J. Howard Marshall II Biography

Business Leader (1905–1995)
American oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II made headlines with his late-life marriage to Playboy Playmate Anna Nicole Smith.


J. Howard Marshall II was born on January 24, 1905, in Germantown, Pennsylvania. He worked for the U.S. Government after graduating from Yale Law School in 1931, then amassed a personal fortune as an executive for several oil companies. Marshall married Playboy Playmate Anna Nicole Smith shortly before his death in 1995, at age 90, which spawned an extensive legal battle over the rights to his estate.

Childhood and Schooling

James Howard Marshall II was born on January 24, 1905, in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Despite a crippling childhood bout with typhoid fever, he recovered to become a soccer All-American and captain of the tennis team at Haverford College, as well as editor of its school newspaper. He met his first wife, Eleanor Pierce, at Yale Law School, where he graduated magnum cum laude in 1931.

Oil Magnate

While serving as assistant dean of Yale Law, J. Howard Marshall II co-wrote two articles about oil industry regulations. In 1933, he went to work for the U.S. Department of the Interior, where he authored the regulatory Connally Hot Oil Act of 1935.

Marshall moved on to the post of special counsel to the President of Standard Oil of California, which later became Chevron, before returning to Washington D.C. to shape the United States' energy policy during World War II and serve as American counsel for reparations.

After the war, the burgeoning oil magnate took over as President of Ashland Oil in Kentucky. He later became Executive Vice President at Signal Oil & Gas, President of Union Texas Petroleum and Executive Vice President of Allied Signal, a series of positions that helped make him a wealthy man.

In the 1950s, Marshall became close with Koch Industries founder Fred Koch Sr. They invested in a large portion of Great Northern Oil Company stock, which Marshall eventually used to purchase a share of Koch Industries.

Personal Strife and Legacy

Marshall was the father of two grown sons, J. Howard III—also known as Howard Jr.—and Pierce, by the time he divorced Eleanor in 1961. He married Bettye Bohannon that year.

When an internal power struggle erupted at Koch Industries in 1980, Howard Jr. sided with a faction that sought to have his father removed from the board. Furious, Marshall informed his older son that he would be cut out of his will.

With his wife suffering from Alzheimer's, Marshall began a relationship with an exotic dancer named Lady Walker, lavishing her with gifts until her death from complications following a face-lift procedure in July 1991. Two months later, Bettye passed away as well.

The 86-year-old Marshall found solace in the arms of another gentlemen's club performer, 24-year-old Vickie Lynn Hogan. This new girlfriend was on the cusp of stardom; within months, the buxom blonde was on the cover of Playboy and known to the world as Anna Nicole Smith.

The two consummated the ultimate May-December romance with their June 1994 marriage, but Marshall's health took a nosedive and he passed away from stomach cancer on August 4, 1995. According to his will, his estate was bequeathed to the J. Howard Marshall II Living Trust and Marshall Petroleum, Inc., which were controlled by Pierce; nothing was left for Marshall's widow and oldest son.

Smith and Howard Jr. sought to have the will overturned in court. Although its veracity was upheld, the ugly legal saga spawned a series of claims and appeals that continued even after the respective deaths of Pierce and Smith, in 2006 and '07.

In June 2013, the Lifetime Network aired The Anna Nicole Story, with veteran actor Martin Landau earning raves for his performance as Marshall.

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