Liz Smith claimed to have invented Donald Trump, and in a powerful and enduring way, she did.
.. The legendary gossip columnist, who died Sunday at 94, started delivering her daily dish about New York celebrities in 1976, the same year the brash Australian press lord Rupert Murdoch bought the New York Post and transformed it into a British-style splash of lurid headlines, crime-drenched reporting and juicy gossip.
.. Smith and Trump were made for each other. She was a kinder, gentler gossipmonger, winning access to celebrities by telling the stories they wanted told rather than the more slashing tidbits that turned some columnists into personae non gratae among the boldface names. And he was a young real estate mogul hungry to establish himself as one of the city’s biggest names.
.. Trump had been schooled in the art of manipulating the news media by his mentor Roy Cohn, the New York lawyer who had launched his own career in the 1950s by enlisting the 20th century’s greatest gossip columnist, Walter Winchell, as a booster for Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s communist-hunting crusade.
.. Cohn had urged him to cultivate the gossip columnists, to make appearances at the right nightspots, to make certain that he was being seen and recorded with the hottest models and rising stars on his arm.
.. Trump used the tabloids to establish himself as a champion of the little guy. “When we would talk particularly to immigrants, recent immigrants who were the readers of the Daily News, they would always want to know about Donald Trump,” said News gossip columnist George Rush. “He embodied the American Dream to them. Excessive conspicuous consumption is not a bad thing in New York to a lot of people.”
.. The tabloid war was on, as Smith wrote about nothing but the Trumps for several months, trading scoops with the Post’s Cindy Adams, who took Donald’s side as Smith became an advocate for her own source, Ivana.
.. The Daily News plastered Trump split stories on the front page for 12 days in a row; the Post responded with eight consecutive Trump headlines on Page One.
.. The stories were a bonanza for the newspapers, and Trump later said that the divorce episode put him on the celebrity map, despite any pain that may have stemmed from having his personal life exposed. “Liz Smith used to kiss my ass so much it was embarrassing,” Trump wrote
.. The Ivana-and-Donald story made Smith a star, establishing her as the highest-paid print journalist in the country. And it lifted Trump to a new level of fame and infamy. He relished the idea that he was the talk of the town, both in the boardrooms from which he’d always felt excluded and in the barrooms where, he believed, middle-class New Yorkers aspired to be like him.