Madonna: "What is NY without Liz Smith?"
“DON’T TALK about yourself; it will be done when you leave,” said Wilson Mizner. Well, I’m not “leaving” my spot here writing this column, so maybe it’s all right if I say a few words about what happened in the past few days. I have decided it is quite exhilarating to be fired, at the age of 86, from a job you’ve had for 14 years. Fortunately, I seem to be healthy so I’m forging ahead. I do want to say that I am in love all over again with ABC-TV’s Bill Ritter, guardian of the 6 and 11 p.m. news in NYC, because in discussing the end of my affair with the New York Post tabloid, he described me as “Eighty-six — going on 40!” It was almost worth losing a salary and a daily tenure of 33 years in New York newspapers just to hear those words. Mr. Ritter abandoned his journalistic “cool” in this outing, enveloped me in a warm embrace when we finished talking and even put it right on the air without editing out his hug. My hero!
ACTUALLY, many good things happened since I lost my day job. For one, I am so old-fashioned that I usually have my emails printed out. On Feb. 2, I was under a load of missives of congratulations for living so long. Today I have many more from people expressing love, concern and thoughts about the future of news — TV, print and Web journalism. One phone call I had yesterday was from none other than Carol Burnett who said, “Liz, I think you have fallen a step up in leaving the New York Post.” It didn’t hurt anything that reporter James Barron and his editors put me on the front page of the New York Times on Feb. 25. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t use the gag line repeated to me this week: “WILL THE COL ALLAN FAN CLUB COME TO ORDER!” (Mr. Allan is the Australian editor-in-chief who fired me. But let’s get this straight. He had a perfect right to throw out someone who he felt was not in step with his tabloid philosophy. He was the boss.)
I liked hearing from my young friend Michael Buble who sang “Just the Way You Look Tonight” at my 80th birthday. We had a, believe it or not, very romantic dance that night … I also received a love note from the wonderful singer Josh Groban and loving support by email from John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Sly Stallone. It was fun getting a blast from Madonna who asked “What is New York without Liz Smith?” (Nice, but NYC doesn’t have to do without me yet, Madge) … My pal Candice Bergen sent me a cheerio message not appropriate for family reading and Whoopi Goldberg rang in from out of town. Barbara Walters had already chimed in. Then Tom Brokaw called to inquire after my situation. Oh, my word! I had a riotous conversation with the great actor Frank Langella and we decided that, as two people who didn’t get exactly everything each of us wanted this week (I lost a job; he didn’t win the Oscar) we’d get together soon and lunch. Frank is such a dynamite presence; I told him I observed him through the Golden Globes and AcademyAwards carryings-on with much admiration. He is the consummate serious actor who was dealing with a merciless paparazzi “contest” atmosphere and behaved admirably, and with good humor, in the process. I still believe “Frost/Nixon” was a fabulous film, full of comedy, tragedy and because Frank’s “Nixon” was so full and well realized, it has some of the best suspense I’ve ever seen on film.
The cherry on the sundae was a phone call late at night from a mysterious voice inquiring, “What cha doin?” It was none other than Warren Beatty who wanted to say I was on an upper path now and better off and he encouraged me to really develop my Web and Internet skills. “Learn to control the Internet yourself; don’t depend on people to help you.” He added, “I had to because otherwise my four kids just say, ‘Get up, Dad, and let us do it!'” We had a wonderful talk about how children change and enhance your life. When I asked Warren if he has another movie in the works, he said, “I think so, although I have the appropriate amount of anxiety.” We ended the chat with him remarking, “I just wanted to call because, as you know, you are in a class by yourself!”
Well, how long can I feel bad with so many nice reactions from so many nice guys.
“DIVORCED! You and I have both been divorced!”
said the widow, Patricia Schoenfeld, to me this week when we met by accident. Only days ago I was describing Mrs. Schoenfeld as looking smart and snappy when she came onstage at the Majestic Theater at the end of her famous husband, Gerry’s star-studded memorial. When I asked Pat what she was talking about, she said, “Well, you have been ‘divorced’ by your tabloid newpaper, the New York Post and I have been ‘divorced’ by the Shubert Organization. They have dropped me!” So I called up my longtime pals at the Shubert Org, the most powerful and influential of all Broadway producing units, and asked head man Phil Smith about this situation. He says, “We have the utmost respect for Gerry’s widow and are helping her in the transition. She will always be welcome in Shubert Theaters. But I fear she has the idea that Gerry somehow owned a part of what is not a ‘family business,’ but a ‘foundation.’ The Shuberts invented and owned it and we just run it. I think she has misunderstood this. Nevertheless, we will continue to be her friend and do whatever we can for her now that Gerry is no longer here.” Word on the Rialto is that the mighty Gerry left his wife very well fixed. Perhaps she will become a Broadway producer in her own right!
AS FOR ME, well, my “divorce” has put me in the limelight as never before. I laughed this week to find my longtime friend, the brilliant creator of “Doonesbury” — one Garry Trudeau — doing a cartoon segment with a character who is being let go from The Washington Post after 33 years! (The “33 years” part of this “funny paper” item was pretty close to home.) But Garry’s character is a bearded man who is being offered a buy-out. Oh, how terrific it would have been to be offered a buy-out from the New York Post and for that matter, maybe I should grow a beard.
RALPH FIENNES must be the most prolific actor working today. He seems to be “in” everything with no deleterious effect on his brilliant acting. Now, his much more elusive brother, Joseph, is rumored about to enact the evolutionary Charles Darwin in a movie to be titled “Mrs. Darwin.” While Darwin developed his controversial theories, Mrs. Darwin who was his first cousin, lived a quite religious life and her husband’s theories put a strain on their marriage. Rosamund Pike is likewise rumored to play Mrs. Darwin. Meantime, the talk of the town is the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik whose latest is “Angels and Ages: A Short Book about Darwin, Lincoln and Modern Life” coming from Knopf. The award-winning writer offers as his theme that Lincoln and Darwin, born on the same day, Feb. 12, 1809, were men who were alike in helping to shape the modern moral world. They affected a “liberal civilization” based on democratic politics and scientific reasoning. The other night, NYC’s most energetic and effective hostess, Tina Brown, tossed a party for Gopnik at her East 57th Street salon. The Mayor of New York showed up along with the dynamo Barry Diller, the Broadway star Frank Langella and the saucy writer Chris Buckley, to name just four of my favorite guys. It was here that international literary agent Ed Victor and his wife Carol enlightened us to say they had been living in New York for over a year and now they will go home to London’s Bedford Square for this year and only visit Manhattan.
WHEN I saw the divinely glamourous photo of the new first lady in her sleeveless black dress last week I decided Michelle Obama has already become the icon that most public figures only aspire to be. Now comes word that there is already talk of her being portrayed in a biopic. What with Will Smith telling people he would like to play the President, comes Angela Bassett who says: “Mrs. Obama would be a gift to any black actress as she is a woman of the zeitgeist.” But Mrs. Obama is only 45 years old. Her admirer, Miss Bassett, is 50. The latter already immortalized herself playing Tina Turner in the movie “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” The London newspapers are speculating that Halle Berry would be a more likely Michelle candidate for the screen.
LARRY HAGMAN, the quintessential likeable, sexy villain (the male Joan Collins) had been around for years on TV, playing second fiddle to Barbara Eden’s chastely covered navel on “I Dream of Jeannie.” “Dallas” made him a superstar, a status he still enjoys though he mostly rests on his laurels now. On March 12, Larry will be honored at one of the year’s most fun events — The Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards, in Austin. Larry, along with Billy Bob Thornton, Powers Boothe, Catherine Hardwicke, will also be feted. Among the presenters — Dennis Quaid, Keith Carradine, John Cusak and — but of course — Larry Hagman’s co-star in so many gin-soaked TV battles — Linda Gray. Thomas Hayden Church, the Oscar-nominated “Sideways” star is to emcee. If you want to get in on this — and I assure you it is glamourous and down to earth and a load of laughs — call 512-322-0145.
Chelsea Handler will preside over “A Night At Sardi’s,” a benefit raising funds to fight Alzheimer’s. Fox Sports and the wonderful NBC drama “Friday Night Lights” will be honored. The famous Broadway show “Damn Yankees” is to be performed — and this is some of the cast, as it now stands: Katy Sagal, Sean Hayes, Victor Garber, Johnny Galecki, Sharon Lawrence, Melina Kanakaredes, Kristen Bell, Peter Gallagher, Vicki Lewis, Ken Howard. I missed coming out for the Oscars, but this is something that might find me visiting La La Land again! If you feel like an evening of song, dance and blistering commentary — the latter courtesy of Miss Handler — call 818-906-0240 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. And of course, you’ll be doing a good deed in a naughty world, too.
RECEIVED WISDOM? They’ve been saying that the focus of activity in the U.S. has moved from Manhattan to Washington where the money and power are. Maybe. I see that D.C. will get Helen Mirren in the Royal National Theater’s new production of “Phedre” with the “Mamma Mia!” man, Nicholas Hytner, directing. And then in October, the Sydney Theater Company will mount a revival of “A Streetcar Named Desire” at the Kennedy Center, with Liv Ullman directing Cate Blanchett as Blanche DuBois. Both events now have no plans to move on to Broadway, but if there is enough heat and light, who knows?