One of Super Bowl ad campaigns set to air Feb. 2 will feature the former governor of a state that is home to nearly 40 million people and boasts the ninth-largest economy in the world, as he does his best Bjorn Borg impression with a blond wig, a headband, khaki short-shorts, an athletic jacket, and a pingpong paddle.
Two teasers that debuted on national television and YouTube earlier this month revealed that former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would be appearing in Bud Light's "The Perfect Beer for Whatever Happens" Super Bowl campaign.
"Surprise!" he says in one of the 16-second ads. Even as the body builder-turned-action-star-turned-politician has already started reviving his movie career with appearances in "The Expendables" franchise and the upcoming "Terminator" reboot, the spots were a surprise indeed.
"Most of the time if they've been an actor and they go into politics, that's where they stay," says Alan Schroeder, a professor at Northeastern University's School of Journalism and author of "Celebrity-in-Chief: How Show Business Took Over the White House."
"The idea of going acting-to-politics-to-acting is sort of unchartered water here and a lot of that has to do with the image of dignity you would want to leave."
Just as he not the first entertainer to use his fame to get into politics – actor Ronald Reagan, also once a California governor, made it all the way to the White House – Schwarzenegger is also not the first to return to the entertainment industry after leaving office. Yet most of his predecessors on this front never went back to the sort of acting they were doing before holding office.
George Murphy, the singer-actor credited for blazing the trail into politics for Reagan and others, left his (honorary) Oscar-winning movie career behind once he began a political career that culminated with a term in the U.S. Senate. But his break from Hollywood wasn't entirely clean, as revelations that he was still on the payroll of a movie-processing company while in the Senate helped doom his 1970 re-election campaign.
Reagan never acted again after he announced his campaign for governor in 1965 for a political career that would continue until he left the presidency at age 79.
Sonny Bono, of Sonny and Cher fame, appeared in bit roles during and after his stints as Palm Springs, Calif., mayor and U.S. congressman (the latter of which was cut short by his death), as did the four-term Rep. Fred Grandy, made famous by "The Love Boat." Grandy also sought a career in commentating, hosting radio show and TV show, and now has a post at the Center for Security Policy. Single-term Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, a former World Wrestling Entertainment star, also took the punditry route, briefly hosting a show on MSNBC and since appearing on others.
Clint Eastwood returned to the movie industry seamlessly after his stint in politics – that is, until the 2012 Republican National Convention – and became one of film's best-regarded actor/director/producers. But his involvement in a politics – a two-year mayorship of the affluent California town Carmel-by-the-Sea – was of a far lesser scale than Schwarzenegger's governorship.
Fred Thompson has perhaps melded careers in Washington and Hollywood most effortlessly. An established lawyer and congressional counsel before trying his hand at acting, he returned to Washington in 1994 to serve in the Senate and eventually ran for president in the 2008 race before resuming his acting career. Thompson has gravitated toward roles that exude the same aura of authority he had as a politician, from playing a district attorney on "Law and Order" to playing a fictional version of himself on "The Good Wife." Even as a spokesperson for American Advisors Group, "it seems like they're tapping into his image as being trustworthy," says Schroeder, author of "Celebrity-in-Chief: How Show Business Took Over the White House."
With their endorsement deals and acting roles, Thompson and other entertainers-turned-politicians tended to stick to gigs that played on their in-office personas. Schwarzenegger – in the Bud Light campaign, which the New York Post reported landed him $3 million pay check, as well as his upcoming film roles – looks like he is reverting to his pre-governership caricature. (Anheuser-Busch has not said much more about the ads, other than a statement from Bud Light marketing VP Rob McCarthy promising an "unforgettable adventure" featuring Schwarzenegger and four other star cameos.)
"The question is does he become Leslie Nielsen and simply spoof his entire earlier career," says "The Leading Man: Hollywood and the Presidential Image" author Burton W. Peretti, of Schwarzenegger's decision to reprise the goofier elements of his entertainment career. "In doing that, we have to wonder, would he run the risk of weakening himself as a serious public figure?"
While rumors swirled last fall that Schwarzenegger was looking into overcoming the legal obstacles to the White House (he was not born in the U.S.), he has not made any official overtures that he would like to return to politics. Months after his governorship ended, it was revealed that Schwarzenegger had fathered a son with his maid, and he and wife Maria Shriver are currently seeking divorce.
Yet he is still a champion of some of the causes he sought to promote while in office, including after-school and athletic programs for children, and his nonprofit devoted to addressing climate change.
It is not surprising that entertainers often seek political office, as the two career paths capitalize on very similar set of skills, Peretti says. Yet that's not to say that jumping from one to the other is not without its challenges, he notes.
Schwarzenegger's return to the screen in a wig and short-shorts seems to undo the work that he did to get voters to take him and other actors seriously in the first place.
"If voters feel that, 'here's an actor who wants to do something more and get taken seriously,' you can make that leap but then to go back to being an actor sort of undermines that transition, not only for the individual involved, but for other entertainers who want to go into politics," Schroeder says.
However, it could also be a sign of the distance the country has come since former senator Bob Dole, not long after his failed presidential bid, raised eyebrows when he became spokesmen for Viagra, Dunkin Donuts and Pepsi (the Pepsi campaign got Dole a Super Bowl spot.)
"It's something we'll see more of as the revolving door of entertainment and politics becomes a more common feature of our culture." Peretti says. "It used to be politicians becoming lobbyists and then going to back into office and then becoming lobbyists again; now they seem to becoming actors and being elected and then being actors again."