Michael Lee’s Notes From The Road: ‘THE CURSE OF ANNA NICOLE’

Back when I was first formulating The Lost Boys, I was working as a producer at E! Networks in Los Angeles. My boss—Robert Bentley, a native Houstonian, had produced what is still the second highest-rated E! True Hollywood Story of all time: Anna Nicole Smith. Consequently, the network had just turned down a pitch about an outrageous rock-n-roll family led by the ‘Prince of Darkness’ himself. Instead of being scooped up by E!, the producers of that project shopped around and landed a deal at MTV for a new show called ‘The Osbournes.’ The rest is Reality TV history.

But with the sting of turning down an historic Cable TV hit, executives at E! felt they had to do something big to strike back. (I know, because my desk was right across from the vice-president of programming—Jeff Shore.)

That’s when some producers from Fox came to the network and lunged forward with a dramatic idea: launch a reality show starring the network’s second highest-rated personality: Anna Nicole Smith. (The highest-rated was O.J. Simpson—but the Juice was still toxic at the time.)

I was there the day Anna and her entourage waltzed into the network offices, led by none other than her joined-at-the-hip attorney, Howard K. Stern. Everything about Anna was over-the-top, to say the least. I’ve never been around a more needy human being in my life! She didn’t just thrive on attention, she craved it worse than any drug addiction. Public attention was her oxygen.

Over the next few months, she would make dramatic entrances and always arrive in her white limo in the main E! courtyard—the same spot filmed countlessly on episodes of ‘Blind Date.’

Anna and her entourage didn’t know the meaning of ‘subtle.’ She would call out from across the courtyard, waving and gesturing—a living, walking, talking spectacle. Those were the days before cell phone selfies and viral video. These days, Anna would have been an even bigger star for sure!

During an edit of my project for E! True Hollywood Story, Anna and Howard would often walk right through my edit bay to get to hers so she could watch post work being done on her show. They were never quiet or courteous; they were always loud, obnoxious, and abrupt. It was like the party scene from ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’….only playing out around the office.

Howard K. Stern and Anna Nicole Smith circa ‘The Anna Nicole Show’ days

Naturally, she would go well out of her way to do anything to draw attention to herself. Personally, I thought it was rather sad. It was like a constant cry for help, a desperate plea for someone to care. But I wasn’t fazed by her at all, however. And that seemed to make her try even harder to get noticed.

Still, I knew all about TV curses since I had just interviewed all the actresses from ‘Charlie’s Angels’ and delved into that curse before it really began to manifest—especially for Farrah. (But that curse deserves its own discourse for another day.)

At the time, I never dreamed I was a front-row seat witness to a TV curse unraveling right before my very eyes. Day after day, I would casually observe the not-so-intricate workings of the “Anna Nicole Show.” Anna would sleep until afternoon just about daily; calls were constantly made to ‘the house’ but always to speak with Howard. He was the mastermind. He was the architect. He was the Kingpin. Howard ran the show, though Anna could be very vocal at times about various sundry items. Moodiness was also her madness.

For me, I was watching the ugly side of Tinseltown. This was the Dream Factory— where people are chewed up and spit back out again. All around me was endless exploitation. On Anna’s show, it probably peaked with the planned trip to fly in Anna’s ‘toothless cousin,’ Shelly, and send her to Magic Mountain on the roller coasters, just to soak up every ‘trailer trash’ moment of this poor, beguiled woman.

Bobby Trendy

Then, there were the other characters the show created…..like ‘Bobby Trendy.’ I ran into Bobby at an event one night at the Hollywood Athletic Club. He was the life of the party, just like on the show—but years after the show was over, so was Bobby. He didn’t know how to deal with the sudden fame—and roller coaster ride into oblivion. This was real life E! True Hollywood Story in progress…

After Anna’s death years later, I got a call from a former associate producer I had trained back in Houston who was now working for the ‘Dr. Phil Show.’ She knew I had the inside scoop on Anna, and I steered her in the right direction to dig up the dirt on the case.

Years later and back in H-Town, I spent the day with famed legendary attorney John O’Quinn at his top secret warehouse off Hempstead highway where he stored over 1,000 prized antique and collector automobiles, including versions of the Batmobile, multiple Rolls Royce editions, and stunning Ferraris and Lamborghinis. We spent hours chatting about what I had seen firsthand in Hollywood with Anna’s control-freak parasites.

Virgie Arthur and attorney John O'Quinn

Virgie Arthur and attorney John O’Quinn in the Bahamas

Just eight months earlier, I had watched O’Quinn on national TV being ridiculed and riddled by an over-zealous judge in Florida during court proceedings to determine who would get Anna’s dead body and where she would ultimately be buried. The judge frequently rebuked O’Quinn during the hearing, always calling him ‘Tex,’ instead of following any true court room decorum. But that didn’t discourage O’Quinn from fighting for his client, Anna’s estranged mom—Virgie Arthur.

Not over Anna’s dead body would ‘mom’ win this fight. And she didn’t. Anna’s remains were awarded to Stern, who promptly arranged for her burial in the Bahamas next to her son, Daniel—whose untimely death from a suspicious drug overdose seemed to lead to Anna’s downfall as well.

Daniel and Anna

The fallout from Anna’s death left quite a mushroom cloud of corpses and curses.

J. Howard Marshall’s son, E. Pearce Marshall, who battled Anna fiercely to keep her hands off his daddy’s money, had already died suddenly a year earlier from a bizarre infection.

Just two years after I had visited with O’Quinn and his ‘common-law’ wife, he was killed in a freak accident when his truck hit a tree on Halloween in 2009, right outside the TV station where I worked and had done a special report on him and his car collection.

His wife lost her home and virtually everything—all because she wasn’t named in his will. (An almost identical situation to Anna Nicole’s ordeal when her 90-year-old hubby J. Howard Marshall II kicked the bucket!) O’Quinn’s other half even came to the TV station to request the video we had shot with them two years prior so that she could fight the estate executor in court.

I recently did a story on Anna’s former estate in Cypress now being put on the market for $2.8 Million. I couldn’t help but wonder….’Could that home be cursed?’

There’s no escaping the puzzling events surrounding Anna Nicole’s life and downfall.

Larry Birkhead and Howard K. Stern at Anna’s funeral in the Bahamas.

So, the question remains: is there a curse associated with all-things ‘Anna Nicole?’

Perhaps we’ll never know. But just totaling up the body count since her demise leads one to wonder. A lot. But for Anna’s sake—and more importantly, her daughter’s—maybe whatever curse there was will finally be broken for Dannielynn Birkhead.

Perhaps Dannielynn will be the one and only member of her family to beat the odds and find health and happiness in her life. That would be one legacy Anna Nicole could finally be proud of.

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