A Pedicure From Meryl Streep: How Lois Smith's Clients Became Her Friends

Meryl Streep
Peter Kramer/Getty Images

Academy Award winner Meryl Streep with Smith during the play opening of Bridge and Tunnel at New York's Bleecker Street Theatre in 2004. 

Clients (Ethan Hawke, Robert Redford, Martin Scorsese) and colleague (Peggy Siegel, Mara Buxbaum, Leslee Dart) share their best memories.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Peggy Siegal Principal, The Peggy Siegal Co.

Lois was very friendly with all the film critics. She'd ask which actors they admired, and then she'd pursue those actors as clients and make them into stars. She was very clever and intuitive about actors, but she was also in cahoots with all the guys who ran the entertainment media in New York."

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Mara Buxbaum President, ID

"Beginning the first decade of my career in publicity under Lois Smith [at PMK] was like being born with a silver spoon in my mouth. Every day I carry Lois' lessons in my heart and aspire to meet the high bar she set in this industry. Lois understood the privilege and responsibility that comes with representing true talent. She knew how to protect her clients, nurture them and give them wings to fly. She understood the value of keeping mystery alive. Most importantly, Lois brought humor, heart and a deeply personal touch to everything she did -- making everyone around her feel like family. She leaves a legacy like none other, and all of us working in this business owe a great debt to the standards she set. Some people are fortunate enough to live in the time they were meant to live in. Lois Smith lived wonderfully in her time. I'm forever grateful to my wise, loving mentor and dear friend."

Robert Redford Actor-director

"Lois was my publicist since 1963 and throughout my entire career. She was not only a career supporter but a dear friend. I feel a tremendous loss."

Meryl Streep Actress

"Lois Smith had a giant heart and a gorgeous spirit that paraded up and down the press line in her signature red coat (so the clients could always find her in the screaming crowd). Her unmatched joviality in what can be a craven business, her hardheaded soft heart was what steered and sustained her clients through the hyperbolic crush of media exposure. We all loved her and depended on her, and she is the last of her line to have had unquestioned authority over the paparazzi. When she swept her arm, they scattered, in amused deference and real respect."

Martin Scorsese Director

"Lois Smith was a legend: warm, wise, funny and generous -- one of the sharpest people in the business. She was my friend, and I am lucky to have known and worked with her."

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Ethan Hawke Actor

I met Lois in the days after Dead Poets Society was released. Her big advice to me was not to think about publicity -- think about reaching my potential. If I did that, the publicity would take care of itself. Her confidence, love and empathy were always inspiring. There will not be another Lois Smith. She was a lion."

Rosie O'Donnell Comedian

"Lois was a force of nature who loved her clients with a fierce loyalty and a huge open heart that went far beyond show business."

Leslee Dart Founder and CEO, 42West

"Back in the mid-'80s, public relations was a business that welcomed women, but Lois was unique. There were enough people out there who were screaming, arrogant, opinionated and forceful. Before I met Lois, those were all the role models I could have had. But she taught me you could be powerful, successful, kind and considerate all at the same time. She was my partner, very much a mother figure and at the same time one of my best friends. By choice, we shared an office for more than 15 years. Lois referred to us as the original odd couple because she never met a piece of paper that she didn't need to keep, and I didn't have a paper clip out of place on my desk. Her clients became her friends. When Lois had heart surgery a few years after she retired, I went to visit her, and there, in the middle of her NYU hospital room, sitting on the bed -- with a roommate a curtain away -- was Meryl Streep giving Lois a pedicure. And they were just having girl talk. Their relationship wasn't just about photo shoots and 60 Minutes and The New York Times. They knew each other's children, and their children knew each other. I mean, Bob Redford is her daughter's godfather."