O.J.'s SHRINKING ROLE Lawyers chew up scenery, witnesses are stars, while Simpson slips into Greek chorus


Where's O. J.?

That's not a serious question. (To be or not to be: That's a serious question.) We know where O. J. is. Since that night in the Bronco, he's been either in the L.A. lockup wearing prison denims or in court sporting $600 suits.

We see him every day on the news, on the tabloids, on "Nightline," on the morning shows, on the front page of your newspaper. You can run from O. J., but you can't hide. After all, we live in what has become -- cue the music -- the wide, wide world of O. J.

If we're serious trial watchers (celebrity trial watchers, by the way, include Christie Brinkley, Christian Slater and Bill Clinton -- I read this in People), we have enjoyed the entire range of O. J.'s courtroom performance.

You've got O. J. raising his eyebrows, O. J. rolling his eyes. O. J. bored. O. J. disdainful. And you thought he couldn't act. Yes, there was the one moment of drama, clearly scripted, in which he had his no-lines, all-eyes confrontation with Detective Mark Fuhrman.

And that's it.

We see him. We don't hear him. He has no lines. In fact, in the celebrity trial of the century, the so-called celebrity seems smaller every day. In the movie version, it'll be "Honey, I Shrunk the Defendant."

The real celebrities are, well, Kato and Rosa Lopez and, lately, Gunnery Sgt. Max Cordoba.

The true stars are Marcia Clark and Johnnie Cochran and, lately, F. Lee "Bag O' Wind" Bailey.

Oh, yes, and kindly, urbane Judge Lance Ito, who makes pronouncements while leaning on his left hand or, occasionally, while leaning on his right. We love Judge Ito. I see Judge Ito beards becoming an important fashion trend. And, if not, we still have Jay Leno's Judge Ito dancers.

Meanwhile, O. J., star running back and car-rental spokesman, sits somewhere in the far reaches of your TV screen, scrunched behind his lawyers, who have clearly upstaged him and spend their spare hours trying to upstage each other. (Just the other day, Bob Shapiro, who once called F. Lee Bailey a snake, criticized Bailey for playing the race card. Can't we all just get along?)

Imagine "Hamlet" if the Danish prince of darkness had no lines. O. J. is never going to talk (read: testify).

We're so desperate for any O. J. that his phoney-baloney book becomes a No. 1 best seller.

To extend the play metaphor, small roles are actually the big ones. The chorus gets all the songs. The bit actors get center stage. There are long days of drama in which O. J.'s name is never once mentioned. He's crowded out by, say, Mary Anne Gerchas.

O. J. is supposed to be the bad guy. But it's Mark Fuhrman, the rogue cop, the racist with a human face, who plays the anti-hero.

Bailey, the once-great attorney who hasn't had a big case in two decades, and Fuhrman, all chiseled and blue-eyed and maybe not a racist but just a cop with an attitude, fill the screen. Bailey wants to turn Fuhrman into Travis Bickle. Instead, he comes off like Clint Eastwood.

Major confrontation

It's the most talked-about confrontation since Lincoln-Douglas, or at least Ali-Frazier. Bailey throwing haymakers, Fuhrman all counter-punches. When they're in view, everything else is background.

Bailey: You say under oath that you have not addressed any black person as a nigger or spoken about black people as niggers in the past 10 years, Detective Fuhrman.

Fuhrman: That's what I'm saying, sir.

Fuhrman said anyone who testified differently was a liar.

Bailey: All of them?

Fuhrman: All of them.

When was the last time in a public forum in which nobody was wearing sheets that a white male repeatedly used the n-word?

It shocked you to your shoes. And yet, through all this, O. J., black American, never comes into focus. Now, gunnery sergeant Max Cordoba. That's another story.

We like to call it the trial of century because we want to validate our obsession with a trial that is, at its essence, about voyeurism. How big isit really? The Nuremberg trial was pretty big. The Lindbergh baby trial was pretty big. Leopold and Loeb. The Scopes "monkey trial." Charlie Manson. The Chicago Seven.

However big, it's certain there has never been a trial like this one.

This is the double-murder trial that is all about celebrity, but a distinctly '90s kind of celebrity.

It is no coincidence that the E! network is carrying the trial pretty much gavel to gavel. Because if it happens in Hollywood, it happens on E!

O. J. was a great football player who, after his career, became the smiling spokesman/minor actor. He is the kind of personality that is best described as engaging. He does not give off sparks. He's basically just a pretty face. That was before we knew about his darker side, and yet even when we saw O. J. as wife-beater and possible double murderer, somehow, he still did not seem dangerous, at least in the Hollywood sense.

If you can believe Faye Resnick, O. J. had a mason jar full of drugs at the house, and he's a West L.A. party guy, in the same way that Nicole was a party girl. Who knows? We hardly know O. J. at all, once you get past the story of stormy childhood and into football fame. He ran through airports. He played a lot of golf. His lawyers say he was playing golf even as carnage was being played out on Bundy.

But I do know more than I ever expected to know about Faye Resnick, another best-selling author. And that says everything about this trial. Resnick, who will never testify, becomes famous because she was Nicole Simpson's friend. This is the world of six degrees of separation. Everyone gets famous because everyone, somehow, is connected.

Marine to Marine

Including, of course, Gunnery Sgt. Max Cordoba.

You know his story. It begins with rogue cop Mark Fuhrman. The O. J. defense depends, in large part, on

people actually believing that Fuhrman found a bloody glove, put it in a plastic bag, hid it in his sock, climbed over a fence and planted it at O. J.'s house -- in order to frame Simpson. Because the cop is a racist. It may sound far-fetched, but, hey, it's the only case they've got.

First, though, they have to show that Fuhrman is a racist. That's where we come to Gunnery Sgt. Max Cordoba, who once accused Fuhrman of calling him the n-word. In the courtroom, Bailey blusters to Judge Ito that Cordoba promised him, Marine to Marine, that he'd testify.

That same night on TV, Cordoba said he'd never spoken to Bailey. He had earlier said to several newspapers and three TV stations and maybe his agent that Fuhrman had never been a racist. But then he had a dream, in which it occurred to him that maybe Fuhrman was a racist and, anyway, didn't Cordoba look pretty cool in his cowboy fringe?


Cordoba -- who wants to be an actor (I see him and Kato in, say, "Waiting for Godot") -- will soon slip into foggy memory. You may remember him only in your dreams. Or when you're standing around the water cooler discussing the case, Marine to Marine.

But what makes Cordoba important is how quickly he came into our lives. One moment, they're talking about him in court. Literally hours later, he's starring on "Dateline" with Stone Phillips.

As Voltaire might have said, had he lived a little longer, if this trial hadn't existed, we would have had to invent it. This is the definitive statement on the excesses of celebrity. Turns out, Andy Warhol had no idea was he was really onto.

And, of course, Kato

In today's world, Kato is a guest at the White House correspondents' dinner. Really. He's also got a gig on a new TV show. (So does O. J.'s girlfriend Paula Barbieri; Kato plays a houseboy, Paula a vampire).

Kato is the dim, windblown, L.A. houseboy via Aspen and some small town in the Midwest. What people outside of Los Angeles don't understand is that Kato is essential to the culture there. He's the hanger-on. He's the guy who lives in your guest house and takes care of things, sort of. He's the caretaker without portfolio. He looks good. He's pleasant to have around. He'll hop into your Bentley and go out for a Big Mac. He'll walk the dog. He's your paid-for pal.

Rosa Lopez, the combative Latina housekeeper, is another staple. She's the kind of housekeeper who rearranges your furniture. When you come home and ask her why, she says because she wanted to. You would never change it back.

And her story is perfect. After days of contradictory, taped testimony that -- watch -- will never be seen in court, she returns to El Salvador, where they've barely heard of O. J. About 100 TV cameras await her.

According to the Letterman joke, Kato is moving to El Salvador to live in Rosa Lopez's guest house.

The truth is even weirder.

Last I heard, Kato has found a home in Charlie Sheen's guest house.

Something for everyone

Everybody gets to play some role in the O. J. case. Most of the lawyers in America are either trying the case or explaining it.

There is the Akita dog, of plaintive-howling fame.

There is Denise Brown, who was seen recently at a prize fight in Las Vegas. Signing autographs.

Try to follow this one. It leads to the artist formerly known as Prince. In order to show that rogue cop Mark Fuhrman is not a racist, Fuhrman's lawyer said the rogue cop once stopped a black singer named Vanity, who was cruising in her little red Corvette, for speeding. The rogue cop hit on her. She gave him her number. But, finally, Vanity said, she had to "blow off" Fuhrman because she was dating Prince, back when he was not yet the artist formerly known as Prince.

There is Kathleen Bell. And her tall friend Andrea. They're also part of the Fuhrman story.

A. C. Cowlings has, of course, his 900 number. You can actually talk to him in person for $2.99 a minute. Sample quote: "I believe in friendship."

Remember this name: William Pavelic, a private detective for the defense team. He's my sleeper as celebrity to come. Described as a broad-shouldered, dark-eyed Croatian native, Pavelic was the one who led Rosa Lopez through her testimony. Pavelic's former clients include Michael Jackson, Kevin Costner, Ed McMahon, Sylvester Stallone and Roseanne (whom he apparently did not marry).

As it turns out, the only anonymous people in this case are the jurors. Lovable Judge Ito just kicked another one off the trial yesterday because he had a laptop. They thought he was writing a book. He could have called it: "The O. J. Nobody Knows, or Even Notices."

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