There were strong reasons for thinking this, because she not only met her future husband in Houston, Texas, the city that pioneered the breast transplant, but she did so as a stripper in Rick’s Cabaret, the most famous topless bar in Houston. Everything I know about Rick’s comes from an enormously long article, which I read five years ago in the Texas Monthly, entitled “Silicone City: The rise and fall of the implant – or how Houston went from an oil-based economy to a breast-based economy”.
“No two products were more interdependent than Rick’s and the implant,” the article said. Its owner, Robert Watters, a Canadian lawyer with a degree from the London School of Economics, told the magazine, “In the early and mid-80s, the first material acquisition the dancers saved for was breast augmentation.” But it seems that Smith was lucky and didn’t need it.
A brief history of silicone implants … Silicone was first used after the second world war, when Japanese women, normally smaller-breasted than American women, had it injected into their breasts to please American servicemen. Then, in 1962, a woman called Timmie Jean Lindsay became the first woman in the world to receive a silicone-gel implant: married at 15 and divorced at 30, after bringing six children into the world, she was in hospital in Houston to have tattoos removed from her breasts when the surgeon asked if she would like to have them made more shapely at the same time. Her answer was yes, and with that there was born a multibillion-dollar industry. Throughout the US, breast augmentation rapidly became a female obsession. One Houston celebrity doctor had already performed between 2,500 to 3,000 implants by 1995. He and his colleagues found their incomes rising from the low six figures up to $2 million a year. And even after 1990, when panic erupted about the side-effects of what had been promoted as a cheap, safe operation, there were millions more to be earned, not only by lawyers but by doctors for taking out the bags of silicone they had put in.
Research by America’s most illustrious medical institutions failed to prove that there was any more illness among women who had had breast implants than among those who hadn’t, but the huge awards given by juries to plaintiffs were sufficient to bankrupt the country’s principal implant manufacturer – and to burst the implant bubble, as it were. Nevertheless, the implant craze had amazing staying power. It survived the fashion for skinny models, and would probably be going as strong now, if it were not for anxiety about the health side-effects.
Trying to explain the phenomenon, the Houston inventors of the silicone-gel implant, Thomas Cronin and Frank Gerow, wrote in the early 60s that it was perhaps “due in large measure to the tremendous amount of publicity which has been given to some movie actresses blessed with generous sized breasts. Many women with limited development of the breasts are extremely sensitive about it”. Women who have undergone the operation usually say they wanted to increase their “self-esteem”. But it seems to be all the fault of men, really – of men such as J Howard Marshall II, the master of an immense oil fortune, who, although 89 years old and confined to a wheelchair, went regularly to Rick’s at lunchtime to drool over the generously proportioned body of Anna Nicole Smith.
Anna, the small-town girl from Mexia, Texas, who dreamt from childhood of being Marilyn Monroe, believes she understands this: “Most men, I think, like a womanly figure.” The feminist campaign against the treatment of women as sex objects seems to have completely passed her by, and she is $449 million richer as a result. “Are you a feminist?” she was once asked. “I don’t understand the question,” she replied. “Do you fight for women’s rights?” “Whoever started that, I could kick them in the head.” But Anna is a religious person. “What’s heaven like?” she was asked. “I think heaven’s a beautiful place. Gold. You walk on gold floors.” It looks as if she might be there already.