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Well, yes, but what if Autumn Jackson really is Bill Cosby's daughter? Then what?

In that case, he has gone to a world of trouble to put his biological daughter behind bars.

You couldn't listen to that constant nightly news sound bite of Jackson putting a $40 million bite on Cosby's lawyers and not feel that you were listening to extortion in the raw. If anything in the world is blackmail, it's telling someone you'll ruin his image unless he coughs up $40 million.

That was what Ms. Jackson was doing. She was saying, "Show me the money or Mr. Pudding Pops can kiss his family rep goodbye."

To have done such a thing on the day Cosby lost his only son to a roadside homicide was bad timing right out of Sophocles. What father under such circumstances could think clearly?

In those families that actually have $40 million in play at any given time, mild forms of extortion are, no doubt, commonplace. If every "negotiation" between Princess Di and the queen (or her minions), for instance, were laid out raw and throbbing for all the world to see, you can bet your tiara that a lot of it would look like blackmail, plain and simple.

In wealthy families that I know of, I've heard of all manner of "deals" whose "negotiations," no doubt, skirted the outer rim of extortion, if they didn't fall in entirely. What parent and growing child haven't suffered a bruise or two? With so much invested in parent-child conflicts, who says every tactic is pristinely fair? (One of the definitions of childhood is the state of not really understanding fairness.)

The logic of Cosby's situation was equally plain and simple: Take the best blood tests possible, ascertain once and for all whether she really is your daughter, and then act accordingly. If she is your daughter, work out a support settlement. If she isn't, give her whatever support is in your heart and wish her well.

But when your only son has been murdered by the side of the road, your reputation as Mr. Pudding Pops probably doesn't seem as if it matters a damn. Under circumstances of such agony, you can understand Cosby's making a federal case out of Autumn Jackson's terminal stupidity. With the son you loved suddenly gone, it must have been easy to let the legal wolves go after this woman so contemptuous of his family peace.

The interesting thing about both of the grieving celebrity father cases that, by coincidence, ended last week is how little celebrity itself may have entered into the final dispositions.

The facts, as far as we could tell, were crystal clear. Autumn Jackson tried to extort money from Bill Cosby. Period.

Just as obviously, Carroll O'Connor was justified in saying any bloody thing he wanted about a disgusting little worm like Harry
Perzigian, the convicted drug dealer who provided drugs for O'Connor's cocaine-addicted son. Period.

As far as I'm concerned, the deepest misfortune in the O'Connor trial resolution is that O'Connor didn't countersue and force Perzigian to pay his court costs. Perzigian's slander suit was, as noted defense swashbuckler Roy Black said recently, "ridiculous. There never would have been a lawsuit if it wasn't Carroll O'Connor." A rich man, in other words, who will be receiving large residuals from "All in the Family" and "In the Heat of the Night" reruns for as long as he lives. (Both are current cable mainstays.)

If the Cosby case had the pity and terror of Greek tragedy, the O'Connor case managed to find territory lower than supermarket tabloids. Not because of O'Connor, certainly, but because it managed to bring into public view a life form like Perzigian whose existence -- in theory -- we all know but who is seldom exposed to light in such pitiless clarity.

It takes a very special sort of man to provide drugs to a suicidal addict -- and then sue for slander the grieving, pain-wracked father who accused you of murder in his grief. And then, with the trial over and the jury saying, in effect, "You've got to be kidding," to gloat to the press, "I've exposed Carroll O'Connor as the hateful, vengeful person he is."

Who among us has the imagination to have invented Harry Perzigian? To have so little grip on how human emotional life actually works takes a very special sort of worm in the world.

Listening to Perzigian give his "statements" to the press after the trial, it was impossible not to thank Carroll O'Connor for forcing him into the light and, thereby, enlarging our everyday sense of evil in the world.

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