ENCINO — She comforted O.J. Simpson after his wife's murder. She was there when he bolted from the Encino home she shares with Simpson confidant Robert Kardashian. And she delivered an emotional, televised defense of the men she credits with saving Simpson's life.
Now, like Simpson, Denice Shakarian Halicki is going to court in what promises to be the legal climax of a convoluted and bitter fight over the estate of her late husband, filmmaker and car-crash king Henry B. (Toby) Halicki.
Halicki, Kardashian's tall, graceful fiancee, said the five-year legal dispute has bankrupted her financially and emotionally, leaving her dependent on Kardashian for everything from gifts to groceries to legal contacts.
"What has happened to me is a horror," she said.
Her late husband's vast, multimillion-dollar legacy included film and video rights to his B-grade cult classic "Gone in 60 Seconds"--which cost less than $100,000 to make and produced $40 million; about 200 acres of ranch land; eight acres in Palos Verdes, and a huge collection of vintage toys, cars and memorabilia, once reputed to be among the largest of its kind.
Initially valued at $14.7 million, the court-appointed administrator has stated that the estate could end up insolvent once debts are paid--including an estimated $600,000 in administrative and legal fees so far.
Questions about how it dwindled to that point have consumed more than 10 volumes of court records and an estimated 100 hearings, and may be resolved in a series of related trials that began last week. All involve the 38-year-old widow, a former model and actress, in a three-sided battle against two brothers-in-law and the estate's administrator, lawyer J. Patrick McCarroll.
The possibility of an estate consumed by costs and fees had occurred to Toby Halicki, who wrote by hand in a margin of his one-page will: "Split the money, guys, and have a good time. No probate."
Toby Halicki came to Los Angeles at age 15 with nothing but a knowledge of cars and auto salvaging gained from the family business in New York that had fed him and 12 siblings.
He built up his own junkyard, then started making and starring in low-budget films whose titles reflected his background, such as "The Junkman," and "Deadline Auto Theft."
"Gone in 60 Seconds," released in 1974, chronicled the world of auto theft and chop shops, and its massive car-chase scene foreshadowed the one in "The French Connection." Though thin on characterization and other subtleties, it became an instant hit with car-crazy teen-agers and, according to one of Denice Halicki's attorneys, grossed $40 million.
He married Denice, his girlfriend of six years, three months before he was killed while filming and co-starring with her in a sequel to his greatest hit.
"Gone in 60 Seconds II" was to have been a car-stealing, car-crashing extravaganza featuring a Bonnie-and-Clyde-like couple. But Toby Halicki, 48, died in a key stunt when he was crushed by a falling utility pole.
Denice Halicki grew up in Los Angeles, attended Oral Roberts University, the conservative Christian school in Tulsa, Okla., and came from a family so traditional she says relatives on her Armenian father's side (her mother was Norwegian) tried to arrange her marriage when she was 16.
Once she met Halicki, she relied on him so completely she had no need to carry a purse. Even when they traveled, she said, he kept her passport.
"He was my entire world," she said.
He willed her his 1987 Rolls Royce; the eight acres on Palos Verdes where they had planned their dream home, valued at $6 million to $8 million; and $1.5 million in either "cash, cars or property."
His brother Felix, meanwhile, was willed the filmmaker's modest, suburban home in Gardena, an Aston Martin Lagonda, and $450,000 in "property, cars or money"; a sister Theresa got $100,000 under similar terms, and several old friends and colleagues were to receive lesser sums ranging from $50,000 to $75,000.
Though Denice Halicki never received the $1.5 million part of her legacy (indeed, Felix's attorney says he has yet to receive any part of his inheritance), she did, for nearly two years, draw a spousal allowance that averaged $10,000 a month and totaled more than $250,000 in cash. Then McCarroll stopped the payments, stating that the estate might be insolvent.
The frozen allowance was among several blows to the widow that have formed the crux of her legal battle, including creditor's claims by her brothers-in-law Felix and Ronald Halicki.
Ronald Halicki, who runs a family towing and auto-salvage business in Dunkirk, N.Y., and was written out of the filmmaker's will, has claimed $2.3 million for work he says he and his company did on the sequel.
He contends that he co-wrote "Gone II" and helped develop a custom, car-hurling vehicle called "The Slicer," among other contributions. Denice Halicki dismisses his claims as phony and alleges in court records they are based on forged contracts.