Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, celebrate his victory in the California gubernatorial recall election in Los Angeles. Schwarzenegger has acknowledged that he fathered a child with a member of his household staff, a revelation that apparently prompted wife Maria Shriver to leave the couple's home before they announced their separation last week. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)
By Maeve Reston and Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Over tea this spring in Redondo Beach, Calif., Arnold Schwarzenegger met with Tony Blair to seek the former British prime minister’s advice for his new role on the world stage, now that his seven-year stint as California’s governor had ended.
Schwarzenegger was launching an ambitious new phase: accepting lucrative offers for a Hollywood comeback, carving out a new role as an ambassador for green technology companies, re-engaging his charity work and flying around the world delivering speeches at rates commanded by former presidents.
But the stunning revelations in Tuesday’s Los Angeles Times that he had fathered a child out of wedlock more than a decade ago with a member of his household staff brought those pursuits to a sudden halt.
As Schwarzenegger’s personal misconduct reverberated around the world Tuesday, public condemnation was swift. Former first lady Maria Shriver issued a statement that for the first time sought to put distance between herself and the former governor.
“This is a painful and heartbreaking time,” she said. “As a mother my concern is for the children. 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.”
Yet despite the international headlines, few strategists believed the disclosures would permanently derail Schwarzenegger’s political or entertainment pursuits.
Timing was key, several experts said, noting that if the details had emerged during Schwarzenegger’s campaigns for office or during his seven-year tenure, they could have had a far more devastating impact on his career.
“If it had come out during the recall campaign, it would have kept him from being elected governor. Had this come out while he was governor, it would have been a very big deal,” said Dan Schnur, director of the University of Southern California’s Unruh Institute of Politics. But since Schwarzenegger is no longer an elected official “a month or two from now, it’s hard to see that much of an impact,” he said.
The coming weeks, however, are likely to be rocky. News organizations swarmed for the identity of the woman and her child; to protect their privacy, the Times did not publish their names.
A bounty of as much as $1 million is likely being offered for the first picture of the child, said veteran Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman.
“They will be hunted like bin Laden by the paparazzi,” he said.
When Schwarzenegger and Shriver announced their separation last week, former colleagues and friends had initially expressed remorse. But reaction to the admission of infidelity and deception was sharp.
“Another guy guv admits 2 cheating on his wife. Maybe we need more women governors. Guys: keep ur pants zipped, for Pete’s sake. Arnold,” tweeted former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
Mark Young, a professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business, said Schwarzenegger’s image was “tarnished.”
“The fact that it’s been going on for 10 years — he can’t claim he was drunk or high, or that he’d had a bad day. It was really premeditated lying,” he said.
Still, the long-term reaction was not expected to be quite so harsh.
On the political front, the impact could be limited because Schwarzenegger has no apparent interest in running for elected office again. And philandering is hardly unprecedented in politics: Former President Bill Clinton has emerged as a world statesman after his White House indiscretions, and former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, forced to quit after consorting with an escort, is hosting a television show.
Aides said that before this week, Schwarzenegger had been seeking advice on how to expand the work of “R-20,” the organization he founded in 2009 to bring regional and state leaders together to combat climate change.
He has consulted with others active on such issues, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, former Secretary of State George Shultz and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. His group has explored collaborating with an organization headed by Clinton and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that is focused on reducing emissions in large cities.
Schwarzenegger — with his box office cache, his outsized celebrity and his legacy as a green Republican who shepherded the passage of a far-reaching climate-change law — may have more latitude to recover because he entered politics from Hollywood, one strategist said.
“He never held himself to be out as holier-than-thou, or a holy roller, or Mr. Morality,” said Chris Lehane, a Democrat who guided Clinton through those tumultuous White House years. “People had good sense of who he was and what they were getting ... extraordinary talents interrelated with extraordinary flaws.”
Schwarzenegger’s entertainment industry pursuits showed no signs of stalling, at least as of Tuesday.
Hollywood insiders say Schwarzenegger’s return to the silver screen after his governorship was widely anticipated, and since his movies have appealed largely to boys and men his box office clout may be less affected by the scandal than had he been a romantic lead.
A bidding war took place at Cannes last week to make two more installments of the Terminator franchise starring Schwarzenegger. And he signed to star in “Cry Macho,” a dramatic turn that marks a departure from his action-hero roles. In the film, Schwarzenegger will play a horse breeder who wins the Kentucky Derby but descends into alcoholism and depression after his family is killed.
The film is being produced by Oscar winner Albert Ruddy, and Schwarzenegger will earn a reported $12.5 million for the lead role, and take home 25 percent of its profits. “I have no comment on his personal life — however, I can assure you — the film is A-OK and starts shooting August 24th,” Ruddy said in an email Tuesday.
The role struck some as a stretch for the former governor.
“He’s always played some variation of Arnold,” said one source, who asked for anonymity critiquing Schwarzenegger.
In late March, the former governor announced that he was working with legendary comic-book creator Stan Lee to make “The Governator,” an animated children’s series based on Schwarzenegger’s life.
An outline obtained by the Times says the lead character was to juggle the responsibilities of being an “action hero” and “family man.” One potential theme was to have been when Arnold’s mission was complicated by “remembering to buy Maria a gift for their anniversary.”
After the couple confirmed their separation last week, Lee told the Associated Press that plans to include Shriver had been dropped, and that the break-up wouldn’t affect “anything at all, except we can probably have a lot of girls having crushes on our hero as the story goes on — which we probably would have done anyway.”
Lee did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
(Times staff writers Rebecca Keegan and John Horn contributed to this report.)