Saturday, May 18, 2024

Did OJ Simpson Confess to “Man on a Ledge” Writer?


This week’s main offering at the movies is “Man on a Ledge”–described as “ludicrous” by some critics and certainly not an Oscar nominee. (It was a lowly 20% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is like an F.) It’s January, of course, and if you couldn’t release a movie by December 31st, you know what January means. But “Man on a Ledge” has another reason of interest. Its screenwriter is Pablo Fenjves. Don’t recognize his name? He ghost wrote O.J. Simpson’s infamous confessional book, “If I Did It,” which outlined how O.J. murdered in cold blood his ex wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ronald Goldman.

The ironic part of that is that Fenjves, creepily, was a witness in the Simpson murder trial. He was the neighbor who testified he’d heard a dog’s plaintive wail near Nicole Brown’s house in Brentwood. Did OJ do it? Well, a civil jury said he did, and of course OJ is in jail for something else. Is he metaphorically the man on the ledge in the new movie? Deciphering hidden meanings may be the only reason to see this film, which I keep confusing with a mostly unreleased film from last year called “The Ledge.”

Here’s my exclusive 2007 interview with Fenjves:

Pablo Fenjves, author of O.J. Simpson’s controversial book, “If I Did It,” says the book’s original publisher told him it was a confession.

Fenjves writes in a prologue to the book, obtained by this column exclusively, that Judith Regan, then of ReganBooks/HarperCollins, told him:

“He wants to confess, and I’m being assured it’s a confession. But this is the only way he’ll do it.”

The book, which was canceled by HarperCollins and is today being published by Beaufort Books after a court battle, now belongs to the family of Ronald Goldman. A civil jury found Simpson responsible for the 1994 slayings of Goldman and Simpson’s ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson. A criminal jury acquitted him of murder charges.

Blood, Pregnancy and Dan Rather: Click Here for More Shocking Details From “If I Did It.”

Ironically, Fenjves, who was hired by the publisher to write the book with Simpson, had been a witness in the murder case. He was one of Nicole’s neighbors, and had heard what he describes as the “plaintive wail” of her dog that night after the murders occurred.

The book, which hit stores Thursday, is approximately 60,000 words long. But readers will be mostly interested in a 10,000-word section in which Simpson describes with brutal detachment how — “if” he did it — he killed the pair in cold blood while a companion, named “Charlie,” stood by and watched.

“Charlie,” if Simpson is telling truth, was a new friend at the time and not his best buddy A.C. Cowlings or anyone else from the parade of clowns who occupied America’s TVs and media in 1994-95.

Fenjves writes that he doesn’t believe there was a “Charlie” and that Simpson was alone on the night in question.

While Simpson’s account lines up pretty well with evidence presented in the trial, it’s Fenjves’ prologue that actually says more about the entire episode.

At one point early on in their discussions, Simpson says to the writer, “I don’t know what the hell you want from me. I’m not going to tell you that I sliced my ex-wife’s neck and watched her eyes roll up into her head.”

That Simpson could even speak so dispassionately and violently about his ex-wife and mother of two of his children should sound alarms for those who think “If I Did It” is fiction or a hypothesis.

What’s really alarming is that those two children, Sydney and Justin, now in their late teens, don’t seem to care or understand what their father did to their mother.

When Simpson first was going to sell the book and make money from it, they signed off on an agreement to form a dummy corporation in which they would profit from the proceeds.

Fenjves recalls in his prologue that at one point, Simpson wanted the chapter about the murders to come out of the manuscript. “I hate that f—ing chapter,” he told the writer, but was reminded that it was the reason he’d sold the book. Fenjves observes that Simpson never said it was untrue or imagined.

Simpson did ask for one detail to be removed, however. He originally told Fenjves that Nicole’s Akita, named Kato for their perennial houseguest Kato Kaelin, had wagged its tail when O.J. saw it greet Goldman moments before the murder.

It was a telling detail, Fenjves thought, that Simpson had noticed the dog was familiar with Goldman. No one had ever heard anything like that before. Simpson must have realized that, too.

The ex-football superstar wasn’t stupid, though. He told Fenjves after the manuscript was completed that he’d made some mistakes on purpose in the telling of the murders.

“I treated it as fiction,” he said. “I purposefully didn’t correct some of the mistakes, because if the time comes that I have to defend myself, I can say, ‘Hey look, it can’t be me because that couldn’t have happened.’”

Fenjves says Simpson cited removing his shoes but not his socks, the fact that he would have had to scale a 10-foot chain-link fence to get from the tennis court to the guesthouse and that no one had ever seen him on a golf course with a knit-cap and gloves.

He also told Fenjves he’d never known any “Charlie.” The author felt at this point that Simpson was backtracking, and reading to him over the phone from a prepared script.

It didn’t matter. The book was written, and HarperCollins was set to publish it. Of course, that didn’t happen. The book was cancelled and the Goldmans went to court and won the rights to it as part of their civil judgment against Simpson.

Thursday, with obvious reluctance and distaste, Oprah Winfrey interviewed Ron Goldman’s dad, Fred, and his sister, Kim, on her show. According to sources, she was supposed to discuss this prologue and also an afterward written by Dominick Dunne.

None of that came up. Instead, Oprah appeared to be angry with the Goldmans for publishing the book. In a later segment, she told Nicole’s sister Denise Brown that she wasn’t even going to read it.

The whole thing was very strange, and Oprah — who is usually on the side of the angels — came off badly.

One thing mentioned on Winfrey’s show — that the Goldmans would see only 17 cents per book from sales. Winfrey was skeptical and asked what kind of book deal they had gotten.

In fact, sources tell me that if the Goldmans have figured out their profits to 17 cents, it’s because over 13 years they’ve accrued mounting legal fees and debts for which they were not prepared.

“Fred Goldman was never rich,” says the source. “He works for Nordstrom.”

Winfrey, on the other hand, accepted at face value many of Denise Brown’s ridiculous statements. She didn’t ask her where all the money has gone from the charity that was set up in her sister’s name. She also didn’t bat an eyelash when Denise described Nicole as a good mother because she let her kids mess up her brand new Ferrari.

One thing about Denise … she’s not good at mustering much sympathy for her late, hard-partying sister.

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Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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