By Thomas Fields-Meyer
March 18, 1996 12:00 PM

THE GUEST SPEAKER ARRIVED BY limousine at a Toronto auditorium’s basement entrance, where two police officers escorted her through a subterranean maze of corridors and kitchens. Moments before she reached the stage door, a pair of cleaning ladies, hunched over their pails, were so taken aback to see Marcia Clark rushing past in an elegant black suit and pearl earrings, “they put down their mops and started clapping,” says Robert Benia, who had organized the recent appearance. “They couldn’t speak English. All they kept saying was, ‘Bravo! Bravo!’ ”

It has been more than five months since Clark, 42, watched in stunned silence as a jury delivered two not-guilty verdicts in the O.J. Simpson case. For nearly a year, her hairstyles and hemlines, her courtroom strut and feisty manner had captivated the nation, and then she seemed to disappear. But here’s the twist: Simpson, still bogged down in a civil suit that won’t come to trial until September, has been reduced to hawking his story on a $29.95 video. And Clark, the defeated deputy district attorney, has emerged as the trial’s biggest winner, racking up a $4.2 million book deal, a string of speaking engagements for a fee of up to $22,000 apiece, and the sort of celebrity and public adulation normally accorded superstar actors and athletes.

Clark’s private life, too, is falling into place. On a six-month leave from the district attorney’s office, she has settled comfortably into her role as chauffeur and playmate to her two young sons, 6 and 3. And even as she hammers out a settlement in her much-publicized custody battle with the boys’ father, Gordon Clark, 37, she has found a steady flame: Mitch Kashmar, 35, the sexy lead singer of a Santa Barbara, Calif., blues band called the Pontiax. “I wouldn’t say she has fallen in love,” says Clark’s best friend, fellow prosecutor Lynn Baragona. “But she seems happy. They genuinely care about each other.” To O.J. trial fans who know Clark mostly for her courtroom acuity and stylish apparel, she might seem ill-matched with an earthy bluesman who never went to college. But, as Clark puts it, “I’m really very ordinary. I’m one of you.”

Surely it’s an understatement, but her best friends agree she’s hardly highfalutin. “She’s not Armani suits and high heels,” says L.A. deputy DA Susan Gruber. “She’s leggings, oversized T-shirts and tennis shoes.” In other ways, too, she seems a contradictory character. A compulsive fitness buff who stole moments during the trial to lift weights and ride an exercise bike at a gym, she nonetheless is a smoker. She eats salads—often Caesar or chicken—for almost every meal but always keeps a bag of pretzels handy. She still idolizes the late Doors singer Jim Morrison—whose life-size photo hung in her L.A. office—for his music and independent spirit. Her addictions include crossword puzzles and grisly detective novels. And she has earned a reputation for coy flirtatiousness and a colorful vocabulary. “I think it’s well-documented she can outshout and out-cuss any fleet of sailors,” L.A. deputy DA Paul Turley says admiringly.

Clearly, Clark’s lack of pretense is partly what attracted Kashmar. “The lady does not look down on you,” he says. “She does not look up at you. She looks you right in the eye.” After all, fame came late to Clark, who, before the Simpson case, had spent more than a decade as an L.A. prosecutor. She was born Marcia Kleks on Aug. 31, 1953, in Berkeley, Calif., the older of two children of Israeli immigrant Abraham Kleks, an official with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and his wife, Roslyn. And she has always shown an independent streak. Says one high school classmate: “Marcia had no fear, no inhibitions.” She has shown unpredictable taste in men, first marrying a flamboyant Israeli professional backgammon player, Gaby Horowitz (they divorced shortly after Clark graduated from law school in 1979), and then Gordon, an employee of the Church of Scientology who later became a computer programmer. Finding her first legal job as a private criminal-defense attorney distasteful (the final straw: she helped free a man charged with stabbing a woman), she joined the DA’s office in 1981. “Marcia became an overnight expert and just a whiz at putting on evidence,” says veteran prosecutor Harvey Giss, who worked with her on her first big case in 1985. She won most of her 21 murder cases, including the 1991 prosecution of Robert John Bardo, murderer of My Sister Sam star Rebecca Schaeffer. “She’s quite amazing and quite fearless,” says Danna Schaeffer, Rebecca’s mother. “But along with that fearlessness is a huge caring.”

As much as her work fulfilled her, the marriage left her empty, and Clark filed for divorce from Gordon in June 1994—the same month she was planning a wedding shower for Baragona. But she called the day of the party—June 13, the morning after the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman—to say she couldn’t make it because she had to draw up a search warrant. “I didn’t ask her what the case was,” Baragona recalls, “because I didn’t think it was a big deal.”

As it turned out, the Simpson trial made Clark so famous that her private life became public fodder, drawing questions about her custody battle and wardrobe, and afterward causing endless speculation about her close friendship with fellow prosecutor Christopher Darden. (In his book, due out March 20, Darden says they were “two passionate people thrown together in a trial that left us exhausted and lonely,” but it wouldn’t be “gentlemanly” to divulge the nature of their relationship.)

Still, with fame comes opportunity. Says Clark: “I want to use it to speak out about issues of social importance.” She has done so in a series of speaking engagements, inspiring sold-out crowds of adoring fans, many of them women who identify with her as a working mother and with her message promoting self-esteem and attacking domestic violence. Clark is spending long hours most days working with Teresa Carpenter, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, on a book—due out in the fall—that her agent promises will be the definitive work on the Simpson trial.

The speaking fees and the book advance have made Clark—previously a $96,000-a-year county employee with a notoriously high credit-card debt—a wealthy woman. She has given up her ailing Nissan Maxima for a leased Mercedes S320. Such indulgences add another contrast between Clark and new squeeze Kashmar, who drives an ’81 Honda that he recently bought for $181 and shares a cluttered two-bedroom Santa Barbara home with two roommates. Kashmar—his father was an electrical engineer and his mother a homemaker—says he has met his match in Clark. “She busts,” he says. “I can’t keep up with her.” But the two have made time for each other, trading visits almost weekly to their respective homes (Clark lives in Glendale, an L.A. suburb) to, typically, relax over cocktails and rent movies. Kashmar’s also teaching her to play the piano. For now, they both seem content. “All the time watching her on TV, I never saw her smile once,” says Pontiax lead guitarist J. Shay. “Now whenever I see her, she has a smile.”