Lizzie Borden Took an Ax -- To Music! Anna Nicole Smith, the Opera and the Sordid Reality

10/07/2013 10:40 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

"I HAVE cultivated my hysteria with pleasure and terror," wrote Charles Baudelaire.

• WELL, with "Breaking Bad" and "Dexter" gone (although--"Dexter's" wildly criticized lumberjack ending left a door open) and "Ray Donovan" done for the year, we have to get into "Homeland" again. ("Game of Thrones" won't return until next spring!)

"Homeland" is a gripping show, packed with solid performances. And I suppose the suspension-of-disbelief aspect is the performance and actions of Claire Danes as the bi-polar CIA operative. I thought the first few episodes of this new season might show Danes somewhat calmer, less given to being on the verge of weeping or having epic meltdowns--not to mention random, desperate sex with strangers. Wrong!

Danes' character could barely control herself under hostile interrogation by Congress (her now-infamous "cry-face" on full display). She picked up a guy in the grocery store, and made a ranting, eye-popping scene at an upscale D.C. restaurant. Remember, this was only episode one!

As good an actress as Danes is, there was little to distinguish her Emmy-winning performance in the first season from her Emmy-winning performance in the second season. (Personally, I was rooting for Kerry Washington in "Scandal," or Michelle Dockery in "Downton Abbey.")

Maybe Claire's Carrie Mathison will be put into a coma shortly, for a few weeks. Her intensity is enervating to the max.

• I'M expecting a new biography on the fabled stripper Lili St. Cyr. It is titled "Gilded Lili: Lili St. Cyr and the Striptease Mystique" by Kelly DiNardo. (Ever since we wrote about the terrific book, and documentary, "Behind the Burly Q" we are considered burlesque experts!) One thing in the press release for "Gilded Lili" that caught my eye was that Miss St. Cyr tried to persuade Kim Novak to play her in a movie version of her life. But it never happened. I'll be interested to read the full story of Lili, who was for a time in the 1950's one of the most famous/scandalous women ever. She was not your average ecdysiast. I loved her because she came onstage fully clothed, stripped, took a bath, and exited, fully clothed!

• IF YOU live large enough and/or notoriously enough, you are almost assured an opera or a musical based on your life. At least that's what I surmised over the past couple of days.

First, I received a CD of "Lizzie." This is a "rock concept" musical based on the legend of Lizzie Borden. (One of the big songs in the show is titled "Forty Whacks"--sort of Sondheim-ish, in the "Sweeney Todd" vein of gruesome musical numbers.)

"Lizzie" played in New York last year. I think the "rock" aspect of it put me off. Notice I didn't say the idea of a musical based on one of the most notorious murders in American history put me off. (Look, even "Carousel" had those disturbing undertones of spousal abuse.) The CD will be released by Broadway Records tomorrow.

Then I opened a note from Carole Stuart of Barricade Books. She had just come from the final performance of "Anna Nicole," an opera based on the short, frantic life of Anna Nicole Smith, Playboy model and, well--Playboy model. Carole reminded me that her publishing house had put out "Great Big Beautiful Doll," by Eric and D'Eva Redding. (Eric was the guy who took the first professional photos of Anna, when she was still known as Vickie, a very pretty, and modestly proportioned Texas girl.)

Apparently, the show, mounted by New York City Opera, was impressive. Although not impressive enough to save New York City Opera, which has had its season cancelled. Carole Stuart echoed the critical praise given to soprano Sarah Joy Miller, as Anna.

I'm sure Miss Miller will go on to other projects, unencumbered by a financially failing company and the mammoth bosoms she was required to wear for this particular role. (Hitting those high notes must have required talent and strength unusual even for hard-working opera divas.)

• THINKING ABOUT the opera recalled my own funny-sad experience with Anna Nicole some years ago. My column had commented on recently unearthed photos of Anna (Vickie) looking almost flat-chested. We didn't say anything truly mean, just a little sarcastic. (The magazine in which the photos appeared said flat-out, that these were "pre-surgery" shots.) Well, hours after the item appeared, Anna Nicole phoned in. Dialed with her own dainty digits. She was weeping. Not sniffling, this was out and out sobbing! How could I write such a thing? "We're both from Texas, after all!" As if our place of birth had anything to do with the mystery of her breasts? Anna insisted that she was "underweight" at the time the pictures were taken, and "very young." She said--between bouts of crying--that she never, ever had implants. Her bounty came from God. I was stunned by this emotion-packed statement of bosomy miracles.

Was she going to sue the magazine? She said she sure was. (She never did.) I knew she was fibbing. But she wept so piteously, I printed every word the next day, with no peanut gallery comments.

I never heard from her again, but along with everybody else, kept track of her life via the tabloids, court hearings, reality TV shows. I did know one or two people who knew her well. The "inside" story of Anna's life was so sordid, that I privately exhorted her press rep, on a number of occasions, to have her son, Danny, removed from her care. She was obviously unfit, and the child, I said, was probably already damaged. He would deny this, even when I presented him with "gossip" that was very much rooted in truth. (Eventually, he left off attempting to control his out-of-control client.) If the people closest to her were unwilling to "get involved" it wasn't my place to intervene.

It reminded me of dealing with one of Whitney Houston's press reps, vociferously denying the singer had any drug problems. "Well, I feel sorry for you," I said, "you'll probably be in charge of picking out Whitney's casket!" Needless to say, this person resigned their denying/repping duties several years before Houston's passing.

Danny's death, and then Anna Nicole's shortly after, was no surprise. Everybody who entered her messy orbit, knew within seconds what they were dealing with. I don't know what Anna Nicole's IQ was, but she appeared to be of borderline intelligence and was amoral, without much conscience. Not bad, but without guidelines. She didn't know when to stop. And she certainly never appeared to try to better herself. Except financially.

Anna was the sort of girl who would have ended up in prison on murder or manslaughter charges, had she not met and married J. Howard Marshall and then been swept up by fame.

As ugly as her end was, fate was a little bit kind to her. It gave her a taste of the kind of life Vickie thought she deserved, and that Anna Nicole provided.