THE O.J. SIMPSON MURDER TRIAL : A Casebook on Overnight Fame


Anyone would be nervous testifying on live television at the world’s biggest double murder trial, but when it’s also the screen test of a lifetime, you can’t blame a guy for twitching and squirming.

That’s what Kato Kaelin did on the witness stand at the Simpson trial Tuesday in an appearance that may well shape the future of this onetime Hollywood unknown who was elevated to celebrity by his connection to the Simpson case.

Talk about nerves. Dark circles under Kaelin’s eyes made his face look haggard. His long blond hair was unruly--and stringy at the ends as if it needed washing. He twisted his mouth while he thought about answers and he spoke Valley talk.


“A little nervous today?” asked Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark as she began questioning Kaelin. “Feel great,” he replied, than added, “a little nervous.”


The fleeting sunlight of celebrity has shined down on many people in the O.J. Simpson case, bringing brief fame to usually obscure attorneys, cops, journalists, even to a limousine driver and a housekeeper.

Of all these people, none has exemplified the process of celebrity creation better than Brian (Kato) Kaelin, who a few years ago was starring in such movies as “Surf, Sand & Sex.”

Sometime during this period, Kaelin met Nicole Brown Simpson and moved into a cottage in back of her home, not as a lover but as a low-rent paying tenant and baby-sitter. Later, O.J. Simpson, unhappy with the arrangement, moved Kaelin to a rent-free guest house at his mansion. The night of the murder, Kaelin went out for a hamburger with Simpson and later heard suspicious noises around the house.

I never saw Kaelin in “Surf, Sand & Sex.” But my colleagues and I enjoyed the press kit, especially the cover shot of Kato, his face just about touching the knee of the string-bikini-clad heroine, who was lying on her back in the sand.

As a press release described the plot, “Kaelin partners with lovely Gwen Somers (‘The Hottest Bid’) in his seductive role as an auto mechanic who is called on for special body work in this happy erotic romp.”


Kaelin was just another nobody, hustling an acting career, no different from a thousand other young men waiting tables, tending bar, gratefully working in skin flicks. During this period, his agent also tried to get him a job as host of “Talk Soup,” an E! cable network show that features excerpts of the best and worst of talk TV.

“He had a good personality,” said Fran Shea, E!’s senior vice president in charge of programming. But, she said, “unless someone is incredibly breakthrough, like Howard Stern, (the producers) won’t take notice. He didn’t have that real spark.”

That was before Kaelin made the big time on the witness stand at Simpson’s preliminary hearing. Viewers around the world no doubt said, “Only in L.A.” But at E!, brains spun. “The casting people came into me and said, ‘We have this guy on tape,’ ” said Shea.

E! called Kaelin and invited him to guest host “Talk Soup” last Labor Day.

I watched the tape of Kaelin’s show recently. In contrast to his hyper state at the Simpson trial Tuesday, he was pretty relaxed as he introduced such TV talk show characters as Babette, who suffered 26 blind date no-shows.

He’s got a silly, self-effacing sort of humor. “They say I’d only have 15 minutes of fame, but thanks to ‘Talk Soup,’ I have a half-hour,” he said. He announced a Visit With Kato contest--”just send in three reasons you’d like me to stay in your home for an indefinite period of time.” First prize, “dinner with me, your treat.”

After the show, Shea said, “We were very surprised he had such a personality.” At the time, E! was looking for a new host for “Talk Soup” and “a lot of our viewers thought he would get the job,” said Shea. But Kaelin didn’t make it.


Even so, his career was starting to move. The old movies such as “Sex, Sand & Sun” were revived, and residuals started coming in. He hired an entertainment lawyer and signed with a well-known publicity firm, the Lee Solters Co., which handles Barbra Streisand and Michael Jackson.

“I think he would have gotten a break without the trial,” said David Crowley, who is handling Kaelin’s account at Lee Solters. “But now he is the world’s most famous struggling actor.”

Even the supposedly sophisticated are impressed. Donna Shalala, secretary of health and human services, got an autographed picture recently when Kaelin was in Washington, where he had been invited by CNN to attend the Radio & Television Correspondents dinner. Beltway types, who brag about their serious minds, lined up to have their pictures taken with him.

Crowley said Kaelin just completed a starring role in a United Paramount Network anthology show and is lining up a feature film. Plus, said Crowley, “he’s had a lot of successful meetings with people.”

But none of the meetings will do more for Kaelin than his appearance as a Simpson case witness. “I will be looking at Kato on the stand,” said E!’s Shea. “Is he riveting? What is his demeanor? I doubt that he will ever have any more viewers. The entertainment industry will be watching.”


No matter who’s watching, I think fame should be earned through hard work in the lab, on the playing field, in public office, on the movie sets, in the art studio, in the corporate boardroom and the countless other places where people accomplish something.


In the case of Kato, fame is his reward for happening to be a key witness in the case of two people brutally murdered. Sick, huh?