The people who lived in Aspen in the 1950s and ’60s recall the times when everyone seemed to know their neighbors, street names still weren’t given to the many dirt roads, and the camaraderie of living in a tight-knit community led to friendships and relationships that aren’t as prevalent in 2013 Aspen.
There was also a level of fun and trust that was a part of living in old Aspen, especially if you knew Jack and Marsha Brendlinger.
“They definitely were some of the premier jokesters of Aspen,” said friend Joe Zanin, who met the Brendlingers 49 years ago. “They were a little crazy and a lot of fun.”
There’s a hint of the Wild West when the Brendlingers let their guard down and reveal some of the stunts and antics the couple was party to in what they refer to as “the days before Aspen changed.”
Whether it was filling a buddy’s boat up with Jell-O, having friends ride a motorcycle through their house or leading a group of friends into the neighbors’ home and catching them in the thralls of passion, the Brendlingers have their share of far-out Aspen stories.
Jack Brendlinger was born in 1933 and grew up in Denver. He was brought to Aspen by an aunt and uncle in 1947. He was a high school student who was enamored with skiing, but Aspen was even more than a great ski hill.
“Aspen was the first ski area I visited with a town at the base of the mountain,” Brendlinger said. “I thought it was dynamite and knew right then that Aspen was where I wanted to be.”
Brendlinger was a junior downhill racer with his sights on attending the University of Colorado and joining the school’s ski team. His racing ambitions were tempered when, as a cocky 18-year-old downhiller, he was humbled, along with several of his ski buddies, by a 14-year-old future Olympian named Buddy Werner.
“His sister, Skeeter, beat us, too,” Brendlinger said. “I remember thinking right then that maybe we should try accounting.”
Brendlinger attended CU but didn’t ski there because he needed to work. The ski bug never went away, and when he was 22, Brendlinger decided to go ski in Europe with a college friend who was heading to Florence, Italy, to attend art school.
While in Europe, the pair decided they both wanted to get into the entertainment business. Brendlinger’s friend wanted to be an art director, and Brendlinger was willing to do anything to get his foot in the door.
More than 50 years later, his college buddy, Robert Redford, is still in the entertainment business.
In 1957, Brendlinger moved to Los Angeles and shared an apartment with Redford near Hollywood. That same year, a group of four young women from Utah also moved into the same apartment building.
“They were all wearing bobby socks and were as clean as can be,” Brendlinger said. “Our landlord was a woman who absolutely detested Redford and me. She warned us to stay away form the new girls, but once she said that, well, that gave us other ideas.”
Marsha Bray was one of the four young women. She was born in Provo, Utah, in 1938 and also had been warned by the landlady to steer clear of the two young men.
Whenever they heard the young women approaching, Brendlinger said he and Redford would get as obnoxious as possible, much to the ire of the landlady.
Despite all their antics, the girls became friends with the two bachelors. Ironically, the men actually started dating each other’s future wives, with Redford dating Bray and Jack dating Lola Van Wagenen, Redford’s first wife.
“I still think an awful lot of Robert,” Marsha said. “I think they were both pretty awesome, but I got the one I chose.”
Jack couldn’t resist sharing a favorite Redford story.
“We were skiing at Park City,” Jack recalled. “Redford was coming down the hill and lost control. There were hundreds of skis at the bottom of the hill all stacked together, and Redford plowed into them like a bowling ball. He ended up running into a woman and knocked her down, but she landed right on top of Bob, literally face-to-face. Her husband saw the whole thing and was furious. He was yelling at Redford when his wife yelled back to him, ‘Go away, Charlie, go away!’”
Jack married Marsha in 1960 and, with $100 to spend, took her to Aspen for their honeymoon. The couple arrived during spring break, and the town was booked up. The couple finally turned to the Aspen Court on Main Street. When Jack rang a bell at the desk for service, a woman came crawling toward them on all fours.
“She was drunk as a skunk,” Jack said. “We got a room for $3 a night, and it obviously had never been cleaned.”
Jack still had enough money to buy each of them three-day ski passes, but Jack lost his on the first day. The couple searched below the ski lifts and eventually found his pass. Jack also forgot to put on any sunscreen, and his face burned and blistered.
Later, Jack ran into a group of his ski buddies and introduced his new wife as “his friend, Marsha.”
“At that point, I’d really had enough of this town,” Marsha said. “I thought, ‘Aspen? Yuk.’”
But the ski bug had already bitten Jack numerous times. Jack managed the Snowbasin ski area in Utah a few years earlier, and after a deal to purchase the ski area fell through for him, he was even more determined to be involved with the ski industry in some capacity.
The couple worked in Denver for several years before Jack moved his young family to Aspen, bought some property on Main Street and laid the foundation for their future ski lodge.
The old-time Aspen residents weren’t too thrilled to see some newcomers step in and build a new high-rise, as it was called then. Using pre-made pieces, the 21/2-story Applejack Inn was opened 90 days later, complete with the first indoor pool in Aspen.
The same aunt that brought Jack to Aspen almost 20 years earlier bought the young couple a duplex on Cemetery Lane. The Brendlingers were now becoming more involved within the Aspen community and made good friends along the way.
Jack became the president of the Aspen Valley Ski Club in 1969 while Marsha ran the Applejack and raised their growing family, which was now up to three kids — Kurt, Eric and Dina.
It was around that time that the Brendlingers built their mountain home on West Buttermilk Road, the first one built in the area.
They also began to cement their reputation as jokesters in ways that are hard to believe.
There was the time Jack and a buddy borrowed a friend’s fishing boat and promptly sank it. They bought a replacement, but Jack had a brilliant idea that they should fill the 15-foot long boat with grape Jell-O. The men then slid the Jell-O-filled boat into a Suburban parked in the man’s driveway, but the Suburban actually belonged to the man’s wife.
Real estate agent Peter Greene was the man who helped the Brendlingers purchase the property where they built the Applejack and lived next door to them before they moved to their Buttermilk home.
The two men played many tricks on each other, but one evening stands out as unforgettable.
Several couples met the Brendlingers at their home before heading into Aspen for some drinks and dinner, but Greene was out of town and wasn’t part of the group that night.
When the couples returned after having a few too many adult beverages, someone noticed a light on at the Greenes’ home and suggested that everyone go and make a surprise visit. Someone else suggested that the couples grab some bikes and trikes in the Brendlingers’ yard, and about a dozen intoxicated adults lined up outside the Greenes’ front door, all on kids toys.
“We burst the door open and all came in on the toys, singing and laughing,” Marsha said. “And there were the Greenes, together in front of their fireplace, naked and making love. Peter put his robe on backwards and was trying to stuff his underwear into a pocket that wasn’t there, while Maryann was looking for anything to cover up with. I’ll never forget her false eyelashes hanging off her cheeks at the time. It was hilarious!”
A few years later, less than a year after moving into their new Buttermilk home, Greene and Dr. Jay Baxter, a county commissioner, made a surprise visit on Halloween evening, a favorite time for jokers in Aspen.
It was late in the evening when Marsha noticed a motorcycle heading up the snow-covered hill toward their home. Greene and Baxter, laughing hysterically, rode the muddy and snow-covered motorcycle right into the Brendlingers’ home.
After a few more drinks, Greene couldn’t restart the motorcycle, so Baxter lifted the back wheel off the ground and told Greene to try again. Greene started the bike up full-throttle before Baxter dropped the bike, burning the new carpet before Greene smashed into a wall inside the home.
“He had no idea what to tell his insurance agent,” Jack said.
The couple had one more child in 1974, Kira, before they sold the Applejack in 1975. Jack went to work for Aspen Skiing Co. as its public relations director and stayed active with kids, directing several shows at the high school while Marsha taught drama there. Marsha also taught dance to kids at the Wildwood School.
During his 10 years with the ski company, Jack helped run the Winternationals ski events in Aspen, rallying the community in many ways to help put the events on. Jack then spent 16 years at Freewheelin’ Films and New Vision Syndication, getting promotional films placed internationally. Jack retired in 1999 to devote time to his artistic endeavors. He’s an accomplished painter and sculptor. He also has a book coming out in early 2014 about the Brendlingers’ experiences living in Aspen, titled “Don’t Get Mad, Get Even.”
Marsha ended up working for Aspen Skiing Co., selling tickets at Buttermilk and Tiehack for 24 years. She stayed involved with the school district and served on the school board for nearly 10 years.
In 2003, the couple left their home in West Buttermilk and moved to their home in Carbondale, where they still reside. Two of their children already lived in the area and convinced them they would enjoy the Carbondale community.
Marsha cried as they made the move.
“I loved living in Aspen,” she said. “I loved that house and didn’t want to leave Buttermilk, but Jack was all excited, and our new place was beautiful. Carbondale does remind us of Aspen when we first got there, but Aspen, especially old Aspen, will always be dear in our hearts.”
“I thought it was dynamite and knew right then that Aspen was where I wanted to be.”