Diary

If there is any doubt that Americans have been rendered temporarily insane by the OJ Simpson case, then it will be demolished by the following troubling fact: Judge Lance Ito is now better known than Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The country's obsession with the trial even seems to have affected the jury, who turn up for court dressed to the nines - the men wearing ties, the women with high heels and manicured nails. As the writer Dominick Dunne has observed, they look "like people who know they are participating in a major American event". But one shouldn't begrudge them their moment of glory. After all, while Simpson's "Dream Team" of millionaire lawyers are raking in thousands of dollars a day, they get a measly five bucks. That's despite the fact that they are sequestered in a hotel in which they have no private televisions or phones in their rooms, get two conjugal visits a week, are constantly under guard by sheriff's deputies, and eat from a communal self-service buffet.

Some Americans believe that, cloistered for months in such unpleasant conditions, the panel will eventually hate each other so much that a verdict will be impossible. Perhaps that's being too cynical - after all, some of the jurors have a common passion. They told Judge Ito that, given a ban on news, they absolutely had to be allowed to watch the soap opera Melrose Place. Happily, he agreed.

Talking of Newt Gingrich, all is not well among the radio talk show hosts he so generously ushered into the Republican fold after the grand old party's victory in the mid-term elections. This mouth-frothing, foot-stomping corps of opinion-makers may be welcome in the press galleries of Congress, but they are not so warmly received in San Francisco.

Consider the fate of J Paul Emerson, the latest ratings-hungry loudmouth to spout rubbish on the airwaves. Mr Emerson arrived at KSFO-AM, a San Francisco station, with a track record: he had already been fired from another station for talking about the "stinking Japanese". But this did not stem the tide of venom that flowed from his maw. In a city with a strong gay movement and a liberal tradition, he advocated quarantine for Aids sufferers and claimed the disease could be spread by coughing and sneezing. He talked happily of offering bounties for shooting immigrants and referred to Dianne Feinstein, a Democratic senator and former city mayor, as Mrs "Slimestein".

The good news is that he's been fired, although not before protests and threatened boycotts. The bad news is that he's been replaced - by another right-winger.

The British journalist William Cash may be persona non grata in Hollywood following his daft Spectator article about the number of Jews in high places, but it has not deterred him from showing his face around town. Although the organisers of a recent thrash in Beverly Hills by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts made it clear [did they?]that he was about as welcome as a zit on the cheek of a Baywatch beach bum, Cash nevertheless turned up, as the guest of a young female film editor.

Exactly how much he told her about his recent run-in with the movie business is unclear, but she seemed genuinely stunned when the news was broken to her. It's not surprising: had the assembled guests recognised Cash, he would probably now have a large tuxedo repair bill, but happily for him, he was not. That might explain the confidence with which he announced, after gazing airily around the reception, that this was "not really a Hollywood crowd". Joan Collins, Michael York, Anthony Hopkins (whom the event was honouring), Stacy Keach, Liza Minnelli (who sang), Helen Mirren (an Oscar nominee), Dick Van Dyke and Neil Jordan evidently don't count.

No one could argue that Los Angeles is a pretty place. With a few exceptions, its architecture is a monument to this health-obsessed city's addiction to fast food and its infatuation with motor vehicles. Car washes, petrol stations, hamburger joints, taco bars, motels and characterless apartment blocks cover mile after concrete mile.

So when councillors in Santa Clarita, a dormitory community north-west of LA, received plans for a new shopping centre, one might have expected to hear them railing against yet another fake Spanish-style complex. Wrong. Their grievance wasn't with the buildings; it was with date palms. Couldn't they have oaks or sycamores, they asked?

The notion of Californians objecting to palm trees sounds much like the Swiss complaining about mountains. For years they have been a symbol of the good life, an emblem of southern California as deeply buried in the popular imagination as the Hollywood sign. But only one palm (Washingtonia filifera) is native to California. The scores of others are imposters, introduced from North Africa and Spain by developers to lure Mid-Westerners westwards when the city was seen as a white rivieria, an orange grove by the Pacific.

Now, in these finickety times, the trees are the victims of arboreal discrimination, even though they require little water and don't drop many leaves. Some Californians simply find them ugly. Neighbours of ours have just spent a small fortune ripping the raggedy trees out of their backyard. Their crime? Shedding seeds.

Miranda Richardson appears to have made an impression on the reporter from Premire, the entertainment magazine, who noted that she was "quite attractive" and "wearing black leather pants and a cheery blue top that belies her dominatrix bottoms" when they met in a New York hotel. During an evidently less-than-sparkling exchange, Ms Richardson, a childhood fan of John Wayne, complained about the "vengeful knife-wielding or uninspiring housewife roles" on offer for women. You can see her point, though last week she was nominated for an Oscar for her brilliant (toy) knife-wielding performance as TS Eliot's first wife in Tom and Viv.

It is an award she deserves to win. But it is a bleak movie, unadorned with Hollywood excesses (the vacuous Los Angeles Magazine complained that it suffered from "hideous depressiveness"). Nor is there any accounting for the taste of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Why, for example, did they not nominate Willem Dafoe in the best actor's category for Tom and Viv instead of Tom Hanks's tedious Forrest Gump? Stupid is as stupid does.

Maggie Brown is away.

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