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Friends Describe Simpson Witness as King of One-Liners

March 21, 1995 GMT

GLENDALE, Wis. (AP) _ What can you make of a guy who shows up for his class picture with a polka-dot tie around his neck and a purse slung over his shoulder?

Classic Kato.

Brian ``Kato″ Kaelin, who is scheduled to take the witness stand in the O.J. Simpson murder trial this week, is described by friends and former classmates as someone who is ``always on stage,″ someone who looks for laughs and usually gets them.

Some say the aspiring actor’s testimony in Simpson’s preliminary hearing was the most serious they have ever seen him. And even then he made the courtroom chuckle a few times. He’s certain to provide a change of pace after days of laconic, even dour testimony from police detectives.

Kaelin, who turned 36 earlier this month, grew up in Glendale, a Milwaukee suburb of about 14,000, graduated from Nicolet High School in 1977 and spent two years at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire as a speech major.

Old friends who have have stayed in touch with Kaelin say they’re angered by tabloid reports portraying the former Simpson houseguest as a gigolo, a freeloader or a drug dealer. They say his relationship with Simpson and Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, was simply one of friendship.

``These people (Simpsons) enjoyed him and felt comfortable with him and invited him into their family and he accepted their offer. I don’t see anything wrong with that,″ said Steve Clavette of Mequon, a friend from high school.

Kaelin’s younger brother, Bob, says the family stands behind Brian Kaelin and tries to ignore negative media reports and comedians’ cracks. He calls his mother twice a week, says older brother John.

Kaelin grew up the second youngest of six children. His mother was a nurse, his father a liquor salesman who liked to take his children and their friends out for ice cream. His father died of diabetes in October 1990.

Kaelin’s nickname comes from the fondness his older brother, Mark, had for the television show ``The Green Hornet,″ which featured a limousine driver named Kato. Several children in the family were called Kato at one time or another, but the nickname stuck to Brian, Bob Kaelin says.

Brian Kaelin enjoyed many of the trappings of high school popularity: He was quarterback of the football team, a pitcher for the baseball team, king of his junior prom. And former classmates say the Kato who cracked them up in school is the same Kato in the spotlight as a witness in Simpson’s murder trial, 15 years after he dropped out of college and went to California to chase a dream.

``He was the guy if you had a party and he was there, it would probably be a pretty good party,″ said Tom Koetting of Wichita, Kan., a college acquaintance of Kaelin’s. ``I never saw him drink, I never saw him do drugs. He wasn’t destructive or out of control in any way.″

``He’s just plain a funny guy,″ said Dave Maetzold of Columbus, Ohio, a college friend who remains in touch with Kaelin. ``His whole personality is based on his sense of humor. He wants people to know that.″

The clowning around and constant one-liners got to be a little too much for some classmates.

One of them, Barbara Haig of Milwaukee, recalled, ``I saw him at some serious times when he was pitcher on the baseball team and I saw him command the respect of his teammates, so it was somewhat of an enigma to me when he was nothing less than hilarious anywhere else.″

Kaelin surprised some students by going out for junior choir, Haig says. He seemed to be trying ``to put something behind the humor,″ she says.

Will Stumpe, a close friend of Kaelin’s since high school who now lives in Glendale, Calif., says Kaelin has worked hard to support himself while trying to make it in show business: waiting tables, delivering pizza, installing lighting and most recently, rounding up movie extras.

He says Kaelin has a serious side many people never see. Divorced almost six years ago after six years of marriage to a woman he met in California, he drives 120 miles every other weekend to spend time with his 10-year-old daughter, Tiffany. He runs 12 miles a day and attends Mass once a week, Stumpe says.

The Simpson case has without question boosted Kaelin’s acting career, previously limited to a few roles in B movies. He now has an agent and a publicist.

``If this (the Simpson trial) opens some doors for him, great, but I think it’s closed a few doors too,″ Stumpe says.

Maetzold, the friend in Ohio, says Kaelin recently told him he just wants the trial to end.

``He said it’s been a blessing and a curse ... a blessing in that Kato’s name is on everyone’s lips. For a guy who went out there to make it in the entertainment business, now he’s sort of a hot commodity,″ Maetzold said.

``And the curse is pretty obvious.″