Part 4: Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?

Anna Nicole Smith
For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

— 1 Timothy 6:7-10

Any long-term relationship is going to have its ups and its downs. In our decade together, Anna Nicole and I have certainly had our share of spats and knock-down drag-outs. I've already described at length our painful breakup from 1997 to 1999, when she lost all that weight and dumped me. Her battles with pills and booze have been tough to deal with. And I'll never be able to forgive her for defacing the sacred temple of her body with those unspeakably ugly tattoos scrawled across her legs and backside, which tragically make her more appealing fully clothed than naked.

But there is another crime Anna Nicole has committed that has left the deepest scars. It is not the deed itself but its lasting ramifications that have threatened to destroy her and filled me with boiling rage.

Of course, I'm talking about her notorious, short-lived marriage to that old rich dude.

I have deliberately avoided the subject of J. Howard Marshall II and his millions in this thesis until now, in a desperate bid to restore that scandal to its proper perspective. It has perniciously overrun the public discourse on Anna Nicole Smith. Every time I mention my interest in her, people invariably ask me if she's got that money yet, and reopen the tiresome debate of whether she deserves it or not. My response? I don't care! It doesn't matter! Please just shut the hell up!

It's not that I think Anna Nicole should not have married Marshall, or that it somehow made me feel jealous. I may be crazy, but remember my understanding of the difference between the fantasy woman and the real person. I ain't no stalker. Anna Nicole can get married to whomever she chooses, and that's fine with me. My problem is that this marriage and the ensuing inheritance battle have seemingly become the only important thing about Anna Nicole's existence. As time goes by, people are forgetting that she had already established herself as a public figure and a celebrity in her own right before she ever married an 89-year-old oil tycoon. The subsequent media shitstorm of money, sex, deceit and greed has stolen her rightful persona away from her.

I'm stealing it back.

Mr. and Mrs. J. Howard Marshall II I harbor no resentment toward the late J. Howard Marshall II, nor do I feel sorry for him in the least. On the contrary, I respect him for having lived an ultimate male fantasy life, and having died an ultimate male fantasy death. To reap massive success as one of the richest men in the world, and to woo and marry one of the most beautiful women in the world, as the crowning luxurious extravagance of your dying days... what a way to go! J. Howard, I salute you, sir.

First off, let's get the facts straight about him. Or failing that, let's at least dispel the most egregious lies and misconceptions. He was not a Texas aristocrat by birth, but a transplanted Pennsylvanian who made his own fortune in shrewd oil refinery dealings. Marshall is often described as having been a billionaire, but since the sum value of his estate remains a matter of byzantine dispute, we'll play it safe and call him a multi-millionaire. People widely think Marshall was drawn to Anna Nicole after she achieved her international fame and glory, and muddled accounts often have it that the couple had known each only a matter of weeks or days before they decided to tie the knot. That's nonsense.

The truth is that Marshall first met Vickie Lynn Smith in 1991 (although some reports say it was earlier) when she was dancing at a Houston nightclub called Rick's Cabaret. Vickie had been making a name for herself in the local strip joint circuit for some time, working her way up from the minor leagues to the more upscale clubs. She landed a job at Rick's, the premier gentlemen's club in Houston, but the management thought she was too heavy for prime-time duty. "She was rather plump to be working here, so we put her on the afternoon shift," the owner of the club recalls. And thus did the issue of her weight become an early pivotal factor in the course of her destiny. You see, if Vickie had been thin enough for Rick's to present before the nighttime crowd, she would never have met a certain high-tipping customer who didn't like staying up late.

"I was on stage," Anna Nicole recalled in the account of their meeting she wrote in her bridal book. "He was in the audience, and he was lonely and I started talking to him and we just started being friends." They may have started as friends, but Howard Marshall was smitten. He began lavishing her with gifts and money, and his largess made it possible for Vickie to retire from the exotic dancing trade. In him, Vickie found a confidant and comfort to share her personal problems with. He called her "my precious package," and she called him "Paw Paw." And at some point, the lovestruck octogenarian millionaire started asking the voluptuous country-bumpkin gal to marry him.

People are quick to conclude that Anna Nicole was taking advantage of Marshall, callously using her potent feminine wiles to bedazzle her senile old sugar daddy out of a big chunk of his fortune. Whether that's a fair assessment or not is something none of us can ever really know. But it may shed some light to consider that Howard Marshall had actually been down this road before.

Lady Walker In 1982, Marshall met a curvaceous brunette Southern belle from Georgia called Lady Walker. Thirty-five years his junior, Lady was a flamboyant femme fatale who claimed to have been intimate with such luminaries as Elvis Presley and Pete Rose. She and Marshall embarked on a not-so-secret affair that lasted the better part of a decade, while Marshall's second wife Bettye was suffering the advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease. Over the course of their relationship, Marshall gave Lady (or let her spend untold millions on) jewelry, designer fashions, luxury homes, Rolls-Royces, you name it.

And do you know how Marshall met Lady Walker? He saw her working as a stripper at a Houston nightclub.

By the time he met Vickie Smith under identical circumstances in 1991, Marshall's dalliance with Lady Walker had ended badly. They fought over unpaid taxes she owed on all those exorbitant gifts, and she cheated on him with a younger man. In July 1991, Lady died on the operating table during a facelift. Marshall's invalid wife died the following year. The old millionaire was stricken with grief and loneliness, but he had already found a new young beauty to dote on. And unlike the scenario with his previous mistress, he was now free and clear to ask for her hand in marriage.

So whatever one wishes to make of the outlandish romance between Marshall and Anna Nicole Smith, the only sure thing is that the experience lacked novelty for him. Marshall was a powerful man whose weakness was his inability to separate the anima archetype from the beautiful women onto whom he projected his desires. His wealth made him accustomed to tearing down the barrier between fantasy and reality as he pleased, no matter what the cost. He knew exactly what he was doing, and you better believe he liked it.

God bless him.

In the 19th century literary tradition of Romanticism, the protagonist commonly commits a "great sin" whose defiance of accepted ethical standards forces his expulsion from society. This marks a philosophical point of no return, after which the outcast hero is free to create his own moral universe. I like to think Anna Nicole's great sin was wearing that red dress to the 1994 Oscars and single-handedly daring to revive the notion of timeless beauty, but it seems history will record her marriage a few months later as her most flagrant transgression of the social order.

Anna Nicole Smith Anna Nicole has always maintained that she declined Marshall's persistent proposals because she did not want to be perceived as a gold-digger. She says she promised to marry him after she had achieved her own success and made a name for herself. Her reasoning was that this would prove to the world that she was marrying him for love, not money. Of course, that naive logic couldn't have been wrong.

After winning her fame as a Guess? model and Playmate of the Year, Anna Nicole kept her word and finally relented. On June 27, 1994, Howard and Vickie Lynn Marshall were wed in the unassuming setting of a Houston drive-in wedding chapel. The groom was 89 and the bride was 26. Legend has it that as soon as the couple had exchanged vows and released a pair of white doves, Anna Nicole ran off to catch a plane to a modeling assignment -- leaving Marshall whimpering at the altar. And thus was the showbiz gossip media complex blessed with a big, juicy slice of heaven.

I don't need to go into detail about the public reaction. It was an absolute tabloid wet dream feeding-frenzy nightmare, dampened only by the fact that the nuptials took place during the summer of O.J. Simpson. It was insane. Overnight, the popular impression of Anna Nicole changed from sexy, refreshingly full-figured beauty queen to greedy fat whore. Marshall's family was also resentful toward this 22-carat diamond-wearing threat to their patriarch's wealth and dignity. After Marshall fell seriously ill in January 1995, son Pierce had himself appointed his father's legal guardian and restricted Anna Nicole to seeing her husband in 30-minute visits. She says this imposition on her marital rights was crushing for both of them, leaving them to suffer through his final months in forced separation.

Anna Nicole Smith J. Howard Marshall II died from pneumonia in August 1995, fourteen months after the wedding. Now came the interminable inheritance battle between his widow and his son. Although Marshall's attorney had drawn up prenuptial agreement papers, none was ever signed. After five years of legal wrangling, a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge in September 2000 famously awarded Anna Nicole $450 million, but that decision got thrown out the following year. In March 2002, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that she was instead entitled to $89 million.

Will she finally get the money this time? Does she really deserve it? I repeat my earlier statement: I don't care, and it doesn't matter to me. But I do believe she has gotten a raw deal in the court of public opinion. If you look behind the tabloid headlines, you find what seems to have been very much of a mutually fulfilling relationship, if an unconventional one. Neither of them was exploiting or abusing the other, and both parties were getting exactly what they wanted. Marshall enjoyed having another pretty young sweetheart to spend his money on, and Anna Nicole enjoyed having financial security granted unconditionally by a powerful man who cared about her. It's a win-win.

In particular, I think people have unfairly overlooked one crucial factor in this equation: Anna Nicole's loving concern for her son. After she divorced her first husband and he failed to pay child support, Vickie turned to the humiliating world of topless dancing to provide for young Daniel. Marshall made all that change. "He took me out of a horrible place and was taking care of me and my son," Anna Nicole said recently, "and I loved him for that." Even through her highs and lows, it appears that she has always worked hard to be a good mother. If it weren't for Daniel, I bet she never would have agreed to marry Marshall in the first place.

To some extent I share the oft-voiced concern that if Anna Nicole ever does get her hands on that gigantic amount of cash, her unchecked appetite for excess will lead to her self-destruction. I hope that won't happen. But mostly, I just wish this soap opera ordeal would end, and maybe then we can get back to remembering what was really important about Anna Nicole Smith before she got married nearly a decade ago, and still remains important about her today.

The story of the merry widow fighting for her dead ancient hubby's millions has almost completely sabotaged the real issues Anna Nicole represents, snuffing out her progression from celebrity to unique sex symbol to transcendent myth. This sordid yarn has kept us from confronting the strange and uncomfortable proposition that a full-figured woman can be immeasurably beautiful and sexy. One can almost detect the media's sigh of relief upon turning Anna Nicole into a laughing stock, since the aesthetic ideas she was stirring up were getting a bit too threatening to their closely guarded status quo. If they couldn't make this dangerous provocateur go away, they'd have to slander and defame her somehow -- and with perfect timing, her wacky marriage offered all the rope it took to hang herself.

In terms of her mythology, the marriage to Howard Marshall is primarily an act of Vickie Lynn, the real person. Still, this odd chapter in her life does deserve its place in the legend of the Anna Nicole persona, albeit one of minor significance. We should regard it as just another wild escapade that Anna Nicole's journey has taken her on, being the sort of stupendous thing that goddesses will naturally do. And this story vividly illustrates Anna Nicole's supreme feminine dominance over the will and reason of the mere mortal male, even the wisest, and the most powerful, and the very eldest among us. Aside from that, this whole millionaire business has no bearing whatsoever on how I feel about my love. We're in this thing together for the long haul.

For richer, for poorer, for better or for worse.

Part 5: The Importance of Being Anna Nicole
Unraveling the aesthetic paradox of the plus-size model.

My Love Affair with Anna Nicole Smith

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