Anna Nicole Smith: The Gatsby tale
Anna Nicole Smith, the once dazzling star of America, the Guess poster girl, the Playboy playmate of the month, the 90’s Marilyn Monroe, began life as Vickie Lynn Hogan. She came from a world of poverty, closed doors and small-town life and she wanted more. What Vickie wanted was the American Dream, the fairy tale life that was worth living- she longed for a way out of the environment that was suppressing her.
At the age of 14 in 1982, she dropped out of school after getting into a fight with another girl. Three years later, working in a fried chicken restaurant, she met cook Billy Waye Smith whom she married and had a son with a year later. Still feeling her life wasn't enough, she left their small town in Texas and her husband who she said had been abusive, and ran towards the bright lights of Houston, Texas. She tried working various jobs, however, the money was never enough for a single mother, striving for financial security for her and her son. She inquired at a strip club for some waitressing work when they suggested she work instead as a dancer.
She worked as a stripper at this club, but still not feeling satisfied with her position, she decided to have breast surgery in order to become the image that the industry and men desired her to be. She worked her way up to a position in the strip club Gigi’s, infamous as the playground of the filthy rich oil tycoons of Texas. It was there that she met J. Howard Marshall, an old man of extreme wealth, who was in his 80’s. He became enamoured with her, showering her with gifts and even begged her to marry him. She refused, and it was about this time when she finally stepped a foot onto the straight path that led towards her American Dream.
Her boyfriend at the time sent some pictures of her to Playboy, and sure enough, they took a liking to her. In 1992, she appeared in an issue of Playboy and in the May issue that same year, she was featured as the playmate of the month. She was a figure of beauty and desirability- she had achieved the ‘something more’ which she so desperately wanted. This was followed by a contract with Guess for an ad campaign where she stared down from billboards into the gazing eyes of America, becoming the object of their desire.
She was forming into an icon, featuring in GQ, Marie Claire and even working with H&M. She had shed her small-town Texas girl image, and became Anna Nicole Smith, a figure of glamour and seduction. She was wanted, but more importantly she, for once, was financially secure.
In 1994, despite multiple refusals, she succumbed and married 89-year-old Howard Marshall in Houston which opened a new chapter in her life, as well as changing her image once again. She now went from the sensuous icon, the object of America’s longing gaze, to a heartless gold digger. The speculation surrounding her marriage ricocheted around America, manifesting in cruel whispers and snide glances. She had achieved her American dream, worked her way up from the ground like our friend Jay Gatsby, yet her newfound position put her right into the centre of the rumour mill.
Gatsby, to society, was the Oxford man, or to others the non-Oxford man, the murderer, the spy. Anna was the temptress, the gold digger, the femme fatale and the shark hungry for money. To quote Fitzgerald, “it was testimony to the romantic speculation [s]he inspired that there were whispers about [her] from those who had found little that it was necessary to whisper about in this world”.
She became exactly what they wanted her to be, the blonde bimbo, the sex symbol yet beneath these archetypes, she was still Vickie Lynn Hogan, that doe-eyed girl striving to have a better life. For once, she was protected and adored by a man who went out of his way to give her everything she wanted. She had secured a future for her son Daniel and had the hope that she would never have to return to her life from before.
For Anna, Marshall was that beacon of hope, her green light at the end of the dock. The green light represented an escape from the world she once came from, filled with poverty and abuse. In an interview, Anna told the world of her childhood, and when asked of her mother, she said:
“You want to hear all the things she did to me? All the things she let my [stepfather] do to me, or let my brother do to me or my sister? All the beatings and the whippings and the rape? That’s my mother.”
Is it any wonder that Anna fell into the arms of a man who promised to love and protect her? Even if this man was 89 years old, he treasured and adored Anna in ways she had never experienced. Her traumatic situation put her exactly onto the path for this marriage, a circumstance which seemed so tempting to someone who had nothing, or no one.
She became the maligned woman, put under the microscope of American media and torn apart in the process. She moulded herself under the exact standards of beauty that our society expects, and succeeded at her new role of the image of desire. She thrived because of how she looked and became a star, yet like Gatsby, once she reached those heights, she was bound to be torn down. We have a habit of encouraging success, of pushing this beauty standard onto women and making those who do not reach it feel inferior. However, when women surpass the expectation and revel in their beauty and desirability, we berate them for it. It is what I would call the Kardashian effect.
We demand an ideal of beauty, yet when women decide to profit off of it, we call them fake, attention-seeking, desperate. We give women like Vickie Lynn Hogan little opportunities in the world and equip them with no tools to further themselves, no encouragement. Young Vickie used what she had, her beauty, to make a life for herself and succeeded, but this wasn't accepted or celebrated. Instead, she was put on trial by the world and sentenced to a life of ridicule for merely doing what she had to do to feel safe and secure.
She had risen from the days of stealing toilet paper from restaurant bathrooms to a life of opulent wealth and glamour. This was the fairy tale she had wanted, yet underneath all of the excitement and materialism, her story was a tragedy. Shortly after their marriage, Marshall died, and despite her promised security, she was left with nothing. The world laughed at her, jeered about how her plan to suck Marshall dry of his wealth had been foiled. The dumb blonde who greedily wanted it all was left with nothing once again, alone in the world with her son.
The fairy tale had been cracked, and once that crack appeared, everything around her shattered. The worst part was, she was completely falling apart whilst still being under that microscope. She went from an icon of pop culture to America’s latest freak show. The main character of the show was Anna, the symbol of white trash, even being featured on the cover of New York Magazine in an issue titled White Trash Nation, without her knowledge.
She was a chameleon, her image changing from the model, to carnivorous wife, to the trashy and penniless widow. Underneath all of these performative roles, she was still that young woman, traumatised and abused, with no real life skills or direction, swimming in a sea of sharks who sought to tear her apart with each move she made.
In extreme pain after a ruptured breast implant, Anna became addicted to pain killers and despite multiple stints in rehab, was spiralling wildly out of control. She made various appearances in films and on tv, yet she was always portrayed as this trashy dumb blonde, the image which became her defining feature. She was relentlessly vilified and mocked in the eyes of the media, yet remaining in the public eye, even if it meant being ridiculed was all she could do to stay afloat and provide a life for her son. She had been sucked into this world, had been chewed up and spat out, yet she was still clinging on.
She floated from one public appearance to another, slurring her words and acting chaotically. She even had her own reality show on E!, which only sought to perpetuate her image as a shallow and materialistic blonde. She was, as usual being manipulated to fit an image which served as entertainment for the world around her.
Her son developed drug addictions like his mother, and in 2007, when visiting his mother who had just given birth to a baby girl in the Bahamas, died of an overdose. The one person who had given her life purpose, the person who she climbed the ladder of the American Dream for, was gone. Daniel was her everything in a world of emptiness.
Five months later, Anna Nicole Smith was found unresponsive in a hotel room in Hollywood by her bodyguard. Despite efforts to resuscitate her, she was pronounced dead of an accidental overdose.
Anna’s fairytale had ended just as tragically as it had started. In true Gatsby fashion, she lived her life with people surrounding her, providing them with glitz, glamour and entertainment. Yet despite all of this, she was incredibly lonely. When it came to it, she died alone, that green light which had been dwindling for years, finally snuffed out.
In the words of Nick Carraway, when pondering on Gatsby's life:
“He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night”.
Anna’s life was a testament to the unfair way our world treats the disadvantaged. She found a small window in which she could wriggle her way through to the world of hope and wonder. However, when she made her way inside, she found it to be a cruel and wicked world, and despite earning her place, she would never truly be excepted in it. She was abused by her family members and when she escaped, she was abused by the rest of the world, made into their very own clown.
It makes me wonder, if she had been given different opportunities in life, who would she have become? Would she still be alive today, thriving despite the adversity of her early life? Or was she always destined to be used and tossed aside under the cruel system our society has constructed?