Sunday, February 11, 2007

Goodbye Norma Jean

I have been on the road the last couple of days so I have had the chance to think about the tumultuous life of Anna Nicole Smith. Besides, there's only so much ESPN Radio that even I can listen to.
I described her earlier on in this space as "a completely useless woman" and I will not much back off from that characterization. However, upon reflection, I felt that when this uniquely American story is looked upon in light of some of her contemporaries in the world of celebrity, the life of Anna Nicole can at least be described as benign. Not everybody in what passes for her peer group can make that claim.
Where to begin? So much of this woman's life defies description. So let's just jump right in.
First of all, what of her marriage to the late billionaire J. Howard Marshall who became obsessed with her after seeing her perform at a Houston strip club? He was in his eighties when they married. When he died he left her approximately 500 million dollars in his will, a devise that has been the subject of hotly contested litigation in State and Federal Court. As you might imagine, J. Howard Marshall's son portrayed her as an abject gold-digger which she has always denied.
Was she a gold-digger? Of course she was. It is laughable to believe that Anna Nicole could be attracted to an octogenarian that wasn't loaded. However, the Federal Judge that presided over the portion of this Gordian Knot that wound up over before him viewed the relationship charitably if not entirely sympathetically.
"[T]heir lives were intertwined in need, and driven by greed and lust." wrote United States District Judge David Carter in the case of Marshall vs. Marshall. " She cherished the protection and security he afforded her and the lavish gifts that he gave to her in order to win over her affection. J. Howard used his money to get Vickie (Anna Nicole used her legal name of Vickie in the litigation) to fall in love with him, and in her own way, Vickie loved J. Howard."
In her own way Vickie loved J. Howard. Not exactly Robin Givens and Mike Tyson is it?
Speaking of litigation, this is the first time in the history of family law that 3 different guys have stepped up and admitted paternity. Of course, when parenthood comes with the potential of playing half a billion dollars for the use and benefit of Anna Nicole's infant daughter
Dannielynn, the woods may soon be full of putative babydaddies before it is over.
Anna Nicole was as crude and vulgar as American junk culture itself, her blond mane and what has been referred to as a "pneumatic" figure propelling her to fame and fortune far beyond what may reasonably be expected out of a high school dropout from Mexia, Texas. Vulgar she was, but her vulgarity was a caricature based on Marilyn Monroe whom she sought to emulate. There were no videos of her having sex floating around on the Internet, claims that cannot be made by her equally useless counterparts Paris Hilton and Pamela Anderson. And unlike the even trashier Britney Spears, Anna Nicole was usually fully, if immodestly, clothed when she went out on the town.
Anna Nicole never assaulted anybody. Kobe Bryant can't say that. O. J. Simpson can say it but nobody with a half a grain of common sense could possibly believe it. She had her troubles with booze and drugs. But, unlike Courtney Love, nobody ever accused Anna Nicole of shooting heroin during a pregnancy.
Finally, Anna Nicole Smith deserves some measure of sympathy for no other reason than the tragic circumstances surrounding her untimely demise. I don't mean to imply that her passing leaves much of a void in world. Anna Nicole will be with us as long as there are drag queens. But anytime a mother leaves behind her an infant, it may fairly be considered tragic.
Further, her 20 year old son Daniel died of a drug overdose 3 days after the birth of his half-sister. While the cause of her death has yet to be determined some suspect that Anna Nicole met the same fate. She was said to be beyond despair over the loss of her son. Who knows? Anna Nicole was not particularly stable under laboratory conditions. Combine a history of drug abuse with grief and throw in some post-partum depression on the side and you have a surefire prescription for disaster.
Anna Nicole Smith's life was an absolute train wreck. She died a caricature of herself as if that is possible. She leaves behind a potentially limitless estate and a generation of unresolved litigation.
But as completely useless though she was, she was not the worst of her kind. She was benign. That's not much of an epitaph, but that's a better claim than Paris Hilton can make.


Sula said...

Paul, I liked what you said mostly and as always so well written-- but to say she was a useless person bothers me. Serial murderers, sadists and child sex predators - those are useless human beings. Historians of culture and anthropology sometimes draw comparisons of U.S. to the Romans. There are many that can be made. Anna Nicole/Vickie Lynn in Roman times would have achieved the status of a minor goddess. She put a sparkle in Mr. Marshall's lifeless, dying eyes, not my words but those close to them. She was his muse and he chose to sponsor her and had plenty of resources to reward his toy. What's the harm in that? He wasn't an incompetent imbecile. He had money to burn. If he wanted to leave a fortune to care for his favorite lap dog, that was his choice. Others have done the same without as big an outrage. To us she was a controversial symbolic figure, the goddess icon, a man's fantasy toy. She held feminine power on the most primitive level and found a way to enhance and develop it to attain celebrity. What isn't acknowledged is that she was hard working. As she said on the stand being berated under cross-exam about spending $5,000 a week to be outfitted in show gowns costing thousands, make up, hair design, nails, limos, body grooming to look flawless to dozens of flashing cameras (who themselves made tons on selling her free public photos mind you) --"It takes a lot to be me." Maybe only a woman can understand how much hard work that can be. She was a gorgeous creature and an excellent professional model. In private she was somebody's mother, somebody's child. Her son died of methodone mixed with prescription anti-depressants, not smack, crack, coke or alcohol. As far as being a useless person, I can't say I'm any better than she. She gave birth to 2 children and loved and cared for them. The girl worked hard for the money. She entertained, she delivered, she fascinated. If you got to know her a little as a person behind the image, she was maturing right before our eyes and had potential. One of my favorite pictures I keep on the wall in my house is from Life magazine of Norma Jean at home in a sweater and capri pants, no make up. The quote under the picture: "She cared little for things and owned no jewelry, "I'm not interested in Money. I just want to be wonderful," she said. Some people didn't believe her and don't believe that of Vickie Lynn. But I do. Money for some is simply a means to an end. Norma Jean had more depth than Vickie Lynn intellectually but they truly were kindred spirits who never really did anyone any harm and worked hard to be wonderful to millions. With respect and affection, I ask you, does that truly add up to being a useless human being?

tmfw said...

You are right. Her case settled the law concerning the primacy of federal bankruptcy court jurisdiction over state probate proceedings. The circuits were split on the question until then.

I therefore concede that she was not totally useless.