Montecito resident and well-known gossip columnist, Martha Smilgis, confirms she has departed the News-Press, leaving her column, “The Dish,” in fragments and shards behind her. By some accounts, The Dish was the best read column in the News-Press, and many a robe-clad Montecito fan has been seen slipping outside early on Tuesday mornings (or Monday’s recently) so they could have The Dish for breakfast.
When reached for comment about her split, Smilgis said, “The regime or current ‘Powers that Be’ felt the column was too political. They indicated that they wanted more gossip.” Smilgis said she had always viewed the column as more of a “Talk of the Town,” a la The New Yorker. “I tried to capture the zeitgeist of the week, and what caught my eye. I did write about politics over they years, but they were usually clever little asides, if I do say so. I’ve covered many politicians, from our local characters to national figures, who came looking for money. I think the Democrats, the S.B. Women’s’ Political Committee, and the Republicans, the Lincoln Club, would say I was fair to their sides.”
But fair or not, Smilgis said she knew The Dish was doomed a week ago when News-Press co-publisher Arthur von Wiesenberger informed her the column needed a more gossipy tone. “I really don’t want to write about people’s divorces,” she told me, flipping her trademark blonde mane to the side. “I created the column and I knew what I wanted it to be about.”
In 2003, when Smilgis was brought into the News-Press by then-editor Jerry Roberts to create a tattler, Montecitans were skeptical about Martha’s direction. “I’m not sure what she’s trying to do,” sniffed one matron upon first read. However, three weeks later, that same dowager was hosting a Birnam Wood County Club luncheon honoring Martha, hoping for even a tiny bon mot in The Dish. Within months of starting, The Dish became the top aspiration rung on the social climbers ladder!
The column’s wild success was partially due to Jerry’s mandate for prominent placement, but the real sell was Smilgis’ tight, amusing writing style. She combined saucy syntax with tattling tickle, instinctively knowing which secrets to tell and which to keep (and she’s kept plenty!). Her weekly mix of proper legal appellations and aptly coined nicknames (I am dubbed “Montecito’s T-Rex”) was just what was needed to make readers wake up smiling and reading!. Her smooth reporting style came readily as she has amassed a notable career in the world of journalism.
A UC Berkeley alum, Martha worked in New York for both CBS and CNN. She spent 17 years at TIME magazine and three years at People magazine, where she ended up as L.A. bureau chief. She went on to be one of the executive producers of Extra! and penned “The Outraged Investor,” a financial column for the San Francisco Chronicle. A well-known freelance correspondent and journalist, Martha has been a contributor to Santa Barbara Magazine and is the author of a book, Fame’s Peril. She is currently working on a mystery novel about murder mixed up with unearned inheritance and she says even though The Dish is gone, her plate is full. She’s already gotten column offers but wants to taking some time off for R&R, including weight training, running on Montecito’s beaches, reading novels, and traveling. However, she says as much as she will enjoy the pause, she’ll miss interacting with her readers.
“I’ve had great fun with the party animals of this town, from the wild twentysomethings to the nimble 90-year-olds, to the film buffs and the church-goers. I have covered our local celebs and the national celebs who have come here to roost in our glorious little hamlet. I tried to shed some light into the corners of our little town and give some credit to all the creative and dependable folks who make up our citizenry,” she reflected.
We suggest that while The Dish may be broken, Martha’s talent and perceptiveness will not go to waste. We look forward to seeing what future mosaic our colleague creates from The Dish fragments!