To talk to Courtney Stodden would cost The Daily Beast $10,000.
So I accepted her publicist/manager/hairstylist/makeup artist/mother Krista Keller’s offer to interview her instead, because, Keller said, that would be free. Then, because I like the truth, I reached out to others in their world to see what else I could learn about the teenage bride turned perpetual mouth puckerer–Internet sensation.
First things first: Courtney is indeed 17 years old. There’s a lot of Internet vitriol and disbelief aimed at the underage sex kitten who married 51-year-old actor Doug Hutchison (Lost and The Green Mile) in May. Most people, even her fans, doubt her claims that she is that young: she just looks … older. But a notarized birth certificate from Pierce County, Wash., obtained by The Daily Beast, confirms that the girl who designated herself Miss Ocean Shores was born on Aug. 29, 1994.
Where to begin with the story of Twitter’s latest star, a young girl fond of alliteration who hopes to soon have her own reality show and is flaunting her sexuality all over Southern California, including its pumpkin patches? From Anderson Cooper, who has admitted on CNN that he’s “obsessed” with her and even imitates her mouth contortions, to RuPaul, who tweeted at her, to the reality-TV producers who want to make her dreams come true, Courtney is capturing the attention of the nation. But many wonder: at what cost?
Courtney and her now husband met online in January through a mutual friend who told her mother about Hutchison’s acting workshop in Los Angeles. They began to correspond about the entertainment business, but Hutchison had no idea Courtney was a minor until Keller called him to arrange her daughter’s trip to attend the class.
“It didn’t make me want to walk away, but it definitely was a struggle inside my heart at that point in time because I had already started falling for her,” Hutchison told ABC News in July. (Keller, who says she manages Hutchison, declined a request from The Daily Beast to interview him as well.)
The twice-divorced character actor continued to communicate with the teenager. In fact, the emails between them became more romantic and personal, says Keller, who says she monitored them.
“It was a very beautiful, loving, nonsexual type of turn,” Keller says. “It was very admirable on his end. Then he called to tell me they were falling for each other. I could really tell my daughter had the kind of love when you want to marry a man or be with a man. Even though she was just 16, I knew it was going to take a pretty big man to handle her because of her sexuality and because of the attention she gets.”
Hutchison said he’d wait until Courtney turned 18 to pursue a romantic relationship. But Keller had another idea. In 39 states, 16-year-olds are allowed to marry with the consent of a parent or guardian, and she would support such a union.
“I had felt and lived it and seen how it matured to love,” Keller says. “See, with Courtney, with the way she looks: how is she ever going to know if someone loves her for how she looks or for her heart? I wanted her to be with somebody—and she wanted to be with somebody—that loved her for her heart. So this was perfect for her! To have a long-distance relationship to where they could just communicate through words, there was no sexual anything, we knew he loved her for her heart.”
The couple, now dubbed “Dourtney” by Starcasm, got married on May 20 in a Las Vegas chapel and honeymooned at Chateau Marmont in Hollywood, where Courtney later bragged she was “aroused for 24 hours.” Keller understands that most people would not agree with the marriage, but says her daughter “didn’t need to take a poll before she made a decision on her life.” Maybe so, but things aren’t so rosy for her son-in-law; his mother has stopped talking to him, and his management team dropped him. (Keller and Courtney’s father, Alex Stodden, are still together, even though Keller has moved to Los Angeles to oversee Courtney’s career.)
“These people that say, ‘You could have waited,’ I really don’t understand this way of thinking,” says Keller, who is the same age as her son-in-law. “Why do parents think that kids need to have those teen years spent going out with different boys, going out in different cars, going out on the beach together alone? There’s a lot of bad stuff that happens in those teen years. They end up being killed in car crashes due to driving with people that have been drinking. Oh, but they’re gonna have their teen years. My daughter is safe. I know where my daughter is.”
Courtney is where she’s always wanted to be, basking in the Hollywood lights about 1,200 miles from the peninsula of Ocean Shores, Wash., where she grew up. The youngest of three daughters, she was not allowed to go on field trips without her mother’s supervision or go to sleepovers at her friends’ houses, her mother says. Her sisters are 26 and 28 and are both married to age-appropriate men, Keller says.
The aspiring actress and singer attended Ocean Shores Elementary School until she completed the sixth grade, North Beach School District superintendent Stan Pinnick says. While she was there, Courtney was vice president of her class, a cheerleader, and was so popular that other girls imitated the “edgy, cute” way she dressed and danced, her mother says. But even then, Keller says, she noticed an undercurrent of jealousy—the same negative vibe that she believes is the source of most of the criticism and rage her daughter confronts daily since she became a controversially famous teen bride.
When she was 10, Courtney told her mother she wanted to be a performer. They signed with John Casablancas to try to book modeling jobs and made their own music videos. In the town of 5,500 residents, neighbors knew her as the girl who always wore makeup and pranced around in high heels and low-cut tops even just to walk her dogs. After Tom Scanlon, the editor of North Coast News, a weekly newspaper, met Courtney, he wrote in a column that she was a polite girl who had “a burning desire to make it big.” Courtney finished her education at an online Christian school, Alpha Omega Academy, her mother says.
From January 2009 to September 2010, Courtney hosted a cable-access talk show that aired five times in Ocean Shores, says Shannon Vandenbush of North Beach Community TV, which produced it. In The Courtney Stodden Show, she conducted interviews, took up skin cancer as a cause (her mother is a survivor of melanoma), and focused on themes such as the importance of laughter.
“It was a fun and quirky show and people liked it, but, you know, she did experience the same thing,” Keller says. “The men would love the show, and the women would walk by the TV set and go, ‘What are you watching her for?’ I’m so glad that she had the experience of learning how to deal with this stuff at a young age from the little town that she came from.”
Vandenbush declined to comment and to release episodes, saying she was complying with Keller’s request. But Ocean Shores residents who watched the show say it was obvious then that Courtney would not settle for local stardom.
“She seemed like a teenager that was trying to be older,” says former neighbor Jean Kyle, who once warned the girl that her tendons would stretch if she didn’t give her feet a break from the heels. “I did tell her mom that when she was on the local TV interviewing people, she should cover up her boobs a little bit. I didn’t think the clothing she wore was appropriate. It was like something you wear to an evening cocktail party or something. I don’t know what she thinks she is. To me, she was always posing and trying to be very sexy.”
In October 2009, Courtney competed in the Miss Washington Teen USA pageant, which she entered as Miss Ocean Shores, a title she made up. A video of the competition shows a 15-year-old Courtney looking younger and less endowed in the chest, though her mother categorically denies Courtney has had any plastic surgery. In interviews, Hutchison has said that God is Courtney’s plastic surgeon.
David Van Maren, who photographed Courtney over the years and produced the pageant, declined to address whether he thinks she has surgically altered herself since he last saw her. But he says he thinks Courtney, who did not win, is following her dreams.
“She was a nice girl,” Van Maren says. “I think this is what she always wanted to do—be in the entertainment industry. Maybe not all young people who are hungry to be in the spotlight would take this road. In this particular situation, they did what they did and they’re where they’re at.”
As Courtney now well knows, the attention cuts both ways. Since she got married and moved to the Hollywood Hills, she’s been kicked off Facebook for her racy photographs and then reinstated (which also happened when they lived in Ocean Shores), she’s repeatedly been called “whore” and “slut” by strangers, and younger photos of her were distributed to several sites last week, raising the plastic-surgery issue again. (Keller says she has no idea who released her daughter’s old modeling and family photos.) On Oct. 22, Courtney and Hutchison made headlines again when they were kicked off the Lombardi Ranch pumpkin patch because of Courtney’s provocative “Daisy Duke” attire.
The couple and Keller had made the trek to Santa Clarita, a suburban area outside Los Angeles, with some “acquaintances” who happen to be photographers in tow. Courtney wore cutoff denim shorts with a plaid blouse tied at the midriff, showing off her ample cleavage. Immediately, visitors asked to be photographed with her and security came over, Keller says. The ranch manager told The Daily Beast that Courtney and her crew were there for 15 minutes when they were asked to leave because she was dressed inappropriately.
Keller argued with security, and they finally agreed to let Courtney stay—as long as “she did not pick up her own pumpkins.” That lasted a few minutes before they were kicked out for good, Keller says. But there were still photographs to be taken, so the group went to Ralphs, bought pumpkins, staged their own patch in their neighborhood, and kissed and frolicked the afternoon away. When asked how the photographs appeared online the next day, Keller says, “We have different people working Courtney’s career, and I’m not privy to that.”
Surprisingly, Courtney did not address the pumpkin brouhaha on Twitter, where she regularly communicates with her 60,000 followers, including Perez Hilton, and has become the queen of repetitive sounds. For instance: “Seducing the sensuous nights senses by sweetly swaying my body to a seductive strobe-light as rock-n-roll rhythms reign over me ;)” she tweeted Thursday.
“I think she should be elected poet laureate for the universe,” says TV writer and author Julie Klausner. “I think those alliterations, oh my God, that stuff is drag-queen shit. She put an original patina on the aspiring-skank archetype. She happened to have chosen the sexual qualities of a gay guy making fun of Jessica Rabbit. The entire persona is brilliant. It’s sort of what I hoped Heidi Montag was going for when she got all that plastic surgery, which really did seem like an art project.”
Klausner is not alone in her admiration of the fame-seeking girl. For all the haters—and, boy, are there haters—Courtney also has supporters who are willing to overlook her personal life and appreciate her brand of humor. RuPaul’s tongue-in-cheek tweet (The Daily Beast confirmed he wrote the Oct. 15 message) asking the 17-year-old to “guide my thoughts, my feelings and my perceptions” meant the world to her, Keller says.
“The gay community has been so loving to her,” Keller says. “I know that Anna Nicole Smith had a great rapport with the gay community, and I think they’ve been waiting to have someone they can connect with, and I think Courtney is that person. She is different and stands out. Frankly, we thought she’d fit in better in Hollywood.”
Show business may be harder than the family imagined, but they are working the system nonetheless. On Nov. 7, the newlyweds will appear on Dr. Drew’s new show, Life Changers. Keller says she can’t reveal why they were invited, but it has nothing to do with Dr. Drew’s work with drug addiction. Some who have seen a clip of the episode released last week have noted that Courtney appears to slur her words.
“My daughter has never had any drugs, ever,” Keller says. “She never drank. She never smoked. People that know her personality know that’s Courtney. She’s just a character. When they get to know her on the reality show, they’ll realize this is her personality.”
Ah, the reality show. Reality producer Roy Bank (Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?) is shopping a docu-soap starring Courtney and Hutchison, but his meetings with potential networks are in the initial stages, he says. The show would follow the newlyweds as they adjust to married life and would also feature their families.
“Her age firstly creates such an interest level—more so than the age difference between them,” Bank says. “It makes people angry. It makes others curious. It makes others want to comment. But once you see them, there’s a lot more there, especially with Courtney. She’s an extremely unique individual. Outside of whom she’s married to, she’s an old soul.”
As the producer, Bank recognizes Courtney’s a magnet for controversy, but says he doesn’t judge the couple’s choices or think about the moral implications of their relationship.
“I’m simply taking something that’s already out there in the world, that is interesting, that clearly has created a level of interest and intrigue for people, and I’m attempting to make a TV show out of it that I think people will want to watch,” Bank says. “That’s my job. They can go where they want when they want.” He pauses. “Nevertheless, they totally could stay home for a day or two,” he adds, laughing.