Kato Kaelin, O.J. Simpson’s former friend, minion, and rent-free tenant, made news a couple days ago by admitting that he always believed O.J. Simpson had, in fact, brutally murdered those two people—Simpson’s ex-wife Nicole and her friend, Ronald Goldman.
Kaelin said he’d been “too afraid” to speak the truth, even as a witness in Simpson’s murder trial. So why did he wait until now to tell us? According to Kaelin, he wanted to make sure the statute of limitations had expired. Unless I’m mistaken, there is no statute of limitations on homicides. In any event, Simpson has already been tried and acquitted on the charge. He can’t be retried.
Seeing Kato’s name in the news brought back memories. In the mid-1990s, a play I had written was being performed at a tiny theater in Hollywood, and the director and I got the cockamamie idea that, as a way of attracting a larger audience, we should offer the male lead to Kato Kaelin, whose bio said he was an aspiring actor. Although the part wasn’t exactly suited for him (he was too young) we believed his name on the marquee would fill the house.
But before we got around to contacting him we lost our nerve. The script was a very wordy 103 pages long. This play was going to require a tremendous amount of memorization, and neither of us knew if Kato, bless his heart, would be up to the task.
While the movie business allows you to get away with uttering a few words and having the director cut and re-shoot from where you left off, in live theater there’s no such thing as editing. The actors are trapeze artists performing without a net. If you blow your lines, you not only embarrass yourself, you murder the other actors by not providing them with their cues. Nobody knows where the hell you’re at. It’s a nightmare.
So we abandoned the idea. Even if Kato were willing to accept the part, we couldn’t bring ourselves to put the whole production in the hands of an unknown quantity. Still, because we were greedy, we also couldn’t bring ourselves to abandon the idea of a “name” actor appearing on the marquee. So we phoned Corey Feldman’s agent. The director had his number Although Feldman, like Kaelin, wasn’t a perfect fit (he was too young), we felt his name on the marquee would draw a crowd.
The agent was a cool guy—very hip, very professional, who seemed genuinely interested in the project until he found out how little Corey Feldman would be paid. Even though this was a union play, it was covered by an Equity 99-Seat Waiver contract, which meant that Corey, like the rest of the cast, would be paid just a few dollars a show. That pretty much ended the discussion.
The story has a happy ending. Even without a recognizable name on the marquee, we managed to get a fair turnout. But more importantly, the cast we finally landed (through the standard audition process) turned out to be magnificent. These prodigiously talented actors took a decent, presentable script and turned it into a work of art. I couldn’t have been more grateful.
We’ll never know what effect Kato’s name on the marquee would have had on the box office, and we’ll never know how well he might have performed in the lead role. He might have surprised everyone by being terrific; and his performance might have led to other acting offers. As anyone in Hollywood will tell you, all it takes is one big break. This might have been Kato’s. Alas, we’ll never know.
David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former labor union rep. He can be reached at email@example.com