Liz Smith, the south side girl born on Fort Worth's Hemphill Street, had to learn something new when she came home yesterday: how to thank her hosts from Arlington and the Mid-Cities.
“When I grew up here, people were from either Fort Worth or Dallas, and Fort Worth people only went to Dallas once or twice,” Smith said.
“I didn't even know there was any such thing as Arlington-Mid-Cities.”
Now there is. It’s a “city” with more than double the people of Fort Worth, and the celebrity columnist from New York Newsday was speaking to help raise money for a suburban women’s shelter.
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Gov. Ann Richards introduced her this way: “She is the same little Fort Worth girl who graduated when Will Rogers was a person, not an auditorium. … Leave it to Fort Worth to produce the world's only truly nice gossip columnist.”
The name Liz Smith may not mean anything to you. She was born at 1919 Hemphill St. and grew up as a cotton broker’s daughter in the 1800 block of South Jennings Avenue.
But she has been gone from these streets since 1944, when she moved away after school at Daggett Elementary, Daggett Junior High and Paschal High School and then college in Abilene and Austin.
Somewhere along the way since, she has become the nation's reigning celebrity columnist.
“But she's like any of us would be,” Richards said, “if we were on a first-name basis with Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson.”
Yes. That Liz Smith.
Can that Liz Smith be 70? That's what she told the audience at the shelter's first Legacy of Women awards luncheon, a hot ticket that sold out weeks in advance.
Later, upstairs, she peeled her shoes back, threw her stocking feet up on a table laden with chips and hot sauce, and said, “You're from the Star-Telegram? You know, I used to go up there with Aunt Eula.”
“Aunt Mary Eula,” Smith went on. “Her boyfriend was, like, a typesetter. I was, oh, 4, 5, maybe 6, and he would show me the vats of boiling lead and how they made type. I loved it. It got to me.”
Someone else today will retell Smith’s stories about Carl Bernstein, or Donald Trump, or her career as a reporter and celebrity columnist hosting parties in New York catered by Joe T. Garcia’s from Fort Worth.
I'm telling her little-girl Liz stories about the south side.
“I grew up going to the Tivoli Theater,” she said, referring to a long-gone moviehouse on West Magnolia Avenue, west of today's Paris Coffee Shop. She also remembered the Parkway Theater on Eighth Avenue.
“For a dime, you could stay all day. Tom Mix was one of my great favorites.”
Smith remembers Travis Avenue Baptist Church, the Stock Show, the Fort Worth Zoo and trolley lines on Hemphill when it was called the “world’s longest street,” part of an international highway from Winnipeg. Canada, to Mexico City.
But Fort Worth back then was “so corny, and undeveloped and slow,” she said.
“You know, back then they called it the Panther City. Does anybody still call it the Panther City?”
Yes. And we still remember.