YOU SEE THEM EVERYWHERE, waving to crowds of admirers, signing autographs, dining at the best tables at what pass for “in” restaurants. No, I’m not talking about Tom Cruise or Barbra Streisand. I refer instead to the real stars of the moment — the high-profile, high-ego members of O.J. Simpson’s defense team.
They’ve been anointed the legal “dream team,” and it’s clear that these guys take themselves seriously. Indeed, over the next few months, their “show” will seriously encroach upon regularly scheduled TV programming, movies and other conventional forms of entertainment. Who’s going to watch Oprah when they can see Robert Shapiro and O.J. “live” from downtown Los Angeles?
As I observe Shapiro, F. Lee Bailey, Alan Dershowitz, Johnnie Cochran and their cohorts hamming it up, it’s clear to me where we’re headed. An incipient star system is emerging for legal eagles that will match anything the studios could conjure up.
I CAN PICTURE THE MEETING where Shapiro gets the treatment from a room full of high-power agents. “You’re a celebrity, and you have to start thinking like a celebrity,” his new agents would admonish. “Celebrities walk on water. They make money from things that others give away.”
Then Shapiro will be given a modus operandi that will govern his business life as well as his personal life. Its components:
CREDITS: Taking a leaf from film directors, Shapiro will henceforth demand a “possessory” credit on all future cases. If he goes to trial, it will not be an ordinary trial, but rather “A Robert Shapiro Trial”– so listed in the press and TV coverage, not to mention t he courtroom.
Far from relying on the whim of some trifling figure like Judge Lance Ito to determine whether cameras will be allowed in the courtroom, Shapiro’s representatives will insist on pay-per-view coverage at all future trials. Needless to say, Shapiro will be a gross participant, like a Cruise or a Harrison Ford. He will own foreign rights, video and other ancillaries.
PERKS: Given the public pressures on a legal star of this magnitude, future contracts will specify a Winnebago, or other suitable dressing room, a unit publicist and approval of all stills and other press materials.
Shapiro will also have the right to name his makeup man, hair dresser and costumer. The court must also cover the cost of a regular stand-in who will occupy Shapiro’s seat next to O.J. while pedantic posturers like Gerald Uelmen drone on about constitutional fine points.
CAMEOS: Shapiro’s new agents believe that their client can become the legal profession’s answer to Jack Nicholson — that is, in addition to his starring roles, he can also maximize his income by making superstar cameo appearances at other high-profile trials. Once again, as with Nicholson, his compensation would match his superstar status — low up-front money against major participation in back-end revenues.
PUBLICITY: There’s clearly a need for better management of Shapiro’s public image. Pat Kingsley of PMK would decree that, as with Cruise, no stories would be written about Shapiro unless he has approval of the writer. He would also have the right to approve all quotes, and interviewers would be supplied with a list of questions that they would not be permitted to ask; if Tom Cruise can decide what he doesn’t want to talk about, why shouldn’t Shapiro?
PERSONAL APPEARANCES: Shapiro’s new agents would be concerned about his generosity in signing autographs on demand and dispensing random wisdom outside the courtroom to anyone who will listen. In the future, there will be a charge for autographs and Shapiro’s speaking fees will match those of other senior pundits, such as Oliver North or Gordon Liddy. Henry Kissinger’s consulting firm will be retained for the purpose of levitating Shapiro into that higher circle of alleged statesmen who sit on corporate boards and serve as special envoys in diplomatic emergencies. There’s no reason why Bob Shapiro couldn’t be utilized in North Korea or Haiti rather than some prune-faced softie like Jimmy Carter. Gen. Cedras would have wilted in the face of Shapiro’s cross-examination.
How will Bob Shapiro respond to this new scenario? I asked a personal manager this question — a man familiar with the foibles of major stars — and he seemed sure that Shapiro would be a prime candidate for a Celebrity Makeover.
“Shapiro wants to be a superstar — you can tell that from his body language, ” says the manager. “He’s just got to overcome a certain naivete. The other day I actually saw him buying clothes at a men’s store. Now, it was a good store, but celebs don’t buy anything — people give them things.”
I, too, am certain Shapiro can assume that mind set. “Robert Shapiro — superstar.” It has a nice ring to it.