Monday, April 25, 2011
Michael Cleverly, VIle's Aspen Bureau Chief
Submitted by: Editor

Original Company Town - Part 8

“Company Town” traces the evolution of the influence of the industries that have driven Aspen’s economic life from its boomtown silver and gold mining days to its growth into one of the premier ski resorts in the world. It also traces the changes in Aspen society, from its mining days, when basically no one had any class, to the freewheeling 70’s when the place was so democratic as to be a classless society, to today, when the entire town is essentially a gated community. The gates are not made of steel, they’re economic, and the society now is far from classless.

The Wages of Celebrity

While The Aspen Skiing Company was developing a taste for all manner of small businesses, Aspen celebrities were developing a taste for the limelight that they had been avoiding for so long. Back in the day, celebs like Gary Cooper, Danny Kaye, Buddy Hackett and even John Wayne could walk the streets of Aspen unmolested, stopping to chew the fat with old timers at The Red Onion or the Hotel Jerome. Later George Hamilton and even megastar Jack Nicholson could go to out for dinner or a pop and be confident their privacy would be respected. You could be having a burger at one of the restaurants on Aspen Mountain, look up and notice that Kennedys were sitting next to you. Jimmy Buffet sponsored, and played on a local softball team, “The Downvalley Doughboys” and Kurt Russell coached a girl’s softball team. Local musicians Buffet and John Denver did countless benefits and free concerts and if you came down with a bad head cold someone from, or all of the Nitty Gritty Dirtband would do a benefit for you. No one knew how these stars behaved back in L.A. or wherever, they might have been crappy to the little guy, thrown their weight around, but in Aspen they were absorbed into the community on the same level as everyone else. Locals jealously guarded their famous neighbors privacy and took serious issue with anyone who invaded their space. Bil Dunaway, editor and publisher of The Aspen Times, had an unspoken but firm policy to not write about Aspen’s famous residents unless they actually did something newsworthy. Then there was some kind of shift, you couldn’t put your finger on it, but things changed. Television actor Don Johnson bought a home in Woody Creek and started sending out press releases as to when he was coming to town. Private clubs began to spring up. The first couple were laughed out of town, the idea was so totally contrary to what Aspen had always been. But then one got some traction and the die was cast. A different kind of celebrity began to show up, usually during Christmas week. These people craved publicity, and real live paparazzi showed up to accommodate them. Scenes played out of people with cameras chasing famous people through the streets of Aspen, something that would have gotten the photographers beaten to photographer pulp just a few years before. Pampered stars behaved the way you see them behave on TV. There were sycophants fawning over jerks. Newcomers would always think this was glamorous but the real locals hated it and were disgusted.

Part 9: Scum Rises to The Top

Posted by Editor on 04/25/11 at 01:26 PM •  (0) Comments

Tags:  wealth, aspen, cleverly,

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"America does not have an aristocracy or a plutocracy."
Art Pope