Thursday, February 15, 2007
Culture Shock 02.15.07: Death is Anna Nicole Smith's greatest legacy
Alive, Smith was fodder for the tabloids. Dead, she has graduated to the front pages of respectable newspapers. Alive, she was the star of a short-lived "reality" series on the E! cable channel. Dead, she is the subject of endless speculation and analysis on CNN and Fox News Channel. She's given Larry King and Geraldo Rivera material that will last weeks, if not months.
The legal proceedings surrounding the paternity of Smith's baby daughter and the millions left in limbo after the death of her 90-year-old husband, J. Howard Marshall, will probably keep Court TV hosts breathless for years.
Full disclosure: Marshall owned a minority stake in Koch Industries of Wichita, Kan., the largest privately owned company in the U.S. In 1993, Koch financed my summer internship in Washington, D.C. As far as I know, however, I am not the father of Smith's child.
But I am available for interviews.
It's easy to make too much of the similarities between Smith and her idol, Marilyn Monroe. Both were bleach-blond bombshells who suffered from low self-esteem. Both died tragically young, and as a result, both will be remembered in their primes. Both were poor girls from rural America who went to Hollywood, changed their names and made it big. Both "married up" — Monroe to a baseball legend and, later, a respected playwright, Smith to a billionaire old enough to be her grandfather. Also, both apparently struggled with drug abuse. But Monroe did so during an era when powerful movie executives could keep most of the sordid details quiet. Smith did it on live television.
But Monroe was a legitimate movie star, although she never really gained what she most wanted — respect as a legitimate actress. Smith's career high points were the achievements that made her a name in the first place — becoming Playboy's Playmate of the Year and her stint as a Guess Jeans model.
Smith's acting career, such as it was, consisted of bit parts and a pair of lead roles in two straight-to-cable action flicks where the plot served only to move her from one nude scene to the next. Trust me, "To the Limit" and "Skyscraper" aren't exactly inspired cinema even by Cinemax After Dark standards.
Unlike Monroe, whose death only added to her legend, Smith will be defined by her death and its aftermath.
Almost lost in all this is the fact that Smith, in her prime, was a welcome change from the rail-thin models who appear on most high-class fashion magazine covers — literal poster children for eating disorders. For a brief time, before she lapsed into self-parody, she made the most of the talents she had. Unfortunately, that obviously wasn't enough.
For Smith, it's a sad ending for a woman who wanted to be the next Marilyn Monroe and who achieved just enough fame for her failure to reach iconic status, at least in life, to be especially painful. Perhaps too painful for her to endure.