Ever wonder what happens when two “gossips” do lunch? “Dish” was flying at La Colline on Capitol Hill the other afternoon from George W. to Brad Pitt – and nothing was off-limits when I lunched with the grande dame of the gossip world, Liz Smith.
We both ordered sauteed Dover sole, relevant because Liz’s clever new book, “Dishing,” is a collection of her observances of watching celebrities eat and developing philosophies about what they eat.
“I’m just glad I’m getting to eat. I don’t eat much,” Liz said. “If I’m doing an interview, I might not eat at all.”
Liz interviewed Jane Fonda a couple weeks ago on her new book, “My Life So Far.” “She just polished off plates of food. It was great, but I was nervous,” admitted Liz, who hadn’t seen her in years. “I wasn’t sure how it was going to go.”
“If you can’t eat anything except lettuce leaves, you lose all the fun and the savor of life,” Liz said.
Since the book came out, a new study said people who were a little bit overweight lived longer than people who were very thin or very fat.
“That made me laugh,” she said. When asked if she works out, “I’m too old to work out,” said Liz, who has the spunk and spark of a woman much younger than her chronological 82 years.
Her own kitchen gets such little use, she’s thought of turning it into a closet. Now, that’s her practical side.
“Is food an icebreaker?” I asked.
“I saw that it was,” Liz said. “Like now, this is so much nicer than going to a place where you’re just talking, but I think people and conversation are more important than what you’re eating.”
Liz developed a food philosophy over the years. “This mania for eating corresponds with the celebrity thing – it’s an obsession that people have with celebrities. Everybody bought into that – you can’t be thin enough. We all try to eat sensibly, but once a year or two you can eat something crazy or fattening. A lot of it has to do with the gargantuan portions everywhere. We don’t need to eat all that. So I figured I’d get blamed a lot for this. I couldn’t get on Oprah unless I talked some big star into going on with me, and I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to make somebody like Bruce Willis or Renee Zellweger go to Chicago for [to promote] my book.”
Liz lamented about the state of the gossip biz today: “Now gossip is watered down by the fact that there’s so much of it – whole magazines devoted to what women wear on the red carpet, and to catching them if they look like bums which they do most of the time if they’re not on the red carpet. They don’t seem to care how they look. It’s a far cry from the old days of Joan Crawford – she would never have gone out of the house unless she was tarted up to the nines.”
“Gossip flourishes in decadent societies,” Liz said. “I’m beginning to think this is one of them.
“It’s the tawdry jewel in the crown of free speech. Free speech is what is important; what’s not important is momentary public humiliation. I don’t think gossip columnists are beloved,” this exceptional woman told me. “It’s an oxymoron.”
On Elvis Presley: “I just loved writing about Elvis. I feel like he still lives.”
On Angelina Jolie: “I figure she sleeps with whomever she wants to. She doesn’t make any bones about it. She’s a very talented actress, so it’s interesting that she seems not to care about her image.”
On Jennifer Aniston: “She’s the new Debbie Reynolds; people love her.”
The syndicated columnist is currently in a contract dispute – arbitration – with Newsday in New York. When they recently dropped the column, the Los Angeles Times stopped using it, too. Liz is hoping that Variety or the Hollywood Reporter will pick it up in addition to the 70 papers on her list. “I like doing the column,” said Liz, who wouldn’t dream of retiring. “If I quit I think I’d disappear.”
“Do you think there’s anything you haven’t seen or heard?” I asked.
“I really don’t,” Liz said. “I’ve spent my life revisiting some of this stuff like we all did over Jack Kennedy. Caroline [Kennedy] Schlossberg won’t even look in my direction if she sees me. She’s such a big deal in New York that I always run into her. I’ve sat at dinner tables with her where she doesn’t even look in my direction … like I’m not there.”
On D.C.: “I think the life went out of Washington when Mrs. [Katharine] Graham died,” Liz said. “When Chappaquiddick happened, all bets were off for politicians. Now, Teddy has been rehabilitated – he’s a hard-working senator.”
On Texas and the first family: “I don’t see how the president can keep talking about Midland, Texas, like it is a garden spot. It’s a place you want to pass through – not much reason to stop,” says this Fort Worth native, who lived in Midland-Odessa during World War II. “I don’t consider him a real Texan.” Liz has never met President Bush but has met Mrs. Bush, whom she thinks probably has a positive influence on him, but “She’s so guarded – like the Stepford Wives.”
“I think the press is terrified of the Bush administration,” she said.
Liz visits her brother in Austin a lot. “Austin is still this hotbed of liberals. It’s the most progressive city in Texas. But they’re all alone. I’d say to Texas – don’t send us any more presidents.”