Journey to Justice
By Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. with Tim Rutten
383 pages, $26.
The Uncensored Story of the Simpson Defense
By Lawrence Schiller and James Willwerth
700 pages, $27.50
Oh, Marcia, Marcia, Marcia, as they might say on "The Brady Bunch." She's all that's left.
Now that Johnnie Cochran's memoirs are here, Marcia Clark is the only major participant in "The Trial of the Century" who hasn't yet joined the multimillion-dollar O.J. bookshelf. She's almost unanimously considered a proud incompetent by most of the O.J. books thus far but hers, in many ways, is the most interesting untold story -- the one with the special problems of high-power womanhood hanging over every page.
And now that Lawrence Schiller -- who could teach weaseling and
sleazery in any journalism or film school that would have him -- has dropped one of his everything-but-the-kitchen-sink information mega-bombs on a helpless reading public, all that's left to come from the big-name reporters in O.J.-World is Dominick Dunne, and he announced he was turning his material into a novel a while ago.
No matter. O.J. is back in court with a brand new trial. And he's on the tube as much as he's able to be, talking about it (one of the world's most natural and ingratiating celebrities was revealed on CBS on Wednesday night to be a hard, dry, embittered man with barely concealed desperation). A whole new O.J. bookshelf is in the offing, especially if he loses the civil trial. If a wrongful death judgment requires him to give the Brown and Goldman families everything but his Heisman Trophy and Bruno Magli shoelaces, the O.J. library may yet close down with the publication of O.J.'s memoir "Now I Can Tell You -- I Did It," a 250-page hardcover confession that may yet be the only way he'll be able to pay his bills.
The O.J. library could continue to expand until well into the next century. Meanwhile, back in the vestibule of best-sellerdom, we have more than 1,000 new pages of O.J.-ana to pore over and some of us have been crazy enough to do just that. A report:
"Journey to Justice" -- or How Johnnie Cochran Remains Atop Mount Sinai
O.J. Simpson doesn't make his big entrance in Cochran's book until page 226. He does brief walk-ons on Page 77 and 158 but the man who made Johnnie Cochran a household word all over America is treated by Cochran as the riveting final book of a quasi-biblical narrative with chapter titles like "Gifts of the
Spirit," "A Soul Divided," "A Wanderer in the Wilderness," "My Brother's Keeper" and "Jonah and the Whale."
Christopher Darden's troubled and troubling memoir -- the cash register champ thus far in the O.J. bookshelf -- has it all over Cochran in every way but in his world of defending the indefensible, Cochran has an interesting integrity all his own. Not only is he the guy you'd want to hire if you got into a major jam, his resolute advocacy in a shifty world almost seems noble.
Look at it this way -- at least he's not Robert Shapiro. When Johnnie takes your case and you tell him you didn't do it, he'll stick with that story until the world ends and the flames of hell are licking at the tips of his immaculately barbered mustache.
You finish "Journey to Justice" with the conviction that what Cochran says to his wife at 3 a.m. is that O.J. is guilty as hell but the history of L.A. police savagery and injustice is so brutal and unfinished that Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman are just two sad casualties in a vile and vastly more important war.
What you have to realize about O.J.-world for all the size of the media hurricane is that it's really very tiny. There are less than 1,000 people in it. It's a village, smaller than Kenmore. L.A. is a huge city -- "the capital of the third world" as it has been called recently -- but the players in O.J.-world all know each other and are leading functionaries of the Big Schmooze. Cochran's co-writer here is L.A. Times reporter Tim Rutten who just happens to be married to Leslie Abramson, the abrasive mighty mite and maternal mouthpiece who engineered that surreal mistrial in the first trial of the Menendez brothers. In other words, the defense team barracudas in L.A. like to swim together.
It isn't O.J. that really concerns him all that much, says Johnnie, it's Geronimo Pratt, the Black Panther he defended who's still in the big house. O.J. was just a waystop in his quasi-biblical journey -- the dramatic final book to Johnnie's scripture.
You will, against your will, wind up liking this fellow. Yes, he was the young D.A. who not only prosecuted Lenny Bruce but can still actually defend it because Lenny wasn't tasteful enough for Johnnie's standards. (When this guy advocates, he does it for life.) But as a young assistant D.A. he wasn't such an ambitious, upwardly mobile jurocrat that he wasn't consumed with disgust at the long, long parade of L.A. police officers who came through his office blithely and blandly covering up a many-decade tradition of police beatings, brutalizations and murders. As Johnnie sees it, there is a tradition of the LAPD acting like an oppressive army of occupation and there is nothing more important to God and country than kicking it in the slats.
He was a man on a mission in the O.J. trial and, of all the lawyers, he was probably hurt the least by the result. In black circles, he is Soul Brother No. 1, a hero if ever there was one. In legal circles, he's a winner and we Americans tend to love winners.
Seekers of tidbits among the more dedicated students of O.J.-ana won't be disappointed by "Journey to Justice." We learn that the jingoistic line, "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit," didn't come from Cochran doing a Snoopy Doggy Dog impression but from Gerald Uelman, the white-haired professor and constitutional scholar of the Dream Team. And we learn that Johnnie, after displacing him, thought of the media-loving Shapiro as the defense team equivalent of Kato Kaelin, the parasitic houseguest who won't leave.
He tells tales of Shapiro running around with concealed pocket tape recorders whirring to catch ostensibly intimate conversations. It isn't hard to share Cochran's disgust.
From reading Darden's and Shapiro's books, the distinction between Cochran and Shapiro becomes crystal clear. Shapiro is a man of petty vanity gone crazy, a clever fellow burying his own reputation under the weight of his own venality. Cochran is a cagey fellow of immense ego, an altogether larger and more formidable thing.
It's just too bad that his definition of injustice doesn't extend to Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
"American Tragedy" -- or What Larry Schiller did with his All Access Pass
Length is a funny thing. Lawrence Schiller's "American Tragedy" is 200 pages shorter than my paperback edition of Theodore Dreiser's "An American Tragedy" but it reads as if it were 300 pages longer. It is, at 700 pages, close to interminible.
Get this now. Schiller's old business partner Norman Mailer (See their "Marilyn," "The Executioner's Song" and "Oswald's Tale") says on the dustflap "I couldn't stop reading 'American Tragedy.' My old friend and colleague Larry Schiller has come up with a book that is impossible to put down." If there is ever a Nobel Prize for disingenuousness and being full of it, Mailer will have no competition. I found the book almost impossible to pick up again at times -- so horrific is its accretion of minutiae and the most egregious and most pecuniary bickerings of the attorneys of the "Dream Team."
In current American letters, Schiller is the sleazy guy best known as the fellow to call when you want a backstage All Access Pass to history. Put it this way -- he's better at being the producer than being the writer. In Truman Capote's useful wisecrack, much of "American Tragedy" isn't writing, it's typing -- or to appropriate an even older metaphor, it's monkeys and typewriters.
Never mind the ethics of this -- that Schiller performed little services for the defense, like collating the interviews for O.J.'s important revenue-producing best-seller "I Want to Tell You" and photographing the post-verdict homecoming to drum up tabloid money for the Simpson defense coffers. To then disappear into a phone booth and come out as a principled journalist is a metamorphosis that Ovid himself might have marveled at.
What he did with his access seems to be to report just about everything he discovered. Robert Kardashian -- who is, like Shapiro, trying to rehabilitate himself in the white L.A. he has to work in -- was Schiller's major source and enabler here. Courtesy of Kardashian (who now, ever so publicly, doubts his old friend's innocence), there are indeed big scoops -- the despairing cassette tape O.J. made in Kardashian's house just before White Bronco Night, the truly harrowing and even brilliant account of O.J.'s surrender to police at Rockingham after the low-speed chase was over, the yarn about the defense hiding the nude pictures of Paula Barbieri in O.J.'s bedroom and hastily filling O.J.'s house with Norman Rockwell paintings and pictures of black celebrities for the jury's visit.
Put enough monkeys at enough typewriters and "Hamlet" will emerge. Throw enough raw information into a book and something will stick.
But the dead times between Schiller's scoops and coups and great scenes get progressively longer so that the only human being in the world who could probably read them is Mailer, the author of "Oswald's Tale" and "Ancient Evenings."
You can indeed see amazing things with Larry Schiller's All Access backstage pass. But for all the typhoon of inside information in "American Tragedy," it's hard not to feel you've missed the concert completely.
Sit tight, though. Any month now, Marcia will plug in her guitar and a whole new set of music will boom.