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Interview With Laurence Leamer

Aired August 11, 2003 - 20:11   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: As a member of the staunchly Democratic Kennedy family, Schwarzenegger's wife Maria Shriver is of course no stranger to politics. But how much might she feel about being a political wife on the other side of the aisle? I'm joined now from Washington by Kennedy biographer Laurence Leamer. His new book is called "The Sons of Camelot: The Fate of an American Dynasty." Welcome, Larry, very much for joining us.
What do you make of Maria Shriver as let's say the first lady of California?

LAURENCE LEAMER, AUTHOR: Well, she's not going to be a Mrs. Clinton. She's an extraordinary person in her own right. She's on the board of Special Olympics. She's written a best-selling book about mental retardation. She gave the proceeds of that to charity. She's very much her own person. And it is an extraordinary decision on her part to agree to do this, because she's going to have to change her life dramatically, and she's doing it not simply because she loves her husband, but because she believes in him and believes that he can make a difference in California. Even if he is a Republican.

BLITZER: It is a major move on her part, to leave what, NBC News, "Dateline," 17 years she's been doing that, take a leave of absence and go out and presumably start campaigning for Arnold Schwarzenegger. She's making a huge sacrifice for her husband.

LEAMER: She is. And again, I'll just make the point, she's not making it, she's not a stand by your man kind of woman, it is because she believes in him and she thinks he can something to do for California. She That was factored into the decision. I'm certain she thought about how this would affect her family, her career and everything else.

But remember, she'd already made that decision in her career in past years because she spends about half her time at home with her children. She wants to be a good mom as well.

BLITZER: Let me read to you a statement that Senator Ted Kennedy put out. He said: "I like and respect Arnold and I've been impressed with his efforts to promote after-school education in California and his willingness to come to Congress and the administration to fight for that program, but I'm a Democrat and I don't support the recall effort." How has Arnold Schwarzenegger fit in so far over these many years into such a solidly Democratic family like the Kennedys?

LEAMER: He's fit in extremely well, because he's picked up the kind of social consciousness particularly of the Shrivers, that you try to do good in the world and it's fun to do good. And that's what he's done. When I first met him, I thought he just wanted his name on the letterhead and didn't do that much, but I've seen him at Special Olympics for hours with athletes, with inner city group in Los Angeles. He was just at the International Special Olympics Games in Dublin. And he's picked up these good things from the family.

BLITZER: Compare Maria Shriver, if you will, to some of the other famous Kennedy women out there that we have all known over these many years, at least not necessarily personally, but that we have seen and read about.

LEAMER: Well, her mother, first of all, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, is one of the great women of the 20th century. And sooner or later people are going to figure that out. She started the Special Olympics in 1968. This organization, the largest social organization since the Red Cross, has changed the attitudes across the United States and the world about mental retardation.

She's really her brother's daughter. In many ways, she even begins to looks like her, with the same kind of attitudes.

BLITZER: What about the relationship that Maria Shriver has with Arnold Schwarzenegger? They've been married for a long time, they've got four kids. Talk a little bit about their marriage.

LEAMER: Well, first of all, when she married him, he was just this kind of muscle-bound guy that you wouldn't want -- I wouldn't want him to see my daughter. I wouldn't be too happy about it either. But she figured out what he was, and she knew he was an extraordinary man, he was (ph) his ambitions, and where he was going to go with it. It took him a long while before they married, but they know each other very well and they're a perfect match.

BLITZER: It looks like they have a good marriage.

LEAMER: Yeah. And I think people are trying to find things -- even now you can see journalists trying to pick apart the Kennedys, the Democratic, Republican. But they're united. In my book that's coming out next year deals with the family since 1963. And a lot of it is quite dispiriting and tragic, and it's wonderful for me to have this ending to this book, where this family comes together and supports this man who has made his way in this country on his own. But if he makes $50 million a year, he started with nothing, and that's something that none of the Kennedys have done for several generations. So that's a very admirable trait with him, and it fits in well with the family and its ideals.

BLITZER: Laurence Leamer, thanks for joining us.

LEAMER: Thank you.


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