TCS Daily

Putting Anna Nicole to Rest

By Peter Roff - October 9, 2007 12:00 AM

It is somehow strangely appropriate that nude model-cum-celebrity Anna Nicole Smith met her end in the other Hollywood. Unlike her idol Marilyn Monroe, who died in Hollywood, California, Anna Nicole passed away in room 607 of the Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, Florida, a coastal, Broward County city Money Magazine once described as possessing demographics best representing what America will look like in 2022.

If Hollywood, Florida is a city of the near-future, Anna Nicole Smith - nee Vicki Lynn Hogan - was the perfect modern celebrity. After posing nude for Playboy magazine and earning its 1993 Playmate of the Year designation, Anna Nicole became famous principally for being famous. In a way, her antics presaged the fame - or infamy - associated with "celebutants" of a more current vintage like Paris Hilton.

In Blonde Ambition, former Fox News and MSNBC reporter and anchor Rita Cosby attempts to unravel the events associated with Anna Nicole's demise and the custody battle over her infant daughter Dannielynn, born just three days before the untimely and suspicious death of her son Daniel.

Cosby covered the story as it unfolded from ringside in the Bahamas, where Anna Nicole and her entourage moved while she was pregnant with Dannielynn. She knows the subject matter and the people involved probably as well as anyone.

Her recounting of the events establishes a narrative that raises many more questions than it answers, making it a tough subject for a veteran scribe let alone a first-time author. It is a troubling story, most of all because it continues on after her death in real life. But the focal point has now shifted to little Dannielynn, who is perhaps the only innocent party in the whole tale.

At its core, of course, is money. Between the narrative of the sultry life and death of Marilyn Monroe wannabe Anna Nicole Smith, Rita Cosby unveils a fairly involved effort to pursue millions as part of a litigation scheme against the estate of Smith's deceased husband.

It's not clear how much money Smith had at the time of her death. What is clear is that her infant daughter is probably her only real heir. But that too is suspect, Cosby explains, because of a will seemingly disinheriting all of her children, including future children, other than her son.

Fighting for control of the little girl and custody of Anna Nicole's estate (or was it the other way around?) were attorney Howard K. Stern, a ubiquitous presence on Smith's short-lived eponymous reality show for E! Entertainment television; and photographer Larry Birkhead, whom DNA testing later determined was the little girl's biological father.

The two men eventually reached a deal that, Cosby recounts, strangely parallels one proposed first and repeatedly by Stern: Birkhead getting the child and Stern getting to manage the estate. Just what that estate may consist of may also explain, at least in part, the seeming cast of thousands involved in Anna Nicole's life and, regrettably, her death.

In 1991 Anna Nicole, while employed as what H.L. Mencken would call an "ecdysiast," encountered 86-year-old J. Howard Marshall II, a billionaire Texas oil tycoon. Marshall, Cosby writes, "was grieving the recent loss of both his wife and mistress" and, taking a shine to her, invited her out to lunch the next day. What followed is the stuff of tabloid history.

After a lengthy courtship, which involved the giving of many generous gifts on his part and an apparent lack of fidelity on hers, Anna Nicole eventually accepted Marshall's offer of marriage - and a 22-carat engagement ring.

The two were wed in June 1994. Marshall died, of pneumonia, 14 months later and Anna Nicole wore her wedding gown to the funeral. Marshall's death, as Cosby recounts as a back-story but which is actually deserving of even more attention than the principal matter at hand, created a fight that led all the way up to the United States Supreme Court.

Despite a will declaring that Marshall's estate would pass to his son Pierce, Anna Nicole and her attorneys filed suit, alleging that Marshall had promised to make arrangements to provide for her after his death and to set up a separate trust fund in her name.

In the suit she claimed all of his estate whose estimated value at the time was $1.8 billion.

Since the suit was filed Anna Nicole has died. Remarkably, the suit continues, carried on by a mysterious legal team despite the fact that a number of legal scholars have raised serious questions about its merits.

Again, Cosby presents the facts of the case as mere backdrop to the fight over Dannielynn when it may in fact be the central issue at hand. But she does make clear that many if not all of the parties involved in the whole mess may be acting out of motivations having more to do with the pot of gold at the end of this particular rainbow, which is potentially huge even if it settles out court, than the interests of the child.

That the suit is still alive at all is thanks more to advantageous forum shopping (finding a court where the outcome would like be favorable to the plaintiff for the purpose of filing suit) than any underlying merit associated with the case. In fact, as Cosby's version of events strongly suggests, almost everything that went on in the maelstrom surrounding Anna Nicole from the time the suit was filed to her death and beyond, is the result of cynical manipulations by the party's involved, especially by the attorney's closest to Anna Nicole, Howard K. Stern.

Its not often one feels the need to shower after reading a book. Blonde Ambition is a noteworthy exception, however. And, in the end, the story of Dannielynn Smith has striking similarities to that of heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, now famous as a fashion designer but once the center of headline-making custody battle after she inherited a four million dollar trust fund when she was just 15 months old after her father died from alcohol poisoning.

Vanderbilt's story was later recounted in the book, "Little Girl Lost." When Dannielynn Smith's story is written, it should be entitled "Little Girl Last."

Peter Roff is a free lance writer in Washington, D.C.


1 Comment

Anna Nicole Smith embodied the adage of a poet-professor friend of mine from years gone by: "God pours the stupidest women into the most beautiful bodies."

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