Sunday, 2 June 2019


Seeing his obituaries this week reminded me I met Claus Von Bulow once. It was almost exactly 20 years ago, in July 1999, at the annual Spectator garden party, at the offices in Doughty Street, back when Boris Johnson was the editor and I was writing the occasional outre review for the estimable Mark Amory, the books editor. As always, it was crowded and warm and the champagne was flowing. I found myself in a group with someone I knew and two other men, one of whom was Bulow. It was all pleasant enough, in a sort of dismissive English upper-class way. Then a woman walked past, attractive with a rather large chest. "Look at those tits," Bulow said, or words to that effect. And a few minutes later, when the same woman walked past again, he called her over, and pointed to me. "My friend here was very complimentary about your breasts, my dear," he said.

I blushed, and stammered some sort of denial, and while he was being charming to the woman I turned to my friend and said "He did it."I did not hang around him much longer; oddly enough I later spoke with the woman, explained, presented my theory as to Sunny Bulow's murder, and we wound up going out for dinner a few weeks later. Nothing came of it, but I thought of her a few years later when David Cameron came to prominence. She did PR for Carlton, as did Cameron, Cameron and Boris were both Bully Boys from the Bullingdon Club, and it occured to me at that point that might have been why she was at the Spectator party. I haven't written for the Speccie in a while; in fact I believe the last party to which I was invited was the one of 7 July 2005, which was cancelled after the bombings at Kings Cross.

There's no need to rehash the case now; but that night it seemed clear to me that 'von' Bulow was a perfect fit for at least one portion of the crowd at a Spectator party. That kind of exclusive club person who's distinctly aware of his own distance from the rest, somewhat creepy if you weren't impressed by what passed for charm. I could see where he would be entertaining, how he'd be invited to parties even without the notoriety. But the notoriety made him irresistible; hosts using him just as he was using them.

It's interesting that his attorney who won him a second trial was Alan Dershowitz, whose book Reversal Of Fortune formed the basis of the movie. Jeremy Irons won his Oscar for that one in large part for being able to project ambiguity, but there was a more interesting version of the murder made as an episode of Law & Order, series 4 episode 5, called 'Black Tie' (1993). It is basically the same insulin-based murder case, but the sexes of victim and suspected killer have been reversed.

The victim is the husband, the accused is the wife, who despite her protestations of being blase about their separate lives, knew her husband was planning to divorce her for his mistress. It presents the issues clearly, most importantly Dershowitz's main point was that evidence obtained by investigators hired by the children had no right to search, as they were acting as de facto agents of the police. The Law & Order casting was perfect: Caroline Lagerfelt was her icy best as the wife; the amazing Viveca Lindfors was the maid who suspects foul play, and Beverly Johnson was good as the mistress. John McMartin, whose face you would recognise, is the family lawyer, and Jeffrey DeMunn plays the Dershowitz figure: a law professor whose recurring part on L&O was as the 'disinterested' lawyer who is always hired by rich clients and proceeds because he allegedly is pursuing points of law.

DeMunn is an elegant, sharp-edged actor, with an intense gaze that can make him seem haughtily detached; he and Lagerfelt made a good pair. In fact,  Dershowitz has been remarkably well-served on screen, with Ron Silver playing him in Reversal, all noble energy, more private eye than law professor, and Evan Handler in The People vs OJ Simpson perhaps not quite so flattering, but very small-town (Harvard) academic. That's interesting, once you throw DeMunn into the mix, because not by their actors but by their clients you shall know them.

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