It is an odd sensation to find yourself in the midst of a breaking news story galvanizing all of America. But I was on the scene, or at least in the proximity, on June 17, 1994, when O.J. Simpson embarked on his most famous (or infamous) run.
I was in Los Angeles for the “Forest Gump” junket for which entertainment writers and film critics from around the country were flown in for roundtable interviews with cast members Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Sally Field and Gary Sinise. My wife and then six-month old son joined me. The hotel was also the site for junkets for two other upcoming releases, “The Shadow” starring Alec Baldwin, and Rob Reiner’s unfortunate, “North,” about which the late Roger Ebert famously wrote in his review, “I hated this movie. Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated this movie.”
This might account for a sour expression on “North” co-star Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ face when I encountered her at an elevator while bringing my infant back to our room. Either she knew she was in a bomb or perhaps she was bracing herself for yet another “Seinfeld” fan to quote dialogue from her own show to her (and in her defense, it did fleetingly cross my mind to offer up my son and say, “You gotta see the baby”).
It was a star-studded weekend, to be sure. Tom Hanks was as gracious and grounded as advertised. Sally Field I had had a crush on since back in her “Gidget” days. And Alec Baldwin, with whom I shared an elevator, doted on my son and said, “Babies must think adults are so weird.” To this day, we refer to him in our house as “Uncle Alec.”
But O.J. Simpson upstaged them all. It began when the junketeers boarded the bus to Paramount studios to see “Forrest Gump.” The bus driver was hunched over listening to a radio. Thinking he was listening to a Dodgers game, I asked the score. He said that O.J. was missing and there were reports he might have killed himself.
Five days earlier, O.J.’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ron Goldman, a waiter described as a friend of Nicole’s, were found slaughtered at her home. O.J. had been scheduled to surrender to police on this morning. By the time we came out of the screening, the white Ford Bronco chase was underway. Friend and teammate Al Cowlings was at the wheel. O.J. was in the back seat, supposedly armed with a gun.
For the next hours, three was nothing but to watch the dramatic events unfold on TV. The Bronco followed by a squad of police cars looked like something out of “The Blues Brothers.” My wife and I did not leave our hotel room. We ordered in pizza (Domino’s reported record sales during the chase, CNN reports).
There was no social media. Instead of tweets, there was a letter from O.J. generally considered to be a suicide note. “I’ve had a great life, great friends,” it read. “Please think of the real O.J. and not this lost person.” The most dramatic moment of the TV coverage was when a local network patched into a radio station that had contacted O.J.’s first wife, Margueritte, and asked her if she had any message for her ex-husband in case he was listening to the radio. “RUN!” she screamed.
And here we are 20 years later. O.J. is in jail for an unrelated crime, my son is a sophomore in college and the white Bronco was bought by a collector for $75,000.
Where were you when O.J. ran? Did you follow the trial? Give us your verdict.