THE HUNDRED OR SO RESIDENTS OF WEST LITTLETON, England, were expecting an influx of visitors on Saturday, July 1. This was the day the townspeople traditionally opened their gardens to the public. But the camera crews camped near Hugh Grant and Elizabeth Hurley's rented $1.4 million country manor weren't there for a shot of a prize petunia. "Everyone," said one photographer, "is poised for something to happen."
The couple did not disappoint them. Hurley had already created a great moment in Dial-a-Mattress history by ordering a new king-size bed, delivered with much fanfare the day before to the guest room where her beau of eight years had presumably been exiled. Later that day, Hurley stood, hand on hip, in the backyard and appeared to berate the 34-year-old actor for soliciting a prostitute in Los Angeles three days earlier. Grant had hurried home for this encounter on a private jet provided by Harvey Weinstein of Miramax Films, the Disney-owned company that had released Grant's The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain. Now, at 1:45 p.m., the 29-year-old Hurley emerged from the house escorted by bodyguards and sped off in a silver Mercedes to spend the weekend at Sudeley Castle, home of her good friend Henry Brocklehurst, 28. Two days later, she flew to Paris for a Versace show while Grant sheepishly walked Hurley's growling German shepherd Nico past the still-encamped paparazzi.
Grant may be guilty of dodgy behavior on Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard, but no one can accuse him of dodging the consequences. In a statement issued immediately after his arrest, he fessed up completely. And according to 20th Century Fox, the studio that produced his upcoming romantic comedy Nine Months, the actor will be keeping all his promotional appearances, including scheduled guest spots with Jay Leno on July 10 and Larry King on July 12. After that, the public fallout from his arrest may be mostly behind him, according to Art Murphy, box-office analyst for the industry daily The Hollywood Reporter. "Grant may be the butt of snickering teenage-boy-type laughs," he says, "but this will blow over."
Of course, where there are personal problems for celebrities, there is also publicity—and the conventional wisdom in Hollywood is that the scandal can only help sell Grant's next film. Moviegoers in many theaters have been cheering the trailer for Nine Months. "It's hard to believe," says Variety's editorial director Peter Bart, "that people who respond that vociferously when they see the trailer won't be curious to see the movie."
One person who has already profited from Grant's debacle is Divine Brown, née Stella Marie Thompson, the 25-year-old mother of three, identified by L.A. police as a "known prostitute," whom the actor picked up in the early morning of June 27. Brown, who sold the story of her 10-minute encounter with Grant to London's News of the World for a reported $160,000, recalled that the actor's first words to her were "Wow, you're gorgeous!" According to Brown, Grant told her that he fantasized about having sex with a black woman. They had their rendezvous in Grant's rented BMW because, Brown said, the actor had only $60 in crumpled bills, $40 short of the cost of a tryst in a motel room. And though she says Grant reluctantly used a condom, the LAPD and health authorities have publicly urged the actor to get an HIV test.
All this has weighed heavily on Hurley, whose attendance at the L.A. premiere of Nine Months on July 11—just a week before Grant's scheduled arraignment—seems far from certain. Hurley's lucrative contract with Estée Lauder, however, seems safe. "We stand by any decision Elizabeth makes in her personal life," company president Leonard Lauder said.
The one good piece of news for Grant is that he is unlikely to face jail time. L.A. prosecutors say that since this was Grant's first offense, they may consider a fine of no more than $1,000 and a year's probation. Hurley, however, may be tougher, sentencing her steady to a life without Liz. "She is still not committed to the idea of continuing her relationship with Hugh," says friend Brocklehurst. "She is flabbergasted by what happened and obviously livid about the stupidity of what he did. More than anything, though, she feels sorry for him."
TERRY SMITH in London and JOHN WRIGHT in West Littleton, with bureau reports
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