Gossip columnist Liz Smith mixed banter, barbs, and bon mots about celebrities, and climbed to the top of the same A-list that she covered in her syndicated column.
Smith’s 60-year career started in the 1950s, sharing tid-bits about film and stage stars, musicians, and the rich and powerful. While the newspapers she wrote for cut staff and budgets, Smith continued to write for online publications.
During the apex of her career in the 1980s and 1990s, she broke big stories like the divorces of Donald Trump from wife number one, Ivana, and number two, Marla Maples. She was an authority on all things Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. She covered all of Liza Minnelli’s weddings.
Smith always said that gossip was meant to be a fun:
“We mustn’t take ourselves too seriously in this world of gossip. When you look at it realistically, what I do is pretty insignificant. Still, I’m having a lot of fun.”
She dubbed herself the “Dame Of Dish”, and she was a nicer version of the long line of the gossip columnists from the Golden Age including Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons, and Walter Winchell. A native Texan, she had a big smile and her sweet southern manner. Unlike the other columnists, Smith succeeded with kindness and an aversion to cheap shots. When reporting on entertainers, politicians and power brokers, she never bothered with unfounded rumors, sexual preferences or who’s-sleeping-with-whom.
In her memoir Natural Blonde (2000), Smith confirmed her own gossip and came out as bisexual, or as she called it “gender neutrality”. She was married twice to men, but Smith’s great love was Iris Love, a famed archaeologist. It was her only longtime relationship.
Before having a successful column, Smith worked as a publicist for actor / singer Kaye Ballard; assistant to newsman Mike Wallace and Candid Camera creator Allen Funt; ghostwriter for the Cholly Knickerbocker gossip column, before getting her own column.
Smith ultimately wrote for nine New York newspapers and dozens of magazines, but it was her stint writing for Cosmopolitan that led to her big break.
She started her own column at the New York Daily News in 1976. In 1978, during the newspaper strike, Smith helped usher in the era of celebrity journalism on television by joining WNBC-TV for three nights a week commentary. Ten years later she jumped to Fox, and then E! Entertainment Television.
Smith was 94-years-old when she left us last night.