Belli's Most Demanding Role
As the local news fills up with more obituary information on the late attorney Melvin Belli, listing his famous clients and landmark courtroom techniques, another Belli accomplishment has been harshly overlooked -- his stellar appearance on Star Trek, in which he played Gorgan, from the planet Triarchus. Trekkers know full well we're talking about Episode 60, "And the Children Shall Lead," which originally aired Oct. 11, 1968, on NBC. Gorgan was the Friendly Angel, an alien who controlled the minds of young children (including one played by Belli's own son, Caesar) and ended up melting to death.
The barrister's performance did not escape the watchful eye of The Star Trek Compendium's Allan Asherman. "Belli's delivery is unemotional," wrote Asherman, "not the sort of impassioned presentation one would expect from either an alien entity or a defense attorney."
Back in 1989, Belli reminisced about the role in The Nose magazine. At the time, he was in the news for a much-publicized divorce from wife Lia the previous year, in which he claimed she slept with Zsa Zsa Gabor and Bishop Desmond Tutu. (He had also recently driven his Rolls-Royce into a Sausalito storefront.)
Had the producers allowed him to embellish his lines in any way?
"Not at all," he replied amiably. "In fact, I was asked, 'Mr. Belli, we know that being a famous trial lawyer, you are probably a wonderful writer, but maybe you could read the lines these well-paid, no-talent writers of ours wrote for you just this one time?' "
Was acting similar to trying a case before a jury?
"Parts of it are very similar," answered the King of Torts. "When you're trying a case, presenting evidence before a jury, you have a specific goal in mind, to serve your client. An attorney is only successful if he convincingly portrays what his client believes happened, not necessarily what the lawyer feels is the truth. Once you're in court, you have to put aside your personal feelings for the good of the client. You become your client, even if it isn't you or what you believe in. That is your job, that is what you've been hired to do."
Another Night on the Track
Rave reviews continue to pour in from CNN, Oprah, and the New York Times about the city's class for first-offender prostitution johns, a one-day educational program for men to learn about the sex industry in exchange for $500 and their charges being dismissed. But in the heavily trafficked Tenderloin district, a four-block area nicknamed "The Track," a much different view is offered.
"If you drive up and down the streets, you'll notice there isn't any less prostitution than there was before the johns school," says Carol Leigh, a prostitute and activist who also does outreach. "It's very disrespectful of the prostitutes' perspective. It's like the ex-prostitutes get together -- the very small number who are able to quit -- and decide that the ones that are still working, we're going to arrest for their tricks. It seems that it's not exactly a sisterly effort to deal with prostitutes' problems. And it's portrayed as that."
A homeless man named Stan lingers at the corner of Jones and O'Farrell streets. He hustles for everyone -- from handing out condoms to the girls to warning johns about busts and tipping off cops to suspicious license plates. A friend of his was enrolled in the First Offender program.
"It's just like drunk drivers," shrugs Stan, obviously unimpressed.
When the program is mentioned to a couple of beat cops as being pretty successful, both roll their eyes.
"Oh really?" says one. "I didn't know."
A block up the street stands a young girl in a short white dress and stockings with garters. She gives her name as Jazzy. She's a hard-edged 20, and has turned tricks since she was 16, from New York to Chicago and Los Angeles. One of her regular johns went to the class.
"It's stupid," says Jazzy, lighting a cigarette. "He was back out here the next week." She exhales into the chilly evening air and smiles. "You sure you don't want to party?"
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