“Gossip is tomorrow’s news running down the street ahead of itself in a red satin dress”- LIZ SMITH
When describing gossip columns of yesteryear (Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons, Walter Winchell) or today’s bitchy tattletale world of TMZ, PAGE SIX, and Perez Hilton, could we possibly imagine using the words “fair”, “wise”, “thoughtful”, “disciplined”, “uplifting” and “gossip” in the same sentence? Hardly.
But for more than a half century, smart, savvy, mischievous, enlightened, and dare we say, the highly moral Gossip Queen and confidante to the very rich and very famous, Liz Smith has been and continues to be all that and more.
Mary Elizabeth Smith was born on February 2, 1923 at 11:30 PM in Fort Worth, Texas. An Aquarius with the Moon in Virgo and Libra rising, her natal horoscope is a worthy astrological study of the layers and contradictions that are often found in the charts of complex, creative, and highly productive types. Among the many fascinating placements and configurations featured, she has Jupiter in Scorpio (the locator/ keeper of secrets and of where the bodies are buried) as part a grand trine in the element of empathetic and sensitive water: People feel that she “gets them”-she does, and that they can trust her- they can (and do)!
Young Mary Elizabeth never really planned on gossip as a career. After a brief marriage in her early 20’s, she returned to college in 1946 and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Texas in 1948. In her delicious memoir, Natural Blonde, published in 2000, Liz writes: “I had more than enough credits for a Master’s but I never wrote the thesis. My thesis was to be the life as it is lived”.
With $50, she took a train to New York and arrived late one night in September 1949. She soon found work as a typist at the National Orchestra Association, then as an associate editor at Modern Screen (“the last gasp of the old movie magazine era”), and then as a proofreader at Newsweek. She was a natural at spotting talent and star quality before any of her superiors and her network of notables soon established itself and continued to build quickly and exponentially. Her first major foray into the gossip world was in the mid 1950’s when she wrote under the name of “Cholly Knickerbocker”, a byline owned by Igor Cassini’s PR firm Martial & Company. And though the column reached 20 million readers, it would be another two decades before the LIZ SMITH column was born at The NY Daily News. In the interim, she worked extensively as a TV producer, writer (as a child I adored one of the shows she wrote for, That Was The Week That Was, a crisp and highly entertaining weekly review of current events with music than had an all too short run in the mid ‘60’s), but all of the behind the scenes experience prepared her for her next chapter as America’s premier Gossip Diva which began in 1976, the year of America’s bicentennial celebration. Soon, no one could touch her. When you appeared in Liz’ column, it was powerful and for some it meant that they had arrived.
During the 1978 newspaper strike in NY, Liz took her column to NBC TV’s Live at Five where she stayed for 11 years. At one time her column was syndicated in hundreds of newspapers and appeared in three of NYC’s major newspapers at the same time: the NY Daily News, The NY Post, and Newsday and in Y2K, she was declared a Living Landmark by the NY Landmarks Conservancy.
Today Liz remains active and involved. Though 2014 was a rough year in terms of the loss of many celebrities, some, very dear friends (Elaine Stritch, Mike Nichols, Oscar DeLaRenta, Joan Rivers, Polly Bergen) and others not as close but important to Liz (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lauren Bacall, Ben Bradlee, James Garner, Marian Seldes, and Robin Williams), and though no longer in a daily NYC newspaper since 2009, she remains in print in 70 newspapers nationwide and has transitioned beautifully to the web on NYSocialDiary.com, Wowowow.com, and on the Huffington Post. Her weekly TV report, Lips & Ears is seen on FOX News, and on her 92nd birthday she maintains a lively ongoing presence on FaceBook and Twitter!
And if you’d like to send Liz a gift for her birthday-don’t! True Aquarian that she is, what she’d prefer is a donation to one of her favorite charities and causes listed here in an earlier column. When all is said and done, Liz Smith is a beloved, trusted, and loyal friend to many and a teacher to all. I consider myself extremely fortunate to know her and to spend some quality time with her every so often. Happy 92nd birthday Dear Liz, may you enjoy continued success and good health always and may we all take pleasure in what you bring to us for many more years to come.