Roseanne and Tom Arnold leave town
Out on the West Coast, Roseanne and Tom Arnold have been busy ex-spouses. Since their recent divorce, Tom’s announced plans to marry Julie Champnella, 21. Roseanne’s having a test-tube baby with bodyguard-cum-fiancé Ben Thomas. But in Eldon, Iowa (pop. 1,052), they are still joined at the big hip. The towering yellow sign on Elm Street still glows ”Roseanne & Tom’s Big Food $ Diner.” Inside, the menu still features Mama Rosey’s and Big Daddy Tom’s loose meat sandwiches listed snugly up against each other.</p
But this togetherness can’t last forever. The couple’s breakup has thrown the fate of the two-year-old, high-calorie diner into limbo — not to mention its effects on the Arnolds’ half-finished mansion and their local newspaper chain. While Tom and Roseanne’s lawyers squabble over property rights, the folks in Eldon are left wondering what to make of the Hollywood Hurricane that blew into this hamlet in 1991.
Whither Eldon? Until the showbiz couple targeted the town, just a few miles from Tom’s native Ottumwa, as their home away from Hollywood, its biggest claim to fame was its two-story house featured in the background of Grant Wood’s 1930 painting American Gothic. Then came Tom and Roseanne: roaring their four-wheelers down the main drag; blasting their race car around the fairgrounds. Once Roseanne even rode into town on a horse.
To some, those were the days. ”In Hollywood, they see stars all the time,” laments Hank Hofstetter, 37, owner of an auto-repair shop. ”But the only time I saw stars was when I hit myself in the head with a hammer.” But not everyone was a fan. ”Roseanne can have an attitude, and I have an attitude,” says Louise Hamilton, 71, manager of a gift store. ”Our attitudes might not have gotten along.” And don’t even mention the last time the star rolled into town. People say she was haughty at the diner’s party for her book, My Lives, and blew off a local singing gig.
But no one in Eldon will argue with one thing: the sound of ringing cash registers. The Arnolds pumped thousands of dollars into the economy of this town where many work in nearby factories. Though they visited here, at most, once a month, they dropped big bucks at stores like Dave’s Hardware and Hank’s Body Shop. According to Tom’s stepmother, Ruth, he gave $5,000 to a struggling artist trying to hawk paintings door-to-door.
When the breakup came, folks were disappointed but not surprised. ”We didn’t expect it to amount to much,” says Hofstetter. And without them, Eldon will get along fine. Yes, they’ll lose some tourists and coffee-break chatter, but, says Mayor Dave Bowen, ”This town won’t dry up and blow away.”
Whither loose meat? The walls of the 66-seat diner (resembling the Lunch Box on Roseanne) are still packed with photos of the duo mud-wrestling and Tom flashing his pancake-size tattoos. But a souvenir glass case that once housed Roseanne’s Emmy before she demanded it back sits mostly empty. Overhead, a color TV plays Roseanne. Nobody’s watching.
Sit for a while and an occasional customer drifts in. A preacher sips coffee in the corner with a leather-bound Bible. A man in overalls flips through the sports pages. Things are quiet, until the staff gets going about the Good Old Days when Tom hired the Tattoo-Mobile and paid for some 20 diner workers to get inked.
Now business is molasses-slow; there are no more busloads of camera danglers. And Eldon buzzes with unfounded rumors: Sylvester Stallone’s bought the diner! It’s about to close! Truth is, the diner’s fate will be decided when the duo split up their property. Meanwhile, the staff tries to keep slinging hash and ignore the shaky future. Says waitress Kaye Hancock, ”It’ll probably appear in the National Enquirer before we find out.”
Whither the paper? Then again, maybe they’ll read all about it in the Eldon Beacon-Forum. In 1993, the press-loathing couple bought the Beacon and four other papers, total circulation 2,500. For a while, Roseanne became the Ann Landers of Eldon, squeezing a ”Dear Rosey” column between church news and the hog-roast announcements.
When the marriage went south, Tom’s father Jack and Ruth bought the paper for a reported six figures. It no longer carries much news of the bickering Arnolds. ”We’ll probably lose some ad sales,” says Ruth. ”But we’ll probably gain some, too. A lot of people didn’t like ‘Dear Rosey.”’
Whither the farm? Ultimately, the biggest mark left on the icy Iowa landscape (and the best metaphor for the couple’s turbulent marriage) is their unfinished, 25,000-square-foot Victorian house. It now sits abandoned, roofless, and for sale on their 2,000-acre farm called — no jokes, please — Serenity. Tom reportedly wants to turn the $3 million estate into a camp for abused kids.
At the end of a gravel road, a white metal fence dripping with icicles stops would-be visitors to Serenity. But if you did get inside in the heyday, says Ruth, you’d have seen stuff that would’ve made Elvis drool. Jet-skis. Go-carts. A herd of Black Angus cattle. Godzilla and bear sculptures. Plastic flamingos — 150 of them — dotting the 17 ponds. (Ruth would hide them when Roseanne was away.)
Whatever happens, it sure was an experience having the high-decibel couple in town. ”People used to have something to talk about,” says Heidi Kildow, manager of the Dave’s Hardware. ”Now the ice storm is the biggest excitement around here.”