Fame and Infamy Surround Anna Nicole Smith

Nov. 17, 2005 — -- For the past decade, fame and controversy have followed Anna Nicole Smith -- from the cover of Playboy magazine, to her infamous cable TV reality show, to her gig as a weight-loss supplement spokesmodel.

But it was her marriage to Texas oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall that some say made her infamous. When word got out that the love of Smith's life was 63 years her senior, many dismissed her as a gold digger.

"She's a sex machine, likes to have sex as often as 10 times a day," joked Jay Leno on the "Tonight Show." "Probably a habit she picked up married to that 90-year-old billionaire."

But thanks to home movies, family photos and personal accounts, "Primetime" was able to take a look inside the couple's much publicized marriage to see what this May-December couple was really like.

The Courtship

Smith and Marshall met 16 years ago at Gigi's Cabaret, a Houston strip club where Smith worked as a dancer.

The billionaire was on the rebound, having recently lost his second wife as well as his long-time mistress, who was -- ironically -- a flamboyant former stripper herself.

"He had no will to live," said Smith. "I went to see him and he got a little twinkle in his eyes and he asked me to dance for him. And I did."

Marshall liked Smith so much, she says, that he tried to grab her breasts and thus began their courtship, complete with dates to a fancy Houston country club.

"To tell you the truth, the first time, it felt a little embarrassing," said Smith. "But from there, I didn't care what nobody thought."

The money he was giving her -- from $1,000 to $5,000 in cash -- may have helped. He also showered her with gifts worth nearly $6 million, including cars and a 15-acre ranch outside Houston.

During the relationship she was named a Playboy Playmate, won a lucrative modeling contract with GUESS jeans, and bit parts in films such as "Naked Gun."

But the real jackpot for Smith came with her marriage and the amazing promise that she says her husband made to her.

A Houston Wedding Chapel

"Anything he could do that made her life better ... he would do it," said Elaine Tabers, Smith's aunt. "Sometimes she didn't have to ask, he would just do it."

Tabers was living with her niece on the ranch as her assistant. She says Smith helped her husband, then 88 years old, feel like a kid again, like when they took a spontaneous trip to Bali.

"He said, 'You know, I've never been on a vacation where I did not work,'" recalled Tabers. "He said, 'This is the best vacation I've ever had; I've had so much fun and everything.' He said, 'I've done things I've never done in my life.'"

After years of pining, Marshall finally got Smith to accept a 22-karat diamond engagement ring and the two were wed just a few days later at a drive-through chapel in Houston.

The two were nervous and emotional. Smith's son, Daniel, put on her veil, and the couple fed each other cake and toasted with champagne.

But when photos of the newlyweds kissing were beamed around the world, the wedding toast quickly became a wedding roast.

Battle Lines Are Drawn

Despite ferocious tabloid coverage, Tabers says the two had limited expectations of what the marriage would entail.

"He would just say, you know, 'All I need to do is talk to you on the phone,'" said Tabers. "'I just need to hear your voice.' And a lot of times that was enough for him."

But according to Marshall's nurse, Betty Morgan, after the two were married, Smith was only interested in one thing when it came to her new husband: his money.

"He would be trying to make her understand that he couldn't get his hands on that kind of money," said Morgan. "That he might be worth the money, but he didn't have cash lying around … and I could hear her screaming and telling him he had to send her the money."

What Smith didn't know, was that Marshall's entire fortune was tied up in a trust controlled by the tycoon's buttoned-down son, E. Pierce Marshall, who never approved of his father's taste in women.

When Smith and Marshall were married, one of Marshall's lawyers who also did work for his son, immediately proposed steps to protect the family money. In a confidential memo entitled "post-nuptial fine tuning," the lawyer advised finding a way to leave "less for mischief or Miss Cleavage."

Smith fired back, filing court papers accusing Pierce Marshall of meddling in her affairs.

But the real shock for Smith came at the reading of her late husband's will. Her lover of five years, and husband of one year, had left her nothing -- a far cry from the half of his fortune she claims he had promised.

"He always said I could have half," Smith said in a previous interview.

Strong Allegations

Pierce Marshall's attorney, Rusty Hardin, says Smith's claims are a fabrication.

Hardin says he firmly believes Marshall, though he provided for her during his life, had absolutely no intention of leaving her anything after his passing.

"She wanted to get as much from him as she could, and when he died she then came up with this idea that he had promised her half," said Hardin.

But Smith's aunt begs to differ.

"What I heard in many conversations -- and he said it many times -- was that he wanted her to be taken care of and have the things that she never had," claimed Tabers.

The two sides were so at odds that within weeks of Marshall's death, Pierce Marshall and Smith literally sued each other over the tycoon's ashes. A judge actually divided his remains and the two held separate funerals.

But as bad as that was, it got worse. Pierce Marshall's lawyers prepared to present evidence the marriage was a sham, marked by greed.

'The Anna and Rusty Show'

Smith was now spending almost all of her time in California and even though her money pipeline was shut down, her lavish spending continued.

After 14 months of marriage to an oil tycoon and more than $6 million in gifts, Smith was broke. She filed for bankruptcy in California federal court, telling the judge her heartbreaking tale -- claiming her stepson, Pierce Marshall, had blocked her from her getting her share of her husband's wealth.

The judge agreed, but her victory was short-lived. Pierce Marshall appealed the federal decision and returned to Texas to try settle the matter there once and for all.

Throughout Houston it quickly became known as the "Anna and Rusty Show" thanks to a heated six-day cross-examination by Pierce Marshall's attorney. When he asked her on the stand if she'd been taking new acting lessons, she responded, "Screw you, Rusty."

But one juror says what troubled her was Smith's apparent willingness to play the "dumb blonde."

"So she goes, 'Well, I'll play the part,'" the juror said. "'Then I can lie and get away with it, you know, because I'm just dumb.'"

In the end, the jury sided with Hardin, believing the young bride had broken the old man's heart with excessive spending and neglect.

"Once she married him, then she figured she was going to get half of whatever he had, so she wasn't even decent to him," one juror said.

The verdict meant Smith would get nothing.

'A Charmed Existence'

But those who thought her legal ride was over were sorely mistaken. Smith petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear her case.

Smith has gone from Playboy Playmate to Supreme Court litigant.

The decision shocked Hardin, who said Smith leads a "charmed existence."

"It's a fascinating thing," he said. "I mean the whole visual of Anna Nicole showing up before the Supreme Court."

The issue before the court is narrow, focusing on whether the federal or state court was supposed to hear the case.

But what the case has always turned on was a question about the true nature of this marriage. Did Marshall really want to take care of Smith forever?

But could one piece of potential evidence -- never shown to the Texas jurors -- help answer that question?

In a home video of Christmas morning, 1992, 18 months before the couple married, it appears Smith was trying to get Marshall to say something on the record.

"Say it just like you did last night," she said on the tape.

Marshall responded: "I, Howard Marshall, being of disposing mind, express this my last will and testament to Vicky Nicole … shall receive a house -- which she calls the ranch -- and the townhouse and her Mercedes automobile and everything else that I have ever given her to be hers now and forever. I love you."

What is perhaps most striking about the video is what Marshall didn't say -- that she would get any part of his estate, let alone half.

"He's talking there about things he gave her," said Hardin. "He's talking about things that he gave her during his life that no one has ever tried to take away from her."

But Smith's lawyer, Phillip Boesch says that the tape means nothing.

"What I make of this, is that you have a husband and wife having some fun and they are on video," he said. "Howard is not doing business here ..." Boesch says that far more revealing is something else Marshall did in December 1992. He instructed his lawyers to prepare a "catch all" trust for Smith -- that would give her 50 percent of the wealth created during their marriage.

Pierce Marshall's attorneys say Marshall quickly scrapped any plans for cutting Smith in on his estate.

Despite all the jokes about Marshall letting himself be an easy mark for a woman 60 years his junior, perhaps she was the one who was being taken advantage of.