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Grant flees as the story grows

His clean-cut image tarnished after his arrest with a woman identified as a prostitute, British actor Hugh Grant left Los Angeles Wednesday while Hollywood and the public at large couldn't stop speculating how this might affect his career.

Many reports said the 34-year-old Briton was flying off to London to face his girlfriend of eight years, Estee Lauder model Elizabeth Hurley.

Divine Marie Brown, 23, has no publicist but certainly could get plenty of publicity. The woman who was arrested with Grant and whom police identified as a prostitute is being hotly pursued by at least one agent.

Sheri Spillane, an agent with the Ruth Webb Talent Agency, said, "We're trying to sign her up. The obvious is a book deal. She has a story about life on the streets, and what led her to that moment. There is so much interest in her it's unbelievable. I would be surprised if there wasn't a movie of the week in the works already."

And, naturally, both the TV and print tabloids want to talk to Brown.

"We're just praying she walks in to us," said Eric Ritter, managing editor with the syndicated Inside Edition. Ritter and representatives for another TV newsmagazine, A Current Affair, said they would be unwilling to pay Brown for the interview.

Just three days before his arrest, Grant boasted that Britain's scandal-hungry tabloid press could not find anything wrong in his life.

"They've never really been able to dig up much dirt about disloyalty," he told a group of six journalists in Los Angeles Saturday about his relationship with Hurley.

"I am amazed they haven't done better on that," he added during a free-wheeling exchange about his life, how his fame had become a burden and how he feels forced to "grow up."

Friends said the Grant-Hurley relationship would weather the storm. "I am sure they will cope adequately," said Lord Henry Brocklehurst, at whose home Hurley spent the night to avoid the media. "I was as surprised as anybody else."

Grant's arrest had Hollywood wondering what impact the escapade would have on his first big commercial Hollywood film, 20th Century Fox's Nine Months, opening July 12.

A studio publicist said Grant will keep up his promotional schedule for Nine Months starting next week. Fine Line Cinema also is still planning to release another film with Grant, the dark comedy An Awfully Big Adventure, on July 21. It casts him as a malicious bisexual provincial theater director.

Fox spokesman Jeffrey Godsig said the studio had no comment on Grant's arrest or how it will affect the movie. But he did dispel rumors of a last-minute effort to alter the marketing campaign and take the movie's pitch off Grant. "We absolutely are not changing the marketing campaign for Nine Months," he said.

Nine Months director Chris Columbus came to Grant's defense Wednesday.

"Sure, I'm upset that this happened on my film," said Columbus, who is pretty much regarded as a family-film director with the two Home Alone films under his belt. "But I have to tell you I was coming back from the airport (in Chicago Tuesday) and the limo driver says to me, "Hey, I don't know anything about movies but I've been seeing and hearing about your movie all over the place today!'

"Maybe I should tell the entire cast to do something to get jailed before the film opens. No seriously, I am upset about this, and I know Hugh is as well. But what can you do? I'm not going to sit here and have a funeral about it with (the film's) opening a week away. You just have to get through it, and you have to deal with it humorously."

An ironic twist to Grant's arrest: He is scheduled to appear on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno on July 10, the same night as former White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers. Myers also was arrested Tuesday, charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. Both are expected to appear on the show.