Liz Smith: Tom Cruise Charismatic, Underated, Under-honored

Plus… James Earl Jones, Joan Collins, Film Noir, and Angela Lansbury

liz smith, tom cruise tonight show, the three tomatoes“AVOID POPULARITY; it has many snares and no real benefit,” said William Penn.


TOM CRUISE! (speaking of popularity) The movie star was so funny and adorable on Jimmy Fallon the other night, getting right in the groove with Fallon’s “Lip Sync Battle.” He’s on the promotion train for his latest “Mission Impossible” movie and oozing charm as, frankly, only he can.

I love Tom. I’ve met him but can’t claim a friendship. Yet he’s so charismatic and attractive and so underrated and under-honored as an actor. He’s probably made more money for Hollywood than any other star, and for that alone, he should be Oscar-ed.

Maybe it’s the Scientology thing, which shouldn’t concern anybody who isn’t married to him. The people he works with seem to respect and admire him. I’ve heard no tales of out-of-control ego or meanness, and certainly he is a super-professional.

I’m not exactly crying for Cruise. He has a fortune he couldn’t spend in six opulent lifetimes, and his career is still strong and viable. And even if it became less viable, he has the cash to produce his own movies. He likes to work. I never imagine Tom Cruise really relaxing.

Back to the Fallon appearance. It reminded me that I am probably the only person in the world who gave 2012’s “Rock of Ages” a reasonably favorable review. I thought Tom was a riot in the film, and he really sang — no lip-syncing required.


NATASHA GREGSON Wagner, the daughter of Natalie Wood and Richard Gregson, is auctioning off some of her mother’s letters, scripts and other personal items. This is a little surprising, as Natasha is famously protective of her own and her mother’s privacy. However, I doubt there is anything terribly intimate in this collection. More likely, things that fans would covet. Bonham’s is doing the auction. Call 323-850-7500.

​JUST caught Joan Collins introducing some of her favorite films on Turner Classic Movies. (“Gilda” for one.) Good grief, this woman is the energizer bunny of movie queens! So vital and funny and with-it. Joan’s youthfulness has little to do with her looks, as striking as they still are. Good health and a remarkable vitality are the hallmarks of her appeal. She still moves like a girl in her twenties. (Asked who she thought was the most beautiful of the Golden Age stars, Miss Collins cited Hedy Lamarr. Although Ava Gardner  Elizabeth Taylor were not far behind.)

A P.S. to my remembrance the other day about Elaine Stritch’s “crush” onWoody Allen. Maybe the reason Stritch was so determined to get Woody to like her, was that she was not his first choice for the movie “September.”Maureen O’ Sullivan had the role originally, but just couldn’t cut that particular dash of mustard. Stritch was available and Woody beckoned. Elaine didn’t ever want to be anybody’s second choice, so maybe she didn’t know.


I’M GIVING you readers plenty of notice that the American Theatre Wing is honoring none other than James Earl Jones on Monday, September 28th at a reception, dinner and performance in the Plaza Hotel and it’s black tie (whatever that means these days!]

The names hosting this event are almost all people I know and love and respect — like for instance, Jane Alexander … Kelsey Grammer … LaTanya Richardson Jackson and Samuel L. Jackson … Angela Lansbury … Pauletta and Denzel Washington.

And the nice people doing the dirty work are chairs Marva Smalls … CeCe Black … Anki Leeds … Monica G.S. Wambold. I tell you the backers of the event are the cream of the theatre world. And so you better mail your checks to the ATW or call 212-765-0606 or email


James Earl Jones is a giant in the worlds of theater, cinema and television, a prince of influential and respected advertising, and the immortal voice of Darth Vader. I’d say of the September 28th event, “be there or be square” but it would date me horribly. And as I go about covering New York on my speedy walker or my elegant black cane, I certainly don’t want to seem “dated.”


WE DROPPED Angela Lansbury’s name back there as we are always doing since she is one of the last of the greats. I am amused over the many young people who come up to me now and say they saw the star in an early movie and they can’t get over how sexy and luscious she was. (In “Gaslight” for instance. Flirting with Charles Boyer and being mean to Ingrid Bergman!)

And I am astounded at the teenagers who now collect 33 1/3 vinyl records, which most of us threw away years ago thinking we were done with that phase. (Some of these kids are not only re-appreciating vinyl, but are into the swing era of Big Band music.) A good record player can cost an arm and a leg, but the vibrant vinyl sounds of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington and the like, are worth it! Swing! Swing! Swing! Swing! — my era and still reverberating.


WE ALL love film noir.   Or at least we all should. It’s glorious black and white, populated with tough men, tougher women and things that go bump in the shadows.

One of the best (and last) of the classic genre is Jules Dassin’s 1950 offering, “Night and the City” starring Richard Widmark and the gorgeous Gene Tierney. Widmark is at his nasty best here, even if he doesn’t push a wheelchair-bound old lady down a flight of stairs, as he did in “Kiss of Death.”

Now, Criterion DVD has put out a new digital restoration of “Night and the City” — the complete British version of the film. (It was shot in London, because Hollywood’s anti-Communist witch-hunt had made America unpalatable for Jules Dassin.)

Read Liz Smith daily in the New York Social Diary.

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