Last night in Los Angeles, one of the big winners at the Emmy Awards was the FX production of “The People vs. O.J. Simpson.”
Though most of the American public was quite familiar with the O.J. saga that unfolded in 1994-1995, the series was compelling, must-see drama (too bad John Travolta’s positively weird performance as Robert Shapiro didn’t get rewarded), but it shouldn’t be underestimated that its main source material was New Yorker journalist Jeffrey Toobin’s book, “The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson.”
Might we see another Toobin-penned narrative capture similar acclaim at a future Emmys award show?
I think it’s highly possible if he’s lucky enough to get the same talented people who worked on the FX show to produce “American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst,” Toobin’s spellbinding retelling of the events that captured the attention of the nation in the mid-1970s, and the definitive book of this uniquely American drama that was published last month and which I finished reading on Sunday.
Combining great writing with a fascinating narrative — including new details about the two-year saga — Toobin weaves a riveting, hard-to-put-down document about the era and the actual events which took place in 1974 and 1975 not only in California, but also Pennsylvania.
Growing up in the Bay Area, I was very familiar with much of what we have known publicly about this case, but then his reporting takes over and fills in the details I’m confident most people weren’t aware of.
There certainly has never a been more definitive recounting of the fiery nationally televised shootout in South-Central Los Angeles on a Friday night in May 1974 that resulted in the deaths of five members of the Symbionese Liberation Army by the FBI and the LAPD’s SWAT team (captured in the chapter titled, “Apocalypse on Fifty-Fourth Street”) and the ultimate capture of Patty Hearst and her comrades in September of 1975.
There is one common theme in both stories — O.J.’s and Patty Hearst’s — one F. Lee Bailey, the notorious attorney (who Toobin quotes another journalist as writing) who was “drinking about 10 highballs every day” of the trial.
Toobin has said he was able to accomplish a lot of his research by going to newspapers.com, where he was able to access the daily reporting of local Bay Area publications (like the Berkeley Barb and the Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner). He also obtained a treasure trove of material by purchasing 150 boxes of Hearst case documents — including FBI field reports, called 302s — curated by one of the SLA kidnappers, Bill Harris, who became a prominent private investigator after he was captured and served his time in prison.
Ultimately, Patty Hearst served less than two years in prison. Her sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 and a full pardon granted by President Bill Clinton on his last day in office in 2001.
Interestingly, we learn the reaction in the law enforcement community to her pardon was very different from what it had been earlier to her commutation (which was supported by Ronald Reagan in 1979).
Toobin writes that Robert Mueller, then the U.S. Attorney in San Francisco (and later director of the FBI) “wrote a scathing letter of objection.” In that letter, he included the fact that Patty was counting on the passage of time to allow her to rewrite history.
“The people who wrote in support of her pardon application obviously know nothing about the bombing of police vehicles by Hearst and her associates or her involvement in the Carmichael (California) robbery and murder,” Mueller wrote.
Hearst also fired a gun with live bullets when Bill Harris was caught shoplifting at Mel’s Sporting Goods store in 1975 — the event that led to the firebombing of the SLA home the following day.
Toobin says the film rights to his book has been bought by Fox 2000 — so undoubtedly you’ll be seeing this book on some sort of screen in the coming year or two, no question.
In other news …
There was this letter that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection sent to out Mayor Rick Kriseman Friday afternoon — more fallout from the whole sewage-gate imbroglio in St. Petersburg.
Earlier Friday, we saw the House District 63 debate between Shawn Harrison and Lisa Montelione.
Those two lawmakers, plus HD 60 Democratic candidate David Singer, talk about Rick Scott and give them an individual grade.