Only one woman in history has inspired a production at London’s Royal Opera House, a truly awful direct-to-DVD biopic, and an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent: pioneering train wreck Anna Nicole Smith.
Even five years after her death, something about Smith still fascinates a certain subset of the public. Perhaps it’s because her rags-to-riches-to-overdose story seems simple, but boasts plenty of weird wrinkles: Smith was obsessed with Marilyn Monroe before it became trendy. Her relationship with billionaire J. Howard Marshall led to a case that eventually reached the Supreme Court. She was one of the first washed-up stars to attempt a reality show comeback, and her disastrous series set the template for dozens of copycat shows on VH1 and E! Anna Nicole wasn’t just an inexplicably famous celebrity; she was, for better or worse, a sort of icon, though what she represented is up for debate.
It makes sense, then, that Lifetime – home of Smith disciple Lindsay Lohan’s big comeback – is casting a new biopic about Playboy’s most infamous centerfold. The call sheet, as reprinted by TMZ, lists the players tabloid readers now know well: Anna Nicole, “a pretty, but plain girl growing up in small town Texas” who “transformed herself though sheer willpower” into a sort of celebrity; Marshall, an 80-something magnate with a “pointlessness” replacing “the glint that used to be in his eyes”; Smith’s confidante Howard K. Stern, a “lawyer-guy-friend-weirdo”; and a few other characters, including Smith’s beloved son Daniel and her mother Virgie.
This all seems par for the course: If Prince William and Kate Middleton’s romance can inspire dueling TV movies, why shouldn’t Lifetime produce another version of the Anna Nicole story? Still, when I saw the news about the upcoming flick, I had only one question: Why?
Yes, Smith’s saga contains drama, intrigue, and plenty of TrimSpa. But between those three aforementioned projects and the tabloid stories still being published to this day, what more is there to say about about Anna Nicole’s rise and slow, agonizing fall? We watched the woman self-destruct in real time, then in a variety of posthumous media; another TV movie just seems gratuitous, more sand kicked in the face of someone who will never be able to defend herself. It’s especially weird that Lifetime is making this movie in 2012, when dozens of other, fresher spectacles are ripe for the picking. (The true story of Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise, anyone?)
The first Smith movie – 2007’s horrific Anna Nicole Story – has a truly bizarre ending. In it, a recently deceased Smith is carted away in an ambulance as her healthy-looking spirit self looks on. “Media went crazy when I died,” she intones in star Willa Ford’s affectless drawl. “You’d think with everything else going on in the world, they’d have something better to do. Hell, maybe they’ll even make a movie about me,” she continues. Then the ghost climbs into a nearby car – which may or may not be a ghost car – and drives off into the sunset.
The scene is muddled and stupid, but it also has a point: Perhaps pop culture should just let sleeping centerfolds lie. Though there’s nothing new under the sun, there’s even less that’s novel about Anna Nicole’s life and times. And no matter how tawdry Lifetime’s version of the Smith story gets, it’ll be hard-pressed to compete with this: