Texas born Liz Smith was the reigning diva of newspaper dish as gossip columnist for The New York Daily News (1976 to 1991), New York Newsday (1991 to 2005), and the New York Post (1995 to 2009) – all in all, for 33 years. Think of Hedda Hopper and Walter Winchell, think of Burt Lancaster’s vicious columnist J. J. Hunsecker in the movie “The Sweet Smell of Success” – and wrap them up in a blanket of straight up “ballsy broad” – and you’ve got Smith, who didn’t reign from fear or intimidation – but from sheer no b.s. straight talk. She covered Sinatra, Hepburn, Madonna, Cher, Donald and Ivana Trump – making more friends than enemies, and often making for than a million dollars a year – certainly more than any journalist nowadays – or almost any days. She didn’t get on celebs’ nerves – she got under their skin.
Nervy and pugnacious, when she was let go from The New York Post in 2009 by no less than Rupert Murdoch, Smith continued to chronicle the ups and downs of social doyennes and Hollywood dukes in her own blog, WowoWow, where she once legendarily printed of the men (Col Allan – and Murdoch) who let her go: “My boss is an absolute total shit!”
Smith had many many other media gigs as well: writing for television show “Candid Camera,” for Ladies’ Home Journal, Vogue, Sports Illustrated and other magazines; she was entertainment editor of Cosmopolitan for a long period of tiem. She even worked for many years as a commentator for WNBC-TV, the local Fox channel in New York – and E! Entertainment Television.
Smith, unlike many so called gossip columnists, became close friends with many of her subjects, so she walked that tirkcy line of getting to know them – then writing what they often wanted her to write. Still, she managed to get a number of inside scoops and stay entertaining without belittling stars, like so many of her bitchy cohorts. Perhaps that’s why she had such a long career – the woman had almost no enemies – except her bosses, whom she notoriously called out if she didn’t approve of their directives.
This writer knew her in New York – and one thing you can say about Liz Smith: she was not only a friend to celebs, but to other journalists as well. As a writer and editor for W Magazine and WWD for 1992 to 2003 in New York, I interviewed celebrities like Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert Downey Jr. Madonna, Hugh Grant, Jennifer Aniston, Cher, ad infinitum – and Smith would often print quote worthy lines of big New York glossies in her column, attributing not just the outlet they were printed in – but the writer who penned them. I often blinked to find she’d written up a line from one of my stories, saying, “Merle Ginsberg says Liam Neeson drank too much over lunch and hit on the waitress more than once.” (True story, and true quote) She liked to help her fellow journos, and was always available with a great quotable quip of her own – or a piece of criticism, if she felt like it was due.
My colleague and the great writer/editor Maer Roshan (New York Magazine, Talk, Radar, 429, etc) profiled Smith, his old friend, in The Hollywood Reporter’s New York issue in 2015. It’s a great read and a better eulogy than any obit could ever be: