Shattered Dreams: Marilyn and Anna Nicole Smith

A voluptuous Texan blonde who became a tabloid fixture in the 1990s is the subject of a new documentary feature, Anna Nicole Smith: You Don’t Know Me, now streaming on Netflix. She modelled her career on Marilyn’s, playing ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ to calm her nerves as she posed for her first Playboy centrefold, and even renting her idol’s last home at Fifth Helena Drive in Brentwood, Los Angeles for a few months.

Born Vickie Lynn Hogan, she rose from a struggling single mother working in a Houston strip club to glamorous celebrity by the age of 25. Noting Anna’s resemblance to 1950s bombshell Jayne Mansfield, Guess Jeans recruited her for a retro-style ad campaign, and she played cameo roles in The Hudsucker Proxy and Naked Gun 331/3.

But it was Anna’s marriage to elderly billionaire J. Howard Marshall in 1994 that made her a figure of global notoriety. After his death a year later, she entered a bitter, protracted legal dispute with Marshall’s family. Overwhelmed by scandal, Anna became addicted to prescribed drugs and was devastated by her son’s fatal overdose, before succumbing to the same fate in 2007, aged 39.

Director Ursula McFarlane and producer Alexandra Lacey discussed You Don’t Know Me, and the parallels between Anna’s life and Marilyn’s, in an interview for Huffington Post.

There’s a moment where you see Anna Nicole talking about how they want her to be the lead actress in The Mask, but they’re offering her only $50,000. I was thinking about it in terms of pay parity and it was almost a ‘what if’ scenario for me. What if she had a different film career, if she had been offered her worth early on and not been lowballed.

Macfarlane: She was typecast unfortunately, like in [the 1994 Coen brothers film] Hudsucker Proxy, she is the blonde bombshell. I mean, who knows if she had done more, whether she would prove some kind of acting chops … I think she had movie dreams. Her big hero in life was Marilyn Monroe and that’s who she modelled herself, literally looks-wise, after. She thought she was some reincarnated daughter of Marilyn, which is quite interesting. She would’ve loved that life. She loved the glamour, so-called glamour. And that wasn’t to be, unfortunately. She ended up in a lot of B movies and then her reality show.

With the Marilyn comparisons, it was interesting to watch you as filmmakers play with that throughout the film. You have the woman from Playboy talking about her coming alive in a photo shoot because she brought a Marilyn record with her, and her dancing and singing along to Marilyn. How did you want to incorporate the Marilyn aspect throughout?

Macfarlane: Visually it was really easy to do because of the looks. When she modeled for Guess, they decided on a sort of ’50s starlet look. But we knew anecdotally how much she loved Marilyn. That’s what she dreamed of. We wanted to put it in there in little moments and you would be reminded. We didn’t want to overdo it, because it is a sort of easy comparison to make, but we used where she showed us in archival footage, like her singing, that it always came from her. It was real and it was strongly there in her life.

She saw a lot of parallels between her and Marilyn, you know, difficult childhoods and obviously, sadly, similar trajectories in terms of drugs and their deaths, and very similar ages [when they died].

Lacey: We actually found out that she rented Marilyn Monroe’s home and lived in it for a little while.

Macfarlane: She had pictures of Marilyn all around the walls. J. Howard Marshall rented it for her because he knew how much she loved Marilyn. She was sort of trying to live Marilyn’s dream a little bit.”