Breezy yet guarded, protected yet still in the public eye, 29-year-old Katherine Schwarzenegger was born into the spotlight and then chose to stay there.
Black Sharpie pen in hand, Katherine Schwarzenegger deftly signed copy after copy of her 2017 children’s book “Maverick and Me” — about a girl who adopts an abandoned puppy — as questions rolled in from fans watching a live stream on Facebook and Instagram. Her literary agent read aloud from an iPad: Katherine, do you have a dog? Have you always been a dog lover? Can your dog do tricks? What drives you to be so successful?
Schwarzenegger, with her long dark waves spilling over a crisp white blouse, cheerfully answered (yes, yes, yes, staying passionate) until her agent arrived at this query from a viewer: “What’s the one thing that people always misunderstand about you?”
Long pause. Schwarzenegger looked stumped. She let out a loud, throaty laugh. “Um. Always misunderstand about me?” she asked. “Um. I don’t know. I mean, probably my friends should answer that.” Another silence followed. A voice off-camera piped up, “Katherine, where can people find out more about you and all the great things you’ve been doing?” Schwarzenegger smoothly directed them to her website and social media channels.
Schwarzenegger is the eldest child of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the bodybuilder, actor and governor, and Maria Shriver, the journalist, advocate and niece of President John F. Kennedy. She’s the college student turned author, occasional TV host and lifestyle blogger. As of last month, she’s the fiancee of Chris Pratt, the “Jurassic World,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Lego Movie” star. Although Schwarzenegger has been steadily building her brand for years, her relationship with Pratt, 39, has made her a new and frequently photographed tabloid staple. People are often fascinated by children of celebrities — not to mention Kennedy heirs — so combined with the interest in Pratt (one-half of a beloved Hollywood couple until he and actress Anna Faris split in 2017), Google searches for “Katherine Schwarzenegger” skyrocketed when the two announced their engagement in mid-January.
“My sweet love. Wouldn’t want to live this life with anyone but you,” Schwarzenegger captioned an Instagram photo to her 560,000 followers, which showed a perfect angle of her enormous diamond ring with her arms around Pratt’s neck.
“Sweet Katherine, so happy you said yes! I’m thrilled to be marrying you. Proud to live boldly in faith with you,” Pratt wrote to his 22 million Instagram followers. On Facebook, he wrote and then deleted: “Ideally we’d have kept this secret for as long as possible. But considering there’s paparazzi camped out in the alley behind our house and they document everything whether we like it or not, we’ll take the lead here and release this statement.”
Even as intrigue in Schwarzenegger has spiked, trying to learn more about her is a difficult endeavor. Multiple emails and phone messages left for her representatives were not returned. Pratt’s publicist declined to comment. So did extended family, friends and colleagues. An employee at Shriver’s manager’s office said Shriver was unlikely to respond, so it was best to “move on.” Arnold Schwarzenegger declined to be interviewed. As a source close to the former California governor explained, “He loves Katherine, he’s proud of her, but he wants her to be able to tell her own story.”
Like so many in her generation, Schwarzenegger has a carefully curated Instagram presence that does most of the talking.
Her early pictures look like the social media feed of any 20-something: blurry selfies, baked goods, picturesque vacation shots, inspirational quotes (“Your relationship with yourself sets the tone for every other relationship you have”). Over the years, the photos turned glossy and professional as she promoted sponsored content for brands: Kate Spade, Kenneth Cole, Bumble, Burt’s Bees, Rothy’s shoes, Dawn dish soap, Curel lotion, TJ Maxx. Through it all, her feed is filled with pictures of her family.
When Schwarzenegger was born in 1989, her father was one of the most recognizable faces on the planet; the Mr. Universe and “Terminator” megastar commanded many millions per film. Her mother, a member of the Kennedy dynasty — she’s the daughter of JFK’s younger sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver — was a well-respected NBC News reporter.
Despite their demanding jobs, the couple made it clear that their family was the priority. Shriver was vocal about cutting back hours at NBC after maternity leave, while Arnold Schwarzenegger told reporters he wouldn’t film movies outside Los Angeles until his daughter was at least 1½ years old. “I want the enjoyment of being with my child in the early months,” he said.
Wendy Leigh, the author of the controversial, unauthorized Schwarzenegger biography in 1990, once claimed that some snarky folks in Hollywood called baby Katherine “the live-in photo opportunity.” But by most accounts, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Shriver tried to shield their kids (which soon included Christina, Patrick and Christopher) from the attention and taught them to appreciate their privilege growing up in the tony neighborhoods of Pacific Palisades and Brentwood. Shriver — whose father, Sargent Shriver, was the first Peace Corps director and whose mother founded the Special Olympics — put an emphasis on activism and charity work.
In interviews, Schwarzenegger’s go-to word is “normal,” even as she describes a childhood spent watching mom on TV and visiting dad on movie sets. In 2003, they became the first family of California when Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor. Still, various news stories reported that the kids weren’t allowed to have TVs or phones in their rooms; Shriver took them to Mass every week; they wrote prompt thank-you notes. Their parents — particularly their dad, who grew up in poverty in Austria — were strict about chores.
“My parents raised the four of us kids to have a very normal upbringing and a normal childhood. . . . We didn’t go to red carpet things all the time,” Schwarzenegger told People.
Of course, there were some anomalies: Her father spoke at her high school graduation in 2008. Her mother gave the commencement address when she graduated from the University of Southern California four years later. And she had to weather the storm in 2011 when her parents separated after it was revealed that 14 years earlier, her father had a child with the family’s housekeeper.
“This is definitely not easy but I appreciate your love and support as I begin to heal and move forward in life. I will always love my family!” Schwarzenegger tweeted at the time. She later told Harper’s Bazaar that while she’s closer to her mother, the family bond remained strong even after the scandal.
Kate Coyne, executive editor of People magazine, called Schwarzenegger a refreshing “rarity” for avoiding the pitfalls that can ensnare wealthy and famous offspring in Los Angeles. Coyne recalled that observers were especially impressed with how she and her siblings showed grace during her family’s “soap opera”-level of drama.
“No one would have blamed any of those kids if they said, ‘I’m moving to Switzerland, I’m out of here’ . . . That’s not what they did,” Coyne said in an interview. “All of the kids have kept their heads held high, chins held up, and have not in any way felt like they had anything to hide or shy away from.”
Multiple people who know Schwarzenegger declined to talk about her journey as they offered the bare minimum descriptions — "very sweet," "a hard worker," "a pleasure" — and added they wanted to respect her privacy.
It’s a delicate balance for those whose chosen paths require publicity yet want to keep their lives private. Schwarzenegger has attempted this since 2010, when she opened up in her first book, a self-help tome titled “Rock What You’ve Got: Secrets to Loving Your Inner and Outer Beauty from Someone Who’s Been There and Back.” Marketed toward young girls, Schwarzenegger discussed how she was self-conscious growing up in Los Angeles, and admitted that with her casual California style, she sometimes felt like “the black sheep in my conservative extended family” at the Kennedy compound in Massachusetts.
Her confessionals continued in her 2014 book, “I Just Graduated . . . Now What? Honest Answers from Those Who Have Been There,” a collection of interviews with accomplished figures from CNN’s Anderson Cooper to Drybar founder Alli Webb. Schwarzenegger wrote about being in “full-on depression mode” after moving home and feeling directionless when she graduated from USC. “Not getting a job right out of college felt like the lowest point in my life,” she wrote.
Eventually, she discovered a passion for lifestyle blogging and started KatherineSchwarzenegger.com, where she published everything from fashion tips to recipes to advice columns (“Ask Kat”). In her second book, she revealed her dream is to be “the next generation’s talk show host,” a la Oprah Winfrey or Ellen DeGeneres; she has guest-hosted “The View” and “Anderson Live,” and she served briefly as a correspondent for “Extra” and “Entertainment Tonight.” She also acknowledged the power of her last name.
“While some people might think this opens doors and gets you preferential treatment (and sometimes it does), it can also work against you. What I have learned from my mom is that there is no shortcut to getting where you want to go. No matter what your name is, you have to do the work, she wrote.
If Schwarzenegger was on the fringes of Hollywood before, that all changed in June 2018, when paparazzi caught Schwarzenegger and Pratt on a picnic date in Santa Barbara. The next month, they were snapped leaving church together and getting ice cream with Pratt and Faris’s 6-year-old son, Jack. Shortly after, there was a brunch with Schwarzenegger’s family. More photographed outings followed — trick-or-treating on Halloween with Jack, Faris and Faris’s new boyfriend — until Pratt confirmed that they were dating with an Instagram collage posted on Schwarzenegger’s 29th birthday.