wOw’s Gossip Girl takes Times Square — with a little help from celebrated photographer Annie Leibovitz
“TO BE OR not to be … but to be in Sardi’s!” This is something silly I wrote 35 years ago when the famous restaurant on West 44th Street put up a caricature of me to join theater immortals on their walls.
But these days, one would most likely say, “To be or not to be … but to be in Vanity Fair.” So there I am in the November issue with Johnny Depp on the cover. And, on my pages, I am astride a horse in Times Square with a divine writeup by my friend, the one and only Nora Ephron.
You can read all about this happening described elsewhere on wowOwow.com and in my syndicated newspapers, but I want you to see a private version written up for me by one Walter Owen.
Walter is a handsome devil who is married to Beth Kseniak, the PR director of the classiest magazine in America. (Beth is very lucky that I am so much Walter’s senior — or, there might be trouble.) Here’s Walter’s version of events. Just pretend you are there!
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“At dinner one night last month, the midnight hour fast approaching, Liz Smith announced that she would be climbing onto a horse in Times Square before dawn the next day, to have her photograph taken by Annie Leibovitz. The Leibovitz name, and the image of Liz on horseback in Times Square, brought murmurs of approval, followed quickly by dismay at the idea of waking up in five hours. And though Ms. Smith still looks 20 years shy of her 88 years, she had a hip replaced last spring. How would she get on a horse?
“Smith got that glint in her eye that has made her reports from society’s front lines irresistible for three-score years.
“‘You know,’ she said, ‘the queen of England doesn’t ride anymore. It’s not that she can’t ride. They can’t get her up on a horse. Now, someone needs to give her a push in the ass, and no one can touch the queen’s ass.’”
“Smith’s dinner companions assured her that Annie would have at least a half-dozen helpers on hand to lift her onto the saddle. ‘We’ll see,’ Smith said.
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“The next morning, in Father Duffy Square, there was a horse with a Western saddle, some wranglers, a slim young man with a big fat fan, more young men with reflection screens and various assistants.
“But no helpers. Arm in arm with Leibovitz, Smith came out of her trailer on 47th Street in fringed chaps, cowboy boots and a beige silk blouse with a red scarf at her throat. In no time she had handed her cane to an assistant and stepped onto a box set at the side of a Palomino named Blondie. Smith, not hindered by royal restrictions on her hindquarters, scissored her leg over the saddle’s horn with a lightness of motion that could have earned her a place in the Royal Ballet.
“The real work began once she was astride Blondie, who seemed not to hear the trucks and buses hurtling down Seventh Avenue just inches away. (A Bic lighter being flicked under Blondie’s nose to make her ears come forward for the camera did get her attention, if intermittently.) Smith gamely followed orders to rise in the stirrups, to lean forward, then back, then down, then up again; to raise the hat, to lower the hat, to hold its brim, to pinch its crown.
And so it went, the big fan blowing in Smith’s face as she lit up — as if for the first time, every time Leibovitz crouched with her camera and yelled out ‘Okay!’
“Told she was a good actress, Smith said, ‘I can’t act. But I can show off.’ And when she did, no one heard the trucks on Seventh Avenue.”
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THANK YOU, Walter Owen. You were my main ‘helper’ that morning. And I made up the story about the queen because frankly, I like being pushed gently and lifted by you onto Blondie.
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THE ONLY P.S. to this wonderful (for me) story is that photographer Leibovitz said to me before the shoot, “Liz, I feel I’ve never done you justice.”
I told her this wasn’t true — that years ago when Tina Brown was the head of Vanity Fair — Annie had snapped a lot of great pictures of me in a studio. At the very end she said, when I thought the shoot was over, “Would you pose with a gun?”
I said, being a smart aleck, “Of course! I’d carry a gun every day if it weren’t against the law!” This was b.s. but it sounded good. So way back, I had gone down in history with a gun shooting at poor celebrity photos pinned to the wall behind me.
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Twice in one lifetime! To be snapped by the great Annie Leibovitz! Once with a gun, once on a horse! I am beginning to wonder why they don’t vote for me for President in 2012 instead of Rick Perry. At least, I have never wanted to secede from the Union.
Click here to see the Vanity Fair article