Liz Smith, veteran Broadway and theatre columnist, died yesterday of a drug overdose. She was 94.
Frank Sinatra once famously called her a “two-dollar whore” while shoving a pair of greenbacks into Liz Smith’s old-fashioned glass. But others had favorable memories of the legendary gossip scribe.
An old friend, actor Richard Gere, described her thusly: “Liz Smith was the kindest, warmest, bravest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my lift.”
“You mean in your life?” a reporter interjected.
“No, my lift, my elevator! We lived in the same building on Central Park West. She always had a smile for me,” Gere noted with a shrug.
Elizabeth Penrose Smith was born in Stamford, Connecticut in 1923, a fact that surprised many people who thought she came from Texas. The Texas accent was an affection, acquired during World War II when she worked as a “Hospitality Girl” at the Navy base in Galveston.
Prior to that, Smith had graduated from Ethel Walker, and spent one year at Smith College, dropping out after freshman year. “There were too many lesbians,” Smith explained. “Smith girls didn’t know how to dress or even how to do their hair.”
After the War, Smith landed a job at the world-famous Herald-Tribune newspaper in New York City, where she wrote about restaurant openings, society shindigs, and the Philadelphia World’s Fair of 1948.
That year she married newspaper heir Hogwood Patterson Medill III, whom she divorced in 1962. They had four children, three of whom survive her.
“Hog and I had many of the same tastes,” Smith explained, “but he disapproved of my slumming with celebrities. Which is pretty weird, seeing as he went on to marry Monique van Vooren. Go figure!”
With her background in society reporting and celebrity conviviality, Smith was a logical choice to replace gossip columnist Hedda Hopper when she retired. Smith subtly altered the column’s style, making it “jazzier,” as she liked to say.
In 1965 she was the first to break the news that 50-year-old Frank Sinatra was bedding down 18-year-old Peyton Place starlet Mia Farrow.
“Go buy yourself a new pair of overshoes,” said a drunken Sinatra when he encountered Smith in Las Vegas a few years later. Sticking a pair of banknotes into Smith’s drink glass, Sinatra added that she was “a two-dollar whore.”
With her children in boarding school, Smith no longer needed an apartment of her own in New York, so moved in with her longtime friend, archaeologist Iris Love.
Smith and Love frequently went on digs together, sometimes accompanied by Smith’s children, or Smith’s close friend Richard Gere. During a 1983 expedition to Great Britain they discovered the jaw of Piltdown Man, which they donated to the British Museum.
Author: Hallen Smith
Hallen Smith is a much beloved humorist, financial writer, and newspaper columnist. He specializes in such trivialities as Christmas newsletters and Philadelphia soft pretzels.