Starting tonight at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” is a 10-part miniseries dramatically recreating the 1994 murders of the former NFL player’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and an acquaintance of hers, Ron Goldman, the investigation, and Simpson’s subsequent murder trial.
Click here for a post I did at my Pax Culturati blog at Patheos.com, in which I give my review and lay out more of the particulars about the production and cast (as you can see above, John Travolta plays Robert Shapiro, and David Schwimmer plays Robert Kardashian, two members of Simpson’s defense team, with Cuba Gooding Jr. as Simpson).
I’ve seen six of the 10 episodes, and the series is top-notch, and nowhere near as racy and violent as a lot of FX’s other scripted fare (but definitely not suitable for kids younger than high school). But what caught my eye is something I didn’t expect — the presence of a Bible and prayer.
Robert Kardashian, who died in 2003 at the age of 59, was a Los Angeles lawyer and businessman who became friends with Simpson in the early 1970s. When Simpson panicked after the murders and failed to turn himself into authorities — later embarking on the famed “white Bronco chase” around L.A. with friend A.J. Cowling at the wheel — Kardashian had tried to calm him down.
In the miniseries, Simpson is seen frantic, threatening to kill himself with a handgun, at Kardashian’s home, as the lawyer pleads with him not to commit suicide “in Kimmy’s bedroom.”
(Incidentally, the scene was shot in the home where Kardashian lived at the time.)
“Kimmy” is Kim Kardashian West, wife of rapper Kanye West, and Simpson’s goddaughter. She is one of four siblings, with sisters Khloe and Kourtney, and brother Rob. They later became reality-TV stars with an E! series called “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” which premiered a couple of years after their father died. Kardashian was married to their mother, the former Kris Houghton, now Kris Jenner, from 1978 to 1991.
The Kardashian children appear in a few scenes in the miniseries, when they ranged in age from teen to grade school.
A loyal friend, Kardashian reactivated his law license to volunteer to be at Simpson’s side during his murder trial.
In the miniseries, Kardashian — portrayed warmly by Schwimmer as a man very interested in being a father to his children — talks to his kids at a restaurant, saying, “We are Kardashians, and in this family, being a good person and a loyal friend is more important than being famous. Fame is fleeting. It’s hollow. It means nothing at all without a virtuous heart.”
According to writers Larry Kraszewski and Scott Alexander, they took “creative liberties” with the dialogue, so we don’t know if Kardashian ever said anything like these exact words to his children. But they are poignant, in light of the determination shown by the Kardashian siblings and their mother to wring every drop of fame they could out of the family name and notoriety.
Later on, the siblings see Kardashian on television reading a note from Simpson that was interpreted as a suicide note, and begin chanting their name. As quoted in The Hollywood Reporter, Alexander said:
Larry and I love irony, and we thought what if we just heightened this idea that by watching him on the TV that one day inadvertently creates the Kardashian empire. [Robert] would be rolling over in his grave.
The Reporter also revealed that Schwimmer spent a good deal of time on the phone with Kris Jenner:
… from whom he says he learned “how much a man of faith Robert was, how he prayed at every meal and before every big business meeting and how he was this very compassionate, generous guy.”
Kardashian was of Armenian descent and a member of the Armenian Apostolic Church, into which he baptized his children. According to reports and photos at the time, Kim Kardashian West and her husband traveled to Jerusalem in the spring of 2015 to have their daughter, North, also baptized into the faith, at the 12th Century Saint James Cathedral, before visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
As Schwimmer saw it, Kardashian — whatever his ex-wife and children did after his death — was the one member of Simpson’s legal entourage not seeking to spin it to his advantage.
At a press event in Pasadena in January, he said:
… so he was really only on the defense team to, in a way, babysit O.J., and be there for counsel to O.J., and to represent him and to look after his best interests. And for me, the real appeal of the role was when it was presented to me as Robert being the heart and the conscience of the whole thing. He’s the only person of the key players who has nothing to gain.
And as a spiritual guide.
And, yeah, he was a deeply religious man. A man of great faith.
At times in the miniseries, Kardashian is seen holding a Bible and heard praying out loud.
Regarding his conversations with Kris Jenner, Schwimmer said:
She was incredibly generous with her time, and very open about her relationship to Robert. And I think the single greatest thing I got from her was the inside about how religious he was, how much a man of great faith he was, that he had a very personal strong, relationship to God, prayed every day, several times a day.
For me, that really helped inform the character and helped me understand the decisions he was making at the time. And the challenge of ‑‑ or the question, rather, that we all kind of explored — was that faith challenged or did he have any kind of crisis of faith? Were his beliefs ever … did they waiver at any time, and did they change? So that’s what the series dramatized and explored for Robert’s character at least.
I haven’t seen the final four episodes, so I can’t answer Schwimmer’s question, but one does wonder, if Kardashian had lived, whether his daughters — and to a lesser extent, his son — would have become pop-culture icons who, as it has often been said, have become famous simply for being famous.
Images: Courtesy FX, Wikimedia Commons