August 25, 2003 12:00 PM

Now that he is running for office, the truth must be told: Arnold Schwarzenegger makes quilts. That’s right, Mr. Tough Guy Terminator with hundreds of movie kills to his credit made a Mother’s Day quilt for his wife, Maria, a few years ago. Okay, so he didn’t actually sew it himself. But he did screen family images onto fabric swatches and have them hand-stitched together. “It included photos, their wedding invitation, birth announcements, handprints of the kids, and he picked everything out,” says Wanda McDaniel Ruddy, one of the bridesmaids at the Schwarzeneggers’ 1986 wedding and still a close family friend. “He spent a year creating this quilt, and now it’s their bedspread. Arnold is very sentimental.”

There you have it: the would-be governor of California is tough on fiscal issues, liberal on social issues and has a major soft spot for his wife, Maria Shriver, 47. Likewise, as Schwarzenegger, 56, a Republican, begins his campaign to replace embattled Gray Davis in an Oct. 7 recall election—essentially running as the true embodiment of the American Dream, or, if you prefer, Horatio Alger in a Speedo—he does so with the blessing of Shriver, the mother of his two sons and two daughters, ranging in age from 5 to 13, and a member of the country’s reigning Democratic dynasty, the Kennedys. Theirs is the sort of Odd Couple convergence that, 26 years after the fact, is still going strong. “They are true partners,” says Arnold Kopelson, who produced Schwarzenegger’s 1996 movie Eraser. Says Schwarzenegger’s friend and former publicist Charlotte Parker: “Arnold and Maria are a great love story. .They had an immediate attraction, and they still have a tremendous mutual respect for each other.”

The coming months may put their bond to the test. By entering the field of competitors in California’s recall election—a distinction he shares with veteran politicians as well as a porn actress and grown-up child star Gary Coleman (see page 55)—Schwarzenegger is looking to take on one of the most formidable messes in recent political history. California is burdened with a $38 billion deficit and the lingering aftershocks of a crippling energy crisis. And Schwarzenegger’s not exactly a seasoned politician. “He just says, ‘Hasta la vista, baby!’ and ‘I’m gonna pump you up!’ ” says Democratic political consultant Paul Begala. “Politicians have to at least fake the notion they are running because they have a set of ideas. He doesn’t even pretend.”

Within hours of announcing his candidacy, Schwarzenegger, already the clear front-runner, had delivered a jolt of electricity to the race worthy of one of his big screen action heroes. But reporters in the Golden State are already challenging the candidate to answer questions about policy rather than dodge them with soundbites. Potentially more troubling, perhaps, are the rumors of marital infidelity that have dogged the muscleman for years—and that are almost certain to multiply now that the heat is on (see box below).

Which raises the question: How does Shriver, by all accounts a no-nonsense straight-talker, put up with the reports? “Maria has more strength in her pinky than most people have in their bodies,” says Sandy Gleysteen, Shriver’s longtime producer at NBC. “She doesn’t pay attention to anything unless it’s based on fact.” She’s also a Kennedy. “Every person we ever grew up with, someone told us they were a womanizer,” says her brother Bobby Shriver, 49. “It was like, okay, tell us something new.” Another longtime friend, CBS News producer Roberta Hollander, agrees: “This woman has been in politics since she came out of the womb. They deal with it. So much of [what’s rumored] is untrue, so much is overblown.”

Shriver, who has taken an indefinite leave from her job as a network correspondent to work on her husband’s campaign, is also determined to make her marriage work. Indeed, say their friends, the couple’s seemingly glaring differences are actually one of their greatest sources of strength. Introduced at a charity tennis tournament in New York in 1977, Schwarzenegger, a five-time Mr. Universe from Austria who had yet to make his first major movie, and Shriver, a fledgling TV reporter, hit it off immediately. “Next thing you know, he’s in Hyannisport,” says Bobby Shriver, a record producer. “That day. He didn’t even go back to the hotel. Maria said, ‘Do you want to come up for the weekend? The plane is leaving in two hours.’ He said, ‘Fine.’ ”

Since then, according to a source close to the family, Shriver’s parents, JFK sibling Eunice and her husband, Sargent, who founded the Peace Corps, have taken time to warm to the Republican in their midst, although now the admiration is mutual. According to Sheri Annis, who handled press for Schwarzenegger in 2002, Eunice Shriver has worked hard to educate her son-in-law on the issues Kennedys are passionate about. “He literally had stacks of [newspaper] clippings from Eunice,” says Annis. It helps, a source says, that Arnold has never campaigned for a GOP candidate running against a Kennedy: “He may be a Republican, but he is a loyal family member first, and that’s noticed.”

Today, Bobby Shriver insists that, although he may not agree with all of his brother-in-law’s politics, he is convinced he’s right for Maria. If nothing else, they share the same goofy sense of humor. For years the Shrivers have played pranks on each other—and unwary visitors—like shoving one another’s faces into a piece of pie or a sandwich. “That’s all you need to know about their relationship right there,” says Bobby. “Maria rammed a pie in his face and he fell in love.”

Schwarzenegger has also won the family’s respect by providing so handsomely for his wife and the kids—not just out of his earnings as an actor (this summer’s Terminator 3, Schwarzenegger’s 29th Hollywood feature, netted the star a $30 million fee plus a percentage of profits) but through shrewd real estate investments. “Believe me, he is very knowledgeable in anything having to do with money,” says producer Arnold Kopelson. That makes for a pretty nice life, with houses in Pacific Palisades, Brentwood and Idaho and plenty of baubles for the missus. (“The man has wonderful taste,” says Hollander. “Maria has lots of diamonds.”) Still, friends say, their lives in L.A. are surprisingly normal (see page 52). One movie-star perk: Beverly Hills stylist Margaux Segal occasionally stops by the Schwarzenegger home and sets up shop in the family dining room to give him a pedicure. On her most recent visit she found the family having a casual spaghetti dinner. As for Schwarzenegger’s grooming routine, Segal only buffs his nails—no polish. “He is definitely manly about that,” she says.

Whole chunks of time are devoted to the children: Katherine, 13; Christina, 12; Patrick, 9; and Christopher, 5. Even on Aug. 9, the day Schwarzenegger filed papers to run for governor, he raced to attend his son Patrick’s basketball game. “You would never know from their conversations that they are such famous people,” says Segal. “Maria talks to Arnold about what the kids are doing in school. They are just like any other couple.” Others confirm this. “They do the car pools with other families,” says Wanda Ruddy. “They are one of the world’s great teams.”

That has been clear in recent years as the family has weathered the deaths of Schwarzenegger’s mother, Aurelia, cousins Michael and JFK Jr., and an Alzheimer’s diagnosis for Shriver’s father—not to mention serious health scares for both Arnold and Maria. In 1992 she had meningitis, and she spent part of a difficult fourth pregnancy (with Christopher) hospitalized, unable to keep any food down. In 1999 Schwarzenegger had surgery to replace a damaged heart valve. Shriver had an extra bed put in his hospital room and slept beside him. “One thing to know is there’s been a lot of tough times,” says Roberta Hollander. “There’s also a lot of laughter there.”

They may need to keep their sense of humor in the months to come. Schwarzenegger’s decision to run for governor was made only after many discussions with his wife, and he “realizes [the Shrivers] know the cost of his running better than anyone,” says Kennedy biographer and Shriver family friend Laurence Learner. “Not only in terms of potential assassination—which, believe me, is always in the back of their minds—but in terms of what it does to your family.”

But then Schwarzenegger and Shriver are not the types to shy away from a challenge. Late last month a group of 30 friends and relatives joined the couple at the family’s Pacific Palisades home to celebrate Schwarzenegger’s 56th birthday. His sons and daughters carried out a homemade cake, while friends toasted the not-yet-declared candidate for governor. Ruddy, who was there, recalls one toast that referred to the law preventing non-U.S.-born citizens from running for the White House. “They said, ‘What we really need to work on is changing the Constitution,’ ” says Ruddy. “Let’s have Arnold be President!”

One step at a time, big fella.

Alex Tresniowski

Lyndon Stambler, Lorenzo Benet, Ana Figueroa, Paul Karon and Kwala Mandel in Los Angeles, Elizabeth McNeil in New York City and Macon Morehouse in Washington, D.C.

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