Friday, February 09, 2007

BeansTalk on ANS

by the BeansTalk ME

Last night we were shoved, barely made-up and un-prepped, before the cameras to discuss the untimely and unfortunate death of celebutante Anna Nicole Smith. The TV Guide Channel was shooting a quickly put-together five-hour tribute of sorts. It was fascinating to be a part of a impressively crafted show put together at the very last minute. But consider, for a moment, the special’s topic, Smith.

Anna Nicole Smith came into the public consciousness when she first appeared, both voluptuous and vulnerable, blonde and buxom, on the pages of the iconic Playboy magazine. Her notoriety was furthered when she was selected 1993’s Playmate of the Year, which means she was the best of Hef’s bunnies. She was also one of the tallest (at 5"11) and biggest, in weight and measurement (her weight at the time was 155 lbs.)

Guess’ Paul Marciano subsequently turned this Marilyn Monroe-wanna be into the face of his hip and artistically advertised clothing line. Smith posed a la Marilyn in Bus Stop, once in a gingham top and snug Guess jeans.

From the start, with her voluminous platinum hair, lacquered lips and porcelain skin, Smith was bigger than life, not unlike Jessica Rabbit come to life.

She became a fixture on Hollywood’s red carpet, always willing to stop for every camera, every reporter carrying a mini-cassette, any media outlet that would talk to her.

This inherently intriguing aspect of Smith was furthered by the fact that she was once Vickie Lynn Hogan, from Mexia, Texas, a small town where, at 17, she worked at Jim’s Crispy Fried Chicken, and met a 16-year-old named Billy Smith. The couple married, and, still 17, Smith gave birth to her son, Daniel. Smith and Billy divorced after two years later, and a determined Smith took her beauty (obvious as it was, it still made her a standout) to a local strip club, where she honed her skills and eventually became one of Houston’s most popular strippers.

It was at a Houston club where she met billionaire oil-tycoon J. Howard Marshall, already an octegenarian, and a veteran of a previous stripper/senior romance. Marshall’s first exotic dancer was the beneficiary of his generosity, but Smith received a level up. Later, while defending claims of "gold-digger," she was fond of saying that she was already contracted at Guess and was making her own money when Marshall begged her to become his wife.

Marshall was wheel-chair bound, at the end of his illustriously successful life, and older than Smith’s own grandfather. But it didn’t matter -- they had something to offer the other and they married.

After Marshall’s inevitable death (and he did live a fulfilled life), there were lurid accusations, trials and tribulations. Legal battles began and she met attorney Howard K. Smith. She lost, then won, then was in limbo with the promise of inherited wealth (the case was still pending when Smith died yesterday [Thursday] at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel).

In subsequent years, she was known more for her appearances at the trials, trademark dark sunshades, with both Daniel and Stern by her side. Smith also had several missteps with public appearances, she was inappropriate, she seemed intoxicated. Yet, she was always sequined and glamorized, again, in a very obvious, showy way. She was quickly becoming a caricature of herself.

Timing worked in her favor, when the E! True Hollywood Story dedicated to her was one of the network’s most successful episodes of the series. Smith participated, producer Robert Bently said, offering regular faxed suggestions for both interviews and topics. At the same time, MTV began airing “The Osbournes.”

A light bulb went off over someone’s head and E! 's The Anna Nicole Show was developed. Rumors abounded that shooting the reality show was laborious, to say the least. Smith was notoriously slothy, lazy and often slurred her words. Much of the show was peppered with subtitles (and yes, she was speaking English – at least her version of it).

Smith’s show provided fans with an early example of train-wreck television (now a staple), as a developingly plus-figured Smith whined her way through designing her house, making once obscure interior designer Bobby Trendy famous. Trendy mentioned to us Thursday night that his store is a stop on a “star tour,” because of its distinction from the E! series.

One year, Smith was a featured runway model for (mass-market plus-size clothing line) Lane Bryant. She caused such a commotion with her E! crew that she wasn't asked back the following year.

The reality series chronicled Smith’s queer relationship with Stern (she seemed his only client and both bossed, and was guided by him). The Anna Nicole Show’s truly shining moment of humanity was depicted in Smith’s relationship with her long-suffering, self-effacing son Daniel.

It was Daniel, his sweetness, reason, and genuine concern for his mother, who gave the show its heart and who led audiences to believe that surely there was more to Smith than appearances belied, because she had to be doing something right to have a son as solid as Daniel seemed.

Smith’s legal battles continued and the tragedy that was her life spiraled in a sadly downward motion. Her E! series lasted two seasons, but not through a third. While the network offered the explanation of "different directions" (at least that’s what we think they said), truth was (alright, rumor has it) that shooting the series, and getting Smith to actually do something, get out of bed, get out of her house, to motivate her to depict something even remotely interesting, was going to require too much film – and energy.

As her troubles grew, Smith grew in size. And then she disappeared – by then, not many noticed or realized she was gone for eight (that’s what Trendy says) months, but they certainly paid attention when she returned to the spotlight. Smith seemed to have lost half her size. There was no transition period. She was as slender as a runway model, as any starlet on the once teen-centric, now defunct WB. She was even more slender than when she started. No one could call her voluptuous anymore.

She sported a mouth of white, Chiclet-like teeth and proclaimed (yes, slurring slightly) “TrimSpa, baby!” as the reason for the switch. The television ads featured a bathing suit clad Smith romping on the beach. Another scene had her emerging from a limousine, dressed to the nines, paparazzi lights flashing. Her line? "TrimSpa, baby!'

But again, there were things continuing to erode at Smith, and her waning career. She became pregnant in early 2006, slipped off to the Bahamas. Initially refused to name the baby's father, and then denied that the baby’s father was her former boyfriend, photographer Larry Birkhead. When Birkhead hired an attorney and showed up, forlorn, on television, he lamented Smith's denial.

And then, the story shifts into the chapter of Smith’s life that’s been reiterated to pieces in the last 24 hours. She gave birth, by Cesarian, to a baby girl, in the Bahamas. Three days later, while visiting his new baby sister, Daniel Smith, 20, died. It was later discovered his death was caused by a fatal combination of two different anti-depressants and the powerful drug Methadone. It has not been revealed where he got the Methadone. The anti-depressants were prescribed.

Smith, by all reports, was wholly inconsolable at his loss. This was completely understandable.

As she battled with the most pervasive emotion, grief, she also contended with Marshall’s relatives in the continuing case of her possible inheritance. Then disgruntled TrimSpa users sued both Smith and TrimSpa (and its owner, Smith and Stern friend Alex Goen), and Birkhead heated up his paternity suit. Just a couple of days before her death, she was ordered to provide Birkhead’s counsel with DNA results.

Did her tremendous weight loss put too much strain on her heart? Could it have been a combination of the toying of the metabolic and the apparent medication she was on?

The question now is the extremely complicated litigation. Smith was living in the Bahamas. But she may not have completely established residence (she was evicted from the home she was renting when payment became overdue). Baby Danilynn was still there, with a Smith friend, the wife of a Bahamanian official. Birkhead filed his suit in California. Smith died while on a "weekend vacation" (actually Monday through Thursday, when she died), in Florida, but not just anywhere, the hotel property is on tribal land [which has separate laws]. Smith and Stern allegedly had a commitment ceremony in the Bahamas (they sold their pics to People for a reported $1 million), presided over by a Baptist minister, but did not get a marriage certificate. Smith's family -- her sister and parents -- still live in Texas.

What all of this means is that this amplified in its complexity. Who will get custody of Danilynne? Stern, the assumed father (who has been given, at least temporary, custody by Bahamian officials); Birkhead, who claims biological paternal rights, or Smith’s family in Texas. One of the lawyers on the TV Guide Channel points out that other factors to consider include Smith's will as well as her own expressed wishes.

Unfortunately what really makes this particularly heated is the potential for Smith’s estate's possible massive inheritance (we’re talking millions, at even half of Marshall's $1.6 billion estimated values).

We suggested on the show that Birkhead demonstrate what we hope is his true reasoning for fighting so hard for Danilynn – genuine fatherly love. If that is the case, Birkhead should promise should that if money is ever awarded, he would keep enough to educate Danilynn in whatever way she wanted (post-grad work at Harvard!) and the rest he would commit to charity. If you truly want to prove that you are motivated by love and not money, that’s probably the best way. Stern should do the same!

In life, Smith frequently garnered little more than a roll of the eyes of those who caught a glimpse of her on a tabloid cover, or saw her preening in a television news magazine. Now, with her death – and whatever the results of her autopsy may be – she has become a tragic figure. Let’s just hope that Danilynn won’t be. It is one case with which many may say, she should not follow in her mother’s footsteps, however designer they were often shod.

Someone pointed out that what drew people to Smith was a combination of her beauty and pity for her -- and we agree that's probably a very apt description. Despite the fact that several panelist yesterday repeatedly said that Smith was captivating because people wanted to be her -- we disagree. It was her vulnerability underneath that flashy beauty, coupled with the flawed judgement and behavior that made her fascinating.

Photo right: US model and reality TV star Anna Nicole Smith, pictured in 2005, died after being found unconscious in a Florida hotel room.(AFP/Getty Images/File/Kevin Winter)