I guess this is the week for linking to articles on Mark Evanier's website. But then most any day is a fine time for linking to his website. But this is for a different reason than usual.
Mark has a tremendous article here about the 20th anniversary yesterday of the O.J. Simpson verdict, the core of which is a reprint of the analysis he wrote on its 15th anniversary. I link to this not just because it's so good and thoughtful and detailed (Mark was an O.J. Trial Junkie, and I believe still has his membership card and decoder ring), but because I have next to nothing to say about the trial.
The reason I have almost zero to say is not because I dismiss it out of hand, but because I worked on the Naked Gun movies in which O.J. appeared, and they were among the most joyous work experiences I've ever had, and some of my fondest memories. (As I've mentioned previously, they even stuck me in couple of the films as butts of jokes.) And the trial and whole case just sucked the joy out of that. It became so difficult to watch those movies for me, and even think about the work. Enough time has passed, so that the situation isn't as bad as all that any more -- but it's still achingly sad. And I'm not even remotely involved in what actually is sad about it, just tangentially from afar.
When the trial was on though, and so many people in the country were mesmerized by it all, the public glued in front of the TV, and it was the Conversation Topic of the Day for months, I just didn't watch any of it. Maybe a couple minutes total, but that's all. I didn't watch the "Dancing Ito" sketches on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. There was absolutely nothing "fun" about it for me. It was just so profoundly sad on every conceivable level.
In no way is my reaction meant as "O woe is me." Yipes, no. I'm a far-distant bystander. My point is merely how deep the tragedy went. And how much it impacted, beyond the attention-grabbing value, beyond what is so obvious and so gut-wrenching to those who it actually, literally pummeled .
During the whole period, people would ask me, "You worked with O.J., do you think he did it?" I could only stare at them and say that I had no earthly idea. I got along fine with him, he wasn't someone I'd want to become friends with because he was involved in so many things, always busy flying around, and somewhat distant, but, no, he didn't strike me as a mass mass murder. Did he do it? How on earth would I know? Beyond that, I really didn't talk about things connected to the trial.
(The only thing I ever really commented about the trial during it was the one thing that Mark doesn't bring up in his comprehensive article. It was my observation whenever I'd hear people debating O.J. Simpson's innocence or guilt, and there would be people people almost gleefully proclaiming his innocence, based purely on race. Mark does touch on this, but my reaction wasn't about their opinion -- I understood it, as does Mark, and the unfairness of the judicial system -- but it was their near-mirth and utter certainty at defending him and hope that O.J. got off simply because of the color of his skin. My thought at such moments was always a simple question: "Would you feel the same if the person killed was your sister?" One day, I mentioned this to a friend of mine. A few weeks later, he called to tell me he had been with a crowd of people, all of who were "rooting" for O.J., certain he had been railroaded and hoped he was acquitted. He said that he brought up my question -- and it stopped the conversation cold. Absolute, total silence. The mirthful certainty, the aggressive desire for acquittal completely disappeared. Again, to reiterate, I have no idea if he was innocent or guilty, though I have my opinion. It's just that one's thought on the subject should be based on the facts, not skin color, whether white or black, whether believing him innocent or guilty.)
Having said all this, there was one personal thing that did ever so lightly touch me and was such a shame. It's that I'd become friendly over the two movies with O.J.'s assistant, an absolutely lovely, wonderful lady. She'd been with him for many years, and was totally devoted to him and her job. I only heard her name mentioned a few times in the news, but I'm sure if I paid closer attention I'd have heard it more. Though she of course wasn't directly involved in the tragedy, I knew that her life was devastated, and what she'd seen as a lifetime career was over, and it was heart-breaking to me. I did try to reach out to her at one point, letting a little time pass into the case. But I never reached her -- I left a phone message of support, but I'm sure she stopped answering her phone, and I wouldn't be surprised if she even stopped listening to her messages. I miss being in touch with her. Really nice lady.
There was also one big laugh that did come from it all. I was working on another movie with much of the same team that make the Naked Gun films when the verdict came down. As you might imagine, the production stopped as the announcement neared. And when "innocent" was announced...well, I'll just say that when you're sitting around comedy writers who know the people involved really well, the phrase "gallows humor" was never more apt.
Also, I have kept the one "keepsake" I have of the time. During those days, O.J. was involved in many businesses, one of which is that he was on the board of directors for the company that made Swiss Army watches. He had one, and I commented how great I thought it was. He reached into his gym bag (and no, I doubt it's that one, I'm certain he had many), and he grabbed a box with a new watch, which he gave me. For all the connections the case holds in my mind, I've held on to the Swiss Army watch. I like it too much. And still use it on occasion.
And as that watch ticks away, time passes. (Thus endeth the poetic portion of this article...) And I watch the movies, and enjoy them. And I enjoy thinking about the work and talking about it. But the films, while wonderfully funny, still aren't as innocently funny to me as once, and the memories still can't help have a shading. But happily, so many of those memories are great.
So, while I did go on length here about the experience, if you want actual analysis of the trial. head over here to that Evanier fellow. I leave such things to others. Me, I'll stick with the movies.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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