Even if you were too young to watch the O.J. Simpson trial, there’s still a good deal of name recognition in the 10-episode series “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” which premieres Tuesday on FX.
One name in particular, sticks out: Kardashian.
The series prominently features “Friends” alum David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian, an attorney and longtime friend of Simpson, who assisted the former athlete’s so-called legal “dream team” as Simpson stood accused of of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. Kardashian died in 2003, years before his ex-wife Kris Jenner (portrayed in the series by Selma Blair) and his children became household names through “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”
The Kardashian kids make appearances in “The People v. O.J. Simpson” as well, though their total screen time amounts to a handful of scenes. You’ll get few glimpses of them in the first three episodes, including a particularly memorable restaurant scene in which Robert Kardashian talks to his kids about the fleeting nature of fame. In his review of the show, Washington Post TV critic Hank Stuever writes: “It’s a moment that is almost too delicious in its irony and resonance.”
In a 2009 appearance on “Dr. Phil,” Kim Kardashian said she and her siblings knew the Simpsons as “Uncle O.J.” and “Aunt Nicole.” A 2008 Los Angeles Times article quotes Simpson as calling her “My goddaughter” and saying, “I was in the hospital when she was born.” In the series, Kim references Simpson, saying “I mean, he is my godfather.”
(The youngest Kardashian sister, Khloe, responded angrily in 2014 to fans who mistook her actual godfather — Sugar Ray Leonard — for Simpson.)
As The Post’s Kent Babb wrote in 2014, the Simpson saga, which captivated 95 million viewers for the high-profile chase on the Los Angeles freeway, was a precursor to “a never-ending stream of reality television shows and many Americans’ unquenchable thirst for celebrity gossip” — the very type of fame epitomized by the Kardashian family today.
The family members’ lives were just as dramatic during the trial 20 years ago, as Robert and Kris had opposing loyalties. They had been divorced in 1991, and while Robert chose to represent O.J., Kris had been close friends with Nicole. In a 1995 Washington Post article, Lorraine Adams wrote of Kris:
Jenner, who is now married to Olympic champion Bruce Jenner, was the one who went to Nicole’s condo, after the murders, to pack the children’s belongings into boxes to send to the Brown family. She sat on the floor, in Sydney’s bedroom.
“I was going through the toys she had bought them, and I saw Sydney’s costume lying on the floor from the dance recital. That was so hard. That was the pain, the real pain, that came from in my heart.”
Kim, who was 14 when the Simpson trial started in 1994, told Dr. Phil that the Simpson case divided her family.
“We felt like we were really in the middle of this trial,” she said. “We didn’t know which parent to side with. The trial was on every single day and I remember one time going to the courthouse and Kourtney and I went with my dad, and my mom’s sitting across with Nicole Brown’s family. We thought our mom was mad at us for…sitting with our dad.”
“American Crime Story” hints at this tension. In the restaurant scene with the Kardashian kids, there’s a discussion about whether Simpson committed the murders. “No, of course not,” Robert says. “Well, Mom says he did,” Kim reports.
“Your mother’s very emotional right now and I understand that. She lost Nicole,” Robert replies. “We all lost Nicole, but she shouldn’t be talking to you about these things.”
In a 2012 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Kris, who met with Schwimmer to help him prepare for his role, discussed her ex-husband’s decision to support Simpson during the trial. “Were you angry with him for defending [O.J. Simpson] or being on the defense team?” Winfrey asked.
“I wasn’t angry,” Kris said. “I was disappointed and I was confused. I didn’t understand how he didn’t see what I saw. There was a line drawn in the sand. It was tough and it there was a lot of tension and the kids probably suffered as a result of it.”
Jenner didn’t answer when Winfrey pressed her about whether she believed that Simpson killed her friend. “I just really think that it’s not fair to keep commenting on that or saying what my opinion is because of his kids,” Kris said.
Similarly, Kim Kardashian neglected to weigh in on whether she thought Simpson was guilty in her Dr. Phil appearance.
“People ask me that all the time and I just really try and block it out,” Kim said. “I don’t think I’ve ever answered it. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that I think that was the biggest struggle within our family, besides the divorce between my parents. It’s the biggest separation that my family’s had, so why even…bring it up? Everyone has their opinion and we respect everyone’s opinion.”