From Hated To Feted
Sunday Express 18th August 1991
Branded "The Most Unpopular Woman In America" after her brief, tempestuous marriage to Mike Tyson, Robin Givens has fought her way to the top of the popularity stakes. By Lesley Salisbury
Robin Givens doesn't look like the gold-digging schemer she was labelled in her former role of Mrs Mike Tyson, married to the most frightening World Heavyweight Champion in boxing history. And she certainly doesn't want to be reminded of those honeymoon days when she called him her very own live teddy bear.
Nor does she look like someone who owns two fearsome Rottweilers whom she loves to fuss over and call her babies. She's all dimples and smiles, but there's a steely edge to Robin Givens that makes you think she could bring them all - two-legged and four-legged beasts alike - to heel with one sharp look.
Last time we met, she and Tyson had just had a row in their £180,000 Bentley, which ended up smashed into a parked car. When police arrived, he tossed them the keys, telling them to keep the car and added: "I've had nothing but bad luck and accidents with it."
Four months later, after another tiff, Tyson drove Robin's silver BMW into a large tree. He was taken to hospital but discharged himself when a psychiatrist arrived to see him. Shortly after that, the stormy one-year marriage was over.
How did it ever begin? She looks you in the eye and tells you firmly she won't discuss her marriage, but you still wonder. What did they talk about? What did they do? What was in it for her?
They were called Beauty and the Beast and there were some, in the champ's camp especially, who regarded her as the Beast. She was called a schemer, a gold-digger, a clever manipulator; she was known as "that bitch"; a magazine headlined her The Most Unpopular Woman In America. She went on television to accuse Tyson of hitting her, threatening to kill her, once even placing a pillow over her head. It's no surprise that she wants to leave it all behind her. At 26, more than two years after the divorce, she feels her life and career are at last coming together. She's justifiably proud of her first film, A Rage In Harlem - she's a knockout as a sultry young con artist on the run with a car-load of gold - and thrilled with critics' reviews. Put yourself in her place: wouldn't you be delighted to pick up a paper and read something nice about yourself for once?
A Rage In Harlem, which also stars Forest Whitaker (as Robin's naive and sentimental young lover), Danny Glover and Gregory Hines, is based on a novel about life in Harlem in the 50s. An erotic sex scene, Robin's first on camera, left the Cannes Film Festival audience breathless.
Her character, Imabelle, is regarded here as the greatest role for a black woman since Dorothy Dandridge's in Porgy And Bess (1959). The New Yoi'k Times compared Robin's Imabelle to the type of "sizzling yet vulnerable" roles Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth were known for.
"Such parts are few and far between for black actresses," she says. "We haven't been allowed to be womanly on screen. That's why this role was so special to me. Everyone wanted to do it."
Whatever you might think of. Robin Givens, you have to admit that the past three years have given her a lot of pain to draw on. Shortly after her February 1988 wedding, there was much public conjecture about whether or not she was pregnant. Tyson later claimed she tricked him into marriage and that she wasn't pregnant; she claimed she had a miscarriage.
She says now how amazed she was to be Mrs Mike Tyson: "In your life you try to plan so you can control your fate or destiny but you just never, ever, know, do you?" Together they formed Robin Givens Productions, a film production company, and Mike Tyson Enterprises, a charity foundation to help retarded children. There were also business trusts and investments. And Robin; at just 22, was openly checking the financial records of all of them. She claimed, "I'm just protecting his interests. Fighters get ripped off all the time. Michael's a good man but basically he's a little boy. He needs someone like me who's strong, to protect him." , In the end, of course, she didn't like being Mrs Tyson and, if her version's the truth, she didn't gain much financially from the divorce. The champ was worth a conservatively estimated $40 million when they filed for divorce on 14 February 1989 in the Dominican Republic. Under Californian law, Robin could have walked away with half, but whether she did or not is anybody's guess, for, under the terms of the divorce, neither party revealed the size of the settlement.
They were always an odd couple. Tyson the ugly, fatherless kid brought up in the Brooklyn slums, picking pockets in a street gang by the age of nine, in reform school at 11, adopted a year later by a master trainer who knew even then he was looking at the future world champion. And then there was Givens, brought up by an ambitious, divorced mother in a middle-class New York suburb, modelling at 14, studying at the bluestocking Sarah Lawrence College and Harvard University's Medical School. Plans to be a doctor were dropped when Bill Cosby spotted her and launched her into an acting career by giving her a one-shot role in The Cosby Show.
She said she fell in love with Tyson because he was "so in touch with his feelings, which is rare for men today. He can tell you what he's feeling. He can say, 'I need a hug, I want you to love me, I want you with me.'" She assumes he's seen her film "because a lot of people have". But they don't keep in touch now, although they did meet for a few months after the divorce.
Has she changed? "I think I was a person who didn't know anything - and I really believed I knew a lot. I was incredibly daring, with a false sense of confidence. But I feel I know a lot more about life now. It hasn't always been a happy experience but it's important not to get cynical."
Her next film will be Obsession, a psychological thriller about a young woman who's "straight out of The Cosby Show, you know. She tries to be part of a perfect family, thinks she's done everything right, but hasn't experienced life. She starts to get out there, to get some experience and knowledge about life and ends up meeting someone she thinks is the perfect man. Only he's not..."
It all sounds strangely familiar.
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