Michael A. Lipton
May 02, 1994 12:00 PM

SOMEDAY—PERHAPS SOONER THAN WE’D LIKE TO ADMIT—we’ll all be wistfully yearning for the old Tom and Roseanne Arnold. “You remember: the Fun Couple who mud-wrestled for a Vanity Fair cover; who, before a stadium full of ’89 “World Series fans, exposed their tattooed backsides; and who, last December, announced their plans to “many” Tom’s comely 24-year-old assistant, Kim Silva.

Those dubious antics now seem as engagingly innocent as a Laurel and Hardy two-reeler. Little more than a week ago, Roseanne & Tom’s Traveling Media Circus hit a nasty bump in the road. First, there was that high-decibel, reportedly X-rated shouting match between the couple on the set of Roseanne, where Mrs. A., 41, is TV’s reigning sitcom diva and Mr. A., 38, serves as her executive producer. Or did, that is, until she fired him on the spot along with Silva, who is widely rumored to be the Other Woman at the heart of this heavyweight bout. (“Everyone knows you’ve been f—king Kim!” Roseanne allegedly screamed at one point; but all about Kim later.)

Last Monday, April 18, following her on-set explosion three days earlier, Roseanne filed for divorce in Los Angeles superior court, citing irreconcilable differences and confounding skeptics who had assumed this blowup was merely the Arnolds’ latest ploy to hype her and his sitcoms. (Roseanne, a Top 10 show in its sixth season, is hardly in need, but Tom, its namesake’s second floundering slab at prime-time stardom, could use the juice since it ranks near the bottom of the national Nielsens.) Roseanne’s court papers made no mention of Silva but had plenty to say about Tom. “I now realize that I have been a classic battered and abused wife,” she claimed. “Throughout our marriage [Tom] hit me, struck me, has thrown objects at me, pinched me and verbally abused me.” One of the more violent incidents allegedly occurred earlier this month at the couple’s $12 million mansion in the fashionable Brentwood section of Los Angeles. “He pushed me down on the bathroom floor, put his foot against my back and pulled at my hair,” charged Roseanne. “I was screaming in desperation for him to relent, but he was screaming and shouting and ignoring my pleas.” The putative abuse eventually escalated to the point where she reportedly hired a guard to bar Tom from the house and changed his office-door lock at the CBS Studio Center in Studio City. This set the stage for their April 15 showdown, when he allegedly stormed onto the set to confront her, scratching and hitting four people before he was finally escorted off the premises.

Later that afternoon, Roseanne said, she phoned police after hearing that her husband—who she said in her court papers had moved out of their home by mutual agreement six months ago and into a luxury condo two miles away—had just broken into the Brentwood house. There, she says, he “threatened my children.” Roseanne has four kids: Brandi, 23 (with whom she was reunited in 1989 after giving birth to her out of wedlock at 18 and putting her up for adoption), and Jessica, 19, Jennifer, 17, and Jake, 15, from her marriage to first husband Bill Pentland, whom she had divorced in 1990 to marry Tom. In her divorce filing, Roseanne also demanded a restraining order against Tom. “I am extremely afraid for my physical safety,” she said. Her petition was granted.

On Tuesday, April 19, Roseanne canceled a scheduled appearance at UCLA, where she was to have received the prestigious Jack Benny Award for comedic achievement. Instead, ducking the camera crews camped on their Brentwood doorstep, Roseanne slipped out of town.

An abnormally subdued Tom, meanwhile, showed up for work Tuesday morning on the set of Tom—without Silva. “He looked bummed and scared,” says one observer. But in a phone interview Tuesday night, Arnold sounded cautiously upbeat. “The allegations made against me are false,” he told PEOPLE. He claimed that Roseanne had acknowledged as much to him earlier that evening in a two-hour phone conversation. She was calling from “a safe place,” he said cryptically, insisting “she wasn’t even aware of what was in the papers her lawyers had her sign. And she’s going to fix that.” He also denied ever threatening the children (“I love my kids. We have a great relationship”) or having an affair with Silva. So what were he and Roseanne shouting about at the studio? “Just that I was working so hard this year I wasn’t putting enough time into my marriage,” he said. “That’s true. I could’ve done better.”

The truth here is difficult to fathom. People who know the Arnolds, and are largely unshockable, are stunned by Roseanne’s charges of abuse. “I’ve never seen that,” says a Roseanne insider. “I’ve seen wild things go on between them, but just playful-type antics, like pulling down pants. No big deal.” As recently as April 10, barely a week before their shouting match—and a day after Roseanne claims in her suit that Tom angrily “grabbed my calf and twisted it” while riding in a limo with her and the children—a visitor to the Arnolds’ mansion (named Serenity) encountered a scene of apparent domestic tranquility. There was Tom, lounging in the den and gently advising one of his barefoot stepdaughters, “You better go put some shoes on if you want to drive the car.” And there in a cozy back room off the kitchen sat Roseanne, her head under a hair dryer. Also there, sitting quietly beside Tom as he led a troupe of 10 cast and crew members through rehearsals for a Tom-and-Roseanne-produced sitcom pilot called Cherry Street South of Main, was Kim Silva.

To the actors, Silva’s role there was downright mysterious. “Ah, ah, ah, that’s Kim,” Tom later introduced her to the group. Then, turning to her, he said, “Uh, in the credits, you’re going to be an assistant producer.” “I am?” Silva replied, looking surprised and delighted. Everyone applauded her good fortune. As well they might have.

A 1991 graduate of Ramapo College in New Jersey, where she majored in communication arts, Silva moved to L.A. a year later and was hired as a receptionist in the Arnolds’ Wapello County Productions office. She quickly moved up the ladder to become Tom’s personal assistant and then vice president. With a six-figure salary one source said could have been as much as $200,000 a year, she was the highest-paid executive in the company. To the Arnolds, though, she was not just an employee. “Kim is a friend of ours,” says Tom. But he and Roseanne have treated her more like a daughter, paying the $1,400-a-month rent on her West Los Angeles apartment and giving her a sporty car. She and Roseanne would shop together, often buying—and wearing—identical outfits. When the Arnolds rewarded her devotion by talking up their three-way nuptials last December, only Silva, it seems, took it seriously. Recalls a college friend who caught up with her then: “I said, ‘Kim, this is a mock wedding,’ and she said, ‘It’s real. We’re all a big family.’ ”

Silva’s former college roommate, Lisa Spencer, 24, says the relationship was not quite so wholesome. Spencer, an L.A. art gallery salesperson, says that for the past year Silva has been having an affair with Tom. “She’s always bragged about Tom,” says Spencer. “She’s proud of her success.”

Silva could not be reached for comment, but Spencer, who had a falling-out with her over the affair (“She told me, ‘I’ll get anything I want any way I can get it’ “), says Roseanne began to have her suspicions eight months ago. Then something happened. Tom won’t say what, but on Wednesday, April 13, Roseanne called up the production office and, says Spencer, “tried to get Kim fired.” Silva reportedly said, “You can’t fire me. I work for Tom.” “Then you’re both fired,” Roseanne is said to have replied. Two days later, in front of a shocked cast and crew, she made good on her threat.

A few hours later, Tom turned up on the Warner Bros, lot in Burbank for the taping of his Cherry Street pilot. During breaks in production he would banter with the studio audience, looking his usual effusive self and betraying no hint of the earlier quarrel with his wife—except once: When an audience member playfully gave Tom a message to relay to Roseanne, he replied, “Sure, I’ll tell her that when I get home. That is, if I have a home to go home to. You know Rosie.”

In fact he wasn’t kidding. That day, Tom moved out of the Brentwood residence for good. (Contrary to Roseanne’s assertion in her court papers, Tom says he hadn’t already vacated the premises six months earlier. He was using his condo solely as a writer’s retreat, he says, and perhaps only a dozen times. Now it’s his permanent abode.)

Roseanne, in the meantime, spent the weekend after their battle royal shopping for a good divorce lawyer. She found one of the best, Sorrell Trope, a high-priced Los Angeles attorney with a nationally known family-law practice. Along with the restraining order, Roseanne, who collects a reported $500,000 per episode for Roseanne, is also asking the court not to grant Tom alimony. (Under California law, however, he would be entitled to 50 percent of their assets gained during the marriage, a fortune estimated in the lens of millions.) Tom, for now, says he simply wants to patch things up. Though there has been no discussion, he would like to meet his wife “at a safe place—at the rabbi’s or the therapist’s office. I love her,” he adds, “and I want to make an attempt at reconciling.” Will Tom and Roseanne ever be a couple again? “I think so,” he says, then pauses. “I hope so. I pray so.”



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