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May 6, 2019
When I Gave Liz Smith Razor Burn
November 13, 2017
She became the most famous gossip columnist of her times and in the process became a celebrity in her own right. She passed away this week, but I will always remember the time four decades ago when she and I were almost an item. She was always a wonderful friend, and a mentor, who showed me a fascinating view of her New York.
Although it has been more than four decades since I had a short but intense friendship with the wonderful Liz Smith, I was broken-hearted today to read that she had passed away at age 94, still writing her gossip columns and still the same saucy spitfire she was when she burst out of Texas so many years ago.
At the time, I was a twenty-something freelance writer in New York, and Liz was already established as a writer then working for Cosmopolitan magazine writing movie reviews and profiles of stars like Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, who became her close friends for many years.
Liz had lots of famous friends and some not so famous, because she never lost her down-home charm or her wonder and awe at being around celebrities, even though she almost always could see right through their facades and put-ons and nonsense.
In her book, “Natural Blonde” (published in 2000), Liz recalled a party which I attended. It as a going away bash for her friend Tommy Thompson, who wrote best-sellers including Blood and Money and Celebrity.
It was held in Liz’s apartment on 38th Street in Manhattan, which served as a kind of salon for many of the most interesting people in town.
Liz told me she loved to host parties for writers, because they were the most interesting, and the least stuffy.
As she related in “Natural Blonde,” Thompson arrived with a suitcase filled with drugs – not the kind you got from your doctor. These were the kind that got you so high you had to be peeled off the ceiling in order to get down to the booze, gossip, great stories and laughs.
Since there have been few times in my life that I have been presented as a romantic figure, I have to share what Liz wrote in her delightful book about that evening.
“I had my eye on a writer-editor named Alex Ben Block, who would late work for The Hollywood Reporter and Morgan Creek.”
“Alex and I did a little in-house wrestling, which gave me a terrible whisker burn, and the evening died.”
Shortly after that I went on vacation to the Caribbean and on the way back stopped in Miami Beach to visit my grandmother, Fanny Polivan, and my Aunt Lee, Uncle Ted and cousin Charr. Uncle Ted, who was a journalist, told me they were had been looking for a movie critic on the local number Two paper, the Miami News for a year and suggested I apply. I was hired that afternoon, and only returned to New York long enough to clean out my Greenwich Village apartment.
I have thought many times over the years about what might have happened if I stayed in New York, and in Liz’s orbit. In a brief time she had proven to be a wonderful friend and a mentor who showed me a fascinating side of New York I would otherwise not have seen.
Liz and I stayed in touch over the years, as she rose to become the premiere gossip columnist of her times, first at the NY Daily News, and later at The NY Post and Newsday, and others. She was syndicated in over 70 newspapers and was the go-to for celebrity stories.
Liz never pretended to be a journalist. She loved to gossip and dish, but she also loved and admired most of those she wrote about. That led her to many big scoops with those “friends” who trusted her when they did not trust most of the mainstream media.
Liz Smith with The Trump's in happier times in 1987. (L to R) Liz, The Donald, Ivana and Ivanka Trump. Photo is credited to Tom Gates, Getty Images.
When Donald Trump treated his wife Ivana Trump badly, she turned to Liz to tell her story leading to a famous feud with The Donald, which made Liz even more famous. LIz broke the first story exclusively and then rode out the story with a parade of headlines.
Over the years she broke many big stories by being a trustworthy friend, who tried hard to see the good in everyone. However, when crossed, or convinced someone was not worthy of her trust, she could be tough and as cutting as an old-fashioned barber’s razor.
But Liz was old school, the successor to Winchell and Earl Wilson and others who became celebrities themselves by hanging out with the celebrities. She was always the little girl from Texas, but she also became a very sophisticated observer of the rich, famous and infamous, especially in New York.
She went on to know and work with some of the most famous tough guys in the media world including Barry Diller and Roger Ailes. She was on Fox for many years dishing for the news and shows like Fox & Friends in the morning, now Trump’s favorite show.
There are some wonderful obits and interviews she has done, which detail her amazing life and career.
Long after I gave her razor burn, she came out as a Lesbian, after years of flirting with people of both sexes. She found comfort in her later years with women, and she deserved to enjoy herself, for she gave a lot more than she got, even when her contacts with celebrities and the rich and famous was making her rich and famous.
As Liz’s era was ending, a new kind of gossip was rising, that was either vacuous idol worship or more likely, a lot of snarky innuendo mixed with pseudo attitude.
She was one of a kind and she was always kind, and generous, at least to me. We were never close again as we had been in the early 1970s but when I saw her or called, her sweet Texas twang was as friendly and inviting as ever, and I appreciated that.
So, rest in peace Liz, or more likely, get ready to be the hot new read in the Heavenly Herald. Liz would never retire or walk away voluntarily and I have no doubt she is now among all those celebrities of the past getting the stories they would never tell anyone else.
Hey Liz, sorry about the razor burn, but glad I was one of the many who got to know what a good heart, great mind and depth of soul you had, and shared with so many of us.