Cover Story

Mrs. Arnold in Charge

Roseanne Arnold in charge -- The actress faces her past, finds calm after the storm, and sports a brand-new tattoo

The 600-square-foot Denver house where Roseanne Barr once lived with husband Bill Pentland and their three children a couple of lifetimes ago would almost fit into the kitchen of the 6,800-square-foot, $3.4 million Brentwood house where Roseanne Arnold now lives with husband Tom Arnold and her three children.

It's a dream kitchen, a showcase kitchen, a French-country-gone-California affair with important copper cookware hanging from a ceiling rack and pretty, hand-painted country-scene plates stacked in glass cabinets and a Silver Palate Cookbook propped open in a Lucite stand. There's a generous breakfast nook, cozy yet airy, with a picture-window view of the back garden and a Tiffany-style lamp overhead and an ample dining table. Oh, yes: There's also a large jar of Miracle Whip on the table. And a Sunday newspaper supplement, the kind with ads for figurines of little birdies. And a copy of Tattoo magazine. And a roll of paper towels that double as what people very unlike Roseanne would call serviettes. And there's a selection of chicly prepared healthy foods — salads, chicken, green beans, baby carrots — set out in the little plastic take-out containers in which they traveled from L.A.'s Nowhere Cafe to the kitchen table of America's headline-making, TV ratings-grabbing, controversy- provoking, tabloid-selling, tattoo-sporting, love-'em-and/or-hate-'em, in-your-face, blue-collar millionaires Roseanne and Tom Arnold.

Roseanne! Is there anyone breathing who has not heard of Roseanne Arnold? In the pages of People three weeks ago, she charged that she had been sexually abused as a child, had buried those memories for years, and had only recently recovered them. The story made headlines on the nightly news.

On Sally Jessy Raphaél two weeks ago, she alleged in even greater detail that her mother and father had abused her. The program was the second highest rated SJR show ever.

(It goes on: Roseanne's parents, Helen and Jerry Barr, deny the allegations, and their lawyer, Melvin Belli, says he advised them to consider filing charges of defamation, libel, and slander against publications that print their daughter's accusations. Further, according to Kevin McLean of the Belli law firm, Roseanne's attack on her parents arises out of their support for her ex-husband in his desire to maintain joint custody of the kids. Her estrangement from her family, McLean says, stems from their refusal to sign a release ceding rights to their life stories as the basis of a cartoon show Roseanne wants to develop.)

The details of sexual abuse were arresting, yes; they were meant to be, Roseanne says, to draw attention to a serious problem that is too often a secret. But audience fascination with Roseanne Arnold — or maybe it's what she likes to call a ''love-slash-wince'' relationship — goes a lot deeper than horrified human compassion for her alleged childhood traumas.

In fact, we're fascinated with Roseanne because she is So Out There. When Roseanne appeared in her HBO special last January, ratings soared. In fact, fascination with Roseanne combines bemusement with appreciation, adoration with exasperation. As she herself knows.

Roseanne: Yeah, they did this disgusting piece (on TV) about why celebrities (reveal painful secrets). One of the guys they asked was some creepy little guy in a hat that said, ''I'm sick of hearing about Roseanne Barr!'' I mean, they totally missed the point, with that blame-the-victim thing.
Tom: And he purposely said Roseanne Barr.

The point, oh, the point of Roseanne!

''Let's eat!'' announces Tom late on a recent Saturday afternoon. He's big but noticeably trimmed down — there's 100 pounds less of him than there used to be — and he's wearing shorts and a turquoise Lacoste-type shirt, a gold-and-diamond wedding ring, and a Major Gold wristwatch. A motion machine, he likes to keep busy: knees jiggle, fingers wiggle, feet flex. ''We're gonna eat while we talk to ya. Is that okay, do ya mind?'' he asks, swinging his 6'2'' frame into a chair and zeroing in on a chicken cutlet.

''I'm starved,'' says his wife, 5'4'' and dieting. In a white Lycra miniskirt and black over-blouse, with bare legs, white sandals, and two Extremely Expensive diamond rings on small, round hands, Roseanne is 60 pounds lighter these days than she was in last year's famous fleshy photos. Earlier in the day, the couple endured additional tattoo work on their anatomy — an ongoing Arnold project, like home renovation. Roseanne had a flower added to a complicated bouquet on her spine; she's in pain. Tom had white and red detail added to a large blue Star of David on his right pec. He feels fine. (''I wanted it since I turned Jewish,'' he says, referring to his recent conversion, at his wife's request.)

Tom: You're getting another big flower...
Roseanne: If I live through it.
Tom: You've had four children, honey.
Roseanne: Yeah, it's about that bad, too, on the spine. I had to do my Lamaze breathing...

Now Roseanne browses through a plastic cradle of baby carrots, noshing like America noshes, wiping her fingers on paper towels and reading the Sunday-supplement gossip pages. Which inevitably contain gossip about Roseanne Arnold.

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