Pop Culture

From Dancing Itos to Kato Kaelin, O.J. Simpson case shaped pop culture

Twenty years ago Friday, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were found murdered in Los Angeles. Three days later, football legend O.J. Simpson, the ex-husband of Nicole Brown Simpson, was supposed to surrender to police for questioning in the case. Instead, he climbed into a white Ford Bronco driven by former teammate Al Cowlings, and Cowlings drove Simpson into history. As Simpson's murder trial gripped the nation, it made a major impact on pop culture that we still see today.

The police chase
The chase wound slowly through 60 miles of Los Angeles freeways, a phalanx of police cars in pursuit and TV helicopters zooming overhead. An estimated 95 million viewers watched the chase unfold live, and Domino's Pizza broke a home-delivery record that day.

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Simpson's wasn't the first televised car chase, but it whet the public's appetite for such pursuits. In the years since, shows such as "World's Dumbest Criminals" and a growing number of police-cruiser dash cams have made chase footage a familiar sight. Unfortunately, not all pursuits end as peacefully as Simpson's. In 2012, for example, carjacker Jodon Romero shot himself in the head as Fox News anchor Shepard Smith ordered his control room to "get off, get off, get off it."

Joseph R. Villarin / Today
TV viewers couldn't turn away from Simpson's white Ford Bronco chase.

Dancing Itos
Talk-show hosts found the Simpson case to be a fruitful source of jokes. Perhaps the oddest gag came when Jay Leno's "Tonight Show" introduced the Dancing Itos, a kickline of men dressed like Judge Lance Ito (sometimes accompanied by a woman playing prosecutor Marcia Clark). It was far from the only joke Leno made about the case — a "Gilligan's Island" parody featured "some millionaires and a knife" instead of "the millionaire and his wife" — but the Dancing Itos really highlighted how surreal the spectacle had become. 

The Dancing Itos were a fixture on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."

'If it doesn't fit...'
Defense attorney Johnnie Cochran delivered a snappy rhyming statement during his closing argument: "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit." He was speaking of the blood-stained leather glove found at the murder scene, which Simpson attempted to yank over another, plastic, glove during the trial and found too small. Cochran's use of a catchphrase introduced an element of showmanship into the legal world that arguably influenced TV personalities like Judge Judy ("Beauty fades; dumb is forever!") and Judge Joe Brown. The incident was parodied on "Seinfeld," with Kramer insisting that his lawyer, the Cochran-inspired Jackie Chiles, make a defendant try on a bra. 

It was a dramatic courtroom moment when O.J. Simpson tried on a leather glove found at the crime scene.

Kato Kaelin
Kaelin, an aspiring actor from Milwaukee, was staying in a guest house on the Simpson property when the murders occurred, but whatever he might have witnessed that night was lost in four days of rambling testimony. Kaelin was mocked as a freeloader and parodied as a surf bum and slacker. In 2014, he recounted his strange historical role, calling himself "about as irrelevant as the 'b' in the word “subtle." Perhaps, but he did set off the craze for Z-list personalities who were famous for being infamous. Kaelin went on to participate in a number of reality shows, including National Lampoon's "Strip Poker," paving the way for countless Real Housewives, Teen Moms and daughters of Simpson attorney Robert Kardashian.

Kato Kaelin testifies during the Simpson trial.

Bruno Magli shoes
According to the testimony of an FBI expert, bloody shoe prints found at the murder scene were made by Italian Bruno Magli shoes — specifically, the Lorenzo style in size 12. The prosecution showed photos of Simpson wearing what the expert said were the same style shoes, but Simpson denied owning the "ugly-ass" footwear. Still, sales of the designer brand soared, proving that no publicity is bad publicity. In 2012, Skittles got a similarly macabre sales bump when the candy was tied to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

This trial exhibit showed a test shoe print of a Bruno Magli shoe next to shoe prints from the crime scene.

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