To Bankroll His Defense, the Accused Expands the Lucrative

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To: O.J. Simpson You scumbag and coward. You should have shot yourself in the Bronco--Coward!

Responding to this letter, written by a self-described ``average middle-aged housewife," Simpson wrote, ``I want to state unequivocally that I did not commit these horrible crimes." He added, in a book published last Friday, that he would have jumped in front of a bullet for his dead ex-wife Nicole--or a train, for that matter. The thin volume, the issue of a fat-figured deal ($1 million), is a brilliant sliver of disingenuousness called I Want to Tell You and subtitled My Response to Your Letters, Your Messages, Your Questions.

Published on a day Judge Ito's court was not in session, the book took the baton from the recessed murder trial for one more lap in the nastiest relay in memory and succeeded in 1) giving the defendant a one-sided word with the world without the unpleasantness of cross-examination or any of the other tethers of jurisprudence; 2) restocking the larder against legal fees, the meter running like it is; and 3) stealing the thunder from another book brought out--there are no coincidences--just days before. This one, Raging Heart, is a work from the other side, written with the approval and cooperation of Nicole Brown Simpson's family.

Still to come: The O.J. Simpson Story, the movie the Fox network will aerate television with on Tuesday, after delaying the broadcast until a jury was sequestered--as though it mattered. The film, as shocking in its revelations as an old calendar, stars Bobby (China Beach) Hosea as O.J., Jessica (One Life to Live) Tuck as Nicole and David (The O.J. Simpson Story) Roberson as A.C. Cowlings. The docudrama opens with the Simpson kids' Akita, Kato, looking to fetch help back to the site of the carnage, the most suspenseful moment of the whole thing. Faithful to the public record, it is pretty flat all around.

On the other hand, the sensational aspects of Raging Heart would have given it a few days' tongue life if not for its collisional debut with Simpson's own offering. Written by journalist Sheila (Amy Fisher: My Story) Weller, the book draws on interviews with about 80 friends and relatives of the couple to present details you'll probably wish you hadn't learned; for example, Nicole was a lip-gloss woman from way back. The book says, `` `Please take that off her,' Denise Brown told the mortician, indicating the pasty dark red lipstick he had applied to Nicole's mouth. All the Brown sisters huddled around as the mortician did as he was told With a little sigh whose understated sorrow covered a lifetime of closeness, Denise handed Nicole's clear lip gloss to the mortician. Then she signaled for the viewing-room doors to be opened." A little later, as the casket goes down into the earth, Weller has O.J. coming on to a friend of Nicole's at the graveside.

Simpson's book publishes about 100 of the 300,000 pieces of mail he says he has received in jail. The figure 300,000 is cited as the impetus for commencing the book last Nov. 1, as well as the amount of mail Simpson has received so far; it is but one indication of how closely not to read. Then, too, Chapter 1 is titled, ``I Always Answer My Mail," and in Chapter 5, Simpson reflects, ``Now that I look back and think about it, I was never a big letter writer." Judging from the sloppiness of the epistolary effort, this was no time to start, but for the money.

As Simpson says early on, defending yourself against California costs a bomb. ``If I didn't have some money, I would have no chance at all." His ``dream team," 15 defense attorneys trying to open a hole for the running back, have been ringing up at least $60,000 a week in fees. Robert Shapiro said during a break last week that he wasn't happy with this book, but conceded, ``I understand the economic pressure." Simpson went into jail in June worth more than a few million. Robert Kardashian, Simpson's friend of 25 years and chief minder, said there was still money left in the purse. ``He's not broke," Kardashian told Time. Nevertheless, it was Kardashian who cooked up the book deal to stanch O.J.'s checking-account hemorrhage.

According to Lawrence Schiller, 52, who co-wrote Simpson's book, Kardashian called him last October and told him that because Schiller had known Simpson fleetingly a quarter-century ago, he might be called as a material witness to his first marriage, and so Schiller should meet Simpson again. A photographer, Emmy-winning TV producer and all-around hustler, Schiller has made a career of packaging tragedy as entertainment--he bagged Gary Gilmore for Norman Mailer's Pulitzer-prizewinning The Executioner's Song, among other fancy legwork.

Schiller first went to see Simpson on Halloween. ``I just hit it off with O.J.," he recalls. ``Sure, things went through my mind. I tried to ingratiate myself with him." According to Schiller, Kardashian called with the book idea that same night. In all, Schiller did 10 to 15 interviews with O.J. Some were taped, others not; an audiocassette of Simpson reading sections into Schiller's tape recorder went on sale along with the books.

The publisher, Little, Brown, a Time Warner company, sprang for an initial printing of 500,000 and reserved press time for reprinting within a week if the demand was there. Charles E. Hayward, president and CEO of Little, Brown, said he ``had no qualms whatsoever" about publishing. Hayward said that ``if you just enter into endeavors looking to make money, that's probably where you lose the most. The power of the message and power of context in which the book has been published really was its greatest appeal." Still, buyers probably would be well advised not to look for the book in the Public Service section of their local Barnes & Noble.

Co-author Schiller wrote in a foreword that from the very start, before they could even get the tape going, Simpson gushed ``like torrents cascading from a ruptured dam" and that Schiller had to interrupt him to channel his thoughts. As it turned out, Schiller could have channeled a little more carefully. In one passage, for instance, Simpson describes his rage over biased press coverage as he sat in the back of Al Cowling's Bronco. ``Dan Rather was on the radio and he started talking about eight or nine different reports of domestic spousal abuse calls from my house and I said to myself: Where in the hell does that number nine come from?"

There were pockets of protest from booksellers around the country, mostly small independents who did not want to be seen as contributing to the author's defense fund. Nonetheless, in the first couple of hours the book was on the shelves, sales were reported as significant. The book had been kept a secret until a few weeks before publication, even from Simpson's lawyers, but no laws were broken. So-called Son of Sam statutes--still in force in many states, though the original New York law, aimed at serial killer David Berkowitz, was struck down by the Supreme Court--usually apply to convicted criminals profiting from their crime. Simpson has not been convicted, and his book stays clear of evidentiary matters as well as other areas that could put him crosswise with California's law.

Schiller's piece of the action is not known, but is not likely to be inconsequential either. When Schiller was a kid, Mailer wrote in The Executioner's Song, he had a police radio, a bicycle and a camera. When he heard about an accident, he tore off toward it. Even if the scene was far away and he was tardy, Schiller sold pictures of the skid marks to insurance companies. So he was right at home last week in the car wreck called the O.J. Simpson trial.