HOUSTON -- She was barely beyond adolescence when she fled a quiet hometown, changed her name and began stripping in a big city topless bar. Her face and figure gained her fame on the pages of Playboy.
He, on the other hand, was no kid: a Yale law school graduate who'd reaped a fortune from the Texas oil fields, been married twice and celebrated his 80th birthday.
Anna Nicole Smith and J. Howard Marshall II became a cliche when they married: the aging multimillionaire and his celebrity model trophy wife. On the day of their 1994 wedding, she was 26 and he was 89.
The following year, when Marshall died, he bequeathed everything to his younger son, E. Pierce Marshall. The outcry from his widow and elder son was immediate -- both Anna Nicole and J. Howard Marshall III say they deserve a share of the money.
And so was born a financial battle royal, with jury selection in the trial set to begin Friday. At the center of the family feud sits a disputed fortune, estimated at $48 million to $1.6 billion.
According to Smith, her sweetheart promised her half his fortune in exchange for her hand in marriage.
"He wanted to make me happy," she told a Los Angeles judge last year. "My wish was his command."
But Pierce Marshall, 60, begs to differ. He points to seven trusts and six wills his father prepared, none naming Smith or Howard III as beneficiaries.
Anna Nicole, born Vickie Lynn in Mexia, Texas, has appeared in Guess! jeans ads as well as the pages of Playboy, and in films such as "Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult." But after her husband's death, she filed for bankruptcy in 1996.
Marshall's older son, who owns a Los Angeles electronics company, allegedly was disinherited over a family business dispute.
The trial is expected to last 10 weeks.
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