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CNN Larry King Live
The Grande Dame of Gossip Dishes to Pat Sajak
Aired May 10, 2001 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAT SAJAK, GUEST HOST: Tonight, the grand dame of gossip. She knows the stars and their secrets, syndicated columnist and best- selling author Liz Smith for the hour. And she will take your calls, next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Liz Smith with us, and we're very excited about that, author of her memoir "Natural Blonde," which is doing very well, and the blond is holding up very nicely.
LIZ SMITH, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, good. And I figured you would like that, because you work with blonds all the time.
SAJAK: Exactly. Grand dame, I like that.
SMITH: It just means you are very old, and they don't quite know. You know, they can't say sex bomb, blonde bombshell, that kind of stuff, so...
SAJAK: Well, that's all right.
SMITH: I've graduated to grand dame.
SAJAK: It means you have been around the block a couple times, and there's nothing wrong with that.
SMITH: Well, I have.
SAJAK: This network, and all of them today, have been busy talking about an event out on the West Coast, the murder of Robert Blake's wife. And whenever a celebrity is involved in anything, obviously there is heightened awareness, but it is pretty bizarre what's happening. It seems to be getting more bizarre. Any thoughts, you hear anything, you know anything, you think anything?
SMITH: I don't know anything more than anybody else. But I was really struck today, reading about this woman. I would think that anybody who murdered her might have a good chance to get off if the -- if they were attacked on the basis of, you know, -- she was attacked, her character was attacked, which frequently happens to victims. And in fact, I think it happens to all of them.
SAJAK: Yes, it is a strange strategy, almost.
SMITH: Yeah, but you know what this case says to me is: as usual, everything that happens in Hollywood just seems to have this extra dimension to it. I'm sure that plenty of gruesome, weird crimes all over the country, but it seems like from the beginning of movie celebritydom, there were these murders, and incredible trials, and things like that, you know, going all the way back to the silents, to Mary Miles Minter and Thomas Ince and then the black -- remember, the Black Dahlia murders?
SMITH: I'm sure you read about them.
SAJAK: And always, always odd twists and turns.
SMITH: Right. And then, of course, the O.J. trial was the most bizarre thing of all. So, we should hope that we won't have to live through something like that again.
SAJAK: Yeah, well, I suspect there will be a few more developments before it's all over. There is -- there was an odd new strain of celebrity, which has developed in the last year, sort of a mutant variety. These are people who go on, like, "Survivor" and are forced to eat a woodchuck, and then the next day they're being interviewed by Bryant Gumbel.
Do you understand this? Can you explain this to me? Do you care about these folks?
SMITH: It's -- I don't care about them, and I don't watch those shows. But I think that the cult of celebrity is so rampant, so insane, it has gotten so out of hand, that...
SAJAK: Now, coming from you that is saying something.
SMITH: Well, the television has to keep creating these -- what I call semi-celebrities, or the people who have their 15 minutes and maybe they have five minutes more. And on the end of it, some of them have done pretty well for themselves.
SAJAK: But this is a total turnaround from way things used to be when the studios really controlled what we knew about celebrities, their image was tightly controlled. But in a way, I'm guessing now this new openness and this new tell-all stuff and this new inventing celebrities all the time, in a strange way might make your job more difficult, because how do you...
SMITH: Well, I think that...
SAJAK: ... get your niche with all that's going on?
SMITH: Well, I think that these people sort of vitiate the idea of celebrity, just as the fact that they are now so many gossip columns, so many infotainment shows and everything that has vitiated the power of gossip. Gossip isn't powerful.
It is omnipresent, but it isn't powerful the way it was in the days of Winchell, and then of course, Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons -- these people actually controlled things. Winchell made the stock market go up and down. The SEC, you know, passed a law against what he was doing.
SMITH: Hedda and Louella ruined careers, or made them just by mentioning somebody. That doesn't happen anymore.
SAJAK: So, no individual has this kind of power, not even any group anymore.
SMITH: So, maybe that is a good thing, because generally, when people get too much power, they go nuts.
SAJAK: There is also -- throughout Hollywood, they talk about some of the murders and crimes that have been -- involved celebrities over the years. There have also been, as far as drugs and alcohol, and I don't know how show business compares to the population at large statistically, but certainly when people we know are involved in it, again, there is this heightened awareness.
And you can understand how people around the country shake their heads when they hear about Robert Downey or Darryl Strawberry, who seem to have so much, and all this money, and get involved in this stuff.
SMITH: Well, remember the joke a few years ago, where they said: "Cocaine was God's way of telling you, you are making too much money." I think that that remained true down through all of the Internet millionaires. People who had too much money, too much leisure time, or looking to be diverted all the time.
I really doubt that the people in Hollywood are that much different from the rest of the world. But what happens is they are in highly elevated positions, and they are very attractive, usually, and lots of people are running after them, and...
SAJAK: But I'm right to say there's nothing new about this. I mean, in your book, you talk a lot about seeing a lot of that early on, and did you participate in any of this, these nefarious...
SMITH: Sex, drugs, rock'n'roll?
SAJAK: Sex, drugs, rock'n'roll.
SMITH: Well, I hope I did. I mean, I have been alive a long time. I had -- I had my little experimental moment with recreational drugs, and I was a total flop at it. I mean, I just wasn't any good at it.
SAJAK: You fell asleep or what?
SMITH: Well, in the book I tell a thing about taking LSD. And I was in my apartment, safely in my apartment, with a wonderful friend of mine named Holland Taylor who is an actress -- maybe you know her, she won an Emmy for "The Practice" a couple years ago. And we took this stuff, and we were waiting for a guy to come over, and he had given it to us, so -- we thought it was something else, that it would just make us feel good, and instead it was like the walls of the building fell down on the side, so we got in middle of the room so we wouldn't fall off the 33rd floor. It was ludicrous. I never did that again.
SAJAK: Is it that for your experiences? No Timothy Leary here?
SMITH: No, I mean, I wasn't the type. I wasn't the type.
SAJAK: We keep using the word "gossip." What is it?
SMITH: Well, the dictionary says that "gossip" is unsubstantiated rumor, that's just one way to describe it. I think a lot of gossip is simply, you know, tell me a story. I see you, and I say: "Pat, sit down, I'm going to tell you something going that's going to knock your socks off." And in that way, I make myself more interesting to you, and I make myself more important to you than if I just said: "Oh, you look wonderful, I love your tie."
SMITH: ... so you like the other better. And we learn a lot from gossiping. We learn what we think. We learn how to -- we learn the parameters of our own morals, what we -- oh, well, I would never do that, you know, or, well, why did they do that. You know, you learn a lot about what you think, what you believe.
SAJAK: Well, we are just getting started with Mary Elizabeth Smith here, and we're going to find out more, and we'll let her knock our socks off a few times in the next hour, and take your calls a little bit later on too. Stay with us on LARRY KING LIVE.
SAJAK: Back with Liz Smith on LARRY KING LIVE. We are talking about how much celebrityhood is out there now, and that is that is the talk --.
SMITH: Too much, maybe.
SAJAK: But also there seem to be -- there seem to be fewer boundaries in terms of what will be talked about and explored, and not only in show business but in politics. There is a lot of talk that in political circles that, for example, that people are afraid to enter the arena now because if there is something they did 40 years ago it is going to be out there and a scandal all over again.
I mean Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, is apparently now backing away from a gubernatorial run and people wonder well, is he afraid of, you know, having to relive his past again. What do you think about all that?
SMITH: Well, I think we can't deny that times of mores and morals have changed enormously since, let's just say, not so long ago, but the time of John F. Kennedy, you know, when President Kennedy was in office, people talked a lot about that he was sexy, and had liaisons with ladies he wasn't married to and so forth, but none of this stuff was printed. None of it was printed until after he was long gone.
And slowly, all, as we have become -- what, I don't know, more secular more profane -- we have...
SAJAK: We're less easily shocked, it seems.
SMITH: That is right, and so you can say things in newspapers, and on television, that, when I first was with NBC, I remember they wouldn't let us say, this wasn't so long ago, they wouldn't let us say "The Best Little Whorehouse In The World," or whatever the name of that show was, and we had to say the best little "hoo" house or something like that, you know, silly. So there is a lot of more you can say now, and I guess people just keep pushing the envelope. But there are, I think, matters of taste, in particular...
SAJAK: So what are your boundaries, I mean, do you have a set of rules you live by in terms of what you'll talk about, and what you won't, what's off limits what's not, or is it case by case?
SMITH: Yes, I think it's more case by case. I think when you start saying, this is my rule, you know, something might happen. I mean somebody might, you might hear that they had a bomb plot, and it might be in the nations interest for you to reveal the most disgusting thing you can think of about them.
But, I would say, yes, it goes every day, or on the ethical dilemma, if you write about other people's lives, if you are a journalist, or if you are a commentator on television, you have to show some concern about what you are doing. And try to have some -- my boundary's's more about taste I think than...
SAJAK: But celebrities do bite back now and then if they're (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I mean, Tom Cruise has a big lawsuit now against...
SMITH: Tom Cruise has had very good luck just suing the hell out of people that say things he doesn't...
SAJAK: Well, you know, it is not a bad idea, but do you get advisers who say, look, don't make a fuss about it because it will go away then. What do you think is the best strategy?
SMITH: I think for him, he probably did the best thing for himself. He is a major romantic leading man. His whole career is based on his sex appeal and everything. And for him to let people say that he is impotent or couldn't father a child, or that he is gay, or something, he may feel these things are hurtful to his career.
SAJAK: So now the fellow made these claims now says he didn't make those claims and now they can go after the paper.
SMITH: But you know, he has won a lot of his suits. He's given money away to charity. I sort of admire his guts. SAJAK: Are, it seems to me, maybe it's a function of age, I don't know, but when I look at the celebrities from the '40s and '50s, they seem a little bigger than life than they do now. Is it just because we didn't see them on Entertainment Tonight every night?
SMITH: That is partly it. But they were bigger than life because the studios had made them that way. They came along, out of the cornfields of Iowa, or wherever, and the studio gave them a couple of bucks a week, which they had never seen before. Then the studio taught them how to wear clothes, and fence, and ride horses, and smoke cigarettes, and speak a little French, and, turn them out like a great glossy finishing school, and, boy, when they got out of that, they lasted, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Joan...
SAJAK: So, as a reporter, how did you break through that vail?
SMITH: I don't think -- when they were big -- I don't think people did break through the veil very much. And the studios protected them. And if anything went wrong, you called Howard Strickland, and he went out and went to the police and paid off everybody and nothing came of it. You had to really do something bad to -- like Errol Flynn, you know, to, remember, they used to say get Jerry Giesler. He was the famous lawyer that got them all out of trouble.
But as I say, times have changed. And now these performers don't have anything between them and the rest of the world except maybe some big agent. And then they hire these big press agents to stand between them.
SAJAK: Miss Smith is the author of "Natural Blonde." It's a great read, and lots of wonderful stories in it and we will talk about more of those in a moment. Stay with us on LARRY KING LIVE.
SAJAK: Back with Liz Smith. Good to have you here, talking about celebrities and gossip and all that stuff. Could you live in Los Angeles, or are you so New Yorkerized, that...
SMITH: Well, I'm a pretty hard-nosed New Yorker, I guess after living my youth in Texas, but sure, I can live in Los Angeles. I have lived in Los Angeles for three months at a time. And, I have a lot of friends there, and I love going there. I like it. Let me just say how much I love your show. And how -- and how I consider it the equivalent of a great big martini after a hard day's work.
SAJAK: Thank you. I'm happy to be an olive in your life. I appreciate that.
SMITH: Thank you.
SAJAK: You know the difference between, New York and Los Angeles actually you summed it up, and a difference between your life and mine, perhaps is, I was reading your online column and you were talking about Keely Smith opening at Feinsteins at the Regency, and it's great to have her back. She's a wonderful performer. So here I'm thinking, the last time Liz Smith sees Keely Smith is at the Regency Hotel on Park Avenue. The last time I saw Keely Smith it was at a car wash in Encino. So it's the difference in our lives. What does this say about each of us?
SMITH: Well you know, occasionally you see someone in real life in New York like on the street or in a taxi.
SAJAK: I feel better knowing that. We are talking about some of the great stars. There's a wonderful story in your book about Frank Sinatra. who...
SMITH: Terrifying story, actually.
SAJAK: You had a shakey -- you had a shakey relationship...
SMITH: Well, he try tried to kill me.
SAJAK: Well that's shaky.
SMITH: You know, I mean, I had criticized him for attacking people, like Barbara Walters, and I said why is he always taking women? Why doesn't he attacking some great big guy like Peter Jennings who is taller than he is? So he started denouncing me from world stages. And thousands of people had never heard of me, suddenly heard of me. He did me a lot of good, actually.
SAJAK: Sometimes it is good to have an enemy like that.
SMITH: And so we became quote "enemies," but I didn't, I mean I didn't feel any animosity toward him,and he just said terrible things about me. He said I was fat, and old and ugly and if you hung a pork chop outside of your car I would run down the street barking.
SMITH: Then he said, I preferred Debbie Reynolds to Burt Reynolds which wasn't true, but anyway. Actually, I like Burt a lot. And he just couldn't get off of it. But he had a lot of friends that were telling him he was mistaken.
SAJAK: That you were OK.
SMITH: Yes, that I was OK and if he knew me he wouldn't feel that way. So finally, one of these people, Cindy Zion (ph), a reporter, effected this meeting between us. And I just kept saying to Cindy, he is not going to meet with me. I'm an insignificant person, actually, in his life. He's the biggest star in the world, the greatest talent. I honestly thought he was. I do. I think...
SAJAK: Despite those comments...
SMITH: I always thought he was one of the greatest talents.
SAJAK: So a meeting is arranged.
SMITH: We had the meeting in this crummy, horrible place called Jimmy Westins (ph), that no longer exists.
SAJAK: You must have been frightened to death getting ready...
SMITH: I spent all afternoon changing my clothes, trying to look better, and he shot out of this booth when we got there and he said, oh, I'm so glad you came, he said. Call me Francis, call me Francis. I said, thank you, Mr. Sinatra.
SMITH: I couldn't call him "Francis."
SAJAK: Of course not.
SMITH: But anyway, we had a wonderful time, we sat down, we never referred to our differences. And we started talking about music. And then we talked about Ava Gardner, who I had known slightly, and he had known not slightly. And, we talked about Lena Horne, and Irving Berlin, and all kinds of great -- I don't know, just stuff that -- he was only...
SAJAK: Did the relationship sustain? Were you pals?
SMITH: We remained friends until he died. Every day, I prayed he would never do anything bad, that I would have to write about again.
SAJAK: Because you don't want to keep ordering pork chops.
SMITH: No, I didn't want to get back into that.
SAJAK: More with Liz Smith in a moment; stay right there. We'll be taking your calls later.
SAJAK: Pat Sajak in for Larry King tonight, with Liz Smith, the author of "Natural Blonde." What do we call you, the Grand Dame of Gossip?
I'm taking that with me. you had another Sinatra story you wanted to tell.
SMITH: I was just thinking that one night. I was 21 after he and I "made up," and I feel his presence at my side, and I'm talking to this man, woman, whatever -- it's him! I look up like that; there he is. He's in a tuxedo, he looks, he said, weren't you going to come over and say hello to me?
And I almost faint, so I introduced him to these people. And he said, you've got to come and see my show. So he sends me four tickets to Radio City. This was like one of his last appearances.
So then he called me afterward. Did you like the show? Who did you bring? I said Barbara Walters, she was his great nemesis, and he burst out laughing, and said that is great. That is great, Liz.
SAJAK: I'm glad...
SMITH: If you got him when he was in a good humor and all that, he had a wonderful sense of humor. He was very -- he aspired I think to be an intellectual. He could actually read without moving his lips.
SAJAK: He did have a great variety of interests, way beyond...
SAJAK: Another star you had an interesting involvement with was Rock Hudson. There is....
SAJAK: ...you talk about involving potential blackmail and all that. What was that all about?
SMITH: I knew Rock Hudson for a long time, and I never paid any attention to stories about his being gay, because he didn't strike me that way. I mean, I knew him in a superficial, social way.
And then I was in Rome while he was making "Farewell to Arms," and he took me out, and told me all about his unhappy marriage and so forth. So I'm buying all this stuff, and I'm going home at night, writing "This Is Rock Hudson" on a little notepad by my bed, because it was impossible to know him, to not have a crush on him.
And the years went by, and we remained friends, but I never had an intimate conversation with him. And then one day he called me and said, Liz, there is a woman who is trying to blackmail me and she is going to sell a story to -- I don't know -- it was the "Enquirer" or the "Star," unless I pay her $150,000. What should I do? And he didn't say what the story was.
SAJAK: You didn't know the nature of it.
SMITH: I guess we were just, by then, understanding each other. So I said, well, wait a minute. And I looked in my file and I had a big file on this woman, I knew a lot of bad things about her, that I never would have printed. I said, I will send you something.
I sent him the file, he showed the file to the woman and she just faded away.
SAJAK: Was that a dilemma for you, getting...
SMITH: Well, since it was a reverse kind of blackmail, I guess it wasn't too -- ethical of me to have done that. But it didn't do anyone any harm, and kept her from blackmailing him. It kept her from committing a crime, because it is against the law to, you know, threaten somebody like that, to extort. That is extortion.
SAJAK: You must get, on daily a basis, people sit down and talk with you and the first thing they say is now, I'm going to tell you something...
SMITH: Don't print this!
SAJAK: Don't print it!
First of all, do you honor that? I presume you do.
SMITH: I do, I mean -- I can't get things told to me in a social situation or something. I try to talk them out of it. We have a story tomorrow that the one of my bosses Mr. Rupert Murdoch and his new wife and Wendy are expecting a baby, and I have been sitting on this story for -- weeks.
SAJAK: At whose behest?
SMITH: Well, when I found out about it, I hardly was going to break the story, Mr. Murdoch's own newspaper the "New York Post", without at least asking him. And asking him if it were true.
So, when I asked him, he said, well, I would consider it a great favor if you didn't print this.
SAJAK: If you didn't work for Mr. Murdoch, how would that have come down?
SMITH: I might not have even then, because I would have asked him in any case if it were true. How would I know whether she was expecting? He said yes, it was a true. Couldn't I wait just a minute, because it was so early? And that I understand. I mean, you know, women are...
SAJAK: Things happen...
SMITH: They are nervous. And so, today, we let this story go. So, you know, usually, I try to -- I did kind of, in a way, I talked him into it. I just didn't get to print it quite as early is a would like to.
SAJAK: You mentioned the "Post" and your syndicated all over the country.
SMITH: Right. I'm in another great newspaper in New York, the "Newsday." I'm in the "Staten Island Advance" one.
SAJAK: She's everywhere.
SMITH: I'm like horse manure in a rodeo, so there you go.
SAJAK: There's an interesting thought, and while we dwell on that, we'll take a break and be back, with Liz Smith. Stay with us.
SAJAK: Back with Liz Smith, "Natural Blonde" is the book, coming out in paperback in September.
SMITH: September, right. This thing is still running, though.
SAJAK: I would guess that sitting down and writing a memoir is probably a good exercise for anyone, even if they're not going to have it published.
SMITH: Oh, absolutely.
SAJAK: Must be kind of a catharsis.
SMITH: You know, when Hyperion asked me, they were chasing me to romance me to write, and I said I can't, I can't. I don't remember anything. I never kept any diaries. I don't have my letters.
SAJAK: So you had to research your own life, really.
SMITH: Yeah, and so they kept offering me more and more money, and finally they offered me so much money my memory improved.
SAJAK: That's amazing, huh?
SMITH: And I started really concentrating, and I was surprised what came back to me. And I would recommend it for anybody as a catharsis.
SAJAK: So money can affect memory. I didn't -- this is a medical breakthrough.
SMITH: Absolutely. Let's don't beat around the bush.
SAJAK: We're going to take a few calls, and we'll start with Pomeroy, Washington. You have a question for Liz Smith?
CALLER: Yeah, why do you think that Hollywood has been so forgiving to Robert Downey Jr., and do you think they'll continue to be?
SAJAK: I mean, is that an enabling kind of thing, that the town does?
SMITH: Oh, a fascinating question, isn't it? I guess it is sort of enabling. But I think that the point of view of most people in Hollywood is that he is sick, not that he is a criminal. And I would take that view myself, that we would do better to spend our money trying to rehabilitate people or leave them alone in their privacy to do whatever they liked. I just don't see this as a criminal thing.
SAJAK: Is it tougher or easier on a celebrity involved in a situation like that?
SMITH: Well, I guess it's tougher, but then they have money to -- and the fame and everything, you know. And this guy, one of the reasons this guy is forgiven so much is that he is so talented. If he were just a dope, nobody would care, but he's a wonderful actor.
SAJAK: Do you know Denise Rich at all?
SMITH: I have never met Mrs. Rich, because her famous press agent, Bobby Zarem, doesn't like me, and so I never got invited to any of her parties.
SAJAK: This list is growing.
SMITH: And as a result I kept out of harm's way.
SAJAK: How about the Clintons?
SMITH: I do know the Clintons. I know Mrs. Clinton better than I know the president. And I'm a sort of a yellow dog Democrat, voted for them, and voted for Mrs. Clinton for the Senate. I think we'll see the Clintons make an incredible recovery and bounce right back.
SAJAK: Oh, they're going to be around a while. I think we can pretty well assume that.
SMITH: And they're going to make a lot of money, and maybe that will calm them down, because money has been a big problem for them -- not having any.
SAJAK: Yeah, I have no evidence to back this up, but I predicted to friends at least four years ago, that when the president got out of office -- Clinton, that within two years of getting out of the office, he would be living in Hollywood and have his own talk show. I stand by that prediction.
SMITH: Well, I wouldn't a bit surprised.
SAJAK: I think he'd probably be very good at it.
SMITH: And you know, we're living in an era where anything can happen, and really does, frequently.
SAJAK: Sometimes you think there's a scriptwriter just doing all this stuff. Don't you (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It's a very strange time.
SMITH: Is it the scriptwriter up there in the sky or the one down below?
SAJAK: I'm not sure. I'm not sure. It's a very good question, though. Fort Lauderdale, Florida, you have a question for Liz Smith?
CALLER: Yes. Hi, there. Of all the stories that have tumbled off of the tip of your pen over these years, who is the one person you would have liked to sit down with over dinner, and gotten a real story?
SAJAK: Someone that you haven't had a chance to do that with. SMITH: Well, I'd like to get the real story of Tom and Nicole. This is a story that's just -- you know, I went to a society party the other night with big businessmen, billionaire tycoons wearing the bespoke suits, and all these guys came up to me, these millionaires, and said: What's the real story with Tom and Nicole?
And I'm looking at them thinking, "What do they care?" I mean, no, it'd be great to know their real story but I don't know if we ever will. We'll know the story they want us to know.
SAJAK: Yeah. Well, that must be a -- that's a danger you always have, because people are always feeding you stuff, and they're feeding you what they want people to hear. And you have to cut through the clutter, I presume.
SMITH: You really have to evaluate the motive of the person telling you anything. So that obviates a lot of stuff right off the bat.
SAJAK: I'm sure. I'm sure you've learned your lessons over the years.
SMITH: Oh, I've made my mistakes. I have had mistakes.
SAJAK: Time for another break and we'll be back with more with Liz Smith, right here on LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
SAJAK: We're talking about celebrities and stuff. You know, I'm trying to find out the scoop. You know what's a nice story, and I just -- sometimes they reach up and it just tickles your heart. And two of the nicest people in the world, Suzanne Pleshette and Tom Posten...
SAJAK: ... who are connected to Bob Newhart through their series, but they both lost their spouses not all that long ago, and now they're getting married. They're marrying each other.
SMITH: She is one of the most delightful women in the world, and also the most underrated actress in Hollywood.
SAJAK: She's terrific.
SMITH: She's really good...
SAJAK: And Tom is one of the funniest men in the universe.
SMITH: And I must have known him since 1950 or something, when he was a friend of my pal's who wrote "The Fantastics."
SAJAK: Anyway, I wish them well. I think that's a nice thing.
Certain celebrities who have gone on to the other side continue to fascinate us. Some people die and you mourn them, and you admire their films. But a kind of almost cult grows up around them. I'm thinking of people like Marilyn Monroe, and James Dean and Elvis Presley. What sets these people apart?
SMITH: Well, they died young, you see.
SAJAK: Is that part of it?
SMITH: I think that part of it -- well, I think they were pretty great. I mean, really unique, the three that we've mentioned were certainly unique. And then they die young. And sort of, I mean, it's tragic and shocking.
SAJAK: Did you know any or all of them?
SMITH: I didn't know any of them.
SAJAK: You had never...
SMITH: No, I never met any of them.
SAJAK: Who would you have like to have...
SMITH: I did know Marilyn Monroe's last press agent, Patricia Newcombe, who maybe you know. She lives in Los Angeles. So I knew a lot about Marilyn from her. And it was her theory that Marilyn would never have killed herself, and didn't. So this just, you know, adds more -- Marilyn is bigger than she could have ever been if she had lived.
SAJAK: It is strange how that happens.
SMITH: And they are making millions selling her images.
SAJAK: And you believe that, for example, those three that we mentioned...
SMITH: Well, I think they're about the biggest three...
SAJAK: Do you believe that they -- had they lived, do you...
SMITH: Well, I think they might have gone on working, being effective. And they would have remained big stars, in the same way Elizabeth Taylor has remained a big star and a big name. But they would have grown old before our eyes. It's partly that they'll never grow old for us. Even Elvis, when they showed the two stamps of Elvis, they asked public vote, did they want the young Elvis or the bloated Elvis, I think they voted for the young Elvis.
SAJAK: The bloated. That's a good way to put it. We're going to go to Athens, Ohio for another question.
SMITH: OK, great.
CALLER: I'd like to know why we don't hear about some of the top named celebrities a whole lot, like Al Pacino or Robert De Niro.
SAJAK: Well, listen, there are people who are out there all the time, and there are people who have managed to stay back from the limelight a little bit in their personal lives.
SMITH: Well, you just named two people who are extremely private, and they don't suffer fools gladly and they don't fool around with the press. And...
SAJAK: There's nothing wrong with that.
SMITH: No, and they just remain sort of private. And whatever leaks out about them, is rare so -- I think that is smart of them. They remain more interesting, more mysterious to us, that is partly why we loved all of those big stars in the 40s.
SAJAK: The marketing machinery is so strong now and geared up so much, that when an actor has a new movie coming out, the trick is not finding this actor somewhere, the trick is avoiding him. Everywhere you turn, he is there plugging away.
SMITH: And also, it is only about the movie. There are really no people -- I know that there is a theory that there is hype behind everything, and everything is made up, and all this stuff -- I don't think that is true. I don't think there is nearly as much hype about individual people, that they are trying to get themselves into columns and get themselves built up. They are very selective about what they do.
They all want the cover of "Vanity Fair," and they want "Vogue," and they want "Harper's Bizarre," and they are very -- you know, they are very picky after that.
SAJAK: This may be a tough question to ask of someone who works for...
SMITH: There are no tough questions.
SAJAK: .. for a paper owned by Rupert Murdoch of whom we spoke earlier, but more and more of this business is run by fewer and fewer people.
SMITH: And that is worser and worser for the public.
SAJAK: Do you feel the impact of that in your work?
SMITH: Oh, I think that this, you know, multiplicity of people owning everything, Viacom, CBS, the whole thing -- I'm not pointing anything out in particular, I just don't think it is good idea, and I thought that there was once a great fight in America in '30s to break monopolies, and I don't like the idea of monopolies.
I don't think ABC should own Disney. I don't -- I mean, Disney should own ABC, I don't...
SAJAK: And rules have been relaxed even further, where you can own more than one network now.
SMITH: I don't think it's good that AOL and Time and CNN are all owned by one person. I like to see more -- I don't know what I'm talking about here.
SAJAK: And I don't want to pretend to be kissing up to this network, but I personally think it's just swell. That was Liz saying she -- I think...
SMITH: I will never work again in television, so it is OK.
SAJAK: I think you will be just fine.
SMITH: Because I'm a grand dame now.
SAJAK: Yeah. Is it "grand dame" or grand dame? I have no...
SMITH: They can't photograph grand dames, except through linoleum, you know.
SAJAK: We have graduated from (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Back with more with the "grand dame" or the grand dame in just a minute or...
SMITH: Depends on how French we are tonight.
SAJAK: This from a woman who has written a book called "Natural Blonde," and there she was.
SMITH: Well, actually I was a natural brunette, you know.
SAJAK: If people asked me to -- as you were growing up in Texas, who would have been your idol in movies -- they said for me to guess, I would have to go down a very long list before I got to name Tom Mix, the cowboy star.
SMITH: Oh, when I was five or six, he was just my idol, I loved him. And I used to march up and down in the driveway, shooting off my cap pistol, saying: "I'm Tom Mix," and my mother would get -- just couldn't stand it. She'd run out: "Get in the house and shut this up immediately. You are not Tom Mix, you are Mary Elizabeth. Put on a little dress before daddy comes home."
SAJAK: Is there a lot -- is Mary Elizabeth still in there, or has Liz taken over?
SMITH: Oh, sure, are you kidding? No, I really, I have a few friends who call me Mary Elizabeth, and it gives me a big kick.
SAJAK: We talked about Elizabeth Taylor earlier, one of the great names, and we didn't mention this Burton fellow that you, I take it...
SMITH: Well, they were -- you know, I guess...
SAJAK: It was tempestuous, was it not?
SMITH: It was tempestuous. And I guess I did more stories on them than anybody in the world has ever done on a couple. I wrote about a story a year about them for 10 or 15 years, and I traveled with them all over the world. So, became sort of their creature, and I thought they were a great story. They were so colorful and crazy, and...
SAJAK: It was -- that was a less celebrity-driven time, and yet they were out there all the time.
SMITH: Well, that was because they had shocked everybody so by having this blatant adulterous love affair.
SAJAK: It's odd, because what they did would have been pretty well dismissed today as just sort of business as usual.
SMITH: Exactly. Oh, there would be a little bit about it, but you know, she was denounced by the Vatican, and a lot of series things happened.
SAJAK: What's the biggest story you ever broke, do you think?
SMITH: I don't know. I mean, my favorite was to write about Judith Exner, who was John F. Kennedy's mafia girlfriend, as he always called the poor lady.
SAJAK: You did a big story...
SMITH: I did a big story in "Vanity Fair" on her, and I got close to her, and I thought she got a really bad rap from the world's press -- and she is still getting it. They are still -- they're going to do her biography, or her story as a movie, and she said before she died: "Liz, I didn't approve of this. Just remember."
SAJAK: Fargo, North Dakota is on the line, and you have a question for Liz Smith.
SMITH: Oh, I love Fargo.
CALLER: Yes, I had heard that when Roddy McDowall died that he had written an autobiography, but that it couldn't be made public until 100 years after his death. And I'm wondering if that is true, and what Liz thinks of that.
SMITH: Well, I -- it was his story, and if that is how he felt, and he thought that there would still be anyone alive in 100 years that would be offended -- I think that he was very much a person of his time, of the Rock Hudson...
SAJAK: Well, he knew everybody.
SMITH: ... era. He knew everybody. He was delightfully popular, particularly in his old age. People loved him in Hollywood. I think it was just his effort to be more discrete. He was a sort of a gent, and he didn't want to let it all hang out.
SAJAK: There is not much discretion these days when it comes to the tell-all books. Now, your book is a lot of fun, and fairly gentle. I mean, you take a few pokes at some people you think deserve them, but was that an issue as you went through this about who...
SMITH: I just did the only thing I could do. It is not that I write or do my column that way because I'm -- have so much good taste and high ethics, and all that stuff, it's just that I can't do that other stuff. I'm not a -- not really a sort of a cut-throat writer. I think I'm really quite a lousy gossip columnist when it gets right down to it.
SAJAK: Well, that's an interesting review.
SMITH: I have got a lot of news, but I don't want to, you know, wound people too much.
SAJAK: Who is the biggest living star in Liz Smith's mind?
SMITH: The biggest?
SMITH: Oh, my God, well, I guess it is Tom Cruise, but not to me.
SAJAK: And what about some -- not necessarily a working actor, but I mean, I know you are a great admirer of Katherine Hepburn's. Would you put...
SMITH: Katherine Hepburn is just an absolute class by herself, the last of the great stars, voted number one, the number one movie star of all time.
SAJAK: Wait a minute, speaking of -- aren't you a national monument? Where is it? Let me check my notes here. Weren't you named something?
SMITH: I'm a living landbar.
SAJAK: The Conservatory of New York City is named -- a living -- it's like interviewed the statue of liberty.
SMITH: That's another thing like grand dame.
SAJAK: Well, at least it's living landbar.
SMITH: It means that you have virtually outlived your usefulness.
SAJAK: I don't think so. More with Liz Smith in a minute or two, don't go away.
SAJAK: Already in our last segment with Liz Smith, author of "Natural Blonde" which will be out in paperback in September, it has done very well.
You not only cover the beautiful people in the beautiful life, but you are part of it. Lets face it: I mean, you are out there, you go to these events, and these people are your friends. How do you -- is there a natural wall that is there, either on your part or on their part? Because they know when they set down with you, you can be pals, but, you know, something I say might end up in your column.
SMITH: I don't know, I don't know the answer to that. I just go, and if they don't want to tell me anything, they don't. If they do, and then they say don't print it, then I try talk them into it, and I point out to them if they don't let me print it, somebody will print something much worse. So -- and I'm pretty good at talking them into it.
SAJAK: Are you really?
SAJAK: So the -- talking about some of the great old stars.
SAJAK: And I mean old in terms of when they were working. Which is not to say there aren't great young stars around right now.
SMITH: There are all kinds.
SAJAK: Yeah. I know you are particularly are fond of Julia Roberts, who is a wonderful.
SMITH: I love Julie. I just did a big story on her -- cover story on her for "Good Housekeeping." And she was marvelous, and I think it is first story she gave after winning the Oscar.
SAJAK: And Madonna pops up in your...
SMITH: I like Madonna; I admire her. She has lots of guts, and she is very innovative, and a smart girl.
SAJAK: It is interesting, people who write their memoirs, put out a book are always, always surprised that a chapter, a line, a sentence, something in it gets picked up and that begins to be the focus of what people talk about in the book. And you find yourself talking about it. And there were a couple of things in your book like that. Was that a surprise to you how people perceived it, what they glommed on to or what they didn't?
SMITH: Yeah, well, there was a lot of emphasis on my aberrant sex life, which happened back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.
SAJAK: When you wrote that... SMITH: I never even thought about it. I thought it wasn't -- didn't hurt...
SAJAK: We should probably clarify by aberrant, you mean...
SMITH: I had been attracted to a few ladies in my time, in addition to marrying every man I ever met. And...
SAJAK: I didn't want people to hear aberrant, that it would be livestock or something.
SAJAK: I'm just trying to save you some grief here.
SMITH: You are so right.
Anyway, I was amazed that that got so much attention. I didn't really care. But -- it was it is -- but you know, they always look for the things...
SAJAK: The headline or the...
SMITH: This will shock you, sit down.
SAJAK: Have you heard...
SAJAK: Hold on to your hat.
SAJAK: What do you hear from friends who are in the book? Anyone hold any grudges?
SMITH: I only had one person mad at me because I misspelled her -- I misspelled her husband's name. But, outside of that, I got very good response from people, people seemed to like being in the book.
SAJAK: Do you still like doings this? It has been a long run and you could easily sit back and...
SMITH: What else would I do?
SAJAK: You go to parties, you do that anyway.
SMITH: I go down to Florida, count my money.
SAJAK: You do enjoy it.
SMITH: I love it.
SAJAK: The actual labor of it?
SMITH: You know what? I'm just like an old fire dog, lying under the fire truck and the bell rings and I run out. I want to go. I want to go and see if I can get a story.
SAJAK: Do you still, as you -- when you go out and go to the parties and go to the events, are you uncomfortable at all with your own celebrity hood because, again, it is...?
SMITH: I have just the right amount of celebrity hood. Not too much, not too little, and people feel they know me because they saw me in New York on television for years and years, so, they all yell, Hi, Liz, you know, truck drivers yell at me, Hi Liz.
SAJAK: If I asked you now for, as we are in our waning moments here, for any sort of scoop, you got anything you can share...
SMITH: I gave you Mr. Murdoch's baby. Is that nothing?
SAJAK: I didn't mean to imply that.
That was a good one. Are you working on anything? Is there something big on the horizon?
SMITH: Every minute, every minute.
SAJAK: You're not going to tell me a darn thing.
SMITH: Nothing is happening right now, I've got to get out here tonight, leave here, go and make something happen.
SAJAK: We'll let you go.
The "New York Post", the "Newsday," and syndicated all over the country, the book is called "Natural Blonde", it really is a delightful read.
And before I say an official goodbye to you -- and I will be around here for the next couple days -- I also want to thank Larry King and his staff for making me feel very comfortable around here. It is a terrific operation and they -- Larry gave me the use of his microphone, though I don't actually think it is plugged in. But -- it is a prop. Am I not supposed to give that away? I didn't know that.
In any event, my thanks to all of them.
SMITH: You haven't come up on the bankrupt part of the "Wheel" yet. You are OK.
SAJAK: I may be close.
Liz, it was delightful having you here and long may you continue your work on -- use a computer?
SMITH: Yeah, I use a computer. I prefer to write with a feather, but it doesn't -- it is not popular.
SAJAK: Doesn't work.
Liz Smith, continue reading her, continue watching this. Pat Sajak for Larry King. Thanks for watching and we'll see you tomorrow night. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com