Depending on how closely you follow American celebrity trials – and lord knows there are enough to follow – you may or may not be aware that music guru Phil Spector is on trial for murder. A B-movie actress, Lana Clarkson, was shot in Spector’s home; he claims it was suicide, the prosecution allege otherwise. Whether convicted or not, Spector has already entered the long and inglorious Hollywood slaying hall of fame.
In 1921, when Hollywood starlets still knew what glamour was (a ball-gown and large diamonds, not letting it all hang out like Lindsay and Britney), Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle was reigning comedy king of Hollywood. One of those starlets, Virginia Rappe, was found with Arbuckle in a bedroom at a party, apparently drunk.
When she died a few days later from an infection due to a ruptured bladder (possible as a result of rape), the corpulent Arbuckle was charged with her rape and murder, and despite an acquittal after three trials, he went down as the first murderer in Hollywood history.
Jump to the other end of the 20th century, when Hollywood has lost its allure of glamour, mystique and luxury and become known as the home of over-paid stars and their over-inflated egos, churning out bland pictures in their hundreds. Former American football star and actor OJ Simpson found himself accused of the murder of his wife, Nicole, and her lover, Ronald Goodman.
There was something for everyone in this trial: celebrity, race (an African-American man accused of murdering two white people), marital infidelity, blood-covered evidence, grand-standing attorneys, corrupt cops, even a bizarre slow-speed chase by the accused.
But what really made this “the trial of the century” (copyright: every newspaper and gossip magazine in America at that time) was the televising of the proceedings. Millions of TV sets across America – and even more across the globe – were tuned into every stage of the trial, with apparently 150 million people watching the not guilty verdict. I remember watching it on CNN in rapt fascination.
But in between Arbuckle and OJ lies a trail of the mysterious deaths of the celebrated – or caused by the celebrated. Lana Turner’s violent gangster lover was beaten to death by her daughter, who was never charged with the crime. Marlon Brando’s son Christian killed his step-sister’s boyfriend. And don’t forget the swirl of conspiracy theories which still surround the death of Marilyn Monroe.
It is all these killings which have contributed to the new mystique, a dark, anti-Hollywood mythology. Phil Spector is just the latest to play his role in it.