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Will Tyson Bout Help or Hinder Givens' Career?

October 21, 1988|NIKKI FINKE | Times Staff Writer

Before Robin Givens married Mike Tyson, she was young, beautiful and a not-very-well-known actress hoping to parlay a sitcom role into stardom.

Now that Givens and Tyson are divorcing amid a maelstrom of media frenzy, she is young, beautiful and a figure of national notoriety. But what has this done to her career?

On Wednesday, another chapter in the Givens-Tyson soap opera played out when Givens, through her lawyer Raoul Felder, announced that she was giving up claim to Tyson's millions. Immediately, Tyson's attorney, Howard Weitzman, suggested that Givens made the decision only because she knew a trial would have been damaging to her professional future.

Have stories portraying her, variously, from a gold-digging Svengali to a victimized battered wife already scared away producers, casting directors and deal-makers? Or has Given's new-found fame made her such a hot property that what the public thinks about her personal life doesn't matter?

"She's hot now and no matter what she does--as long as what she does hits the front pages--she'll always be hot," says veteran Hollywood publicist Lee Solters, who like most others questioned by The Times has no connection to Givens or Tyson.

Triad Artists' agency co-founder Rick Ray doubts that negative publicity over the divorce will have a long-term effect on Givens' career, but her renouncement of Tyson's money was "a lovely gesture whose whole purpose may have been to establish firmly that she is a decent human being."

It's too early to tell whether the divorce brouhaha will affect the ratings of Givens' Wednesday night ABC sitcom "Head of the Class." Early figures suggested that this week's season debut--opposite NBC's World Series--performed a bit better than last year's average show, but an ABC spokesman insists that the matrimonial saga "hasn't affected the show in any way, shape or form."

But Michael Elias, the co-executive producer of "Head of the Class," acknowledges, "we know we have gotten a lot of publicity. I have friends who say I read about your show every day--in the sports pages. It would be naive for me to claim there's no Robin Givens factor."

Elias thinks it's "great" that Givens has renounced Tyson's money. "I really think that will help her image."

Though Givens was booed when she was introduced at her husband's Atlantic City title fight with Michael Spinks, not everyone appears to be taking sides. According to Elias, the audience at the show's taping Friday reacted to her "the same as to any other cast member. No booing. No hissing."

"Besides," Elias says, "divorce is not a crime against humanity."

Many celebrities have endured notorious episodes in their personal lives and still had successful careers. What distinguishes the rocky Givens-Tyson marriage from others is the remarkable way it has been played out in the media--from the supermarket tabloids to the network newscasts. Instead of going to a marriage counselor, the couple went to Barbara Walters, figuratively at least.

Since the divorce was sought, Givens' go-between with the press has been her attorney, but Hollywood publicists says she could use a good press agent now.

Solters sees the Givens case as a "challenge" for any publicist: "Intentionally or unintentionally, I don't think this has made her look good. But right now I don't think that her career is in danger at all."

In the meantime, he says, Givens has to "bite the bullet" and hope that "talent will out."

Solters explains: "If you eliminate everything that happened, Robin Givens before Mike Tyson was a beautiful, attractive tremendous presence with obvious talent. That's the strongest offense and defense a person can have."

To another veteran Hollywood P.R. man, Joe Sutton, Givens' career "will now sink or swim on talent--because people now will look at everything she's doing, and especially her work, with a microscope."

One beneficiary of the Givens-Tyson sparring could be "The Women of Brewster Place," an ABC made-for-TV movie starring Oprah Winfrey and, now, Givens. Already filmed and scheduled to air early in 1989, the movie features Givens as a sympathetic young woman who gets caught up in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Will the public accept Givens as a goody-two-shoes?

"I think Robin is so outstanding in this that what . . . they're going to experience is the character in the story, not Robin Givens married to Mike Tyson," says co-producer Carol Isenberg.

Still, the movie could get higher than expected ratings because of Givens' involvement.

"That's true," Isenberg says happily. "Certainly, for the moment, this makes it very hot. But people are very fickle. And by the time the movie airs, Robin and Mike could reconcile. I certainly don't want to base the success of this film on their marital situation."

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