Liz Smith: ‘Tis the Season to be … Gossipy! (The Old Rick Perry Story)

Rick Perry/Christopher Hitchens

And more from our Liz: remembering a great journalist — Christopher Hitchens.

“THE MOST arresting news, at least as journalists tend to look at the matter these days, is what someone doesn’t want known. Hence all the current interest in investigative journalism, which is a dignified phrase for the activity of muckraking, whose goal is expose. Gossip is very close to, and all but perfectly congruent with, this conception of the news: it, too, is almost always about what someone doesn’t want known. In its baldest sense, gossip is revealing the secrets of others …”

So writes essayist Joseph Epstein in his fascinating new book “Gossip,” of which it may be said that one can open it anywhere and find another perfect quote about “envy, ambition, snobbery, friendship.” Mr. Epstein says himself that gossip is “eternal and necessary.”

I was at a dinner party the other night with extremely intelligent and up-to-date New Yorkers and someone brought up after dinner the rumor that presidential candidate Rick Perry is gay. I was struck with wonder. Vanity Fair has, this very month, in an article by Bryan Burroughs, discussed this rumor, relating how the Governor of Texas and his wife of more than 20 years had been forced finally, to discuss this rumor publicly, denying it officially. But this denial hadn’t reached our little social group, so there it was again, like a vampire, forever un-dead.

I felt fairly sure that Gov. Perry wouldn’t be attacking gays and emphasizing what a good Christian he is if he were hiding such a secret. He couldn’t hope to pull that off in this day and age, when gays are the biggest finger pointers of all at themselves and others. And I thought, after I read the magazine article — “Well, who cares?” and “Enough said.” Such a secret could not be kept these days and has already been denied. But, in shades of Herman Cain and his denials, some people in the public eye seem genuinely nuts.

Society always has to have something to talk about. So, better an old rumor than nothing to say after dinner.

Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe, Dominick Dunne, Rex Reed, Walter Winchell, Barbara Walters, Tina Brown, Saint Simon, Gay Talese, Sydney Smith, Maury Paul, Igor Cassini, Louella, Hedda, and Sheilah Graham, Tom Driberg, Marcel Proust, Elizabeth Gaskell, the Brontes, Edith Wharton, Henry James, Tennessee Williams, Barbara Pym, Lillian Ross, Bob Woodward, Seymour Hersh, Matt Drudge, Leo Lerman, Bonnie Fuller are all in this book in one way or another. Even me, briefly, saying that printed gossip is vastly diluted these days by celebrity wannabes whose names no one knows.

I am even quoted: “I never repeat gossip so listen carefully,” but it’s not original. Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter Alice said it better as in, “If you haven’t anything good to say about anyone, come right over here and sit by me.”

There is a section about gossip on the Internet which should please those who use the web to spread and read gossip, some of it mainly about themselves.

There is some saucy gossip in here about the beautiful Kathleen Tynan, the wife of theater’s Ken Tynan, having a rousing affair with Fidel Castro. I guess this is ok,  since both Tynans are dead and nobody is afraid of Castro any longer … And I liked a quote from the Talmud: “Don’t speak well of your friend, for although you will start with his good traits the discussion might turn to his bad traits.” … “I resolved to let nothing escape me,” said The Duke of Saint-Simon on keeping his memoirs of the Court of Louis XIV under close observation from 1694 to 1788 and thereby writing history. In the end he had more than 3000 pages or 49 plus volumes. Epstein says he was a good man without self-promotion: “Gossip was never practiced with a surer hand or at a higher power than it was by le petit duc, who turned it into literature.” Of course Saint-Simon would have gone to the Bastille if his gossip had been published.

* * *

SPEAKING OF literature that is as entertaining — if far more potent and intelligent — as gossip, I can’t imagine a world without Christopher Hitchens.

Agree or disagree with him — more often than not, I did agree — he was a raging, visceral force. A real journalist not afraid to take on any controversial subject: from shaking the halo off Mother Teresa to eloquently and humanely defending his atheism.

He was confrontational, witty, often unkempt in appearance. His writing, like his stints on hundreds of talk shows and panels, were cattle prods of intellect and self-confidence. (If you were one of those he disliked, it would just be plain cattle prods and arrogance.)

He admired George Orwell and Thomas Jefferson, loathed the Clintons, called himself a socialist and an “Anti-Zionist,” supported the war in Iraq, condemned the tortures at Abu Grab. He did not write about what he had for dinner, or where cell phones had taken us.

Hitchens — who never denied his prodigious love of drinking, smoking and generally living a cheerfully unhealthy lifestyle — was diagnosed with esophageal cancer last June. He announced, despite a grim prognosis, that he would undergo the terrible treatments, and battle on. He wrote in Vanity Fair and for several other publications, describing the ordeal. He was not sure, he said, that given the choice again to extend his life, he would have. But he was himself to the end. Though he joked about being engaged in “a long argument with the specter of death … redemption and supernatural deliverance appears even more hollow and artificial to me than it did before.”

Christopher Hitchens was only 62. I am really going to miss his remarkable brain and spirit. Especially with next year’s elections looming. Oh, the fun it would have been to still have him.

12 comments so far.

  1. avatar rick gould says:

    “I felt fairly sure that Gov. Perry wouldn’t be attacking gays and emphasizing what a good Christian he is if he were hiding such a secret. ”
    Really?
    Think of how many politicians and evangelists who have been so virulently anti-gay, Christian and/or family men…and are exposed to be cruising gay websites, interns, youngsters, airport bathroom stalls, etc. I can’t even muster the energy to type all their names!
    Denial and hypocrisy are a powerful combo, especially for public figures.

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      The reason why Rick Perry is so virulent is because of the rumor and despite being just that unfortunately it had some legs as they say and apparently his Secretary of State, who according to the rumor Anita Perry found him in bed with, was gay.  And “resigned” not long after the rumor started spreading like wildfire on the internet. A vicious rumor spread by one of the Texas Democratic Party’s favorite little “gossipmongers” who also spread vicious rumors about me and who finally was sued for defamation two years ago although some still hang on his every word. Lots of “background” to it all. Eventually someone will print it all.  At least I hope they will.  The rumor hasn’t died because it is good political “amunition.” Even Kay Bialey Hutchison’s campaign used it when she ran for governor in 2010. And was bounced from Google as a result of their having done so. He is NOT gay.  But was really sort of a “live and let live” type of guy until the rumor. So the gay community made itself a bad enemy and destroyed a career of a gay man while spreading the rumor. Which was most likely a favor in the beginning to someone who then challenged Rick Perry for governor.  And who didn’t know that what goes around, comes around. Hasn’t come around yet but not doubt will. When someone finally prints it all. Unfortunately in his quest for payback Rick Perry  went a little too far and aligned himself with an organization that seems to hate everyone except for White Anglo-Saxon Protestant men.  And burst his presidential balloon before it even got off the ground.  I doubt he will be governor again. Or anything else again.  And in a sad way the gay community got what it wanted.  He was actually the best governor Texas had ever had. Until he decided to go for a little revenge. And went a little too far.

      • avatar Lady Texan says:

        I must take exception to the comment that Rick Perry was the best governor Texas ever had. As would the majority of folks working in the Texas educational system.

    • avatar rick gould says:

      I should have clarified a bit: I hardly know a thing about Rick Perry. The few things I’ve seen him say come across as idiotic.
      I don’t know or particularly care if he is gay. I care that he’s a dummy who can’t even remember his rote dogma in debates.
      My general point was that I wish I had a dollar for every politician or evangelist who claims to pious and faithful and turns out to anything but, particularly the ones who are anti-gay, then are revealed to be themselves.

  2. avatar Jerry says:

    Herman Cain and his denials? Is there one shred of proof these women are telling the truth? Any receipts from a store, a diner, a hotel, anywhere? Pictures, something?

    Regarding Bill Clinton, Paula Jones wenrt to NOW several times and was turned away. Kathleen Willey who was groped by Bill Clinton called Gloria Allreds office twice. her call was never returned. Before Bill Clinton became president, he raped Juanita Broaddrick. He was asked about this rape only one time and by only one reporter. Sam Donaldson. Clinton told Donaldson should contact his attorney. If he didn’t rape Broaddrick, why didn’t he just deny it to Donaldson?

    As for Hitchens. Do you think he prayed to God and asked to live longer? You bet he did. He
    condemned the tortures at Abu Grab? Wow…now thats taking a hell of a leap.

    • avatar Barbara says:

      I believe the one woman for Herman Cain had the listing of all her text messages morning, noon and night from Cain. And the fact that he was giving her money. And the fact that Mrs. Cain had no idea he was “friends” with her and was texting and providing money. That seemed to be the straw that broke the Cain campaign’s back.

  3. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    And Christopher Hitchens.  He irritated everyone. The liberals thought he was conservative. The conservatives thought he was liberal. In the end, he made everyone think. Not an easy thing to do in this country at this point. He will be missed.

    As for gossip, well, everyone gossips. For different reasons. I was gossiping about myself long before it became fashionable. Some believe it to be narcissistic. Actually I just want to make sure someone keeps the stories straight.  Men don’t like to think they gossip. But they do.  Sometimes they are better gossips than women.  Especially in bed.  We’ve been gossiping since  we were expelled from the Garden of Eden. Question is who dissed the Serpent first – Adam or Eve?

  4. avatar Bonnie O says:

    I shall miss Christopher Hitchens.  May he rest in peace.

  5. avatar Lucien says:

    As my Nana used to say when we would sit around the dinner table on Sundays or holidays, “if you can’t say something nice…..don’t let that stop you”.

    RIP Christopher Hitchens – you will be greatly missed.

  6. avatar Jay Gentile says:

    Liz, I am shocked, shocked at your naivete about Rick Perry and the gay rumors. Of course he would still run for president even if he were gay. Of course he would attack gays. First, it’s a nice way to deflect attention. Second, egomaniacs like Rick Perry would have no trouble pulling a “John Edwards” — having a messy, scandalous personal life while positioning himself as the nation’s savior.

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      You don’t know Anita Perry. Had she found hiim in bed with anyone, male or female, the Austin American Statesman would have run two stories the following day. The first about Rick Perry being treated for injuries he suffered when he ran into the proverbial cast iron skillet and the second about how Anita Perry was filing for divorce. If you’re going to get into conjecture, well, if he were gay he still wouldn’t cheat. For a variety of reasons. Anita and the proverbial cast iron skillet one of them. They have a good marriage. Neither deserved the rumors. Or deserve some continuing to “dish” them up. I said it at the time and will say it again. Usually lawsuits fuel the fires. But in this case it would have put the fire out. Rick Perry went for revenge. And found revenge is often a two-edged sword. And cut his political neck in the process. He forgot lots of Republicans are non-Christians. And some are women. None of whom care for American Family Association. Or for Rick Perry at this point. Or Anita Perry to be honest.

  7. avatar Aline says:

    I watched the Juanita Broaddrick interview on TV. Not only did Bill Clinton rape her, but he was holding her bottom lip between his teeth at the time so she could not try to get him off of her. When he finished his assault, as he was on his way out of the room, he told her that she might want to put some ice on her lip, as it was bleeding. He is a sorry excuse for a human being. If I see him on TV, I have to switch the channel. He disgusts me.