She feuded with Donald Trump and broke the news of Madonna’s pregnancy

Liz Smith was born in Fort Worth, Texas, to a cotton broker father with gambling problems. To think that she ended up being one of the world’s most celebrated gossip columnists is a testament to the work ethic and social climbing abilities (“I was always a horrible little social climber in my own way”) of one Liz Smith.

Smith’s career is a very storied, occasionally controversial trajectory, and it started after she moved to New York in 1949. She started out her career interviewing celebrities at nightclubs for gossip columnist Igor Cassini and developed ideas for the TV show Candid Camera while writing for Vogue, Ladies’ Home Journal, Sports Illustrated, and more. After a stint as the entertainment editor at Cosmopolitan, Smith began an eponymously named gossip column, “Liz Smith,” for the New York Daily News.

The column became a staple for 33 years, moving from the New York Daily News to the New York Post. Smith had legendary feuds with Frank Sinatra and Donald Trump (she infamously covered the breakup of Donald Trump’s marriage to Ivana Trump) and made friends with celebrities from Elizabeth Taylor to Lindsay Lohan.

Smith, though married twice to a World War II bombardier and a travel agent, was also bisexual, something she acknowledged in her memoirs and in a 2000 issue of The Advocate. She was in a relationship with archaeologist Iris Love for fifteen years. A New York Magazine profile describes them as “inseparable, making the rounds of society parties and reading novels together in the car as they drove back and forth to their second home, in Vermont.”

Most notably, Smith actually liked celebrities. She doled out praise — lots of it — and “reserved the punches for the people who really deserved it.” Her memoir, Natural Blonde, is exactly what you would expect from the gossip columnist — lavish tales of dancing naked in her former agent’s apartment with a TV director with a “hard-on” and helped Rock Hudson blackmail the tormentor who was blackmailing Hudson over his sexuality.

In spite of her long career, Smith stayed humble about her subject matter.

“We mustn’t take ourselves too seriously in this world of gossip,” Smith told The Associated Press in 1987. “When you look at it realistically, what I do is pretty insignificant. Still, I’m having a lot of fun.”

 

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