LOS ANGELES—The stories were flying around eight years ago, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was in the midst of his unlikely attempt to unseat Gray Davis, California’s Democratic governor: Schwarzenegger, married to Maria Shriver, had fathered a child with a woman who worked at the couple’s Brentwood estate.
Schwarzenegger’s advisers had heard it. So had top aides to Davis, whom Schwarzenegger would go on to unseat. But in the closing days of what was a circus of a campaign, the rumours got pushed aside as Schwarzenegger dealt with a barrage of seemingly more credible allegations that he had groped and molested women during his years as a movie star, charges that Shriver battled back forcefully, contributing in large part to his victory.
In fact, Schwarzenegger acknowledged Tuesday, he had fathered a child with a member of his household staff a few years before running for office, a secret that he said he hid from his wife and that aides said he kept from them. Through much of her pregnancy and for the eight years that Schwarzenegger served as one of the highest-profile U.S. governors, the woman continued to work in the couple’s home. Some of their friends, looking back, said they now believe the child was an occasional presence in the house in the gated community at the end of Mandeville Canyon Road.
That deception by Schwarzenegger ended Monday night when the governor, responding to an inquiry from The Los Angeles Times, released a statement acknowledging his child. Shriver — his wife of 25 years, a former television news correspondent and a member of the Kennedy family — issued her own statement Tuesday reflecting what her friends described as the devastating and utterly shocking collapse of a marriage that had captured national attention. Shriver had moved out of the house and into a Beverly Hills hotel earlier this year.
“As a mother, my concern is for the children,” she said. “I ask for compassion, respect and privacy as my children and I try to rebuild our lives and heal. I will have no further comment.”
The family scandal unfolded in real time on social networks. One of their sons, Patrick, 17, posted his distress on his Twitter account, although he presented his name as Patrick Shriver, rather than Patrick Schwarzenegger.
“Some days you feel” terrible, he wrote, borrowing lyrics from a Fort Minor song, including a profanity to convey that feeling. He added, “Some days you want to quit and just be normal for a bit, yet I love my family till death do us apart.”
His sister Katherine, who is 21, wrote: “This is definitely not easy but I appreciate your love and support as I begin to heal and move forward.”
The disclosure set off a clamour in a city that has always been intrigued by the celebrity wattage produced by this literal marriage of show business and politics. Reporters and camera crews crowded around the looming stone gates near the couple’s home, craning for a sight of the former governor. Schwarzenegger and Shriver found themselves back in the sights of two websites that have feasted on their marriage before: TMZ and Gawker.
“The Schwarzenegger love child scandal has arrived,” Gawker announced.
Associates of Schwarzenegger and Shriver, pointing to the request for privacy, offered only scant details. The child was said to be a boy, about 14 years old. Several friends said the mother was working around the house, pregnant, at the same time that Shriver was pregnant with the youngest of the couple’s four children, Christopher, who is 13. The woman and the child did not live in the house.
By every account, Schwarzenegger made no mention of the situation to Shriver or to the team of political consultants he brought in during the 2003 recall election against Davis, and in the re-election campaign in 2006.
Friends of both Schwarzenegger and Shriver expressed astonishment not only at his actions but also that he eluded detection by the public and his family over the course of his very public life. Schwarzenegger told his wife about the affair only late last year, when his public service career had come to end, and shortly after the mother of his son left the job with severance after working for the family for 20 years.
“After leaving the governor’s office I told my wife about this event, which occurred over a decade ago,” he said in a statement. “I understand and deserve the feelings of anger and disappointment among my friends and family. There are no excuses, and I take full responsibility for the hurt I have caused. I have apologized to Maria, my children and my family. I am truly sorry.”
Democrats who worked for Davis during the recall election said they were not surprised at the revelation, noting that rumours about Schwarzenegger’s infidelity were a constant backdrop of the campaign.
“In 2001 when he first came forward and indicated that he might run for governor there were rumours coming to us constantly about affairs and children,” said Garry South, a Democratic consultant in Los Angeles.
That year, Schwarzenegger threatened to sue South, who worked for Davis at the time and sent reporters copies of Premiere magazine detailing Schwarzenegger’s issues with women.
“There were always (stories) about kids,” he said, “how there was a son out there, some kid he had been supporting.”
Peter Ragone, who was a senior adviser to Davis at the time, said: “There were all sorts of rumours flying around like this. Voters knew what they needed to know on this topic with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and honestly they just didn’t care.”
None of Schwarzenegger’s political advisers agreed to speak on the record about the episode; nor did Shriver’s friends or family members. Shriver has always benefited from careful image management and keeping a close cadre of friends and confidants who circle the wagons in times of trouble. One of the last public events that Shriver and Schwarzenegger attended together was the funeral of her father, R. Sargent Shriver, who died in January. Some who attended said that the two were polite to each other but in no way warm; Shriver gave a heart-rending and pointed eulogy, as her husband looked on, praising her father for teaching her brothers how to properly treat women.