Monday, June 17, 2024

Gossip Great Liz Smith’s Main Instructions for Her Standing Room Only Memorial: “Book a Shubert Theater!”


Gossip queen Liz Smith did not want a memorial service, said friend Cynthia McFadden today at Liz’s memorial service. But shortly before she died, Liz left a folder on the couch near she usually sat and made calls. “Exit,” the folder read, “Ta-da!”

Smith had left a list of things to do. At the top, McFadden said, “Book a Shubert Theater.” And so the Majestic was booked today on what would have been Liz’s 95th birthday. The stars and A list New Yorkers came in droves: Tommy Tune performed “The Way You Look Tonight,” a song he said Liz had asked him to perform at her funeral may 60 years ago.

Speakers included Lesley Stahl, Barry Diller, actress Holland Taylor, Renee Zellweger, Bruce Willis, writer and columnist Billy Norwich, niece Karen Williamson, 19 year old godson Spencer McFadden (son of McFadden and Jim Hoge) literary agent Joni Evans.

In the house: Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue, Rex Reed, Kathleen Turner, Griffin Dunne, Sarah Paulson, Cynthia Nixon, F. Murray Abraham, author Hannah Pakula (widow of Oscar winning director Alan Pakula), Iris Love, Bob Balaban and wife Lynn Balaban, “Call Me By Your Name” producer Howard Rosenman, Peggy Siegal, Ruth Friendly (widow of broadcaster Fred Friendly),famed writers Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark, and, of course, Liz’s office family, Denis Ferrara and Mary Jo McDonough. (Liz’s actual family was there, too, many drawling Texans).

In heaven: Nora Ephron, Mike Nichols, Elaine Stritch, Elaine Kaufman, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Jackie Kennedy.

Uptown, in bed: Barbara Walters, who let’s decide was sending good thoughts.

Diller talked about sharing a birthday with Liz and with Elaine Stritch, going to the ’21’ Club but departing for the Three Guys Diner after Stritch announced: “This place is a dump!”

Lesley Stahl read Liz’s bio from their website: “Favorite foods in order of importance, which Liz wrote out herself–chicken fried steak, Campbells’s Tomato Soup, cream gravy, Lay’s potato chips, peanut brittle, caviar, foie gras.” Stahl also pointed out that that Liz, a voracious reader and a closet intellectual. had raised $6 million for Literacy Partners among her many charities.

Joni Evans told the story of her 25 year crusade to get Liz to write her memoir. The first advance, returned, was $10K for $100K. Then Joni got her a $200K advance. Liz wound up sending the money back. “She said, Joni, honey I’m never going to write that book!” Finally, Evans became a literary agent and got Liz a solid offer for $1 million. She called Liz and told her. “She didn’t hesitate. She said, Don’t tell me you turned it down!”

Kudos to Renee Zellweger, who looked great and spoke with a lot of love about her email penpalship with Liz. And Bruce Willis, a bit subdued, who teared up remembering the plugs Liz gave him when she started out in theater and on “Moonlighting.”

It seemed like everyone in the theater went across the street and stuffed themselves into the 4th floor dining room at Sardi’s. There were more laughs and toasts. On the red and white invite McFadden placed Liz’s famous quote: “Gossip is just news running ahead of itself in a red satin dress.” But my favorite quote of Liz’s is one she told me right before taking a summer break in 2016: “Honey, I’m going to come back as a margharita!”

There would be so many fewer people in showbiz and writing about showbiz without Liz Smith, myself very much included. Lesley Stahl wasn’t the only today to remark that Liz was “nice.” Mike Wallace, her old friend, said it on “60 Minutes.” Her incredible run as the premier gossip columnist was only possible because she saw the big picture. She was nice. She cultivated celebrity and had a long fuse. She didn’t rush to judgment. She listened. I can only hope I’ve learned to apply a few of those attributes. Thank you, Lizzie, for everything.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

Read more

In Other News