Widespread Public Disdain Seems to Surprise Simpson : Celebrity: Chilly reaction includes talk of shunning him at country club. Experts say he should lie low for a while.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

O.J. Simpson may still have his Ferrari and his Bentley, and may even be able to take a Jacuzzi with his daughter, but life outside the gates of his Brentwood mansion has become decidedly chilly in the 10 days since he won his freedom.

In short order after his release, Simpson was dropped by his talent agency, International Creative Management, saw a national television interview founder, failed to land a pay-per-view special and--closer to home--learned that members of his once intimate country club crowd are talking about freezing him out.

At the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, women are circulating a petition for his ouster, his picture is punctured by a thumb tack on a locker room bulletin board and even a former golfing buddy says: "He is persona non grata. "

The man who had traded on a ready smile and a quip now finds himself unable to open doors merely with his abundant charm. One lawyer close to Simpson's defense team doubted that the Hall of Famer can heal the rifts the way other celebrities tainted by scandal have. He said Simpson's situation is very different from those of Michael Jackson and Woody Allen, who were accused of sexual activity with minors, and boxer Mike Tyson, who was convicted of rape.

"Allen, Tyson and Jackson still had talent to sell. This guy [Simpson] had credibility to sell," said the attorney. "He doesn't have that anymore, and he can't play football anymore. He has more problems than any of them, even though he was acquitted."

One high-powered neighbor from Brentwood, quoting British author Evelyn Waugh, said Simpson is left only with "that fatal disease called charm."

Simpson and his supporters seem incredulous that, after nine months of trial and an acquittal, he still must defend himself. An ally wryly noted that the former football superstar was bashed both for attempting an interview on NBC and then for backing out. Feminists called him a "chicken."

"This reaction to his return doesn't seem very American," said Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., Simpson's chief defense attorney. "This is a country that has traditionally taken people back who have fallen from grace. Richard Nixon left office in disgrace and was later welcomed at the White House. Spiro Agnew's bust was put in the Capitol this year. There are a lot of other examples, including Mike Milken.

"I don't look for sinister motives, but what is the difference between O.J. and the others?" Cochran said, alluding to Simpson's race.

Broader issues are also at stake, said Peter Neufeld, a New York-based lawyer who was a member of the defense team. "O.J. is entitled to enjoy the fruits of his liberty the way the rest of us are," he said. "I think it's unconscionable that people are trying to deny him that."

For his own part, Simpson has ignored the advice of some public relations specialists, who have said he can best resurrect his image by lying low for a time, demonstrating his sorrow over the murders and then slowly emerging for selective appearances.

Instead, Simpson told the New York Times this week that he rejects public opinion polls that show a vast majority of Americans believe he murdered his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman. "I don't think most of America believes I did it," Simpson said.

He told the newspaper that he is still optimistic about his chances of making a living and restoring life on his own terms. He denied reports of financial collapse, citing ownership of flashy cars and homes in Brentwood and New York.

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"Maybe I'm a little cocky," Simpson reportedly said. "But in my heart I feel I can have a conversation with anyone." He even proposed meeting with battered women and admitted he was wrong to "get physical" with Nicole Simpson in a 1989 spousal abuse incident. And he challenged prosecutor Marcia Clark to a debate on pay-per-view television, adding: "I'd like to be able to knock that chip off Marcia's shoulder."

Although he seems determined to glide into view on his own terms, Simpson cannot control the response.

"I already invited him to talk to me during the trial and he declined," Clark said in a terse reply to the debate proposal, delivered by her agent.

At the Rainbow Services women's shelter in San Pedro, executive director Connie McFall said: "This is just one more indication of his incredible arrogance, that he actually thinks he has something to contribute in the area of domestic violence. What possibly can he say to battered women?" Other shelter operators expressed outrage at Simpson's use of the term "get physical," saying it minimized his serious abuse of his former wife.

Simpson's decision to give an interview to NBC provoked a flood of protest calls to the network. And his acquittal seems to have pumped new life into the local chapter of the National Organization for Women, and into feminism in general.

Cochran said he and his client have been caught off guard by the widespread public condemnation. "They're picketing his Honey-Baked Ham store. They're everywhere," Cochran said. "I think O.J.'s surprised and shocked by the reaction."

Simpson is coming under withering fire even at Riviera, the eucalyptus-shrouded retreat in Santa Monica Canyon that was once his home away from home. The place had seemed to epitomize his successful climb out of the San Francisco ghetto.

"Some people are talking about getting up and walking out if he shows up," one old duffer in a porkpie hat told a circle of friends gathered in the dining room this week. "That's not what you do. You just cold-shoulder the guy. Give him the silent treatment. He'll get the message."

A pal from Simpson's once close-knit golfing circle concurred, saying he is ready to swear off the camaraderie and high-stakes competition he once enjoyed with Simpson. "He was a very popular guy up there. He was a lot of fun. But a lot can change in a year," said the businessman, who asked not to be named.

Even in the genteel men's locker room, where the mostly white membership lingers to gossip, Simpson has become bulletin-board fodder: A thumbtack is jammed into the center of his newspaper portrait; his name scratched so aggressively off a computerized golf handicap list that the paper was left shredded; the "O.J. Simpson" nameplate long since removed from locker No. 733.

Simpson played his last round of golf at Riviera on the day his ex-wife was slashed to death, in what at the time seemed to be just another in a long series of 18-hole mornings and gin rummy afternoons.

The club's management did not return repeated phone calls this week, but one official who asked to remain anonymous said the club only can eject members for "moral turpitude" if they are convicted of a felony. Another source said the club's management prefers to handle the matter quietly and has sent word through Simpson's business lawyer, Riviera memberLeRoy (Skip) Taft, that Simpson is not welcome.

The former Heisman Trophy winner is now "a man without a country," who does not seem to realize how bad his situation is, said author John Gregory Dunne, who has written about the case. "O.J. is living in a dream world," Dunne said.

Simpson has already made $3 million since being jailed by publishing a collection of fan letters and selling memorabilia such as autographed trading cards and bronze statues. A book deal is still considered likely. But Simpson ran up a $6-million legal bill and the spoils of his infamous case may soon run dry, some experts believe.

One attorney close to Simpson's defense team said that just two weeks ago the Simpson camp thought "everything would be paid off from pay-per-view. Things have turned in a hurry. This is a camp that seems to be in some disarray at this time."

Some experts have suggested that Simpson should turn to a natural constituency, seeking first to re-establish personal and business ties in the African American community, perhaps beginning with an appearance in the Million Man March by black men on Washington.

"You can always come back home," said Pat Tobin, a black public relations executive. "He needs to go to the Million Man March on Monday. Black people always welcome you back."

(Cochran said Simpson had already decided not to join the march.)

Rather than schedule his first interview on NBC, he might have thought about attempting to re-enter the spotlight with an interview on Black Entertainment Television, the Washington-based cable service, Tobin said.

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Joe Hicks, executive director of the Los Angeles Multicultural Collaborative, said he is concerned that the backlash is tainted by race. "There are some dangerous signals here: Some people are saying in essence that no matter what a jury says, the whole issue of the perception of innocent until proven guilty gets thrown out the window," said Hicks, who also slammed some feminists for using the Simpson case to further their own agendas. He said the issue of domestic violence is serious enough that it should not be laid solely in Simpson's lap.

"Some of this is shameless opportunism to use this man to advance a cause," Hicks said, adding that attorney "Gloria Allred is pouring gasoline on fires."

Another public relations executive said that regardless of the community where he wants to emerge, Simpson must realize there is no quick fix to his image problem. Ramon Hervey acknowledged Simpson's legal right not to testify during his trial, but said that from a public image standpoint, the decision makes his rehabilitation more difficult.

"The fact that he did not testify diminishes the value, integrity and credibility of him as a public figure," said Hervey, who resurrected the image and career of his wife, former Miss America Vanessa Williams, after Penthouse published nude photos of her.

Cochran said Simpson remains positive in his outlook. "He thinks that time will be a great healer. We all hope that. I'm still optimistic. I hope this will pass."

Times staff writer Ed Boyer contributed to this story.

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