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DANA PARSONS

Case Closed, and Albert's Career Also

September 26, 1997|DANA PARSONS

The end for Marv Albert probably came when he picked up the morning papers and saw these three words in the same sentence as his name: panties, garter, hairpiece.

Game, set and match.

Charges that Albert bit and forced sex on a longtime lover were nothing compared to the humiliation of picturing Marv in drag. Forget being a criminal; Marv had become a joke. One tries to imagine him court-side at Madison Square Garden or interviewing Dennis Rodman with a straight face, and it cannot be done. Marv has gone way out beyond the three-point arc and isn't coming back.

Up until the disclosure about Marv's penchant for dress-up, though, the scuttlebutt I'd heard showed split opinions--and not along strict gender lines--about whether Albert was being unfairly prosecuted. The emergence of a second woman telling a similar story didn't automatically validate the original accuser's story, but it left an indelible impression of Albert that changed everything.

From that moment on, Albert joined the ranks of celebrities who were shown to be not what they appeared to be. In modern-day America, (ask Jim Bakker, Pete Rose, et al), that is sudden death.

Whether Albert is a true sexual criminal is all moot now. As often happens in these celebrity profile cases, the focus can shift quickly from the original matter at hand. Clarence Thomas' Supreme Court nomination hearing turned into a debate on sexual harassment; the O.J. Simpson murder case spun off into national discussions on racial biases and spousal abuse.

With Albert, a broadcasting legend in New York and also prominent on the national scene, people have fixated on his cross-dressing. NBC said Thursday that it fired Albert because he pleaded guilty to a criminal charge, but the suspicion will linger that the network responded more to the image of Marv In Garters.

So huge was the embarrassment that Albert's plea may have been as much to stop the disclosures as it was a heartfelt admission to the charges. I was skeptical about the charges before, only moderately less so now. One day the prosecution is pressing a case that could send Albert to jail for a number of years; the next day, they accept a reduced plea that may result in no jail time.

Such is the prosecution's belief in the heinousness of the alleged crime.

The only indisputable legacy of the case is Albert's public humiliation, separate from the charge at hand. You could argue that the humiliation will cost him his career. It's then fair to ask whether that should be the point of a criminal trial.

What we learned about Albert is not, after all, like discovering your surgeon is a drunk, your nanny a pedophile or your accountant a compulsive gambler.

All Marv Albert does is broadcast sporting events. His kinky private life doesn't intersect with his professional life. I'd shed no tears if I were convinced that Albert were a true sexual predator, but even after his plea on Thursday a juror said she wouldn't have convicted him based on evidence she'd heard.

Somehow, I doubt that'll cheer up Marv.

Before we move on with our lives (all except Marv, that is), let's ponder this question: What would happen if we all submitted ourselves to full disclosure about our private lives?

Just to give the discussion a running start, I phoned Jenny Friend, a counselor at Sex Therapy Center in Santa Ana, and asked about people's private lives.

"Let me put it to you this way," she said, "the number of people involved in strictly heterosexual monogamous traditional male superior-female submissive kinds of relationships is probably in the minority."

I don't know if she can prove that, but she said it's foolish to pretend that lots of people aren't living private lives that they wouldn't want others to know about. As for cross-dressers, she said, "You can buy magazines about cross-dressers. There are [cross-dresser] societies out there. I would say the numbers are quite large."

The center's clientele runs the gamut from people with problems in relationships or with their own sexual identity or behavior. I asked if there were any generalizations that could be made about cross-dressers, and Friend said: "They make great husbands."

Excuse me, I said. "Typically speaking," she said, "cross-dressers tend to pay more attention to home, the kids, that kind of thing."

Would someone pass that news on to Marv? Maybe that will cheer him up.

Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by writing to him at the Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail to dana.parsons@latimes.com

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