By Stacy Jenel Smith
As the yet-unexplained death of 39-year-old Anna Nicole Smith continues to absorb the media and captivate the public, many are making note of her affinity toward, and admiration for, another Hollywood siren - who also died young and mysteriously - Marilyn Monroe.
Perhaps the Filmland sex goddess of all time, Monroe had also been the plaything of wealthy, powerful and questionable men, as was Anna Nicole, and had famously been a Playboy centerfold. In fact, Monroe was the first Playboy centerfold.
Also like Anna Nicole, Monroe had a role model from a bygone time. She idolized Jean Harlow, even keeping a scrapbook of photos and clippings about the so-called "laughing vamp" who played the title role in the 1933 blonde "Bombshell." There was serious talk of Marilyn portraying Harlow in a project that would have been up for discussion the week she died of an overdose of Nembutal sleeping pills at age 36 in 1962.
Harlow died amid rumors that she had been poisoned by the punishing hair bleaching procedure she followed, but the cause was kidney failure. She had become a bona fide superstar, gone through three marriages, a scandalous affair with married Heavyweight Boxing Champ Max Baer, linkage to mobsters including Bugsy Siegel, and was in the thick of her romance with the love of her life, film star William Powell.
When Harlow died, she was only 26.
Another major scandal in Harlow's short and very fast life was the shooting death of her second husband, MGM producer Paul Bern. Did he die by his own hand, distraught over being impotent, as a story said to be concocted by the studio had it, or was he murdered, possibly even by - so the rampant conjecture went - his wife? Or by another woman?
Decades later, in 1969, the Bern-Harlow house was the scene of the horrific Manson Family murders, including that of sexy film siren Sharon Tate. Her star had been on the rise thanks to movies including the sensation-making "Valley of the Dolls," and, married to filmmaker Roman Polanski, her life had become a jet-set whirl of parties and traveling. Tate told reporter Dick Kleiner about experiencing a ghostly encounter with Paul Bern in the weeks before her death.
She was 26 at the time of her murder.
The lives of quite a few Hollywood blonde bombshells have gone the way of James Dean's credo, "Live hard, die young, leave a good-looking corpse" -- whether they had any awareness of traveling that route or not. Although plenty of Tinsel Town's most sizzling sex symbols live long lives ala Mae West, the job of bombshell is fraught with occupational and lifestyle hazards.
Party girls, oftentimes, with a taste for dangerous men -- or vice versa -- they have lost their lives through self-destructive drug and/or alcohol downspirals, by accidents, by murder. Even those who do manage to reach their golden years often have scandals and close calls to look back upon - like seven-times-wed Sweater Girl Lana Turner, for instance, whose violent, abusive affair with underworld figure Johnny Stompanato ended in 1958, when her then-14-year-old daughter Cheryl stabbed him to death with a kitchen knife in her defense. At least, that was how the case was resolved, ruled a justifiable homicide, though questions about exactly what happened that night have never been laid to rest. Turner died in 1995 at age 74.
Lovely Dorothy Stratten only made it to age 20. She had been a Playmate of the Year, like Anna Nicole, and had done five movies and some television work when she became the victim of a murder-suicide at the hands of estranged husband Paul Snider. She'd fallen in love with filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, who later wrote a book about her titled "The Killing of the Unicorn." "Star 80," with Mariel Hemingway and Eric Roberts, recreated the Stratten-Snider story of obsessive, jealous love.
Margaux Hemingway, Mariel's sister, hit the big time in a big way in the 1970s when she graced the cover of Time magazine heralding "The New Beauties," was seen as spokesmodel for Faberge's Babe perfume line, and started making films. She also garnered tabloid attention as a regular at the chic and wild nightspot of the time, Studio 54, in what appeared to be a perpetually drunken state - an image problem that lost her her multimillion-dollar Faberge contract.
Hemingway's rollercoaster life went from the peaks of supermodel stardom and high living to the depths of clinical depression, alcoholism and financial ruin. She supported herself later in life by autographing her nude photos from Playboy, and endorsing a psychic telephone hotline. She died of an overdose of Phenobarbital at age 41 in 1996.
Charming Thelma Todd - a.k.a. Hot Toddy -- was one of the early film actresses to prove that one can be gorgeous and hilarious simultaneously. She scored successes in both dramas and comedies (was a great foil for Groucho Marx in "Horse Feathers" and "Monkey Business"), opened a successful caf? in Pacific Palisades, and was a popular figure on the Hollywood social scene of the day. In 1935, Todd was found dead in her car of carbon monoxide poisoning in a garage belonging to the ex-wife of her business partner. She was 30. Her death was ruled accidental, but suspicions swirled that she'd either committed suicide (her friends quickly dismissed that idea, saying she'd been in great spirits) or been murdered. She was said to have been receiving threats from gangster Lucky Luciano.
Sex symbol Jayne Mansfield's death in an automobile accident in 1967 was exactly that - a terrible accident - as she and three of her children and her boyfriend were speeding along the highway between Biloxi, Mississippi and New Orleans with her driver at the wheel at 2:25 a.m. En route between a Mansfield supper club gig and an early morning TV appearance, they crashed into a tractor trailer.
Mansfield certainly did the fast-living number in preceding years. Her resume included good movies ("The Girl Can't Help It"), bad movies, and the 1963 movie "Promises! Promises!" in which she became the first mainstream American movie actress to do a nude scene. She also had three husbands and numerous lovers, multiple appearances in Playboy (one of which led to obscenity charges against Hugh Hefner, later dropped), and a number of staged wardrobe malfunctions showing off her purported size 40-D breasts. Her career had been in decline for years when she died, with Beatle Paul McCartney having branded her an "old bag" in a Playboy interview (the magazine never used her again), and critics referring to her as becoming a caricature.
She was 34.
No doubt about it, the burning glare of the spotlight is hard on Hollywood bombshells - Anna Nicole Smith included.