October 28, 1997
by Gary James
She was the Guess! Girl. She was Playmate Of The Year. She married one of the richest men in America.
She is Anna Nicole Smith.
Anna Nicole Smith is nothing short of a national icon, mentioned repeatedly on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Late Show with David Letterman, Entertainment Tonight, Extra, E!, Inside Edition, Hard Copy, and in gossip columns everywhere.
"Great Big Beautiful Doll: The Anna Nicole Smith's Story" is the story behind this newest blonde bombshell. Published by Barricade Books, it's written by the husband, wife team -- Eric and D'eva Redding.
Eric has been a photographer in Houston, Texas for more than a decade. His clients include Playboy Enterprises, the Walt Disney Corporation, Elizabeth Taylor, Tom Selleck, and Kirk Douglas. Eric discovered Anna Nicole Smith in 1991 and acted as her personal manager for more than a year. D'eva Redding is a hairstylist and make-up artist who works with her husband in their photography studio.
We talked with Eric Redding about the meteoric rise to fame of Anna Nicole Smith.
Q: Someone's going to make a movie out of your book?
A: A feature movie by Meridian Entertainment, out of Los Angeles.
Q: How is that progressing?
A: We optioned the book and right now they're looking for a lead, and that's what's key to everything. The person that they want and we want is Mira Sorvino.
Q: Why Mira Sorvino?
A: We're not not really looking for a look-alike. She's probably the closet to the age and type that the audience can identify with, I would think. Plus, she is a good actress. With her father being in the business, I think that can't hurt on the big screen once it gets out. The second choice is Elizabeth Schue.
Q: Do you think Miss Sorvino will do it?
A: They've already spoken to her, but, she's got like three pictures she's working on now. So, I guess if money is worked out, yeah, she'll do it. You know how that goes. We're the low men on the totem pole. I don't get involved with all the politics.
Q: Have you spoken with Anna Nicole Smith recently, and what does she think of this book you've written?
A: Actually, it's kind of funny. She leaves message for us and I leave messages for her. It's been over a year since we've spoken to each other. We still talk to all of her family which is kind of strange. She's cut herself off from her own family. We have her aunt, her niece, and cousins that we still speak to on a regular basis. Before the book, she had called asking us to shoot a movie poster for her, which we would have done, but the time didn't permit. As far as the book, she really hasn't said anything. The only thing she said to the family was she wasn't happy. The family said she basically didn't like seeing the truth in print.
Q: You had something in the book that I thought was just incredible. You say Anna actually thought that L.A. was in New York?
A: She's not real good on geography. (Laughs)
Q: Was she just putting you on?
A: Oh, no. You could tell looking at her face, she was serious. She goes, "I'm mad at you." I'm going, "What do you mean you're mad at me?" She told me, "You told me I'm going to L.A. and I'm not. I'm going to California." I was like, "Excuse me." I said, "You are." And she said, "No, it's in New York." It was really kind of mind-boggling at the time.
Q: When you were photographing her, did you realize there was something special about her?
A: Yeah. She was like magic in front of the camera. She was the most wonderful thing you can ever imagine. She didn't turn off once she started; you had to keep up with her. It was hard to keep loading film just to keep up with her because she's incredible in front of the camera. Now, the first time she came in to see us, I honestly wasn't that excited about her. D'eva was the one that was excited when she saw that face. She's got a heart shaped face and beautiful skin. When she saw her, she said that's a model. She said she's a gorgeous lady.
Q: When you say she was magical, what does that mean? The camera liked her?
A: The camera liked her. She never shut her eyes. She very rarely blinked. When she got in front of the camera you didn't have to tell her what to do. You didn't have to say, O.K. move to the left, move to the right. I guess she had practiced so much in the mirror as she was growing up that she was ready to be on cue. She was like wonderful.
Q: Did Playboy also see this magic in Anna Nicole Smith that you saw?
A: Yes, immediately. They said this girl is hot. She's a large girl, but they were thinking more back to the era of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Mansfield, the voluptuous figure versus little waif model, and that's what they saw. Marilyn Grabowski, the West Coast Photo Editor, is the one that really got excited about her.
Q: You write, "Playboy does not want strippers."
A: That's generally been their rule for years. They want the girl next door image. But, I'll be the first one to say, half of the centerfolds you see in there are strippers, unfortunately. They don't like that image because they're trying to be classier and different than the other skin magazines that are out there. They've generally tried to keep it girl next door. Once they find out they're a stripper, they will drop the girl and totally cancel her photo shoot and the spread that's to come out. In Anna Nicole Smith's case, they were so mesmerized by her, they kept her on.
Q: I ask only because SaRenna Lee who is a stripper and featured in Playboy's Voluptuous Vixens video is attempting to become a future centerfold for the magazine.
A: See, typically they don't like a dancer to be a centerfold. They definitely don't promote the fact in any kind of publicity you'll see out on a girl. If they hear someone tries to say one of their girls is a stripper, they have a coronary. Five of the last Playmates of the Year were strippers unfortunately. Honestly, from my standpoint looking at Playboy, they need to change. These girls go out after the quick buck and there's no reason to think they won't go dance or get the quick money. Look at these girls; they can go make in one night what it takes the typical woman to make in a week. If they can make anywhere from $500 to $1,000 a night, why would they want to go work all week? They wouldn't. I think it's silly of Playboy not to think that any of these girls have ever danced before. Anna Nicole Smith herself must have worked in 10 clubs, in seven years of dancing.
Q: In your book, other dancers say that Anna Nicole or Vickie as she was known back then, would be going out in the parking lot with customers.
Q: I thought these clubs have a strict no touching and no dating the dancer policy in effect.
A: You've never been to Houston then. (Laughs) In Houston it's a lot more relaxed than a lot of the other cities. The girls can sit on the guy's lap. They can dance in his face. They can do anything they want. Houston is a unique city in that the girls are almost like prostitutes. They can do anything in the clubs they want. Management gets a cut back from the girls. If they have star employees, these girls can do anything they want. Some of the clubs even set it up with hotel rooms for these guys, where they can take a girl back to the room. I mean, it's legalized prostitution. That's all it is.
Q: Nobody bothered to bust them on this?
A: They can't prove anything. I know all about it, but supposedly vice turns the other way. Somebody's getting payoffs.
Q: Could it be that the dancers making that claim about Anna Nicole Smith were just jealous of her success?
A: Oh, no, no. I know some people first hand. I know one of Anna's former lovers that used to prostitute with Anna. Sure, there may be some jealousy, but I have enough people to substantiate the fact that she was definitely a prostitute. This is one of the parts that got edited out of the book, and I have it on tape from several different sources. Anna Nicole was making $1,500 a trick. She was not a cheap girl. She was very, very sexy. The people she went after were older men with money. She wouldn't waste her time with a young guy, 'cause she knew they wouldn't have any bucks.
Q: She was in the right city.
A: Well, that's right. I mean, look at J. Howard Marshall. D'eva and I both knew J. Howard. D'eva did have dinner on several occasions with J. Howard. This man had his wits until the last 3 or 4 months of his life. He knew exactly what he was doing when he hooked up with Anna Nicole. He used to go everyday at lunch to the topless bar. But, who can blame him? After you've got all these millions of dollars and done everything, why not? A lot of people did feel sorry for him near the end. He was so excited about Anna being in Playboy. He had all these calendars. When he would go to the country clubs he used to pass out calendars of Anna Nicole. Here, he got married to her and he's giving out all these calendars to everybody. A lot of people thought with the 63 year age difference that was a little too far-fetched.
Q: What it really means is, there's hope for all of us, doesn't it?
A: (Laughs) It does.
Q: Hope and $500 million, and we too can marry a woman like Anna Nicole.
A: That's right. It's too bad it can't work for the men. I don't see too many sugar mamas in their 80's looking for younger guys.
Q: Anna was supposed to be heavy into drugs, is that correct?
A: Anna was real heavy into prescription drugs and cocaine.
Q: Real heavy?
A: Real heavy. She had a little black medicine bag she used to carry around that had at least a dozen prescriptions for everything. She had something for an ache, a headache, to make her go to sleep, to make her wake-up. Everything imaginable. Plus she always had problems going to the bathroom, so she'd take drug for that. She was a walking medicine chest.
Q: What's keeping this woman alive?
A: This last drug overdose must have awakened her, because she did go into a coma. God must have kicked her and said if you don't straighten yourself out, you will die.
Q: Was Anna the first Playboy model you managed?
A: Yes. Instead of being managers, we were almost like babysitters, to be honest. It was holding her hand for everything.
Q: You didn't seem to have much control over her, did you?
A: Her problem was she was so head-strong. We could control her when we were with her. You don't know what she does when she goes and leaves you. That was the problem. She was very hard to control and that's what broke us up, truthfully. We broke up without a single argument and basically said we can't do this anymore. You're a different woman. You're not who we used to know. Once she became more and more popular, she was very hard to deal with.
Q: Is it typical for the women who pose for Playboy to have managers or would they just have agents?
A: Oh, both actually.
Q: They must be making a lot of money then.
A: Well, but look at it this way, you're only making 15 percent of whatever you book and whatever you do. So, it's not like she's paying a steady fee all the time.
Q: How did you get affiliated with Playboy magazine? You were a recruiter for the magazine?
Q: What exactly does that mean? You would go around the country looking for Playboy types?
A: Mainly this region, the Southwest. We were authorized to run ads in the local papers and we'd have girls coming in all the time. Basically this is how it goes: while we were running the ads, a girl would come in from either the ad or Playboy, fill out a biography, we'd do some standard shots on them -- a head shot and 3 or 4 body shots. Those photographs and the biography are sent to one of the editors, depending on whether we thought they should go to Chicago or Los Angeles. Chicago typically likes the small breasted women, Los Angeles likes bigger breasted women. That would dictate where they were gonna be sent. Because we were photographers and D'eva does hair and makeup also, we would then be allowed to do the photo shoot on the girl. And that's how it happened with Anna Nicole.
Editor's note: Gary James files his interviews in Syracuse, NY.