In Memoriam: Liz Smith
The Briscoe Center mourns the passing of award-winning gossip columnist Liz Smith, whose vast archives document half a century of New York’s celebrity-encrusted social scene. Over the course of her career, Smith wrote for nine New York newspapers and many magazines.
“Liz was one of America’s most influential social page columnists for more than half a century,” said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. “I knew Liz for many years and am grateful that she donated her papers to the center. She had an unparalleled knack of charming her way into the upper echelons of New York’s chattering classes, but always remained warm hearted and down to earth.”
Smith was born in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1923. She attended the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Journalism, where she worked for The Daily Texan student newspaper and graduated in 1949. After moving to New York City (with two suitcases and $50), she started writing the anonymous “Cholly Knickerbocker” gossip column for the Hearst newspaper group. She also worked as a producer for Mike Wallace on CBS Radio, as a news producer for NBC-TV, and on Candid Camera with Allen Funt.
In the 1960s, she was entertainment editor for Cosmopolitan and SportsIllustrated. Smith began writing her self-titled gossip column for the New York Daily News in 1976, and three years later she started an eleven-year stint on Live at Five, a celebrity news show on WNBC in New York City. She won an Emmy for her reporting from the battleship Intrepid on the fortieth anniversary of World War II. By this time, her column was syndicated across 70 newspapers globally. In 1991 Smith moved her column to Newsday and then four years later to the New York Post. Her 2000 memoir, Natural Blonde, was a New York Times best seller.
“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.”
The Liz Smith Papers document her career as well as the development of her books. The collection contains original newsprint and typewritten columns published in the New York Daily News, New York Newsday, Newsday, and the New York Post. Additionally, the papers contain materials related to Smith’s books Natural Blonde and Dishing, publicity and event files, charity files, correspondence, scrapbooks about her career, celebrity files, audiocassette interviews conducted by Smith, and videos of Liz Smith’s appearances on a variety of television shows.