Arnold Schwarzenegger's facing the biggest challenge to his future since T3's Terminatrix came after him.
The would-be California Gubernator on Thursday offered an apology to women for his "playful" antics gone wrong, hours after the Los Angeles Times ran a potentially damaging front-page story outlining six women's claims of Schwarzenegger's alleged inappropriate behavior over the past three decades, including accounts of purported breast-fondling and butt-grabbing.
"Let me tell you something," the Republican hopeful said at a campaign stop in San Diego. "A lot of those that you see in the stories is not true, but at the same time, I have to tell you that I always say, that wherever there is smoke, there is fire. That is true.
"So I want to say to you, yes, that I have behaved badly sometimes. Yes, it is true that I was on rowdy movie sets and I have done things that were not right which I thought then was playful but now I recognize that I have offended people.
"And to those people that I have offended, I want to say to them I am deeply sorry about that and I apologize because this is not what I'm trying to do.
"When I'm governor, I want to prove to the women that I will be a champion for the women, a champion for the women. And I hope that you will give me the chance to prove that," he continued before calling the timing of the story--just five days before the state's recall election, "dirty politics."
Allegations of inappropriate behavior have dogged Schwarzenegger for years. Back in 2001, when he was last considering a run for the statehouse, Premiere magazine published an exposé titled "Arnold the Barbarian" that alleged the Conan star habitually groped women and had affairs behind the back of wife Maria Shriver. Entertainment Weekly reiterated those claims in a cover story earlier this year when Schwarzenegger was promoting T3 ("How many times do you get away with this--to take a woman, grab her upside down, and bury her face in a toilet bowl?" he said of one scene in the film). Even former candidate Arianna Huffington alluded to his supposed poor treatment of women during a debate last week.The Running Man
The Times story contains full accounts from the six women alleging Citizen Arnold improperly touched them without their consent. On several occasions, the sexual misconduct is alleged to have occurred on those "rowdy" movie sets.
Four of the women's identities were not disclosed in the Times story. One asked that her name remain anonymous because she feared the public ridicule would damage her husband's business, and the other three feared a backlash that could threaten their careers in the movie business.
The Times also noted that none of the women ever brought legal action against Schwarzenegger, and added that they related their stories to many of their friends and family members long before the Last Action Hero decided to make his run for governor.
Two of the reported incidents occurred in the 1970s. The first was at Gold's Gym and involved then 19-year-old E. Laine Stockton, who says Schwarzenegger walked up to her and grabbed her left breast.
"The gym is full of bodybuilders and Arnold comes and he gropes my breast--actually touches my breast with his left hand," she told the Times. "I was just shocked, shocked to the point where I almost didn't know how to react, because it was so out of the blue and unexpected."
The second incident was said to happen in 1980 to a former pro beach volleyball player, who recalled Schwarzenegger pulling up next to her and inviting her back to his place. When she declined, Arnold allegedly "grabbed and squeezed" her left breast.
The third accusation of groping came from an unidentified movie studio assistant, who alleged that Schwarzenegger in the late 1980s slipped his hand under her skirt and grabbed her butt and held it there for a good 20 seconds while saying, "you have a very nice ass, I'd love to work you out."
Three different women recounted alleged improprieties while working on the set of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. One crew member, who wished to remain anonymous, accused him accosting her in a hotel elevator and trying to pull off her bathing suit. "What could you do? He was the highest-paid actor in the world. I was a peon," she said. "The only thing you could do is stay away from him."
Another female crew member described to the newspaper an incident in which Schwarzenegger supposedly pulled her onto his lap and whispered "have you ever had a man slide his tongue in your [anus]?"
She said she didn't report the sexual harrassment because "there's an unspoken rule in the Industry. What happens on the set the stays on the set."
A third woman on the T2 set, Nancy Tafoya, the legal guardian of the film's then 13-year-old costar Edward Furlong, said Schwarzenegger once yanked her hair. She also described how she was shocked to see him grinding his body against another female crew member.
British TV host Anna Richardson gave the same account to the Times as she did to Premiere two years ago--saying the Predator star pulled her onto his knee and circled her left nipple with his finger and asked her if her breasts were real as she was interviewing him in December 2000 to promote the release of The 6th Day.
Schwarzenegger's camp offered a different version of events, with veteran publicist Sheryl Main saying it was Richardson who was the one who approached Arnold and not the other way around.
As with the Premiere article, which generated words of support from costars like Sharon Stone and Jamie Lee Curtis, several people told the Times that movie sets are naturally "raucous" settings, but Schwarzenegger was always charming.
Until Thursday, Schwarzenegger had adamantly denied such hijinks. Some pundits expressed surprise that Schwarzenegger decided to make his admission, but when it comes to his past, Arnold has been like Teflon--when a 1977 interview with men's magazine Out resurfaced earlier this summer, in which Arnold bragged about having group sex and smoking pot, Schwarzenegger just chalked it up to youthful indiscretion.
His fans have apparently given him a flier. Since then, Schwarzenegger's standing in the polls has increased, with support among women growing in recent days. An L.A. Times poll out this week showed him with a seemingly insurmountable lead in his effort to bump out Governor Gray Davis.
Only time will tell if his mea culpa has an effect on his campaign's momentum. Californians hit the voting booths next Tuesday to decide whether the Running Man finishes first in the race for Sacramento.