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What's in Winona's future?

Some celebrities benefit, others never recover

By Todd Leopold

Winona Ryder
Winona Ryder

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CNN's Paul Clinton says the shoplifting trial of actress Winona Ryder was full of surreal moments and dramatic flair (November 6)
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A Los Angeles jury found actress Winona Ryder guilty of grand theft and vandalism but not guilty of commercial burglary (November 6)
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• Gallery: On trial, in style 
• Amended information: People v. Ryder (FindLaw, PDF)external link
• Court Case coverage external link
• All about Winona external link

(CNN) -- The career impact of celebrity court cases is anything but predictable. Some celebrities find their careers are over. Others actually get a boost.

With Winona Ryder convicted of grand theft and vandalism in her Saks Fifth Avenue shoplifting case, attention now turns to her career.

Ryder, 31, may have fallen from the rising-star A-list status she had in the early 1990s, when her appearances in films such as "Heathers" (1989), "Edward Scissorhands" (1990) and "Reality Bites" (1994) made her a Gen-X icon, but she's still an Oscar-nominated actress with fresh-faced good looks.

"Winona Ryder is no Fatty Arbuckle," said Robert Thompson, pop culture expert and head of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. "I don't think this will do her career a lot of harm."

Ryder is merely the latest in a long line of celebrities, from Arbuckle, Errol Flynn and Zsa Zsa Gabor to Hugh Grant and Robert Blake, to end up on the wrong side of the law and find themselves in the media crosshairs, whether for major crimes or minor misdeeds.

Arbuckle, one of the top stars of the early silent movies era, was arrested in 1921 on manslaughter charges after a starlet, Virginia Rappe, died a few days after being found seriously injured at a party he hosted.

After three trials, Arbuckle was finally acquitted, but indignation from the Hearst papers and tabloids ruined his acting career, though he did do some directing later.

Ryder's case, by contrast, is relatively minor, something that would ordinarily be settled out of court, according to many legal experts. It's something that "if your kid does it, you forgive them, Winona does it, you forgive her, too," Thompson said.

Moving up?

The visibility provided by the trial may actually help Ryder's career, he said.

"She got some good camera time," he pointed out. Moreover, a day after the shakeup of the midterm elections, the announcement of the Ryder verdict "knocked the American Experiment's greatest day off all three cable news networks," he said.

"Hollywood has the biggest heart in the world, and if there is any place where someone would be forgiven, it's in this town," producer Tom Sherak, a former 20th Century Fox executive, told Reuters.

If Ryder's career is affected in any way, it could be in her ability to be bonded -- for producers and filmmakers to obtain insurance on her for shoots, said Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola University in Los Angeles, California.

Also, if Ryder has to report to some kind of probationary program, it could get in the way of scheduling, she said.

Peter Bart, the editor-in-chief of trade paper Daily Variety, said some filmmakers might be wary of Ryder.

"I can see a director debating with himself whether to trust Winona in terms of just stability," he told Reuters. "Could she get arrested for shoplifting in Budapest in the middle of a shoot? It's questions like that that have to be worked out."

Still attractive

Nevertheless, Levenson said, it's not as if Ryder's image has suffered irreparable damage.

"Everything that made her appealing before hasn't changed now," she said, noting the actress' demure, almost childlike appearance in the courtroom.

Ryder's publicist, Mara Buxbaum, told reporters Tuesday that Ryder had "numerous offers" but hadn't committed to any project.

In our celebrity-charged culture, we pretty much expect our stars to have problems, Thompson said. Heck, our society thrives on it.

"What would be interesting about an 'E! True Hollywood Story' if this didn't come up?" he said.

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