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THE SIMPSON LEGACY: LOS ANGELES TIMES SPECIAL REPORT : Twist of Fate / HOW THE CASE CHANGED THE LIVES OF THOSE IT TOUCHED : ESSAY / CARLA HALL : We the People: Conspirators in the Cult of Fame

October 11, 1995|CARLA HALL

It was as if a searchlight swept every nook and cranny of the O.J. Simpson saga. The cops, the coroner, the frightened next-door housekeeper were all caught in the spotlight. Vigilant television coverage and the spectacular nature of the crime and the trial turned the whole epic into some marathon soap opera. People who've never been within the same city limits as the Simpson prosecutor and the defense attorney hold forth on "Marcia" and "Johnnie" like they're all best pals. And it's not like we don't know whom they mean. No last names necessary.

As the story played out, the lawyers and the families became indelible images. Other faces and figures rose and fell in the public consciousness, consigned back to the obscurity from which they emerged.

And then there were the break-out celebrities. The ordinary were elevated to extraordinary. The frivolous became important. A Simpson pal drove himself and O.J. into the page of the history book on defining moments of the pop culture.

Their 15 minutes have truly spread into 16 months and counting. A scruffy-haired, peripatetic L.A. hanger-on has turned into a Hollywood character. When Kato Kaelin was invited to a black-tie dinner for politicos and media types in Washington, D.C., photographers snapped pictures of America's most famous house guest shoulder to shoulder with America's most powerful people. Cabinet secretaries and anchormen grinned giddily as if they were standing next to, well, Colin Powell.

Then there is Faye Resnick, the friend of Nicole Brown Simpson who wrote a book revealing all the sordid tales of their club-hopping and breast-enhancing and insisted she was privy to some of O.J.'s threats against his ex-wife. In one surreal scene last August, Resnick glided into cashiered O.J. juror Michael Knox's book-signing at a Westside store. "Faye!" he cooed, and these two unlikeliest of compatriots squeezed hands and posed for pictures. (Hey, they have the same publisher.)

Fame by association is not new--think John Dean and G. Gordon Liddy of Watergate infamy. (Liddy still has a radio show.) But rarely has fame touched people who played such quirky and fuzzy roles in an all-consuming national event.

In some ways, the ones who became most famous in this story were celebrities-in-waiting. They are all attractive, all connected to rich and famous friends, all self-selected for the kind of glamour-track life that L.A. offers. They took their opportunities and ran with them. Or, in Al Cowlings' case, he took a Bronco and ran with it.

Is it unseemly that they are famous? Or is it just high-tech amusement for the masses? As monsters go, the cult of the celebrity ranks somewhere between global warming and the proliferation of coffee bars.

But one thing seems sure. Here, indeed, is a real conspiracy. We all made them famous. The media's scrutiny, the public's delight, the players' ambition to play along--it all stoked a vast celebrity-making engine that shows no signs of burning out any time soon.

So, in the words of that great fin de siecle philosopher, Madonna:

Don't just stand there, let's get to it.

Strike a pose, there's nothing to it.

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