With smoke machines churning out swirling vapors and booming speakers grinding a sultry ’70s dance mix (“Oooh, ooh, how do you like it?”), the scene at the high-gloss fashion shoot in a midtown Manhattan nightclub is all synthetic smolder and sex. But even behind the camouflage of all that manufactured heat, it’s obvious that there’s something simmering at its vortex: a zaftig platinum blonde—all 5’11”, 155 lbs. other.
Anna Nicole Smith, 25, has won one of the most coveted contracts in modeling: the job of Guess jeans superbody, most recently filled by Claudia Schiffer. What’s more, after two appearances in Playboy last year, she’s up for 1993’s Playmate of the Year, and is making an indelible mark on the world of Skinny-Minnie modeldom. “She brings back visions of Hollywood glamor,” says Guess photographer Daniela Federici. “We haven’t seen that kind of charisma since Marilyn Monroe.”
That analogy may be more apt than Federici knows. A young woman from a knockaround background who just four years ago was a $60-a-week Wal-Mart checkout girl in Mexia, Tex., Smith is finding a real sweetness in her success. “I finally feel like I’m becoming somebody,” she says. “I really think like I can do something.”
The child of a father she never knew and a mother, Virgie, who worked as a police officer, Smith was closest with her Aunt Kay Beall, whom she calls Mama II. “Anna was my pet,” says Beall, a former attendant at a state school for mentally ill children. “She used to come over and stay with me and clean my house. I’d give her five dollars of my food stamps to let her go to the store and get some candy.” Smith quit school after 11th grade and, at 17, married a 16-year-old cook at the chicken shop where she worked. “He was sweet and he was so cute back there, cookin’ chicken,” she says.
When that relationship died a year after the birth of her son, Daniel, now 7, Smith barely made ends meet until 1991, when a boyfriend convinced her to try out, reluctantly, for Playboy. Posing nude, she says, went against her nature. “There were all these people in the room,” she says. “But I wouldn’t open my legs or nothing. I never used to even let my boyfriend have on the lights when we were in bed. I didn’t want him to see my body or anything.”
After appearing on the March 1992 cover of Playboy, Smith was spotted and signed by Guess president Paul Marciano. “I didn’t know what Guess jeans were,” she says. “I just shopped at Wal-Mart and Kmart and stuff like that.” Now, with her substantial Guess earnings, she has bought a four-bedroom contemporary house in Houston, three horses and two cars and hired a nanny to help care for Daniel. “He’s my baby, but I’m trying not to spoil him,” she says. “He answers me with. ‘Yes, ma’am,’ but he can’t have sugar and Cokes because he’s hyper.”
When not on assignment, “I slob out big-time,” says Smith. “I hate makeup. It feels like dirt on me.” And in spite of her newfound fame, she has remained her own woman—in more ways than one. “Anyone who looks at my body size knows this is all me,” says Smith, who has been losing weight. “I’m down to a 34 D and 37 hips. I don’t get on scales, but my bras have been shrinking. I’ve even started working out for the first time in my life, but I forget most of the time.”
Not surprisingly, her candor doesn’t always endear her to the more sylphlike competition. Other models, she says, “just don’t talk to me. They give me snarly looks.”
“I know why,” volunteers Aunt Kay. “She’s prettier than them. The girls stand in huddles together and won’t let her in.” Men, on the other hand, “you’ve got to beat off,” says Kay. “They whistle and yell, but Anna just keeps on going.”
Currently without a boyfriend (“I don’t need one right now. I’m practicing on a career”), this month Smith makes a brief screen debut with Paul Newman and Tim Robbins in the forthcoming comedy The Hudsucker Proxy. She has, like the young Norma Jean, set her sights firmly on Hollywood. “I just know I’m going to be an actress. I want it so bad. I’ve tried so hard my whole life. I’m kind-hearted, and I give, give, give,” she says. “I think may be it’s my time to receive.”
DAVID HUTCHINGS in New York City