Liz Smith Wows Them At Marymount
Liz Smith, once the highest-paid columnist in the world, is still much beloved if one judges by the multitude of smiling faces who packed themselves into Marymount Manhattan College’s Regina Peruggi Room recently for The Writing Center’s popular Irish Voices Series. Liz now writes for a syndicated Internet vehicle called wowOwow.com and for a number of other papers around the country. Lewis Burke Frumkes, the Center’s much admired founder and director, warmly welcomed the audience and reminded them that, just a few weeks ago, Kerry Kennedy had spoken about human rights as the first of the lecturers in the Irish Voices Series this year, and that Flora Fraser, the biographer and step-daughter of Nobellist Sir Harold Pinter, would follow Liz Smith on November 4… and that Tina Flaherty, who underwrote the entire series, would herself be the final speaker on December 9. He also hoped people would visit the Writing Center on October 21 to hear the master-logophile, wordsmith, and verbivore Richard Lederer discourse on language at the Jack Burstyn Memorial Lecture, as only he can do. Lederer is the author of dozens of fun-with-language books such as Anguished English, Crazy English, and Get Thee To A Punnery, and will fly in from California just for the occasion. On November 9, the eminent interior designer Mario Buatta, whose clients have included Mariah Carey, Billy Joel, as well as Malcolm Forbes, Nelson Doubleday, and Henry Ford, will also hold forth before a sell-out crowd, announced Frumkes. He then went on to introduce the eponymous Tina Flaherty (The Clementina Flaherty Irish Voices Series) who in turn introduced Liz Smith.
Flaherty, who in her twenties sat on the boards of Colgate Palmolive, General Telephone and Electric (now Verizon), and Gray advertising, and is now an author and philanthropist, also reminded the audience of past Irish Voices lecturers, such as the three McCourt brothers, Mary Higgins Clark and her daughter Carol, Alice McDermott, Edna O’Brian, and the late sweet and wonderful Nuala O’Faolin, before turning to the legendary Liz Smith and introducing her as the legend she is.
By turns brilliant, witty and saucy, the lady from Texas then took the microphone and charmed the audience, recalling stories from her career that made the crowd laugh out loud. Sometimes they even applauded spontaneously. At the ripe old age of 85+ Liz talked about her life in journalism, the Internet and new technology and wondered aloud about young people watching films on hand-held electronic devices. “What will they do when they want to watch Lawrence of Arabia? she asked. “Hold it in their palms for three or four hours?” Newspapers may fade, she said, but books and magazines will probably survive. People can get sound bites on Facebook or the Internet, but when they want in-depth analysis they will invariably turn to magazines or books. She talked about the celebrity culture, about the old studio movie stars who were bigger than life, Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, and remembered meeting one of the new idols, Perez Hilton for the first time. “He took his name from two nobodies,” she said. “He had bright purple hair yet I liked him in spite of myself. But when I asked him what he was all about, he answered, “I just want to get &%#@ tonight,” to which Liz replied, “Don’t we all?”
Then she went on to talk about gossip and how we have always engaged in gossip. People used to gossip about George Washington’s wooden teeth, she said, and Benjamin Franklin’s womanizing. It is our evil little pleasure. She recalled Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice Longworth Roosevelt, once saying at a party, “If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit down next to me.” America’s favorite gossip columnist then confessed sadly to the Marymount crowd how she really missed her column in the New York Post (her “New York presence”), that she was bitter about her dismissal from the Post, but could still hold her head up high. “I ran into Rupert Murdoch the other day and we kissed hello like nothing ever happened, but…” She was obviously deeply hurt by her shabby treatment.
She concluded by tirelessly fielding questions from the audience and signing books for devoted fans. It was a great evening, with a great lady, at a great event. Bravo Writing Center! #