We’ll get this out of the way first: yes, it’s irritating and vaguely infantilizing when a young person makes a big show of how sassy and sharp an elderly person is. THAT IS NOT THIS. Or, if there is an element of it to be found here, I apologize. Someday old age will come for me too, and some young person will try to explain to me how great it is that I’m still telling it like it is and putting lipstick on my mouth, and I’ll apologize to Liz Smith on our shared banquette in Gossip Heaven.
Anyhow. Hollywood Reporter interviewed Liz Smith, who has been a gossip reporter of FOREVER, and it was the greatest interview that I have read in absolute months, and you must read every word of it. I have taken the liberty of highlighting some of the best parts for you here.
“I’m too old for gossip,” insists 92-year-old Liz Smith, delicately settling into a banquette at her favorite Tex Mex watering hole in Murray Hill.
It brings me SUCH JOY that this woman’s favorite restaurant is in MURRAY HILL and serves TEX-MEX food. Of course it does. My favorite sandwiches are from Subway, babe. You and I share a troll’s heart.
You married for the first time when you were 21. Why did you marry so young?
Well, everybody was doing it. All these brave, fabulous, decent guys were all going off to war. So the least you could do was marry them.
I have dedicated a not-insignificant amount of time to thinking what I would do if I were transported to WWII-era America and had to spend the rest of my life in that timeline trying as best I could to blend in, and I 100% believe that I would marry a soldier out of patriotism, despite having no desire to marry a soldier now.
You and Brando were friendly before he was famous.
I was living in the Village in a tiny apartment with all sorts of people coming in and out. Marlon was dating my friend Elaine Stritch at the time. One night, he called me at home and he said, “Liz, Elaine just keeps letting me kiss her but she won’t go any further.” I said, “Put her on the phone.” I said, “Elaine, you don’t understand about men. They aren’t satisfied with just kissing. So you have to stop being a prude or just end it.”
Wise advice. What did she decide?
They were both pupils of Stella Adler, so they wisely decided to break up.
2. Please do not neglect to read about Rita Moreno’s torrid eight-year affair with Marlon Brando (who is a MONSTER for cheating on her; I HATE him and I wish he had died twice)
3. It makes me unutterably happy that Marlon Brando thought, “My girlfriend won’t have sex with me, I’ll give her gay roommate a call and see if that straightens things out.”
4. WHAT DOES STELLA ADLER HAVE TO DO WITH THIS
5. Are you picturing what an Elaine Stritch/Marlon Brando baby would have looked like right now? I bet if they had had a boy, he and Warren Beatty would have gotten into fistfights outside of nightclubs in the late ’70s.
6. Elaine should have put out.
7. YES SHE SHOULD HAVE. JUST FOR THE SAKE OF KNOWING WHAT IT WAS LIKE, BECAUSE YOU KNOW THAT MONSTER WAS INCREEEEDIBLE IN BED. I WOULD HAVE DONE IT AND SO WOULD YOU HAVE. SHE SHOULD HAVE PUT OUT AND THEN LEFT HIM AND TOLD ANYONE WHO WOULD ASK EXACTLY WHAT HE WAS LIKE AS A LOVER.
I can’t imagine two women more different than you and Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown. Did you two get along?
She thought I was Jesus jumping off the cross because I brought her all these interviews. I found Helen fascinating, but I thought she was an idiot sometimes. She would constantly talk to me about getting married and how I should look for a rich man. This is a woman who dedicated her life to telling women how to feather their nest by throwing a scarf over a lamp.
I definitely can imagine some more different women, but let’s leave that to the side for now. I have never in my life heard the expression “Jesus jumping off the cross” or the concept of throwing a scarf over a lamp (wouldn’t that just…start a fire?), and I have Liz Smith to thank for curing me of those two ignorances.
Also, Liz, given that you once made “a million dollars a year” but now “struggle to make a living,” MAYBE YOU SHOULD HAVE FOUND THAT RICH MAN.
“Mallory, what an unfair thing to say about this old woman. She’s 92! Maybe she saved enough for twenty years of retirement but has outlived them at this point!”
“SHE MADE A MILLION DOLLARS A YEAR TO HANG OUT WITH ELIZABETH TAYLOR AND RICHARD BURTON, SHE COULDN’T HAVE OPENED A ROTH IRA IN LIKE 1950?”
“Are you sure they even had those in the 1950s?”
“I AM NOT.” All right, I would like to amend that crack about landing a rich husband to the following: I think someone should pay for Liz Smith and Suze Orman to have lunch and talk about power blazers, lesbian cruises, and how to maximize her earnings.
You had a legendary aversion to Jackie O.’s sister, Princess Lee Radziwill. What was it that set you off?
Well, she did something terrible. She was always a close friend of Truman Capote‘s. But then Capote got embroiled in that ridiculous libel suit with Gore Vidal over his claim that Vidal had been drunkenly kicked out of the White House. Lee is the one who told Capote the story, but when it ended up in court, she threw him to the wolves. All she had to do was tell the truth. But she refused, and Truman lost the lawsuit, which devastated him. During the trial, as a last-ditch effort, he asked me to call her and beg her to testify. And you know, Truman had done everything for her. He even tried to help her start an acting career. But when I called her and said, “Lee, you really must testify for Truman,” she said, “Oh, Liz, what do we care; they’re just a couple of fags! They’re disgusting.” I was so stunned, I just hung up. I’ve never spoken to her since.
[a muffled, strangled sound from low in the throat, as if a thousand competing emotions all made a bid for freedom at once, and crashed into one another at terminal velocity]
Publicist Bobby Zarem once sent a fake invitation to all of New York society announcing your wedding to your then partner, Iris Love. Were you embarrassed by that?
It was more of an annoyance than anything. People sent me gifts that I had to return. (Laughs.) It only disturbed me because my mother was alive, and I was worried he would send an invitation to her. Thankfully, he never did. The whole thing embarrassed him more than me. People were appalled by what he did. At the time, he denied sending them, but one of his assistants, a friend of mine, found a huge mound of invitations in his drawer. He hated me for some reason, but he couldn’t take me down. I was too popular by then.
1. That’s HORRIBLE.
2. What an incredible, delicious, bitchy way to try to out someone. This could have been a storyline on Empire.
Sexuality can be hard to pin down.
I saw him after David Geffen came out and he said, “Liz, do you think I should come out, too?” And I said, “No, Barry, David Geffen needs to come out. He needs a big story or a scandal or a fight to push him in business and make people afraid of him.” But I said, “People are already afraid of you. So what will you gain? And also, you like women.”
“PEOPLE ARE ALREADY AFRAID OF YOU SO WHAT WILL YOU GAIN”
You also were very close to Ann Richards, whom George W. Bush defeated to become governor of Texas. Was she your best friend?
Well, Ann elected herself to be my best friend.
WHO IS WRITING THE REAL-PERSON FRIEND FIC ABOUT THIS? SEND IT TO ME IMMEDIATELY, PLEASE AND THANK YOU
You grew close to many other well-known people over the years. Do you keep in touch with Barbara Walters?
Well, it turns out Barbara Walters can do without me, though I still consider her a friend. She has done so much for me through the years. But when I lost my column and my power, she kind of lost interest in me. When we run into each other now, she loves me; she’s always saying, “Let’s get together,” blah, blah, blah. But I rarely hear from her now. That’s OK.
I believe this with perfect calmness and serenity.
In 1997 you caused a furor when you wrote that a certain star was about to come out of the closet.
Oh, yes, and it wasn’t just Oprah who was furious with me about that. [Media had gossiped at the time that the mystery star was Winfrey.] Rosie [O’Donnell] was as well.
I cannot figure out her stance on outing and I’d kind of like to see a handbill from her about circumstances in which it’s a good or a bad idea.
What is the thing you’re proudest of in your career?
Well, people seem to like me, and I like to be liked. I’m kind of vain about that.
I LIKE YOU, LIZ SMITH
Have you ever been in love?
Oh, yes! Many times. Always with the wrong women or men. The truth is, I had no luck with either sex except Mr. Beeman, who I truly loved as a person.
Your first husband?
He was so good. And he kept on through the years, saying, “Babe, why don’t you come back?” He finally remarried and had nice children, who all took up with me. I wonder what their mother thought.
Where is this movie?? Tall, brainy, blonde Texan girl abandons her soldier husband for New York City and POWER LESBIANISM while he begs her to come home for the next seventy years? I would buy a ticket and see it every day. (I bet their mother hated it, by the way, Liz.)
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.