THIS IS ABOUT AS COUNTRIFIED AS Roseanne Arnold, star of ABC’s hit sitcom Roseanne and America’s full-bodied embodiment of the working-class housewife, is likely to get. She’s wearing a pink floral print dress with a frilly lace collar and a rocking-horse pin. And even though at the moment she’s sitting in an air-conditioned trailer, outside is all of Iowa—the city of Ottumwa (pop. 24,488) and beyond that, thousands of acres of ripening corn beneath a midsummer sky. You know, that Fielda Dreams kinda thing.
“My husband went shopping and picked out the pattern and the material for this dress,” Roseanne, 39, explains, “and hired a lady to make it. This look is different, but it’s part of the evolving me. I love it.” Ditto her husband: She is silting with him—Roseanne costar Tom Arnold—on a blue sofa, and she is nibbling his shoulder, holding his hand and looking up at him with warm brown eyes. They first met on the stand-up circuit in Minneapolis in 1983, falling in love six years later. They have since become a proudly low-rent version of Liz and Dick, baring his troubles with substance abuse and hers with parent abuse, dieting together, mooning fans at ball games.
At any rate, Tom, 33, is definitely the right man for the role of Hawkeye State Pygmalion: The actor and comic was born here in Ottumwa, where he and Roseanne have just finished filming their second TV movie together, Graced Land (airing on ABC later this year). Directed by Bill (The Incredible Hulk) Bixby, Graced Land is the story of welfare mother Joyce Jackson (Roseanne) who, when her wayward husband (Tom) walks out, turns her home into a shrine to Elvis Presley. “Joyce is a little off spiritually,” says Roseanne, “but she has her own idea of what’s going on in the world. She’s some-thin’ else.”
And so is Roseanne. “I want Rosie to always dress like this,” says Tom, happily appraising his wife’s outfit. “Very Iowa, feminine, motherly.”
Um—exactly how motherly? Roseanne has a Band-Aid on her right arm, from a blood test that morning at the doctor’s. “We think we’re pregnant,” says Roseanne, who has three children (Jessica, 17, Jennifer, 16, and Jake, 14) by her first husband, William Pentland, plus another daughter, Brandi, 21, born out of wedlock when Roseanne was 18. “I was telling Tom either I’m pregnant or—can I say this?—I have cancer. I feel like I could retch any second.” (Subsequently the official word from the Arnold camp is that Roseanne is not pregnant.)
She and Tom have considered “thousands” of names, she says. “For the boy we were saying Jackzak. We made that up. Although we did think about Elvis.”
“His Hebrew name will be Elvis,” says Tom, who converted to Judaism (he was raised Methodist) in 1991, a little over a year after he married Roseanne in a civil service (his wife, in exchange, dropped her surname, Barr). For a girl, Roseanne favors Francie or Bridey.
In April, Roseanne underwent surgery to untie her Fallopian tubes. Since then, she confides, the couple’s attempts to conceive have been “kind of a chore…. You get home from work late, and you’re tired. You’re not in the mood. And even if you’re fightin’, you still have to do it.” (“It makes us not fight any more,” says Tom.)
She has been in otherwise high spirits while filming Graced Land: performing rock gigs with Tom and five old Ottumwa buddies—including employees Kevin “Mo” Moreland and Mike Sporer—as part of a band called the Alice Chalmers Experience (a joke on the tractor manufacturer Allis-Chalmers) and taking her female colleagues out for a Chippendales performance. “I can’t stand sittin’ in a trailer all day,” says Roseanne, a onetime trailer-park housewife. “It’s too much like my life before I was famous. It is exactly like my life before I was famous, ‘cept for the only difference is there’s not three screamin’ kids. Just Tom, and he’s worse.” Tom, for his part, pulled a stunt on the set one day: For a shot that called for him to motorcycle down a hill, he substituted Mo—naked except for gloves and boots.
Part of Tom’s ebullience springs from the fact that he now finds him self a whopping big fish in this particular pond. “Tom likes being famous, and he likes being back in his hometown,” says George Althoff, editor of the Ottumwa Courier. The most famous Ottumwan since M*A*S*H‘s teddy-cuddling “Radar” O’Reilly—and he was fictional—Arnold grew up here, the eldest of seven children (six boys, one girl). The bulk of his family is still in town, including dad Jack, who works at a plant that manufactures farm equipment, stepmother Ruth and most of his siblings.
And Tom and Roseanne are putting down new roots. And what roots: The couple recently broke ground for a $4 million-plus neo-Victorian number on 1,600 acres, with both indoor pool and bowling alley. (They plan to stay in Ottumwa for a few more weeks, until she resumes shooting Roseanne and he starts work on his own new sitcom, The Jackie Thomas Show.)
Tom was not always Ottumwa’s favorite son, let alone a boon to its building contractors. He claims to have spent at least a week’s worth of nights in the town jail, usually for drinking, once—in his community-college days—for nudity, after streaking the old folks’ home and two eateries. “The next morning,” he remembers, “my dad brings my clothes with him, and they’re all neatly folded. He comes up to the cell, and he says, ‘Tommy, aaah, listen, I was talking to the sheriff, and he says you were running around town naked. I feel that’s really bad and disgraceful, but if you tell me you weren’t, I’ll believe you.’ I said, ‘Dad, I wasn’t.’ He said, ‘Good. Here’s your clothes,’ and he took me home. He never mentioned it again.”
And his dad would be rude to complain now, when his son was so eager to cast him, as an extra, in Graced Land, which is replete with Arnolds. Roseanne counts them off. “Tom, his dad, his stepmother, his brothers…”
“My uncle, my aunt, sister-in-law, my grandfather…”
“But the crowning perfection,” says Roseanne, “is his two grandmothers”—although Roseanne seems to have a different “crowning” in mind for one of the grannies, Dottie Arnold. “She has a scene with me,” says Roseanne, “and I damn near killed her. She memorized her lines real well, but she forgot to memorize the lines that went before and after hers. It went on all day! She did 50 takes and still couldn’t get it right. She started screamin’ out her lines in the middle of my speeches. I said, I don’t care how old she is, I’m going to belt her one.’ ”
The feistiness turns to mellowness later in the day, the first anniversary of the Arnolds’ Jewish wedding ceremony. When the couple visit the crew’s canteen, they are presented with a large white sheet cake in honor of the occasion. Mo Moreland watches as Roseanne cuts the cake.
“Somehow, some way, they found each other,” he says, “and it’s a special relationship.” As Roseanne would say, it’s somethin’ else.
VICKIE BANE in Ottumwa