NEW YORK (CBSNews) — Liz Smith, who chronicled the gossip among New York City’s rich and scandalous for 60 years and played a key role in the high-profile divorce between Donald and Ivana Trump, has died, the New York Post, her former employer, said. She was 94.
Literary agent Joni Evans told The Associated Press she died in New York on Sunday (Nov. 12) of natural causes. Smith had recently suffered a stroke.
For more than a quarter-century, Smith’s column – titled “Liz Smith” – was one of the most widely read in the world. Its success was due in part to Smith’s own celebrity status, giving her insider access.
She started her own column at the New York Daily News in 1976. Known as the “Dame of Dish,” Smith helped usher in the era of celebrity journalism in print and television.
In the Trump divorce, she chose the side of Ivana — the wronged woman. Her coverage was so well-known that she became highest-paid columnist in the country. Mr. Trump said he would buy the Daily News just to fire her, The New York Times reported earlier this year.
“I was swept up in the scandal of Ivana wanting a decent settlement from Donald. And I became a featured player in the story, which I came to regret,” she told the Times.
Born in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1923, Smith told the Times that she spent her childhood listening to the legendary gossp Walter Winchell. She arrived at New York City’s Penn Station in 1949 with $50 and no job, according to the Times.
With the ability to type 80 words per minute, she quickly got work as a typist and proofreader, according to her publicist. She soon became a producer for Mike Wallace, who was then at CBS Radio. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.
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.
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.
In her 2000 memoir “Natural Blonde,” she came out as bisexual. She told” that she fell in love with a woman when she attended the University of Texas in Austin
The incident led to a temporary rift with her own parents, and she labels it “unfortunate.”But she has no embarrassment about her love affars over the years with men or women. “I’m not ashamed. I’ve had a wonderful time,” Smith told Wallace.
Smith held a lighthearted opinion of her own legacy.
“We mustn’t take ourselves too seriously in this world of gossip,” she 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.”