"LINDSAY IS a sweet and vulnerable young woman. I really could tell that she has goodness in her spirit and just needs guidance in certain areas ... I am always trying to encourage people to take better care of themselves."

That's Olympic running hopeful Shannon Rowbury, in a sweet personal note to me that arrived last Friday. It's been all over the news that Shannon and Lindsay Lohan are "new BFFs." That Shannon is "mentoring" the actress. This might be something of an exaggeration, but the two have certainly met -- once -- and Rowbury was impressed. Lindsay seemed open to "getting in better shape." (Gossip items insist that Lindsay is now informing hotels to clear her mini-bars of all liquor.)

Well, good luck to Miss Lohan, for whom I still hope the best, and to Miss Rowbury, who leaves for Sochi, Russia soon.

P.S. Speaking of Lindsay, I went to see the critically excoriated movie "The Canyons." It pretty much deserved what it got review-wise, and the director's choice of porn star James Deen as leading man was ill-advised. I have nothing against porn actors transitioning -- I was a big supporter of Traci Lords. But a modicum of acting talent is useful. Maybe Mr. Deen could take a few lessons if he's really interested in changing careers. He has a handsome face, along with other famous attributes.

As for Lindsay, given her material, she was effective. She can still act. But what a waste in "The Canyons." What she's done to her face, to her lips especially, is distracting. After a couple of months in rehab maybe she's back to normal, not having access to Botox and fillers. She never needed any of that. She was already a beauty at 15.

LEAH Remini, so funny on the series "The King of Queens" is apparently as feisty and upfront as her character was. Recently split from The Church of Scientology, she now intends to write a tell-all about her experiences with the religion, its people and why she left after so many years. She is unafraid -- not that she has anything to be afraid of, insists The Church. Everybody's free to do and choose as they please. However, Leah is still asking where Mrs. Shelly Miscavige, the wife of Scientology leader David Miscavige, is. (Oh, she is probably off on some long spa vacation. But she ought to surface, just to clear the air of so many rumors.)

ENDQUOTE: "Although she has been gone 51 years, she is still arguably the biggest star in the world!" That's what the head of an auction house stated last week, as a new cache of Marilyn Monroe photos went up for sale. How true! (Yesterday was the 51st anniversary of her still-debated death: suicide, accident, murder?)

There is no sensible explanation for her endurance as an icon. Others were more beautiful. Some were more talented. Many had better careers. But Marilyn had that intangible, overused but appropriate quality -- especially in her case -- vulnerability. Even during her lifetime, the public felt differently about Marilyn than it did about other glamour stars. Despite her robust image, there was always something fragile, even mournful, beneath the dazzling smile and the flamboyant sex symbol postures that she invented and are standard issue, even today.

Her death heightened the affection the public felt, and in the half century since, several generations have grown to adulthood fascinated by her tragic/triumphant tale, her iconic photos and the scandals, true or false. But it all leads back to her work, the best of which justifies the mythology, the longevity the omnipresence of Norma Jeane who didn't care about money, "I just want to be wonderful."

(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)