It’s lunchtime at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, where a black Bentley pulls up to drop off Hustler publisher Larry Flynt in his gold-plated wheelchair. But his presence pales in comparison with the main attraction: stripper-turned-litigious heiress Anna Nicole Smith, who, minutes later, appears curbside wearing a tight sleeveless top and an even tighter knit skirt. A crowd of onlookers (including rapper LL Cool J) joins the E! Entertainment Television cameras in gawking at the former Playboy Playmate as she ambles into the restaurant with her boyish-faced attorney and purple-haired assistant. Even Flynt can’t help but crack a smile at the spectacle.
”It’s a curiosity thing, like Monica Lewinsky,” says Flynt. ”How many bimbos with nothing marry a billionaire and get to cash in on a fortune? That’s most of the intrigue.”
You’ll get no argument on that score from E! Eager to copy the success of The Osbournes (MTV’s highest-rated series ever), the net’s launching The Anna Nicole Show Aug. 4 — a weekly peepfest following one of the world’s most notorious, not-so-merry widows (she has yet to collect on the fortune of her late Texas-oil-tycoon husband, J. Howard Marshall, but more on that later).
”I finally got to a point where I could work again,” explains Smith, who’s moving on from her full-time job of testifying about her husband’s estate. ”I was like, ‘Hmm, I love cameras.’ So why not? Let’s go for it.”
E!’s been wanting to get in bed with Smith ever since her 1997 E! True Hollywood Story became one of its all-time highest-rated shows (up there with True’s takes on The Brady Bunch and O.J. Simpson). E! knew audiences were fascinated with the plus-size model; they just didn’t quite know how to make hay out of her notoriety…until now. ”When The Osbournes came along, it was a no-brainer: Let’s just put the cameras on her and follow her around,” says Mark Sonnenberg, E!’s exec VP of entertainment. ”There’s a circus atmosphere that will attract people. Here’s a single mother who’s been struggling to make it while taking on the rich and powerful to make a better life for her and her son. She’s also a grieving widow. When you watch and spend time with her, she’s very captivating.”
Much like Ozzy, Smith’s frailties are her most fascinating features. In the past two months, she’s had nine root canals because stress causes her to grind her teeth. She often complains of insomnia, suffers from ulcers, and has a true fear of the press (reporters are asked to take notes because of her aversion to tape recorders). Heck, even her poodle, Sugarpie, is a Prozac popper.
But Smith, 34, loves being a celebrity — which is why she welcomed a small army of E! videographers (some of whom helped shoot The Osbournes) into her life. Joining her before the lens is her omnipresent (and curiously named) personal attorney, Howard K. Stern; her 23-year-old assistant Kim Walther; and her surprisingly well adjusted straight-A-student son, Daniel, 16 (from her teen marriage to Billy Smith, who worked with her at Jim’s Krispy Fried Chicken).