Arnold Schwarzenegger knew there would be a steep price for the public revelation that he fathered a child with the family’s maid. However, he was not prepared to be a pariah indefinitely.
Earlier this summer, in a bold (and expensive) bid to remedy his persona non grata status, Schwarzenegger may well have bought himself a think tank and a professorship at the University of Southern California. The price: $20 million plus. A dean at the university, who requested anonymity, explained, “For $20 million you get naming rights—and he got them.”
To further shore up his case for rehabilitation, Schwarzenegger has penned Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story. Published by Simon & Schuster, Schwarzenegger’s book is accompanied by a massive media blitz kicked off with a 60 Minutes interview in which he takes CBS correspondent Leslie Stahl to his native Austria.
Schwarzenegger’s book offers a remarkable—and according to several former staffers and friends, fictitious—timeline and spin of his affair with Mildred Baena, the housekeeper with whom he fathered a son. (That would be at the same time and in the same house where his wife Maria Shriver was pregnant with son Christopher.)
Schwarzenegger’s account, according to several carefully calibrated leaks, has him conveniently not learning about his paternity of Baena’s child until after he is elected governor—and Shriver, also conveniently, learning about the child in a joint therapy session just one day after he stepped down as governor. “After leaving the governor’s office I told my wife about this event, which occurred over a decade ago,” Schwarzenegger said in a prepared statement in May 2011, after the paternity of Joseph Baena was revealed.
“That’s a good one,” said Ann Beck, the soft-spoken mother of David Beck, who was Arnold’s right-hand staffer from 1986 until his death in 2004. Ann Beck recalls her son being awoken by Arnold and summoned “in the middle of the night to drive Mildred home.” She adds, incredulously, “She was the maid, but David would have to drive her home in the middle of the night?!” In fact, young David Beck—who nicknamed himself “Dave the Slave” because he was always at Arnold’s beck and call—was Schwarzenegger’s point man for dealing with Baena and other thorny romantic liaisons, said a former staffer and his mother, Ann, a veteran Realtor with RE/MAX Execs on L.A.’s west side. “I’m sure David knew about Joseph from the beginning,” says Beck, when asked.
Schwarzenegger evidently believes that depicting himself as ignorant about Joseph Baena until he was in the governor’s mansion looks better than the alternative. Likewise, the timeline he puts forth makes Shriver appear a tad less victimized if she learned the secret after his term expired in January, 2011. After all, concealing the truth of his extramarital paternity while serving in the governor’s office would likely have renewed calls for an investigation into previous alleged misconduct. (On the campaign trail in 2003, Schwarzenegger had promised an investigation in response to some 16 other allegations of sexual misconduct with women published in the Los Angeles Times. However, he never followed through on the investigation, despite being dogged by reporters and California’s Attorney General Bill Lockyer.)
But friends and former employees of the couple say Schwarzenegger’s version of events is pure confection. One former staffer, who worked at both their home and offices, said, “It was my impression going back to 2000 that it was common knowledge among the household staff that Joseph Baena was Mildred’s son with Arnold.” Said one former housekeeper, in Spanish: “No, it was not a surprise to me. But I don’t want to say anything more."
Baena continued to work at the house until January 2011. During much of her tenure, Baena enjoyed unusual privileges, access and clout for a maid, said two insiders, and was able to secure employment for both her mother and sister at the house. Among Schwarzenegger’s staff, Baena was known as a problem for them and her boss. “Mildred was always causing trouble and threatening to quit,” said a former senior staffer. “She was real headache for him and for us. But I think Mildred was in love with Arnold.”
In mid 2010, Baena bought a four-bedroom house with a pool in Bakersfield, assessed at close to a quarter of a million dollars.
Baena herself, in her only press interview on the subject, told the British magazine Hello! that she believes Shriver had finally figured it out by the summer of 2010, during one of Baena’s son’s numerous visits to Schwarzenegger’s Mandeville Canyon estate.
Baena said she and Shriver shared a deep, emotional bond. “Finally, she asked point blank,” recounted Baena. And when Baena spilled the beans about her affair with Arnold, she claims that that the two shouldered their anguish together and Shriver asked her to stay on through December.
Shriver herself told several close friends that she had known about Baena’s son while serving as first lady, according to one friend. “She said she learned about it six months before she moved out of the house in January ,” said the friend, who has known Shriver since she was a teenager, dating her discovery to May 2010. “But she didn’t want to cause problems for the family while he was governor.” Both Schwarzenegger and Shriver declined comment for this article.
But understanding the complex, darkly conflicted marriage of Shriver and Schwarzenegger, requires some background.
“You can listen to people who have never met Arnold or who met him for five seconds, 30 years ago,” thundered Shriver as she addressed a Republican women’s group in Orange County in October, 2003. “Or you can listen to me! I advise you to listen to me.”
It was four days before the California gubernatorial recall election, and Shriver was responding to charges by some 16 women whose accounts of being sexually accosted, molested, or groped by her husband had been chronicled in the Los Angeles Times. Suddenly Schwarzenegger’s once-assured election was thrown into peril.
It was not until Shriver, who had previously taken a back seat in the campaign, jumped front and center that the day was saved. But in so doing, she undermined the credibility of the professional women whose allegations of sexual misconduct, she said, “show why really good people don’t want to go into politics anymore.”
Several of the women—who had reluctantly spoken to reporters at considerable peril to their careers—spoke of being devastated. “In the end, she was a Kennedy-stand-by-your-man gal,” said producer B. J. Rack, who had worked on two films with Schwarzenegger. “Just like Rose Kennedy.”
Certainly, it’s hard not to sympathize with Shriver’s predicament. A deft chess player, Schwarzenegger had maneuvered her between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Despite her fury, she remains intensely protective of their four children (Katherine, Christina, Patrick, and Christopher) and concerned how further revelations about Schwarzenegger’s bad behavior will affect them. Ironically, even while threatening to divorce him, she remains his protector. Several friends of the couple point out that after more than a year and a half, Shriver has yet to finalize her divorce.
The decades-long relationship between Schwarzenegger and Shriver, said one friend, seemed to veer between “sizzling passion and spectacular blow-outs.” Truces were called for quality time with their children.
There was trouble from the very beginning. According to one Kennedy insider, “Arnold never occupied a particularly elevated space within the family.” The most famous Kennedy, Jackie O., made no secret of her disdain. In January 1991, over a lunch of sea scallops at Michael’s restaurant, she declared that she refused to even see any of Schwarzenegger’s films. “I loathe everything that man stands for,” she exclaimed to literary agent and editor Steve Wasserman.
Loved and adored by Arnold, Maria was also emotionally abused and humiliated by him, say several people close to the couple. One producer recalled being with them in the star’s trailer in 1990 when “Arnold pulled down Maria’s sweatpants and grabbed the flesh on her thigh and said ‘Look how fat my wife is!’ Maria swatted him away and laughed, but I could see how devastated she was. And it turned out she was pregnant.”
The coup de grace for Shriver was the son Schwarzenegger fathered in 1997 with Baena, who worked as a maid in their home for 20 years. Schwarzenegger saw to it that he and Shriver and their children attended Joseph’s baptism in 1998. And though he was among the busiest men in Hollywood, Schwarzenegger found time to teach young Joseph how to play golf. As the years passed, the resemblance between young Joseph and Shriver’s son Christopher (born five days before Joseph) was noted by several gimlet-eyed employees and visitors. A production coordinator on several Shriver projects said she heard that Joseph was referred to as “the Mexican Christopher.” (Baena is Guatemalan.)
Maria “was very in love with Arnold,” said a longtime friend of Shriver’s, “but she knows who she married.”
During their engagement—and a year before their marriage—Maria learned that her fiancé was also seeing the actress Brigitte Nielsen, his costar on Red Sonja. In her recent book, Nielsen confirmed she was romantically involved with Schwarzenegger in 1985 when he was engaged to Shriver.
“Maria would call the office and speak in tears, asking if Arnold was seeing Nielsen,” said a former Schwarzenegger aide who explained that his staff would vouch and fib, as needed, for their boss, lassoed to him by stringent confidential agreements.
“He never spoke about her,” Nielsen wrote. “We wanted time for ourselves. We wanted to try everything … I felt like I was the only one. Maybe I wouldn’t have got into it if he said ‘I'm going to marry Maria’ … but he didn’t, and our affair carried on.”
While Shriver may have a rocky road of emotional recovery ahead, her career options have never been rosier. “All the networks have been offering her shows,” said a friend of hers. “And Oprah (Shriver’s pal from the 1970s Baltimore news scene) has offered her anything she wants.” Shriver is said to be considering an NBC magazine show, but sources say that she has asked for a $7 million annual salary plus a guarantee for a primetime slot for the Minerva Awards she started in 2004, which honors outstanding women. She might even consider running for the Senate when Dianne Feinstein is termed out in 2012, friends say.
And once her husband is done spinning his story with Total Recall, Shriver may even have the last word: she's been offered a mega-million-dollar book deal, and according to one friend, she just might write her own account and finally set the record straight.