OJ by the sea.

O.J. by the Sea

O.J. by the Sea

Notes from different corners of the world.
Oct. 15 1996 3:30 AM

O.J. by the Sea

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       The Doubletree Guest Suites Hotel is four blocks from the Santa Monica beach, but only a right turn and a high school away from the busiest freeway in the nation. The salmon-colored low-rise is the last thing thousands of motorists see before they swing onto the one-way access road that, after passing Santa Monica High, dumps them on Interstate 10, briefly called the Christopher Columbus Freeway, but still known around here as the Santa Monica Freeway. Los Angeles has a way of giving exceedingly transient names to our roads; we even had a Richard Nixon Freeway for a brief shining moment in the '70s. Then it resigned in disgrace.
       The Doubletree will figure large in the saga of O.J. by the Sea, for in the same way that conventions often have "official hotels," this hostelry will be the official hotel of the civil trial. A press room has already been set up on the second floor. Set up? It's already been ransacked. On a brief visit there Friday night, a couple of reporters and I are suddenly confronted by two hotel security employees, apologizing for what I only later learn is a rash of thefts--computers, cell phones, the usual--from the room, and promising more thorough, around-the-clock protection. Reassured about something I hadn't even known enough to worry about, I feel better already.
       And we are all here, the O.J. trial press contingent, for an early-evening book signing. While at this moment people on the East Coast are watching Robert Kardashian tell Barbara Walters that "I had trouble with the blood evidence," the co-author of the book Kardashian (a major source) is promoting, Larry Schiller, is in a first-floor ballroom autographing copies of the volume American Tragedy. The indefinite article is, contrary to some reports, not a part of the title, perhaps a grudging concession to the Theodore Dreiser estate.
       Who is Larry Schiller? Who isn't Larry Schiller? In a nation, and an era, that rates continuous reinvention of the self as the only true virtue, Schiller is up for beatification any day now. When I was a kid working at Newsweek, Schiller was a free-lance photographer. Even then, I felt as though a handshake with him required half an hour with the Boraxo dispenser afterward. Don't ask me why, just a feeling.
       Since then, he's reinvented himself into a photojournalist, a director, an author, a whatever. He made a name for himself signing up the literary rights of convicted murderers--hey, somebody had to do it--and American Tragedy is his second bite of the O.J. apple. During the criminal trial, he got himself on the list of "material witnesses" allowed to visit the defendant in jail. He could be the only material witness in the history of American jurisprudence to bring a professional-quality audio-tape recorder with him on his visits with the defendant, the result being the book-cum-audiotape, I Want to Tell You, which so many of us in the comedy world mistook for Bob Hope's autobiography, but which was actually a selection of O.J.'s purported answers to his purported mail.
       If everything works according to plan, Larry Schiller--rotund, dark-haired, bearded, with a mouthful of teeth that looks like an exposé of British dentistry--could end up as the only person making money from partisans on both sides of the O.J. case. So, before he's even installed in the ballroom with his signing pen, his entrance is worthy of Simpsonmania at its peak. He makes his way slowly through the atrium lobby--the final boiling down of John Portman's once-audacious idea, like a brazen entrepreneurial genius's dissolute third-generation heir --surrounded by a corolla of TV news cameras and boom microphones. The print people stand on the outer ring of this spectacle, by a technological quirk spared the necessity to have to treat Larry Schiller as a newsworthy interview subject.
       Once in the ballroom, we get our free copies, and most of us then line up for autographs. I take the book--hey, it is free, and I'm amassing a small library of O.J. books that have only this in common, the fact that I've paid for none of them--but, this early in the sequel, I draw my line near the sand. Even though it could be a quasi-collectible some day, I do not ask Larry Schiller to autograph my copy of his book.
       The gathering is notable for one other reason. You might think that people who've spent the last two years covering this one murder case would have something else on their minds by this point. But they--we--don't. The conversation over the free food and drink (thank you, Random House) is like so many of the conversations in Los Angeles since "Mezzaluna" became a household word: assessing the evidence, the mistakes of the prosecution, the reasonableness of the doubt or the lack thereof. With the former judge, and the legal commentators, and the reporters who stand in front of the palm-lined courthouse every day, this modest feast is a movable Rivera Live.

Harry Shearer is a writer, actor, and director who has met both Kato Kaelin and Heidi Fleiss.