The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story recap: Marcia, Marcia, Marcia
Let's take a tour inside the accidentally public life of lead prosecutor Marcia Clark
Though its title is an obvious nod to The Brady Bunch, episode 6 of The People v. O.J. Simpson is the series’ deepest, most serious dive into the life and times of a single character. This chapter opens tellingly on Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson), with her face filling the entire screen. Especially for its flaws for the hairdos that accompanied it, that face went from total anonymity to one of the most recognized in America. And one of the most scrutinized and ridiculed. A truer symbol for instant celebrity could hardly be manifested, most of all in the pre-dawn age right before the scalding eruption of reality TV.
District attorney Gil Garcetti (Bruce Greenwood) pulls Clark aside at one point. “Listen, this stuff in the media about your appearance, I’m sorry. It’s awful; it’s inappropriate; it’s sexist; it’s horrifying,” he says, speaking for every sensible-minded person in the audience. But then he continues, adding the next part: “Having said that, I, um, maybe you could, I could put you together with a couple of terrific media consultants, and, um.”
His delivery is awkward, but who can deny the truth of his message? Surely not ever Clark herself, who was vulnerable to the temptations of makeovers even during the trial, not to mention in the decades thereafter. But in the moment she simply stares at him. That’s also what she does later in the episode when a supermarket checkout guy makes a crack about the tampons that she’s purchasing. “Uh oh,” he says. “I guess the defense is in for one hell of a week, huh.”
That supermarket anecdote was reported in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Run of His Life, the source material for much of the series’ content. (This episode was written by D.V. DeVincentis and directed by exec producer Ryan Murphy.) Clark has long criticized Toobin’s book as being filled with “glaring inaccuracies,” though in recounting a much more expository version of her backstory than any television show ever could, the 465-page tome is both more generous and harsher toward the O.J. prosecutor. That’s because the darker details of her story (dental rot caused by two decades of bulimia and the banishment of her parents from her life) offer a prismatic, complex view of the woman.
Here’s Toobin’s short version, for example, of the points of interest regarding Clark’s two marriages, which Charles Dickens could have never invented in 50 books: First husband Gaby Horowitz was a professional backgammon player (and hustler, according to many), who she divorced in 1979 to marry Gordon Clark, aged 22, one month later. They had met at Scientology meetings (though she never joined the church) and were wed by a lay minister of the Church. In 1989, her first husband Horowitz was accidentally shot in the head (and survived, if in a semi-vegetative state) while cleaning his guns with the same Scientology minister that married Clark and her second husband. And the Scientology minister’s lawyer during the investigation into the accidental shooting? Robert Shapiro.
It’s a small world after all.
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The topless beach photos of Clark that arise during this episode were actually published in the National Enquirer — which naturally is drooling over the photos afresh on its ad-cocooned website today. They were sold to the tabloid, incidentally, by Horowitz’s mother. On the show, Clark is so overcome by the understandable emotion and embarrassment of the situation that she breaks down in court, compelling Judge Ito to call the room to recess until the following morning.
In reality, she regained her composure, thanks to Chris Darden, who shifted his position at the table, blocking the TV camera, and the clever note-passing of a fellow prosecutor named Scott Gordon, who’s now a Los Angeles judge. The overweight Gordon cheered her up by scribbling, “The Enquirer was going to run the same picture of me, but Greenpeace wouldn’t let them do it.”
NEXT: More Marcia, plus Rosa and Denise and F. Lee and Mister Johnnie
Though she’s undoubtedly a sympathetic figure — and therapeutically so for many people who remember ridiculing her while eating popcorn in their wood-paneled living rooms, Clark’s mid-trial Jheri curl makeover is handled with a smart sense of the absurd. What was she thinking? Ryan Murphy delights in pumping Seal’s immortal 1994 pop hit “Kiss from a Rose” as she struts confidently into the courtroom. In one of the most delightful reaction shots of the whole series, John Travolta’s turgid Shapiro offers Clark a blithesome thumbs-up — the first sign that something’s rotten. “Good morning Miss Clark,” Judge Ito says, adding condescendingly, “I think.”
Apart from Clark, the episode accomplishes much in terms of other storytelling beats. That includes the fiasco involving the El Salvadorian housekeeper Rosa Lopez, who was being coached by Johnnie Cochran on the stand so flagrantly that she openly admitted as much. And the testimony of Nicole Brown’s sister Denise (played with uncanny physical accuracy by actress Jordana Brewster), another complex person in the case who nonetheless was dogged in her eagerness to debate Simpson well after he was acquitted for the murders. In this clip from Fox News, she spars with O.J. on the phone, calling him “a lowlife” and “a pig.”
But the final 15-minutes of “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” are dominated by the testimony of the people’s witness, Mark Fuhrman (Steven Pasquale), followed by the historic, damn-the-torpedoes cross-examination of the detective by F. Lee Bailey (Nathan Lane). In its real-time entirety, the whole Fuhrman drama took over a week to play out. Much has been synthesized from the court transcripts and boiled down to a dazzlingly concentrated series of exchanges. And in a chilling music cue, Fuhrman enters the courtroom to the slinky, jangling-steel tunes of Portishead’s “Sour Times,” with its lyrics (unheard on the show) about “Bear the facts, assume the dye/End the vows, no need to lie.”
Bailey’s use of the phrase “marine to marine” with Fuhrman (cueing Clark’s contemptuous eye roll at the prosecution table) is lifted from a garrulous speech that Bailey gave in court. He claimed to have spoken to a former marine who said that Fuhrman had called him the N-word. Just one problem with that: The man said he never spoke to Bailey. In this nine-hour long clip of Bailey’s cross-examination (for O.J. case purists only), you can see the man explain that he’s never spoken to Bailey at 4:45:00.
Clark pounced on that. “This is the kind of nonsense that gives lawyers a bad name,” she said. “Mr. Bailey — you can see how agitated he is — has been caught in a lie, and you know something? Not in this case. You don’t get away with that. There are just too many people watching.” The show uses those actual words by Clark to attack Bailey on the stunt (which he really did pull) involving the small glove in a plastic bag, which he employed as a replica for the one that the defense purported Fuhrman planted in order to frame Simpson. Clark, of course, suggested that the glove’s small size means it might be a good fit for Bailey.
The N-word strategy that Bailey took to war versus Fuhrman was insanely successful. He got the detective to deny ever having used the word, thereby assuring that someone would eventually step forward to give evidence that he had, and thus committed perjury. (Much more on that spectacle when we get to episode 9 in three weeks.) But spurred by Clark’s insult about his hand size, Bailey took the opportunity to assure the court about his manhood. In the present, it’s interesting to know that men like F. Lee Bailey have never gone out of style.