Awards of Courage
Honoring with Pride 2007 Honoree
Liz Smith is a native-born Texan who used to go to Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movies during the Depression and yearn for the bright lights of Broadway. Eventually, she grew up, graduated from the University of Texas, and in 1949 she arrived in New York, still wet behind the ears, with $50 to her name and no ticket home. The next morning, she leaned out of her modest hotel room window in Manhattan and asked her Texas friends, “Which way is town?” She had finally found the center of things and had no choice but to succeed.
In 1976, as the star columnist of the then big and healthy New York Daily News, she created an immediate sensation. Her column, which began back on page 47, was moved up within a few weeks, by popular demand, to page 6. She became an ornament of that paper and a new kind of gossip columnist—one known for wit, humor, and a sense of fair play.
Before her “overnight success” as a columnist, Liz had done everything in the world of publishing except set type. She was a proofreader for Newsweek, an editor for Modern Screen (the last of the “movie” magazines), a typist for Blue Cross, and a press agent on the road for Broadway shows. She was a producer for Mike Wallace on CBS radio, and for five years a producer for live TV at NBC. She worked for one famous person after another, from Mike Wallace to Dave Garroway to Igor Cassini to Allen Funt.
For five years in the 1960s, Liz was a ghostwriter for the Hearst society column “Cholly Knickerbocker.” She was then the entertainment editor of Cosmopolitan magazine for 11 years. At the same time she was a contract writer for Sports Illustrated, bringing to that male-oriented publication a touch of society, entertaining, and a woman’s point of view. When Sports Illustrated first put a beautiful young woman in a swimsuit on the cover—a move that caused a major sensation at the time—Liz wrote the accompanying article on nudity.
But success came with Liz Smith’s by-lined Daily News column, which put the newspaper on the map for 20 years. During that period she also had an 11-year stint on NBC-TV’s Live at Five. When the Daily News fell into new publishing hands, Liz joined the L.A. Times Mirror syndicate in 1991 and appeared daily in the popular New York Newsday for five years. For over a dozen years, Liz was published in Newsday (appearing in the Queens, Long Island, and New York City editions), the New York Post and the Staten Island Advance, making her the first and only columnist ever to appear in three metropolitan newspapers at the same time. She is now syndicated in more than 70 newspapers and her column can be found daily on the Internet.
Liz uses her column for all manner of good causes. On the occasion of her eightieth birthday, she raised $265,000 for The Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, she has helped generate at least $20 million to combat illiteracy, and she has raised more millions than she can count in the fight against AIDS.
In September 2000, her memoir, Natural Blonde, was published and immediately flew onto the New York Times bestseller list. She published a food memoir, Dishing, in 2005. Liz now looks forward to writing more books and to “keeping on keeping on” as a syndicated columnist.