Arnold Schwarzenegger never does anything small: muscles, movies, extramarital affairs. And with his steroidal forthcoming autobiography, Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story, heavily embargoed until its Oct. 1 release and his appearance on 60 Minutes planned for the prior night, he is shouting out not “I’ll be back,” but “I am back.”
Unfortunately, there are few of his old friends who agree with him. The fallout from his impending divorce from Maria Shriver, with the sordid revelations that he fathered a child with their longtime housekeeper, has dealt the former California governor a body blow no amount of hours in the gym can fix. “Arnold is up there by himself in his mansion all alone with his pictures and souvenirs of a career,” says one of his old friends. “He’s like Citizen Kane.”
A master at marketing and PR, however, Arnold is promoting the book with a publicity blitz as calibrated as any political campaign. A few weeks ago, the former governor agreed to meet me for lunch, on the condition that I not quote directly from anything he said until after the 60 Minutes episode airs.
Those who have read his book tell me that by calling his tome Total Recall, Arnold intends for the first and last time to tell the story of the paternity scandal that brought him down and made his name a symbol for sexual betrayal. He apparently believes that the world will let him tell his tale his own way and then allow him to go on with his “unbelievably true life story.”
But in returning to Hollywood as a senior citizen (the 65-year-old made a cameo appearance as a long-in-the-tooth action hero in this summer’s The Expendables 2), Schwarzenegger is trying to resurrect his career at an age when his contemporaries have long stopped hoping to land starring roles. He is also attempting his comeback without the help of Shriver, his wife of 26 years, who stood by him through numerous accusations of infidelity, until she could no longer ignore the obvious. Friends and Kennedy family I spoke to for this article told me that even after separating from her husband when he confessed to the affair with the housekeeper, Maria asked Arnold to go to therapy with her to try to work out their problems. He was willing to go once, but refused to return—despite the fact that it would cost him his marriage, members of her circle say.
Shriver is watching the building spectacle over Total Recall with apprehension and disbelief. The daughter of Sargent and Eunice Shriver, sister of JFK, Maria was brought up with a sense of public decorum. She doesn’t know why Schwarzenegger has to write this book now and talk about his affair with their housekeeper, offering up revelations that will only hurt their four children, her friends and family say. She doesn’t understand why Arnold would use literally anything, even the most painful details, to climb back into the public spotlight. As recently as a few weeks ago, he had given her no idea about the contents of the book.
But that may have been too much to expect from the man who, according to one family member I spoke to, angrily declared when Shriver asked for a divorce: “I have the money, the power, and the plane, and I will have the friends.”
I hadn’t seen Schwarzenegger since 2004, when I was researching a biography about him, Fantastic. As I greeted him at Caffé Roma in Beverly Hills, I saw a man who appears a diminutive, action-toy version of the movie and bodybuilding Arnold. He is devoid of his once-bulging muscles, and his face looks as if a master taxidermist has been at work. In the ’80s, you would often find Schwarzenegger at his special table in the back of the restaurant, schmoozing with his bodybuilding buddies, smoking a stogie and commenting authoritatively on the breasts and buttocks of women who walked by. Schwarzenegger is still a fixture at Caffé Roma, dropping in after having his hair tinted at a salon behind it. But times have changed. When the scandal broke, a woman shouted “pig” as he walked to his favorite table, says a longtime friend of his. Schwarzenegger has said that he did not hear the remark. But he has heard of the widespread public disgust, especially among women, at the betrayal of his wife in such a spectacularly sordid fashion.
For almost the entire length of his marriage to Shriver, one of the fixtures in their home had been the Guatemalan-born Mildred Baena. Guests to the house recall the divorced mother of four as a dour, chunky, uninviting woman, the sort of employee a wife might shrewdly hire if she were worried her husband had wandering hands.
Schwarzenegger slept with the middle-aged Baena for the same reason that George Mallory said he climbed Mount Everest—because she was there. With Arnold, sex has always been about his willful assertion on the world. It is about taking everything he wants to take, touching anything he feels like touching, and going wherever he wants to go. He does so with a boyish sense of humor, endlessly joshing as his hands move forward. It’s behavior that in anyone else would be seen as repulsive, but that in Arnold is passed off as part of the amusing game of his life. A woman is a spoilsport if she does not get the joke.
Schwarzenegger and the housekeeper carried on in the sprawling Pacific Palisades house where his wife and children slept. And when Baena gave birth to a son, Joseph—shortly after the arrival of the Schwarzeneggers’ fourth child, Christopher—Shriver celebrated the birth of her housekeeper’s baby without a clue that it was Arnold’s. As for Baena, she was newly divorced and newly in love. In her only interview after the scandal, she told the U.K. magazine Hello! that when she became pregnant, she thought the father was her ex-husband, with whom she’d had a bon-voyage liaison, but soon recognized the boy had Schwarzenegger-like features.
Arnold was already governor when he learned the truth about young Joseph. Fearing that if the story came out it would become the main issue of his governorship, he decided to do nothing except keep the housekeeper near enough to him that she wouldn’t even think of betraying the secret, according to one person close to the matter. He couldn’t tell his wife, because he wasn’t certain what she would do. This is the story Schwarzenegger is telling in some measure in his autobiography.
Maria’s confidants tell me that her relationship with Arnold steadily deteriorated during his seven years as governor, as he became consumed with the incredible rush of power and prestige that, according to one source, was almost like an addiction. Addiction to power was a problem Maria probably could have handled. But she had a growing awareness of something far more personally devastating.
For the first few years after Joseph’s birth, Baena didn’t bring the boy to the house that often. But it would have looked unusual if she didn’t bring him to the Christmas parties, to which all the staff was invited. Family members say it was at one of those parties that Maria first noticed the blond little boy looked like a strange offspring from his dark-complected mother.
Maria became suspicious. Her doubts were hardly assuaged by her husband’s friend Tom Arnold. The comedian would later tell Howard Stern that he often joked about how young Joseph looked like Schwarzenegger. “I’m like: ‘Dude! You should get a f--king DNA test on this kid! He looks just like you!” the comedian said he told Schwarzenegger. Every time Shriver talked to Schwarzenegger about it, he said it was not true, her family and friends say.
But there came a time in the months before Schwarzenegger left office that she could not help but see what stood so starkly before her. Those close to the couple sensed the tension. In July 2010, Maria gave a party to celebrate her husband’s 63rd birthday. There were about 60 guests, including Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, and Arnold’s bodybuilding buddies Sven-Ole Thorsen and Franco Columbu. One of the guests recalls that Arnold and Maria spent most of the time at opposite ends of the gathering, and he did not even say goodbye to many of his guests.
On Jan. 4, 2011, the day after Schwarzenegger left office, Maria confronted him, and he finally admitted that 13-year-old Joseph Baena was his son, according to people close to the star. He profusely apologized. To hear Schwarzenegger’s account, it was a civilized encounter, where manners trumped feelings. But those who have felt the sting of Maria’s anger suggest the decibel level of her wrath was a hundred-fold higher.
After the confrontation, Maria went to talk to Baena. In Baena’s interview with Hello!, she tells a tale that could have come out of a telenovela. As Maria asks the fateful question, the housekeeper falls on her knees before her mistress. Maria asks her to rise, and the two women hold each other as Baena philosophizes that “it wasn’t Arnie’s fault, that it takes two.”
As Arnold and Maria sorted through the wreckage, the next few months proved a study of two people of very different character. Family members and friends say Maria told them that despite Arnold’s betrayal, she loved her husband still and she believed in marriage. Maria was a Kennedy, and she was a Shriver, brought up never to bring shame to the family. Beyond that, she was a shrewd political woman. Like Hillary Clinton at the time of Monica Lewinsky, Maria was willing to consider standing by Arnold’s side. But she needed time and space to figure out what she could do. She needed quiet, too, and beyond anything she needed this matter to stay private.
Arnold is a very different kind of person. Anything that posed emotional pain or difficulty, he was out of there. He could not understand why Maria could not just forgive and get on with things, and when Maria said she needed a trial separation and told Arnold to move out, family and friends say that he refused. It was his house, and he wasn’t budging.
Maria could not stay with her estranged husband. The California-style mansion had the scent of the affair in every bed and sofa, and wherever Maria looked she saw pictures and memorabilia of her husband. And so she moved into a hotel, where her children came to visit her. She had lost her mother and father within a year, and now she had lost her marriage.
In early May 2011, the couple gave a joint statement to the Los Angeles Times announcing that after 25 years, they had separated. They thought the details of why they were contemplating a divorce were between them, but a week and a half later, the Times ran the story that the couple had “separated after she learned he had fathered a child more than a decade ago with a longtime member of their household staff.” Schwarzenegger has told his advisers that he blames Shriver’s four brothers for having leaked the story to shame their sister into leaving him for good. But the brothers adamantly deny having anything to do with the story. They say they did not try to talk their sister into divorcing Arnold, but only gave her support so that she could decide what to do. When Arnold refused to continue with therapy after the one session, Maria decided she had no choice but to ask for a divorce, people close to the couple say. “If he had character, he would have done what had to be done,” says a family member. “He would have gone to therapy and truly faced what he had done. He probably would have gotten Maria back if he had done that stuff. She truly loved him. She was looking for a basis to go back, but he was incapable of giving it to her.” Their divorce is still being finalized.
Ever the philosopher, Schwarzenegger told his next-door neighbor in Sun Valley, “I think things will work out OK with Maria, but if they don’t, I’m getting me a 20-year-old honey,” according to one of Arnold’s friends.
Schwarzenegger does not seem to realize all that he has lost. He no longer has the wife who brought him to a world beyond the furthest parameters of Hollywood. Everyone who knows Arnold well says that the purest feeling in his life is his love for his children, yet he does not have the affection of his children in the same way he did before. His son Patrick has started calling himself “Patrick Shriver” on his Twitter account. His two daughters, say family members and friends, fear that he wants to use them as part of his campaign to rehabilitate his image. He still tries to protect them, and when 60 Minutes wanted to interview them, according to those close to him, he said no. And yet, I am told by family members, the children remain suspicious of their father’s motives.
In earlier years, Schwarzenegger would have had pals with whom he could discuss his life, but he has turned away from several longtime friends and seems to have no one in whom he can truly confide. He has a movie star’s entourage, but they are not friends. One Saturday night a few weeks ago, Arnold was spotted bicycling by himself through the darkening streets of Santa Monica.
“Arnold’s always been alone,” says a longtime friend who no longer sees him. “It’s just that it’s more obvious, and maybe now even he recognizes something of his fate.”
Laurence Leamer is a bestselling author whose upcoming book, The Price of Justice, is a legal thriller about two Pittsburgh lawyers and their struggle against the biggest coal baron in America.