Scott's World -- UPI Arts & Entertainment

By VERNON SCOTT, United Press International  |  July 16, 2002 at 9:59 PM
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HOLLYWOOD, July 16 (UPI) -- Do movie stars get fair treatment when facing trial in an American courtroom?

O.J. Simpson doubtless would give a positive answer. On the other hand, Robert Blake and Winona Ryder probably think otherwise. Their chances of a fair and impartial trial are moot and they will soon find out.

There is little doubt they will star in a legal circus surrounding any celebrity caught up in the toils of the law; the scandal factor involving well-known individuals is inescapable.

Screen and TV stars are essentially products of American publicity mills, people praised by the media, photographed beyond belief and projected giant-sized on screens nationwide.

Their every word, gesture and personal nuance is familiar to judge, lawyers, jury and uncounted millions who see their images on TV as they arrive and leave the courthouse, sometimes manacled.

The rest of the population enjoys the blessings of national anonymity.

Most of the legal travails of an accused person are generally unknown to his friends and neighbors, not to mention strangers across the country.

But let a star be found, innocently or otherwise, involved in a major crime or minor illegality and they are caught in the cross-hairs of frenzied publicity.

An enraged Jack Nicholson made headlines pounding another motorist's car to

smithereens with a golf club. His actions made headlines, complete with photos.

Let Sam Smithers, a Modesto insurance agent, do the same thing and nobody knows or cares.

Hortense Higgins shoplifts a bra in Dubuque, and returns it quietly when she's nabbed. No story.

But look what happened to Hedy Lamarr when Florida security people caught her lifting merchandise.

Winona Ryder and Robert Blake await their trials by fire with the world watching their every facial tic, each utterance registered for posterity.

Is that fair?

Well, yes and no. All their lives both performers have sought publicity, fame, fortune and romance in the public eye.

They owe their reputations and individual fortunes to the media which pumped them up to larger than life size and a public that plunks down money at box offices or buys products advertised by their TV shows.

So it's a mutual give and take situation, quid pro quo.

You want fame, then you pay the price.

Or as Blake's detective character on TV's "Baretta" often spouted, "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time."

Tough-talking Baretta mouthed that imprecation to felons seeking solace for their evil deeds.

Now Baretta himself is faced with the same advice, for allegedly murdering his wife Bonny Bakley.

Ryder's alleged crime is stealing $5,000 in clothes from swank Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, a charge enhanced by alleged video-taped footage of the star boosting merchandise.

Whether these two performers are guilty is up to a judge and jury.

Should they be found innocent, the damage to their reputations has been done: because they are celebrities and their names have been besmirched in print and on television for months.

In the event they are exonerated the public will perceive them forever afterwards in a different, perhaps tarnished, light.

In a sense, that's not fair. The aforementioned Smithers and Higgins may move to different neighborhoods, change their names or simply go about their business without harm to their reputations.

But Blake and Ryder already are marked as surely as Hester with that humiliating "A" emblazoned on her forehead.

Blake and his attorney have wisely remained mute. Ryder and her lawyer appear to be whining.

Both Blake and Ryder are short in stature, dark-haired and un-star-like in appearance. Neither has led fairy tale lives.

Ryder is not the helpless waif her stature and demeanor imply. She grew up in a counter-culture California commune where her parents were pals of beat poet Allen Ginsberg.

Her godfather was Timothy Leary, the infamous drug Pied Piper, who advised

American youth to turn on, light up (marijuana) and drop out.

Ryder is bright, articulate and tough-minded, a 30-year-old woman who has held her own in beefs with studios, producers and directors.

She was the longtime girlfriend of actor Johnny Depp, no stranger to controversy, and dated actor David Duchovny. She started her own music company, Roustabout Studios, and executive-produced the movie "Girl Interrupted" and quit a couple of other films.

Delicate in appearance, Ryder is a resilient woman who doesn't back away from confrontations.

The camera lens loves Winona Ryder, perhaps too much.

For it is the lenses on security safeguards monitoring ladies' changing rooms and display counters that allegedly caught the actress in the act of taking and concealing expensive clothing at Saks.

She was twice nominated for Oscars playing sweet innocent young things: "Little Women" (1994) and "The Age of Innocence" (1993).

Only time and a jury will tell how effectively she performs on the stand in

court next month.

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