As I mentioned in a recent blog post, Britain’s Royal Opera will feature the production Anna Nicole, the story of Anna Nicole Smith’s life and untimely death, set to open February 17, 2011. Smith’s life was made for the stage. The former model went from “impoverished Texas waitress to oil tycoon’s widow to reality television star,” as Rachel Lee Harris nicely illustrates in her recent New York Times article, Royal Opera in London to Stage ‘Anna Nicole’.
While the opera is likely to focus on the tragedy of her early death, Smith still plays a vital role in a real life drama that remains unfinished. Anna Nicole Smith first became famous when she married oilman, J. Howard Marshall II. But this short marriage has turned into a long-lasting legal battle over the fate of Marshall’s fortune. This complicated legal dispute has dragged out for almost 15 years, with no resolution.
Smith challenged Marshall’s estate plan with claims that he verbally promised to include her in his will. But she had no hard evidence. Nothing was ever formally written in his will that revealed his intention to give her any of his fortune. In fact during the trial in Texas probate court over 40 witnesses testified including a number of individuals who were present during the time period Marshall was putting together his estate plan, including attorneys, accountants, office staff members, friends and business associates. All testified that Marshall’s estate plan was clear and Smith was never entitled to any additional assets beyond the $7 million Marshall provided for her during his life. At the end of a five and a half month trial, the jury ruled against every one of Smith’s claims and agreed that J. Howard Marshall II took the necessary and legal steps to protect his estate and family, as well as provide for Anna Nicole. But, the end of this trial was only one act in a never-ending opera.
While the case was pending in Texas probate court, Smith filed for bankruptcy in a California court. In a crafty move, Smith and her legal team employed a legal tactic known as forum shopping to hedge her bets. This scheme ultimately worked in her favor as she was awarded with a hefty sum from the bankruptcy judge. When the bankruptcy court ruled in her favor, she tried to pull out of the Texas probate court but to no avail. Since then, this case has been appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court and now resides back in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
While the opera will nicely tie up the Anna Nicole Smith story in just a few acts, her phantom will continue to haunt the courts. While we can look at Anna Nicole Smith’s life as tragedy filled with drama and romance, her presence is very much still acknowledged as this unresolved legal battle continues.