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A promising second act for Shriver

As the state's former first couple work to reinvent themselves, she has a new kind of cred, born of his betrayal. Him, not so much.

May 02, 2013|By Robin Abcarian
  • Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger are shown at USC's commencement ceremonies in May 2012.
Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger are shown at USC's commencement… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver, California's most, ah, colorful former first couple, were back in the news this week.

On Tuesday, using his own life as an example of the American Dream, Schwarzenegger argued for immigration reform during a panel discussion at his USC institute.

Also Tuesday, Shriver announced she would return to NBC as a "special anchor" focusing on women's issues.

Which raises the question: Whose reinvention is working out better?

Since leaving office in 2011 and being forced to admit he had fathered a child with his family's longtime housekeeper, Schwarzenegger, 65, has tried to recreate himself as the cartoonish movie action hero that brought him worldwide fame.

It's been a bumpy ride.

He's had occasional movie cameos and a big belly flop in 2012's "The Last Stand." Plans for a Stan Lee collaboration on a Saturday-morning cartoon-style character called "The Governator" fell through after revelations about his domestic treachery. And despite a truly extraordinary life, his memoir, which was billed as a "tell-all," was panned by The Times as "almost completely devoid of self-examination."

Maybe he'll have better luck with a sequel to "Conan the Barbarian," scheduled for release next year.

Producer Frederik Malmberg put Schwarzenegger in perspective in comments to Deadline Hollywood last year, apparently referring to the movie: "It's that Nordic Viking mythic guy who has played the role of king, warrior, soldier and mercenary, and who has bedded more women than anyone, nearing the last cycle of his life."

Schwarzenegger has also struggled to stay relevant on the political stage. He bought himself the shiny new Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy at USC, which has a very nice website and seems devoted to holding conferences and panel discussions that will keep his name in the news. Prof. Schwarzenegger — don't laugh, he holds an academic appointment now — is good for the school's fundraising, USC President C.L. Max Nikias told The Times last year.

Shriver, 57, whose work as the state's first lady revolved around various women's causes and family issues, such as Alzheimer's research and the Special Olympics, has taken on the persona of struggling midlife everywoman.

It's not entirely apt, given her status as a member of one of America's royal families, her fame and her wealth.

But that lousy husband of hers has given her a new kind of cred. She knows from broken families and broken hearts. And despite the whiff of elitism that attaches itself to any Kennedy, she has been publicly trying to figure out this unexpected new chapter of her life in veiled but honest ways.

Her website is devoted to issues women care about, and her blog is relentlessly upbeat, even as she drops hints of her pain. One poignant photo shows a silver necklace with a ripped heart, its jagged edges stitched together with blood-red cord.

I tried in vain to find the word "Schwarzenegger" anywhere on her website. When she writes about her experience as California's first lady, it's as if she was elected to the job without having been required to be married to the man who was, in fact, the governor.

I don't blame her for erasing him wherever possible. Was there a woman whose heart didn't break for Shriver and her four children when The Times reported that their marriage had collapsed after Shriver discovered what her husband had done, in their own home?

What I do blame her for, though, is vouching for her husband on the eve of the 2003 election after six women told The Times he'd sexually groped them.

Many believe her assuring words swayed the race in his favor: "I've known this man for 26 years," Shriver said. "I've been married to him for 17. He's an extraordinary father, a remarkable husband, a terrific human being. He has the character to be governor, the temperament to be governor and he is a leader for all of you."

Well, what would you expect a loyal wife to do? That, for sure.

But when it all came crashing down, she should have taken some responsibility as the enabler who foisted him off on the public as a man of character. She owed California an apology.

Still, when all is said and done, I'm on Team Maria. I wish her luck in her new job. I hope she finds some good stories to tell.

As for Schwarzenegger, meh.

When he was governor, I used to see him riding his bicycle at the Santa Monica beach. Surprised and delighted passersby would yell greetings.

The last time I saw him, a few months after the scandal, a group of middle-aged women out for their morning power walk noticed him whizzing by on his bike, security at his side.

"That's Arnold," one said. "Ugh."

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