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Thursday, January 6, 2011

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Liz Smith, Emmy-Winning Icon & Legend of Journalism and Manhattanite Extraordinaire

Liz Smith
Photo credit: wowowow

This Mover and Shaker interview is sponsored by Swifty's, Peachy Deegan's favorite restaurant! Read all about The Peachy Deegan: and Swifty's is on Shop with Peachy:  Contact to secure the best catering there is at your next soiree, by Swifty's!

Liz Smith calls herself “The 2000-year-old gossip columnist.” Arriving in Manhattan from the University of Texas journalism school in 1949, she has worked in celebrity/show biz for 57 years. She has written for seven different NYC newspapers and for almost every magazine. She was a CBS radio producer for Mike Wallace, then an NBC-TV producer in the Fifties. Later she went on camera at NBC and won an Emmy reporting from the Battleship Intrepid on the 40th anniversary of World War II. In her best-selling memoir Natural Blonde, she wrote about being a war bride. Whom You Know Highly Recommended Natural Blonde:

She appears on Fox News and in 70 newspapers. She has become a voice of reason and common sense, observing popular culture. Her philanthropy is legend -- raising millions for AIDS, Literacy Partners, N.Y. Restoration Project, P.A.L., the Mayors Fund to Advance New York and the Landmarks Conservancy. (They made her a “Living Landmark" in 1996.)

Liz is amused when dubbed as “too nice.” Says she, “If this is true why did Frank Sinatra denounce me on world stages? Why did Donald Trump try to buy my newspaper so he could fire me? Why did P.R. flack Bobby Zarem say I’d had a woman killed? Why did Sean Connery want to stick my column where the sun don’t shine? Why did Sean Penn run out of a building when we were introduced?”

Whom You Know is just thrilled to present Liz Smith as our latest Mover and Shaker!  Peachy Deegan intervewed Liz Smith for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: How would you compare and contrast Texas and New York and what has made you stay here?
Liz Smith: Texas is Texas. There’s nothing like it, but I wouldn’t say it was a very fertile field for covering celebrity and gossip. I left in 1949 and I’ve never gone back except to visit. New York is the only place to be.

What did you enjoy the most from your years at CBS?
I liked being in the elevator with William S. Paley, the founder. I liked working for Mike Wallace, who even then was so sexy and dynamic and he taught me so much. I learned to be a professional from him. I learned how to produce something. And that catapulted me into a very good job at NBC TV.

Peachy's first journalism experience was at CBS as an intern on Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt; did you ever work with him and how was your experience if so?
I admired him so much. When he and Lesley Stahl did the show from Washington after the Iranian hostage crisis they were just so superb- they don’t have those kind of journalists anymore. I never worked with Charles Kuralt so I envy you for that experience.

You are a trailblazer for women journalists; what made you want to go into journalism originally?
Well it wasn’t anything to do with women. There was very little in my life going on about women’s rights in the 1950’s. I was just ambitious and I made it a good job!

What has made you so successful?
A lot of luck. Working for the right people. And working hard! Enjoying working hard I think is key. Success is loving your work as Peggy Lee used to say.

We love Fete de Swifty and it is the only event we've ever had a countdown for. We mention Swifty's so much, Peachy is honored that they're naming a drink after her there and we hope you enjoy it. Tell us about the start of Fete de Swifty please and its evolution.
I will definitely go to Swifty’s and drink The Peachy Deegan the next time I go which will probably be this Friday with my godson! On my 80th birthday I was still writing my column for the New York Post and my syndicate and I said in the column: “Don’t send me birthday presents!” People always send older people sachets, stationary and things they don’t need. “Send me a dollar for the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York” I said because New York was in terrible financial trouble. So I said send me a dollar, which was kind of cheeky I guess. I got something like $287,000 that first time.  Big checks, little checks, and cash and I passed all of that on to Mayor Bloomberg.

When we interviewed Mayor Bloomberg at Fete de Swifty he could not say enough about you!!! Here he is: He is a huge fan of yours; what have you liked about what he has done for the City of New York?
I like that he’s rich and he’s not a crook so he doesn’t need to steal money from people like the rest of them. He already had it made before he became Mayor. He’s a great mayor.

What do you like to eat at Swifty's?
I like the chicken curry. I like the French fries. I like the New York strip steak. I like everything there. Best of all I like the chocolate soufflé.

Your philanthropy is legendary; what do you like about being a philantropist?
I enjoy seeing people give their money to me! (Laughs!)

What should our readers know about your life since Naturally Blonde?
Well, I’m not a natural blonde anymore since my hair is its natural color; what you see is what you get!  I’m a silver fox these days.

Are you still a peachy dancer? I remember it from your campaign from the University of Texas when you ran for student office. That was your slogan.
Well I love dancing. I still love it. I tried to learn the dance they had on Nightline last night.

What would you like our readers to know about Wowowow?
It’s just the greatest collection of women ever. Almost each and every one is a big winner and they’re so nice and smart!

How would you most like to be remembered?
I can’t say I really care; I did my best. I tried to be honest and intelligent in my work and I raised a lot of money for good causes. I don’t plan to be remembered all that much. Whatever people figure out! I wish more people in public life would embrace causes because there are so many causes that need so much. You can’t just be lucky for yourself all the time.

What about your life has surprised you the most?
My success! When I got my byline from the New York Daily News in 1976 I was just stunned with admiration for myself in what I had accomplished out of nothing. (Same time Peachy was born!)

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
I don’t know –there are so many wonderful people I worked with on my way up and I honestly owe a lot to my parents for sending me to the University of Texas. They made a lot of sacrifices and having a rudimentary education in journalism was great for me. My experience in college just unleashed my ambitions.

What are you proudest of and why?
I think of all of the money I raised for the AIDS crisis in the beginning starting in 1983-millions of dollars I helped raise. It wasn’t easy to get money for something so unpopular.

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do?
Well I’d like to be bending down looking at my star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame which I happen to think I deserve, but I’ve never been given it. I’m at least as important as some of those people there!

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan?
Turning off Lexington into Swifty’s. I love to go there. My other favorite place is Shubert Alley.

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan?
Right now it’s the Jennifer Miller Jewelry Store on Lexington Ave about 71st.

What is your favorite drink?
I’ll take a Chardonnay please! White wine. That is, if I can’t have a margarita. Acually a Maragita at the El Charro Restaurant on Charles Street.

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan?

What is your favorite Manhattan book?
Anything by E.B. White! He was the man that said Dare to be Lucky!

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why?
I’d love a theatre!

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience?
I don’t have athletic experiences! Watching the marathon!

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else?
Go to the Broadway theatres!

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience?
Frank Sinatra’s last concert in Radio City! I was there.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated here?
I’m such a fan I don’t think anything is overrated in New York! If you’ve lived anywhere else you know what New York is.  I am a fan!

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it?
I wish I owned part of Swifty’s since you’ve mentioned it over 200 times in Peachy’s Picks, so I like that.  Specifically, my latest favorite is “I Drank The Peachy Deegan.” I can’t wait to try it and be in the column.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
(Laughs!) Well, I would like to have a column in The New York Times before I die. And I still like to work and I want to work.

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?
They can contact me at 160 East 38th Street, zip 10016.
Liz and Peachy at the Landmarks Conservancy Gala at The Plaza
Photo credit: Charles Ferri

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