The Other Victim
I think Ron’s philosophy was to shoot for the stars. I think we’re all dreamers.
--A friend remembering Ron Goldman, murder victim.
The videocassette, now 3 years old, squeaks, clicks and then serves up a picture. A young man lopes onto the stage of a game show. He wears baggy denims and Doc Martens. A stone piece dangles from his neck. Hip, hip. He plops down on a beige couch, swipes a hand over slicked-back hair. Smiles. This smile is mismatched with an otherwise chiseled, fashion model man-face. It is the shy, goofy smile of a little boy.
The emcee introduces contestant Ron Goldman as “a tennis pro.” This is a stretch, but so what? Goldman then belonged to that self-replenishing legion of young men and women who are in Los Angeles to “make it,” on television, in a movie, with a song, with a look, a connection, an idea, or at least a concept. In their world, resumes generally are assumed to catalogue aspiration more than actual experience.
The show is “Studs.” For 30 minutes, Ron matches wits with Anthony the bartender in a duel over Connie the 19-year-old dance instructor, Vala the 20-year-old model, and Dianne the 23-year-old personal services representative. The point is to match racy memories of recent blind dates with the proper partner. Ron does not do so well. He guesses Connie praised his “well-endowed butt,” when actually it was Dianne. Conversely, he picks Dianne as the one who wanted to “wash my stockings on his stomach.” That was Connie. He does correctly connect Vala to a suggestion of bathing in chocolate pudding.
“I totally remember that,” he says, grinning.
Sadly enough, this tape of “Studs,” a modeling shot and some grisly coroner’s pictures are the only public artifacts of Goldman’s time among the dreamers. Dead at 25, he never got his chic restaurant built, though he did select a name. He never appeared on film, though he did discuss acting classes with his pals.
“One philosophy we all spoke of,” one friend would recall, “was networking.” The best Goldman managed on this front was a friendship with the former wife of a football star, and everyone knows how that turned out. From the beginning, Ronald Goldman has not fit easily into his own murder story. It’s as though his presence was an afterthought, a scriptwriter’s clumsy mistake. His demise did not inspire Op-Ed pieces of rage about domestic violence or prejudiced police work.
Early television reports routinely failed to mention his name: This was the murder of “Nicole Simpson and a ‘male friend.’ ” Similarly, prosecutors seemed to strain last week to attach Goldman to their otherwise neat narrative of love gone mad. They framed the case as a death dance between Nicole and O.J.; Goldman was simply someone in the “wrong place at the wrong time.” A walk-on. But like anybody who walks the earth, Goldman does have a story. He can be seen as the Everyman of L.A., or at least of that part west of La Cienega where Ron Goldmans are everywhere--selling clothes, tending bars, cutting hair, driving shuttles, waiting, waiting, for that singular piece of luck they accept on faith is all it takes to reach “the stars.”
“At first,” my friend Marty McMahon was saying the other night in Brentwood, “you are absolutely convinced it will happen. You cling to Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda, sharing an apartment together in New York. They are your role models. You know you have the talent. You know you are the one out of thousands who is going to make it.”
Marty is an actor. In the 15 years he has been an actor he has worked as a baggage handler at LAX, a telemarketer, a legal assistant, an accounting temp and on and on. As for acting, he has been the dad in a breakfast cereal commercial, spoken a line in the original Toxic Avenger and received training from all the right teachers. He’s good. I caught him once in a play staged in a dingy brick room in Hollywood. Everyone in the audience agreed he was terrific--his mother, his aunt, myself.
When Marty considers Ron Goldman, it’s with a wisdom and humility born of silent telephones. “After a while,” he said, “the rejections beat you down. Reality sets in. You limit your ambitions. I’m stuck now trying for young dad roles.
“Still, you keep seeing the new ones, fresh off the bus from Ohio, in their tight jeans and cowboy boots. Pretty soon they’ll see a celebrity on the freeway and they’ll say, ‘Hey, I’m part of it. I’m in!’ Or someone will hang their head shots in the dry cleaners. It’ll be fun for awhile, but it won’t go anywhere, and 15 years from now they’ll be back in Ohio, raising a family or something real.”
The tragedy of Ronald Goldman is that he wasn’t given time to learn all this. The image sticks: The face of a man, the smile of a boy. He never got a chance to grow up.