October 03, 2003 10:48 AM

Beleaguered Republican California gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger, on the same day he publicly apologized for his past “rowdy” behavior toward women on movie sets, faced a new charge Thursday: that he had once declared his admiration for Adolf Hitler.

In a transcript from a book proposal obtained by The New York Times, ABC News and other news outlets, Schwarzenegger, 56, is quoted as saying in a 1975 interview that he gave film producer George Butler: “I admired Hitler, for instance, because he came from being a little man with almost no formal education, up to power.”

Schwarzenegger then added: “I admire him for being such a good public speaker and what he did with it.”

Butler produced the 1977 documentary “Pumping Iron,” which introduced Schwarzenegger to American audiences.

While attending a fund-raiser in Century City on Thursday night, the Austrian-born Schwarzenegger, whose father reportedly belonged to the Nazi party, told members of the press he did not recall making those comments.

“I always disliked everything that regime stood for,” he said, according to published reports. “I think that Hitler was a disgusting villain, dictator. He’s caused so much harm in the world and we have to make sure it never happens again.”

He also cited his longtime support for the Simon Wiesenthal Center and said he had “raised millions of dollars to fight prejudice.”

In an interview with the New York Times, Schwarzenegger said, “Let me tell you something: It’s one of those things that if you come from that background, you get accused a lot of times of being that, of being a Nazi. So you know, I despise anything that Hitler stands for, anything he has done, hated the Nazism, hated what was done during the Second World War.”

Earlier Thursday, Schwarzenegger issued an apology while campaigning at a rally in San Diego, after the Los Angeles Times reported on six women who claimed to have received unwanted sexual advances from him over the past 30 years. (See story.)

“Yes, I have behaved badly sometimes, yes, it is true that I was on rowdy movie sets,” said Schwarzenegger, “and I have done things I thought were playful that now I recognize that I have offended people.

“I want to say to them that I am deeply sorry about that, and I apologize because that is not what I was trying to do,” he added. “When I am governor I will prove to women that I will be a champion for women. I hope you will give me the chance to prove this.”

Both the Los Angeles Times, in reporting on the sexual accusations, and the New York Times, in covering the alleged Hitler remarks, said political opponents of Schwarzenegger had not provided the information for their stories. Despite these claims, Schwarzenegger labeled both charges “politically motivated.”

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