Hungry girl

Until about five years ago, there lived a grasping old man with an enormous appetite for pretty young women. His name was J. Howard Marshall II, and for many years, he lived respectably in Houston, doing something dull with oil. At last, he diversified his interests. He is chiefly remembered today as a most astounding old lecher.

When he died, he left behind a grasping blonde widow 62 years his junior, who had an enormous appetite for just about everything. Her name was Anna Nicole Smith. She was nearly 6 feet tall with blood-red nails and blood-red lips and a 42-inch double-D-cup chest. Her essential communication was "Feed me!" and she looked like the most god-awful Hollywood gold-digger predator of all time.

Her in-laws came forth and inquired about her appetite. Just what did she want? Oh, she was terribly hungry, she told them. She had lived on a diet of new cars and houses, jewels, and cash. Her food bill alone was $4,000 a month. It was the least the old man could do for her. She had been very good to that old crustacean. She had satisfied his needs and had always been faithful, and in exchange she would like half of a billion dollars, please.

The fortune is torn now between two courts. In Los Angeles last month it became the focus of bankruptcy proceedings, the outcome of which may set the tone for the probate case that begins in Houston in January.

Anna Nicole Smith stomps again into the spotlight. Gossips say that Howard Marshall's wife, in addition to everything else, also consumed the nanny, the bodyguard, the driver, two actors, and a director.

Now comes the woman who's known obscurely in court documents as "The Potted Plant Lady." She has never spoken publicly of their affair and feels like an idiot doing so now, she confesses. But also, it's kind of fun. East of Dallas, in a quiet apartment on Main Street in Winnsboro, Sandi Powledge reaches into a cupboard and withdraws her photo album.

Their love triangle, or octagon, or whatever it was, began circa the first implants, in the fall of 1991 in Houston. The old man's last topless-dancer mistress had just died during a facelift, and he had discovered in her will another lover. Howard was suing her estate for every penny of all the millions he had given when he was wheeled into another topless bar to meet another dancer. This one was even more stacked than that one. "I'll buy it!" he decided. And Anna "became Mr. Marshall's reason for living," the court papers say, "as well as the focus of his intense love, desire and considerable means."

If Anna was less committed, it was perhaps the inherent problem with the titty-dancer commodity, or with any 23-year-old dating an octogenarian. Anyway, shortly after she met Howard, Anna sashayed into an unlovely gay-and-lesbian bar in Houston called the Hill. A current went through the darkness, Sandi Powledge remembers, "and all these old butch dyke girls began going, 'Oh! oh! oh!' and even the gay guys were saying, 'Oh, I could change my ways.'"

No one like Anna had ever been seen in that place. Sandi observed the frenzy from a distance. When she had fortified herself with tequila, she waded through the crush and asked Anna to dance.

They cut an odd figure on the floor -- Anna the Amazon image of abundance, and Sandi so much shorter, in baseball cap and sweatpants. They had both come of age in small towns. Anna had grown up on food stamps in Mexia, Texas, in a house without heat, stealing toilet paper from local restaurants. The experience had left Anna hungry, but Sandi was content making $6 an hour at the garden supply store. Sandi was warm and smart and funny and utterly without ambition. By the time their dance was over, she had sobered to the conclusion that this big woman was out of her league. But when she let go, Anna held on.

Anna courted Sandi as men had courted her. Whenever she spotted Sandi at the Hill, she would send a drink. Later, she sent roses and plied her with gifts. For their first formal date, Anna picked Sandi up in a limousine. They ate at Del Frisco's Steak House and then repaired to Anna's humble apartment. Their night together was marred by only two outbursts -- the first from Madison the pot-bellied pig when Sandi kicked him out of bed, and the second from Anna, who squealed, "What did you do to my pig?"

Anna, thereafter, began showing how she could be all things to all people. During the day, she dined with Howard at the River Oaks Country Club, and at night Anna would do her thing with Sandi at the Hill. Such fun she was. Anna would laugh uncontrollably at jokes and then lean over and whisper, "What did that mean?" She flirted with everyone. Sandi began siccing her on exes. After writhing against a woman, Anna would ask, "How'd I do?" And Sandi would say, "Great! You crushed her!" Sandi grew secure with Anna, because at the end of the evening, they were always together. The owner recalled finding them entangled in the bathroom stall.

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Randall Patterson