Unfunny Business

updated 01/20/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/20/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

FOR FIVE YEARS, MARTIN LAWRENCE and Tisha Campbell—stars of the Fox sitcom Martin—had a knack for making raunchiness seem romantic. Their love-struck characters, Gina and Martin Payne, who got married on the show last season, never indulged in mere chitchat when a risqué riposte would do. "If you can get past the language and have fun with what I'm talking about," Lawrence told the Los Angeles Times in 1994, "I'm going to keep you mentally healthy." Campbell, for her part, seemed unfazed by the locker-room humor. "[Martin]," she told PEOPLE in 1994, "is like my brother."

But according to court papers filed by Campbell on Jan. 2, Lawrence, 31, may have taken his legendary lewdness too far. Alleging a five-year-long pattern of sexual harassment and physical threats from Lawrence, Campbell, 28, who abruptly quit the show on Nov. 22, has painted a chilling picture of her co-star. Campbell, who met Lawrence when they both appeared in 1990's House Party, claims she was repeatedly-subjected to abuse by Lawrence, whose offenses, state court documents, include "groping her, kissing her, forcing his tongue into her mouth and simulating intercourse with her...in front of the cast and crew." Campbell became, she claims, terrified by Lawrence's "manic and volatile" conduct. In her fourth season, she had producers put a lock on her dressing-room door and later requested that a button be installed, allowing her to summon a security guard. "She feared for herself, for Martin, and everybody," says Campbell's lawyer Kurt Peterson, who is seeking an unspecified amount in damages.

Campbell's charges came as a countersuit to attempts by HBO Independent Productions, the series' producers, to force her to finish out her $100,000-per-episode contract (Campbell accuses HBO of failing to protect her, a charge that HBO disputes). Lawrence's only response came from his publicist: "Martin has long been Tisha's champion and protector and is thus deeply hurt by these allegations."

Campbell's charges come at a time when Lawrence's image could use some repairing. Last May he was hospitalized for what he claimed to be "exhaustion and dehydration" after he yelled at passersby while bearing a loaded pistol in the middle of a busy L.A. intersection. Three months later, he received two years' probation after being arrested at Burbank Airport when he tried to board a plane bound for Phoenix with a loaded 9mm Baretta.

Lawrence's marriage has also fallen on hard times. His estranged wife, Patricia, a former Miss Virginia, holds a restraining order against Lawrence, who, she says in court papers, was treated with psychotropic medication during their 20-month marriage. Patricia, however, also attributes his unpredictability to "almost daily marijuana use." One day last year, she says in the papers, Lawrence took her on a terrifying ride up L.A.'s Benedict Canyon in his Ferrari. "[Lawrence] began driving extremely fast, swerving over the line repeatedly and bouncing off the edge of the road," she said. "He seemed elated, agitated and unable to recognize the danger of the situation."

On Aug. 1, Lawrence checked into Sierra Tucson, a drug rehab center in Arizona, but left after two days, according to his wife. Then, on Sept. 14, Patricia and their daughter Jasmin, 1, moved out of the family's Beverly Hills mansion. Three days later, Lawrence filed for divorce. According to Campbell's suit, it was Lawrence's continued harassment of Patricia and Jasmin—including a Nov. 21 incident in which he allegedly broke into their hotel room waving a gun—that finally prompted the actress to quit the show.

For now, Martin continues to hold steady in the ratings, though a source close to the show says "it is one of the most tension-filled casts in Los Angeles." One way Campbell's absence will be explained is by a plot that has her miss a cruise she was to take with Lawrence. With future plot developments unknown, it's most likely the place the two stars will meet next will be in court (a trial date is pending). Friends of Lawrence, who starred in last year's A Thin Line Between Love and Hate and whose next movie, Nothing to Lose, is awaiting release, are hoping for the best. "There are some really good sides to him," says Alyce Carew, his former manager. Adds Jamie Masada, owner of L.A.'s Laugh Factory: "He's a human being. Maybe he just couldn't take the pressure."

JANICE MIN
LYNDON STAMBLER, KAREN BRAILSFORD, CRAIG TOMASHOFF and LORENZO BENET in Los Angeles

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