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JULIA LOUS-DREYFLS DIDN'T KNOW IT BUT she was about to be Arnoldized.

When the actress, who plays Elaine on Seinfeld, arrived for work March 2 at CBS Studio Center—where her hit NBC series tapes—she took a space reserved for Tom Arnold, husband of the indomitable Roseanne and star of the first-season ABC sitcom The Jackie Thomas Show, which also tapes at the studio.

Actually, Arnold and his wife—star of ABC's biggest hit sitcom of all, Roseanne—have five parking spaces scattered around the lot, but, says Tom, 33: "My spots have to be open. I work in two writers' buildings, two studios and my own office." So Arnold, who spends his day scrambling from duty to duty, was not pleased to pull up in his $210,000 1992 Bentley Turbo and find another car in his space. He left a little note:

"How stupid are you? Move your f———car, you a———!"

Returning to her car later that day, it was Louis-Dreyfus's turn to be upset. She, costar Jason Alexander (George), executive producer Larry David and several other Seinfeld crew members confronted Tom on the Thomas set at the end of the afternoon, says Arnold, and demanded to know whether he wrote the note. (Seinfelders won't talk about the incident.)

"Yes, I did," Arnold says he told them. Then, according to him, he added, "I didn't know whose car it was. I was mad. I'm not mad anymore. I just wanted the car moved. I hope you're not mad anymore."

"Well, yes, I am," said Louis-Dreyfus, according to Arnold. He says she went on to claim that security guards had waved her away from her usual space and into Tom's because of construction work. "I'm very mad," she reportedly told him. "This note is very mean."

March 3, she parked in her old space.

End of story? With the Arnolds, no way. That same day, the ever protective Roseanne, 40, soaped two obscenities on Louis-Dreyfus's windshield and left a Polaroid snapshot of a man's hairy derriere. "I'm sure I'd do at least the same for Rosey," Tom says.

Although Tom and Roseanne deny that the rump is Arnold's, which is tattooed (to prove his point, he dropped his drawers on L.A. TV station KTLA's morning news program March 12), they took an almost gleeful satisfaction in describing their parking-lot adventure. And Roseanne faxed a letter to Variety columnist Michael Fleming that concluded: "The combination of arrogance and ignorance is quite ordinary in this town, but Julia takes the cake."

"I think it's funny," Tom says of the fracas. "So does Rosey." Is he worried about the Seinfelders? Au contraire. "We probably gave them a whole episode with this," he says. "They can write about a parking space."

Laugh and the world laughs with you. Up to a point. The real-life Tom and Roseanne Show is wilder, weirder and probably more compelling than at least one of their series. They moon at baseball and football games. They fire off obscene letters to critics. They love to discuss their tattoos (he has six, she has four), their cosmetic surgery, their addictions, their yo-yo diets, even their attempts at conceiving a child.

Are they merry pranksters? Major cranks? Sad clowns crying out for help? Are they, as Tom once said, "Americas worst nightmare—white trash with money"? Or two people whose passion for each other is so great, so all-consuming that, like the moor-treading lovers of Wuthering Heights, they occasionally lose sight of the rules and restrictions imposed on lesser mortals?

They love a good tussle, that's for sure. "You know Rosey," Tom says. "Rosey doesn't like people messing with her man."

Asked whether Tom shouldn't be allowed to fight his own battles, Roseanne offers the middle finger and answers in her inimitable deadpan drone, "My husband can defend himself by beating the s—t out of anybody."

Even so, she was the instigator in the last curious episode (before Louis-Dreyfus) of the Tom and Roseanne Show. After Jackie Thomas, in its debut, received a generally unfavorable press reaction last December, Roseanne, the show's executive producer, promptly lashed back at unappreciative critics at the Los Angeles Times, USA Today and the Los Angeles Daily-News, sending them vicious faxes that included antigay slurs. (She informed one critic that, if his life were made into a sitcom, he would be "portrayed by an effeminate, mousy actor"—but that's a mild example.) At the time, Tom was in New York City, rehearsing for a stint as host of Saturday Night Live. "Roseanne read the letters to me," says Tom. "I said, 'Right on, honey!' "

"I regret if any gay people were hurt or offended, because that was never my intent," Roseanne says now. She has claimed that she was merely responding—ballistically—to what she felt was a personal attack. "And I think I've proven myself not to be anti-gay," she says. In fact, Roseanne can point to her continued efforts to work gay characters into the fabric of Roseanne: The cast this season has included Sandra Bernhard and Morgan Fairchild playing lesbian lovers. And she and Tom were expected lo accept an award for Roseanne March 20 from L.A.'s Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

As outrageous as the Arnolds' behavior can be, their careers have waxed successful in spite of it—or even because of it. Tom believes he and Roseanne have always prevailed because of their common touch: He used to work in a meat-packing plant in Iowa, and his wife of three years was once a trailer park housewife. "People understand," says Tom. "We had stuff like that going on all the time at the plant—parking spots, people messing with each other. Just the monotony of working every day."

In Hollywood, there are other reasons for tolerating the couple's occasional yahoo proclivities. "Tom and Roseanne might be eccentric," concedes an agent (not theirs) who represents TV personalities, "and there are some in the industry who wonder, 'Who let them in?' But the fact is people here respect them. They say what they think."

And people there listen lo even word, expletive or no. As one producer puts it: "They are major stars who have a long line of people waiting to suck up to them." If Roseanne and Tom aren't yet Lucy and Desi ("We d like to be as big," admits Roseanne, "but we've got a long way to go"), they have already made TV history. Not even Lucy created and produced a sitcom for her husband. Lor almost live months now. Roseanne has been followed on Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. (LT) by Jackie Thomas, in which Tom plays (surprise!) a deeply obnoxious sitcom star. But alter a strong debut in the Nielsens, the show has faltered, raising the question of whether it will be renewed for next season. (Its final episode this season airs March 30.)

But Roseanne's own eponymous sitcom, now in its fifth season, is ABC's anchor, and she has been rewarded with a deal worth a reported $100 million. The Arnolds' production company is at work on yet another pilot. Their TV movie, The Woman Who Loved Elvis, aire on ABC April 18. (See the story on its director, Bill Bixby, on page 36.) They have movie scripts being developed for them by such A-list producers as Lorne Michaels (Wayne's World) and Joel Silver (Die Hard). And their payroll numbers 240.

But big as they are, the Arnolds can display an almost touching need for each others protection and support. "When I feel bad about something, like thinking the world is against me," says Tom, "I turn to Rosey, and she knows what to say."

"Yeah, because I've been there, I've been slammed," says Roseanne. She knows she can always turn to Tom too. "He's, like, the one person I've never gotten sick of," she says.

As Sandra Bernhard observes: "In this town you need an ally. Why not each other?"

The allies have just returned to Fortress Arnold at the end of a day that included script readings for their two shows, plus Tom's appearance on The Tonight Show. Roseanne is curled up next to Tom on a floral-print sofa in the living room. On a nearby table are photos of Roseanne's three children—Jessica, 17, Jennifer, 16, and Jake, 14—all of whom have lived with her since her 1990 divorce from Bill Pentland. the ex-hotel clerk who had a hand in her early career. Out back are a swimming pool, a tennis court, a giant satellite dish and a guest house with a gym and his-and-her offices. There is also a 1,700-acre farm and a mansion-in-the-making in Tom's hometown, Ottumwa, Iowa. On March 13, the Arnolds attended the grand opening of their own 50-seat diner in nearby Eldon.

"It's a miracle," says Tom, a college dropout from a blue-collar family of seven brothers and sisters. "I mean, 12 years ago I was in Iowa working in a meal-packing plant, and she was in this marriage with three kids. Tell me, how do two people so alike yet so far apart manage to find each other, get together and get to the place we're at now?"

Here's how: Arnold met Roseanne, who grew up Jewish in Mormon Salt Lake City, in Minneapolis in 1983, when they were both starling out on the stand-up circuit. When Roseanne landed her series in 1988, she summoned Tom lo Los Angeles, where he started out warming up her audiences.

Then, one evening when the two friends were at a Grateful Dead concert, "I told her I loved her," says Tom. "But she kind of blew it off until later that night."

"Then we talked about it," says Roseanne, whose marriage to Pent-land was faltering. "We decided to lake it real slow."

It didn't take long, though, for Tom to become executive producer of Roseanne. "I told everyone it was Rosey's show," he says. "And anybody who didn't see it in those terms was gone." Many people went, including Roseanne's husband and her sister, Geraldine, 34, who is suing Roseanne for breach of contract, claiming she helped create Roseanne's "domestic goddess" persona.

"We can be tough and mean if we have to be," Tom says, "but we're really fair people. The people who work for us love it."

"Or else they're fired," chirps Roseanne.

So they have the show in order. But they both admit it was more of a challenge get ling themselves under control. He had cocaine and drinking problems. She was smoking five packs of cigarettes a day and gelling high on pot in the mornings, at night and on weekends. She finally got Tom into a hospital to dry out. "I was real angry and saying, 'How dare you let me down by being a drug addict?' " she recalls. "But then Tom asked, 'Whose addiction are we talking about, mine or sours? I d gotten stoned right lie-fore I'd come down there. It's because of Tom that I got sober too."

One final struggle began when they were on their honeymoon in 1990. They were eating their way through Europe, packing on 30 lbs. apiece in three weeks. Then, on the Riviera, they spotted nude sunbathers. "We were flabbergasted, she says.

"Not 'cause they were naked," says Tom. "We kinda liked that. We just wondered what it would feel like.

"Not to be ashamed of your body," she says.

The two have been fighting ever since lo shed weight, by means surgical, aerobic and dietary. Roseanne has dropped 70 lbs., to 170, and wouldn't mind losing 25 more. Tom has lost 100 lbs., down from 330, and had liposuction in January lo pare down his love handles. He works out with a trainer four days a week; Roseanne uses a treadmill. The couple also employ a cook to prepare special low-fat meals. "If the meals taste really bad, then we fire the cook," says Tom. "And if they start tasting really good, we gain weight and fire the cook."

Roseanne will also discuss, without blinking, her breast-reduction surgery in late 1991. The surgeons, she says, took off "a pound and a half from each boob." There followed a nose trim last July and, this past Christmas, a tummy tuck, with 7 lbs. of fat lopped off. "And the doctors cut her a new belly button," notes Tom. "Don't forget that. We paid for it."

Now, says Roseanne, she's done with the scalpel. "I was always ashamed to look at my body in a mirror," she says, "and now I'm not."

At this point the Arnolds are working on their most important production: a baby. Last April, Roseanne had her fallopian tubes, which had been cut in 1978, reconnected. She and Tom tried for five months to conceive in the usual way, then submitted to in vitro fertilization—three unsuccessful attempts in five months. "But they say you need to try it six times," says Roseanne. "And we're committed."

"I mean, we've got worries," says Tom, "like having a kid who'll have a head as big as mine—a kid who'll inherit our genes."

Roseanne's current kids have no problem with the idea of a new batch of Arnolds. "I'd like a little brother," says Jake. "We love Tom—how can you not?"

Wellllll...don't ask Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

TOM GLIATTO
TODD GOLD in Los Angeles

  • Contributors:
  • Todd Gold.