Liz Smith, syndicated gossip columnist, dies at 94

FILE- In this Aug. 9, 2009, file photo, Liz Smith leaves the Celebration of Life Memorial ceremony for Walter Cronkite at Avery Fisher Hall in New York. Smith, a gossip columnist whose mixture of banter, barbs, and bon mots about the glitterati helped her climb the A-list as high as many of the celebrities she covered, has died. Literary agent Joni Evans told The Associated Press she died in New York on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017. She was 94. (AP Photo/Stephen Chernin, File)

ds tweeted. “She dished, but always found a way to make it entertaining and fun.”

After graduating with a degree in journalism from the University of Texas, Smith recalled buying a one-way ticket to New York in 1949 with a dream of being the next Walter Winchell.

But unlike Winchell and his imitators, Smith succeeded with kindness and an aversion to cheap shots. Whether reporting on entertainers, politicians or power brokers, the “Dame of Dish” never bothered with unfounded rumors, sexual preferences or who’s-sleeping-with-whom.

“When she escorts us into the private lives of popular culture’s gods and monsters, it’s with a spirit of wonder, not meanness,” wrote Jane and Michael Stern in reviewing Smith’s 2000 autobiography, “Natural Blonde,” for the New York Times Book Review.

But it may have been the question of her own sexuality which kept her from discussing that of the stars. A subject in the gay press for many years, Smith acknowledged in her 2000 book that she had relationships with both men and women, and confirmed a long-rumored, long-term relationship with archaeologist Iris Love.

Evans said Smith had a series of small strokes earlier this year but nothing serious that slowed her down. She was still having breakfast, lunch and dinner outings with friends, family and associates, Evans said. She called her “a light.”

Born Mary Elizabeth Smith in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1923, she was the daughter of devout Baptist mother and an eccentric father. Smith said her dad received his divine inspiration more from the race track than the pulpit.

As a young girl, Smith quickly fell in love with the silver screen, since movies were one of the few things her mother did not consider a sin.

After a brief marriage while attending Hardin-Simmons University, Smith earned her journalism degree and headed off for New York with two suitcases and $50.

For nearly 30 years, Smith bounced from job to job: publicist for singer Kaye Ballard; assistant to Mike Wallace and Candid Camera creator Allen Funt; ghostwriter for Igor Cassini’s “Cholly Knickerbocker” gossip column.

Smith ultimately wrote for nine New York newspapers and dozens of magazines, but it was a stint writing for Cosmopolitan that led to her break. While establishing herself as an authority on Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Smith attracted the attention of the New York Daily News.

She started her own column at the tabloid in 1976. A gossip star was born.

In 1978, during a strike at the News, 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 she later did work for the cable channel E! Entertainment Television.

During that time, Smith migrated from the News to the rival New York Post and finally to Newsday, ultimately earning salaries well into six figures. Her column was syndicated nationwide, drawing millions of readers.

She was married a second time, but it was also short-lived.

In between all the parties, movie premieres and late-night soirees at celebrity hangouts like Elaine’s, Smith found time to host an ever-widening array of charity fund-raisers.

She raised money for groups such from Literacy Volunteers, which teaches adults to read and write, to the Women’s Action Alliance, which promotes full equality for women.

She is survived by several nieces and nephews. A memorial service will be held to honor her this spring.