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40th Anniversary

The Original Gossip Girl


Smith lists only Angelina Jolie as a star who approximates the glamorous complexity of the women from Hollywood’s so-called golden era. “After Angelina Jolie, please name somebody! There are a few people who are famous and very talented, like Charlize Theron, and there are a few distinguished actresses, like Annette Bening and Cate Blanchett, people whom you respect and admire, but all of them are slightly older. And if you can separate any of these younger people from one another, please do it for me! Because I have a real hard time knowing who’s what. I can’t fall in love with these television stars.”

As she sees it, the reason for the near-total implosion of celebrity culture is that actresses are now forced to play these pathetic, pedestrian, tacky soap-opera roles offstage in the tabloids. Jen talks to Brad! Angelina has puppies! “The worst thing that ever happened was Bonnie Fuller telling us that stars are just like us,” says Smith. “Because if there was ever anything that we didn’t want, it was for our stars to be just like us. We are all fucked up and we never realized our potential for looks or happiness or … anything.” She longs for the days before we knew too much. “I really miss it, because, honey, there is nothing to write about! There’s a mania now for examining people’s potential to become pregnant. We have to read about when they become pregnant, when they begin to show, when the baby is born, and then they sell the pictures. I am so bored with that.”

Back at Michael’s the crowd starts to thin, and suddenly Smith’s table feels like the center of the room. There are four or five people swirling around. Peggy Siegal is begging her to come to the U.S. Open to hang out in the locker room with Billie Jean King before she hits a few balls with Regis for an exhibition match. A very rich, very tan, very blonde, and very thin Terry Allen Kramer, the Broadway producer, swings by for the second time. When Liz tells her she’s “good-looking,” she swats the compliment away. “I’m just an old lady,” she says with the raspiest laugh north of Boca. There is also Felicia Taylor, a television personality, who says hello and kisses Liz on the cheek. “I’m not sure who she is,” says Smith, when she exits. “All blonde women begin to look alike after a certain age.”

Smith, lapping up the attention, looks like she’s in heaven. Let’s face it: Newspaper gossip columnists are all but obsolete; a 40-year diminishment of power has led to—wah, wah, wah—Perez Hilton. In fact, Smith points out a woman sitting at the bar right now who in about an hour will post a blog about who was at Michael’s today, just as she does every week. For Smith, reporting on lunch at Michael’s in her column would be pointless. But the old broad still has clout, especially with this crowd. “My column has become more historical, more philosophical,” she says. “I feel like I am a recording angel.” People like Barry Diller, Les Moonves, and even Smith herself are starting to think about their legacies. “The thing about people who last long enough to make a real impact, like I have,” she says, “is that you finally have to learn to live with the image you’ve created. It’s your legend. You don’t have to agree with everything said about you, but you can’t really quarrel with the cumulative thing.”

Throughout the lunch, Smith remains obsessed with Ovitz. Just who are those three guys he’s eating with? At one point, she calls the maître d’ over and asks him, but he doesn’t know either. Finally she says, “He may not even remember me. I haven’t seen him in years.” But now, as Smith, resplendent in bright-yellow jacket and matching shoes, is surrounded by well-wishers and hubbub, Ovitz stands up and looks over. A phony smiles spreads across his face. “Hello, Liz,” he says.

“Hi, Michael, how ya doing?” she says, batting her eyelashes. “You certainly brought the tone up here today.”

“Either that,” he says glumly, “or I brought it down.” As he walks out she giggles to herself, pleased that the game of chicken tilted toward her in the end. “It’s nice to have someone say hello when you thought they had a hit out on you.” She lets rip a big cackle. “Plus, I love that I was able to act like I hadn’t seen him. Because I hadn’t!”


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