Penthouse Retrospective

by Nanette Varian Originally Published: December, 1990

Roseanne Barr

Barr was also frequenting the Woman to Woman Bookstore, run by a feminist collective that held meetings in the basement. She was invited to appear at a feminist coffeehouse and began alternating appearances there with her stints at the comedy club. Although she honed her chops on the comedy-club circuit, it was the coffeehouse that gave Barr the freedom to explore the “women things” that conventional club owners feared would “lose” the men. Slowly but surely, with a little help from her sister Geraldine, a Domestic Goddess was born on a wave of “women things” that would crest at No. 1 in the Neilsens.

Not too many years ago, Roseanne Barr was still living in a 600-foot trailer. It’s the kind of story that America loves: Rosie Average makes good, proving that with talent and chutzpah you can turn your life around, whatever the odds. But that success was followed by a seemingly endless tsunami of bad press – some of which may have been self-inflicted (“Tom and Roseanne Moon World Series Crowd”), much of which was just plain mean-spirited.

First came the tales of strife on the set. Never mind that Bill Cosby jetti­soned a few longtime writers with nary a peep from the press. Or that “In the Heat of the Night” star Carroll O’Connor marked his return from bypass surgery by announcing his intention to “get rid of everyone” who defied his creative authority. When Roseanne Barr fires, it’s a federal offense.

At a time when Barr was being advised that the best response was no response at all, her domestic troubles were being reported in breathless detail – her separation from husband Bill Pentland, her romance with writer-comedian Tom Arnold, her daughter Jessica’s problem with alcohol. But the most devastating blow was dealt by a tabloid reporter who, according to Barr, approached her in a hotel room at 2 A.M. and said, “I know where your daughter is.”

Back when she was 18 and unmarried, Barr had given birth to a baby girl and put her up for adoption. Although she had made arrangements for the child to be able to find her upon coming of age (if she wished), Barr chose to keep this part of her life private. Now the threat of imminent tabloid exposure forced a hasty reunion. Barr contacted the teenager, arranging to meet her and her adoptive mother. It would turn out to be one of the best and worst days of her life.

Shortly after their visit began, Barr received word that her fiance, Tom Arnold, was hemorrhaging from the nose – the unfortunate by-product of a three-day cocaine bender. Barr rushed him to the hospital, and their wedding plans were postponed while Arnold cleaned up his act.

Barr and Arnold finally tied the knot early this year. He is straight. Her daughter is sober. She corresponds regularly with the child she’d given up so long ago. Now everything would calm down, right?


“Roseanne Trashes Rented Malibu Manse,” screamed the headlines. (Barr said it was simply normal wear and tear, and that she was working out a settlement with the owner.) “Roseanne’s Ex Hires Marvin Mitchelson.” (He’s filed a $15 million suit against her.) The Emmy nominations are announced and, once again, Barr is overlooked. There was the national anthem incident, a tempest in a teapot that was finally forced off the front pages by the invasion of Ku­wait. Roseanne-bashing is raised to new heights as the woman we love for being funny and honest and a little bit rude is chastised for being funny and honest and a little bit rude. The Designated Heathen is propped up and struck down and propped up again. As long as she stays funny, she survives.

And the beat goes on. The barrage continues. But this time, Roseanne Barr is talking back.

No matter how insane people make her out to be, when you hear her words, Roseanne doesn't seem much different than any other intelligent woman with an ax to grind. Unless, of course, she's talking about how insane she is...

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