Smith, Sally Bedell 1948–
SMITH, Sally Bedell 1948–
Born 1948; married Stephen G. Smith (a magazine editor); children: three. Education: Attended Wheaton College; Columbia School of Journalism, M.A.
Journalist and writer. Former reporter for several publications, including the New York Times, Time, and TV Guide; Vanity Fair, contributing editor, 1996—.
Sigma Delta Chi Award for magazine reporting, Society of Professional Journalists, 1982; fellow, Freedom Forum Media Studies Center, 1986.
In All His Glory: The Life of William S. Paley, the Legendary Tycoon and His Brilliant Circle, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1990, published as In All His Glory: The Life and Times of William S. Paley and the Birth of Modern Broadcasting, 1991.
Reflected Glory: The Life of Pamela Churchill, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.
Diana in Search of Herself: Portrait of a Troubled Princess, Times Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House, Random House (New York, NY), 2004.
Also author of Up the Tube: Prime Time TV and the Silverman Years. Contributor to numerous periodicals.
Journalist Sally Bedell Smith began her career covering network television for the New York Times and TV Guide for several years before establishing herself as a respected celebrity biographer. She had already written one book, Up the Tube: Prime Time TV and the Silverman Years, before penning her highly regarded biography, In All His Glory: The Life of William S. Paley, the Legendary Tycoon and His Brilliant Circle. Published in 1990, In All His Glory chronicles the life of Paley, who owned and managed the Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. (CBS) network for many years. Smith gives a detailed account of both Paley's business dealings and his lavish personal life; as Christopher Buckley noted in his commentary on the biography in the New York Times Book Review, "her superb and thorough reporting uncovered all the unpleasantness along with the greatness."
In All His Glory narrates how Paley became involved with CBS as a young man, while it was still a struggling radio network centered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He produced a half-hour program called The La Palina Smoker that featured a husky-voiced woman. The show proved so popular that the sponsor, La Palina Cigars, saw sales of its products skyrocket. It was the first of many successes in which Paley demonstrated that programming was the key to becoming tops among the networks. Under his direction, CBS became a major network and made a smooth transition to television, though Paley initially resisted the new technology.
While not minimizing his true triumphs, Smith suggests in her book that Paley sometimes took credit for the creative ideas of others, such as longtime CBS president Frank Stanton. She also discusses Paley's two marriages, his numerous affairs, and his extravagant lifestyle. Smith also includes commentary on many of Paley's friends and acquaintances, including pioneer news reporter Edward R. Murrow and writer Truman Capote. Reviewer Leah Rozen wrote in People that Smith's work "is thoroughly researched and crammed with telling details, killer quotes and rousing anecdotes."
Smith's next subject was Pamela Churchill Harriman, whom she scrutinized in her 1996 unauthorized biography, Reflected Glory: The Life of Pamela Churchill. Described variously by New York Times Book Review contributor Ben Macintrye as an "upper-class English party girl and gold digger," "globe-trotting mistress of rich men," "show-biz socialite," and "queen of the American Embassy in Paris," Harriman was a prominent figure whose first husband was the son of Winston Churchill. She became notorious for her many adulterous affairs with millionaires, aristocrats, and powerful politicians—among them Averell Harriman, heir to a railroad fortune and a prominent diplomat, who eventually become her third husband. Despite her racy reputation, Pamela Harriman, in later life, became a philanthropist and lent highly publicized support to the Clinton-Gore campaign. For her service, she was appointed ambassador to France in 1993. Smith's biography of the courtesan-diplomat, according to Macintyre, is distinguished by research so thorough that it "leaves no stone unturned and no layers of slung mud unexcavated," and "occasionally veers from biography into vivisection as she slices away at the myth." Smith spent five years researching her subject and conducted more than four hundred interviews, creating a portrait the reviewer found unflattering yet "finely balanced." "The biographer's dislike for her subject boils on the page," Macintyre wrote, "but she is too honest to disguise the grudging admiration that goes with it." Reflected Glory, wrote Macintyre, is the "fullest [portrait of Harriman] we are likely to get."
With her 1999 biography of Diana, Princess of Wales, Smith again garnered critical attention. In Diana in Search of Herself: Portrait of a Troubled Princess, which became a best-seller, Smith argues that the princess suffered from "borderline personality," a serious psychological disorder seemingly at the root of such destructive behaviors as her eating disorders, selfmutilation, and painful romances. New York Times Book Review critic Frank Kermode maintained that the book reveals a strong bias in favor of Diana's husband, Prince Charles, and "raises questions that people of ordinary experience are quite unqualified to answer." While Kermode acknowledged that Smith had conducted considerable research and presents an account of Diana's life "as full as any sane person could wish, and even a shade fuller," he found that her portrait lacked insight as to why the princess was so loved by the public. Several other reviewers, however, considered Diana in Search of Herself convincing, fair, and intelligent. Laura Shapiro, writing in Newsweek, called the book "an evenhanded analysis" of the princess, and commended Smith's prodigious research and "careful assessment" of her subject. "If you're going to read one Diana book," she advised, "this should be it." Time contributor Elizabeth Gleick called the biography a "well-written, evenhanded work" that "sympathetically documents Diana's precarious mental state and her need for sustained professional help." Entertainment Weekly 's Lisa Schwarzbaum found the work an "unusual and mournful" contribution to the Diana industry, and a "calmly persuasive" account of the princess's troubled life. A Publishers Weekly contributor called Diana in Search of Herself "a sharply etched and engrossing study."
In her book Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House, Bedell focuses more on the social rather than the political aspects of John F. Kennedy's term as president of the United States. The president's philanderous behavior with women and his use of drugs to maintain a vigorous appearance are highlighted. Sarah Bradford, writing in the Spectator, commented that "the real focus of the book is the Kennedy court with Jack as king and Jackie as queen of her self-created Versailles on the Potomac." Bradford went on to note that the author "writes extremely well and has produced the best book on the subject for years," adding: "Too much mud has been thrown at the Kennedy White House and it is time the balance was adjusted." Referring to the author's extensive research for the book, New York Times Book Review contributor Judith Martin noted: "Now even the Kennedy loyalists have spoken up. Smith … has rounded up an impressive number of them, from inside chroniclers adding to their often-delivered memoirs to a gaggle of mistresses." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote: "For those who seek yet another highly readable account of the White House milieu shaped by John and Jackie Kennedy … Smith's book does the job."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Entertainment Weekly, August 20, 1999, Lisa Schwarzbaum, review of Diana in Search of Herself: Portrait of a Troubled Princess, p. 117.
Newsweek, August 23, 1999, Laura Shapiro, review of Diana in Search of Herself, p. 60.
New York Times Book Review, November 4, 1990, Christopher Buckley, review of In All His Glory: The Life of William S. Paley, the Legendary Tycoon and His Brilliant Circle, pp. 1, 40-41; November 10, 1996 Ben Macintyre, review of Reflected Glory: The Life of Pamela Churchill Harriman, p. 7; August 22, 1999, Frank Kermode, review of Diana in Search of Herself; July 25, 2004, Judith Martin, review of Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House, p. 9.
People, January 14, 1991, Leah Rozen, review of In All His Glory, pp. 31-32.
Publishers Weekly, July 5, 1999, review of Diana in Search of Herself, p. 46; May 3, 2004, review of Grace and Power, p. 186.
Spectator, July 17, 2004, Sarah Bradford, review of Grace and Power, p. 36.
Time, September 13, 1999, Elizabeth Gleick, review of Diana in Search of Herself, p. 76.
Sally Bedell Smith Home Page,http://www.sallybedellsmith.com (May 29, 2006).*