It's been exactly one week since the not-so-shocking death of Anna Nicole Smith, and as the perspective baby-daddies fight to lay claim on a fortune that may never materialize, various media outlets are competing to tag the final footnote on a film career that never really happened. Jim Keough is one of several movie pundits to scoff at the media's insistence on setting Smith's story against that of her stated icon, Marilyn Monroe. "The comparison is unfair to Monroe," Keough writes. "Anna Nicole Smith will be remembered for her outsized proportions, her tabloid-friendly personal life and her erratic behavior, which included dozens of slurry interviews, but unlike Marilyn, she's light years from being iconic." It would seem that the bulk of Hollywood agrees; the L.A. Times reports that Smith's final film, a schlocky-sounding sci-fi flick called Illegal Aliens, co-financed by the wannabe-actress herself and co-written by Smith's late son Daniel, has been unable to find a theatrical distributor and will go straight-to-DVD this spring.
That's a far cry from the fate of Monroe's final film. Though Marilyn was fired from George Cukor's remake of My Favorite Wife, after her death 38 minutes of footage from that aborted project were cobbled together for inclusion in countless tributes and documentaries. The clip reel itself, completely divorced from Cukor's original intentions, was eventually released on DVD as part of a Marilyn Monroe box set. Cultural critic Camille Paglia agrees that the comparison to Monroe is off the mark, but insists that Smith had what it takes to become a genuine movie star -- if only Hollywood had let her. Comparing the late Trimspa spokeswoman to Jayne Mansfield, Margaux Hemingway and Anita Ekberg, Paglia laments the loss of a studio system that would have made room for Smith's "sexual charisma and comedic charm." "The real problem was that the broad, Technicolor comedic films in which Smith might have thrived are no longer made -- except in Bollywood," Paglia writes in a long column at Salon. "Smith had genuine talent but no place to put it."
One imagines Paglia is thinking of something like Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, Frank Tashlin's great live-action cartoon in which Mansfield played a larger-than life, idiot-savant sex goddess opposite hyper-nebbishy Tony Randall. Mansfield, yet another blonde with exaggerated proportions who died suddenly in her 30s, made most of her memorable films for Tashlin; Ekberg worked with the director, too, in the Martin and Lewis vehicles Artists and Models and Hollywood or Bust. In this respect, Paglia's correct: that type of film is not being made anymore. In fact, there really isn't a director in contemporary Hollywood who seems to be interested in making comedies starring women. Sure, all those Frat Pack movies have girls in them, but only as scolds, or eye candy, or both.
But even if it's truly lamentable that there's no one like Frank Tashlin making movies today, it's by no means certain that Anna Nicole would have been able to produce a decent performance under the correct tutelage. Paglia is usually an astute judge of actresses, but where is she getting the evidence that Smith was some kind of comic master -- from The Anna Nicole Show? If anything, Smith's time as a reality TV star proved she had little mastery of anything. These outtakes from Skyscraper, one of Smith's few headlining projects, are hilarious, but again, unintentionally so. My guess is that no comic auteur could have wrangled Anna Nicole into convincingly playing anything but Anna Nicole -- but it is possible that, within the right vehicle, that could have been enough.