics
I looked at the
drawings and realized that
someday a Hollywood Conan
would appear and I would
have to know him and be his
I read the Conan comics and books over and over because I was
living in the jungles of Maui, facing the possibilities of violence and
I needed a "guide." I remember one day while I was alone in the plush
jungle praying fervently to Jesus to teach me to survive as a surfer.
I drove my van to another beach with a luau with about a hundred
Hawaiians having fun. As a long-haired surfer, I definitely wasn't
going near them.
At another part of the beach was a spiritual Sunday feast, set up by
the Krishna devotees on Maui. I went body surfing, and as I walked
out of the water a sexy nose-ringed Krishna lady came up to me with
a huge plate of food. Free food for a surfer, offered to me by a
princess-looking lady seemed very Conanesque! So, I got into
a conversation with her.
I asked why I would have such an affinity for the Conan name
and character. She said that Conan could be my Soul Name.
I had never heard of a Soul Name before and I wasn't the Hollywood
"Conan", so when I joined their spiritual society as a Krishna devotee
they called me Bhakti-Conan. "Bhakti" is Sanskrit and can be translated
as "science of." So I was called "The Science Of Conan."
Krishna living 5000 years ago was a long-haired warrior who loved
women. Krishna's battles reminded me of "Conan," so I joined the
Krishna society to escape from the boring normal world and to be
with that close approximation to women who dressed similarly to
the Conan time-period.
I would live at the temples in Maui, Los Angeles and Laguna Beach,
California. I read my Conan books and comics and practiced my surfing
and swordfighting. I never cut my hair nor wore their temple outfits
in public. The attire for devotees were too frilly, and I was a barbarian
in training. I wore my surf wear.
I moved to Aspen, Colorado in 1975 to live in the Rocky Mountains,
because Conan was a hillman, and my experience on steep inclines
was lacking except for the wave faces I would surf. I dropped my
given first name of "Jack" and introduced myself as Conan. My
passport and license since 1975 has my name as Jack Conan Michael
Angelo. "Jack" is a past life to me. I'm not called by that name, because
most people don't know it, and the name represents the naive part
of me who hadn't ever seen vicious violence before. I never had a
real fight. Nobody has ever challenged me, even when I'd be surrounded
by Hawaiians in Maui or Mexicans in L.A. But I needed the Conan
comic book input to figure out what to do in case something did
Seven months prior to discovering Aspen, I studied bellydancing,
because I could dance with a sword and be with women who looked
and dressed like characters from the comics. I felt like the comic book
character who had infiltrated into a "Secret Temple Of Love."
My first job in Aspen in 1975 had me walking to work with my sword
to join a bellydancing band and a beautiful female dancer, to entertain
the international ski crowd that would eat at the Sayat Nova, an
Armenian restaurant at the Hotel Jerome. I would make money undulating
before the females in the audience, and I became infamous in Aspen.
In 1976 an actor friend passing through Aspen relayed that a man
named Arnold Schwarzenegger was hired to play "Conan". My
girlfriend at the time worked at the library and brought home the book Arnold, Education Of A Bodybuilder. About a half-year later Arnold
came to town. I found out and knocked on the door of the hotel room
where he was staying. He opened the door, and I saw how healthy
and glowing his facial skin was.
I said, "My name is Conan, and I'm the only person who has checked
out your book from the Aspen library."
He shook my hand and
introduced me to his girlfriend,
Susan Moray, who brought him to
Aspen. (Six years later, Susan
and I would meet again, and
she would help me get established
as a massage therapist right next
door to World Gym in Santa Monica.
At the time, Arnold was beginning
work on THE TERMINATOR. Arnold
asked the owner of World Gym,
Joe Gold, to give me free membership.)
So I finally met the Hollywood
Conan for five minutes! That year, I
planned a trip to leave Aspen with
my girlfriend, Angela Burton,
to find him.
The odyssey of getting to California required that I work two months
in Las Vegas as a bellydancer, and also as the skatepark manager
of the largest skateboard park in the U.S. at the time. I got to
California, and it took a few months to secure work and a place
Finally, I was ready to find Arnold. I lived twenty miles from Venice
and I walked the beach with a skateboard prototype as a gift. I walked
into World Gym and I asked if Arnold was around. The manager said,
"Arnold! He just left for Europe!"
I was flabbergasted! The months of working to get here, the long
walks in the hot sun, the feeling that this guy is so popular, what
would he care anyway; and now he was not even in the country!
I wrote a long note to Arnold and left my skateboard with the manager.
I never got a response. While I was in California, a friend called from
Aspen and said that he would like me to help him get Arnold to Aspen
for a bodybuilding seminar. In 1977 my friend arranged the seminar at an
Aspen theater. Arnold charged $1,000.00 for an hour seminar. To promote
the event, I alone walked the town of Aspen, saying, "Arnold is coming
to town!" and handing out memeographed sheets saying that we were
charging $20.00 for close rows and $10.00 for back rows. People would
respond, "Arnold who?" Barely anybody in Aspen knew Arnold at the
time. We didn't even make the $1,000.00 back at the door.
But my friendship with Arnold began!
Arnold arrived in Aspen for the seminar and was waiting at the base
of Highlands, one of Aspen's four ski mountains. He and I went to
the Aspen Athletic Club (where I was in charge of the massage
department) to pick up weights and benches to bring to the theater.
When Arnold was onstage he asked me to come up to help demonstrate,
but I yelled back from the audience that I wanted to see him in action.
I observed how he looked like a giant boy playing with his toys. I vowed
to myself to get to know my weights like that.
After the seminar, Arnold and I got in a taxi and went to dinner. Sitting
in the taxi, I couldn't help but notice how monstrous his thighs were. This
world-class ski town has it's share of huge athletic thighs, but Arnold's
legs seemed bigger. I definitely realized that a heavy squat program was
better than just living in the mountains to develop size!
At dinner, I ordered exactly what he ordered (which was my practice
over the next seven years when we would dine together; he would always
eat "lean," even at 215 pounds). He caught me staring at his arm during
dinner and he asked, "What are you doing?" I said that I didn't ever see
arms that hang as relaxed as his. It's obvious that he did his homework
for his body.
Each year afterwards, up to 1980, Arnold would call me up when he
got into town, so we could ski together, have dinner, and go out on
the town. (I have watched Arnold over the years begin skiing like a
bent-over gorilla who would fall and crash into two skiiers on his way
to becoming an accomplished skier.)
One memorable time, Arnold and I went to one of the local hotspots,
which was loud and full of music and dancing. A line of my friends
gathered around me so that I could introduce Arnold. Through the
noise and the groupies, Arnold would lean over and give me pointers
on sword strokes to practice for the upcoming movie, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, slated for 1980-81 filming.
I had no guarantee of being in the film, even though I knew Arnold.
I still had to connect with the preproduction producer, Ed Pressman.
I sent a letter introducing myself and saying that I was a massage
therapist. I offered Ed Pressman a free round-trip ticket to Aspen for
a weekend to experience my abilities as a massage therapist to see
if this skill would be appropriate for a barbarian epic. The production
sent me back a letter saying that they were impressed by my offer,
but they were taking only seven Americans.
As a massage therapist, I'm one of the best. In fact, I got so well
known in Aspen that actor George Hamilton heard about me and became
a good client. After my year-long efforts to be part of the movie fizzled,
I asked George, "How can I break into a film?"
"What film," he responded.
"CONAN THE BARBARIAN," I said.
"Oh, my close friend John Milius wrote the script and is directing,"
he said, "I gave him his first $5,000.00 to write EVEL KNIEVEL for me, and
and now he doesn't even return my calls when I offer him $500,000.00.
I'll give him a call."
On the phone to Milius, George said he had a gentleman with him whom
he recommended to be part of the film. George handed me the phone to
speak to Milius. John said he didn't know if it would be possible, since
only seven Americans like James Earl Jones and the top stunt men in
Hollywood would go.
When I hung up, George counseled me. He said that he would talk to
John further. George handed me a favorite book of Milius about Samurai
life. George also promised to get a script in my hands.
Two months later I saw George again.
"I couldn't get you plane fare," he said, "but if you show up in Madrid,
Spain, they'll at least take a look at you."
George went on to explain that once I got on the production site, a
stuntman might get hurt and they'd use me. (That's exactly what
happened; about a month into production I was asked to fall down
the well, to replace the shot the stuntman couldn't complete.) To try
to get hired, I borrowed $1,500.00 for round-trip airfare and three days
worth of food and lodging.
I arrived in Madrid from Aspen and got to the large hotel that housed
the cast and crew. There were no rooms to rent. The "orgy scene" in
the movie was being completed that day, so I spent the morning
introducing myself to Buzz Feitshans, co-producer with Raffaella
De Laurentis. He asked me for a sample massage. He didn't give me
any indication of being hired, so I went to the lobby to wait for
Arnold to return from filming that afternoon.
As I sat in the lobby waiting, Arnold walked in and the first thing he did
when he saw me was glance at his watch and say, "We workout in an
I had no official word from the production office, but I was already
going to workout with Arnold. In a little room were weights and Arnold
and Sandahl Bergman and me. Sandahl asked Arnold who I was and he
said, "He's from Aspen, and he's a massage therapist." She came right
over to me and said she needed help, because her back was so sore from
climbing the tower. I had her lay on a weight bench and fixed her back.
After the workout, Arnold and I went up to his room before we went to
dinner. In his room, I went right to the aluminum broadsword. It was a
great practice weapon. Arnold talked about women in the cast, and said,
"Grab a Coke from the 'fridge, unless it's against your religion."
For the next two days I heard nothing from the production. They were so
busy and I seemed so insignificant that my stay was getting scary. I was
running out of money. I was sitting in the hotel restaurant when I heard
three ladies speaking English at the table next to me. Because all I heard
was Spanish, to hear anyone speak English surprised me. In my desperate
situation, I stood up and introduced myself. I said I was a massage therapist;
could they use me? I was trying to earn money to stay longer.
They looked at me and one said, "Are you the Conan that Sandahl is
raving about? You've been the talk of the set for the last two days! I'm
John Milius' wife. He needs a massage badly. Could you work on him
I had no idea that Sandahl had said to the producer to hire me. The other
ladies were the set designer's wife, Robin, and Gerry Lopez's girlfriend.
That was the turning point for me. Had I not hustled myself, I would have left for the U.S.
I went up to John's apartment and gave him a massage. He said that
because of the long hours and cold conditions for the past month, he
was beat up and sick. He said I couldn't have arrived at a better time.
The next day, a taxi with the three ladies picked me up and drove us all
to a military base. I was escorted past the airplane hangar, where the
interior of the barbarian king's castle and the tower sets were built. It was
lunchtime, and I sat next to Milius and Arnold. I was treated lavishly
with steak and wine, while Arnold talked about how he wanted to write
a book on conquering, and how his first million was the hardest to make.
MORE TO COME...