Aspen loses the ‘queen of the Crystal Palace’
November 10, 2005
Aspen’s old guard was saddened Thursday by the death of Joan Metcalf, described by one friend as “the queen of the Crystal Palace.”Word of her passing spread quickly Thursday among the generations of performers who have played the Palace at one point or another, as well as the many friends Metcalf made outside the popular dinner theater. The Crystal Palace has been a local landmark for close to 50 years.”She was truly an amazing person. She was unique – the best of what Aspen is,” said longtime friend Brian O’Neil. “She was admired for her talent, but even more, she was admired for the person that she was.”Metcalf, 76, spent 52 years in Aspen. She was the daughter of Marge Fisher and stepdaughter of Freddie “Fisher the Fixer” Fisher, another Aspen legend.
She was also the star of the Palace from the start, recalled former fellow performer Suzi Sanderson. “She was the queen of the Crystal Palace,” Sanderson said.Metcalf washed dishes at the Palace when it first opened in 1957, but the soprano would take off her apron and venture out to the dining room to sing while Mead Metcalf played show tunes on the piano. They married in 1962 and ran the Palace together. Joan, known to her friends as “Joanie,” sang there until 1982, according to Mead Metcalf. They divorced a year later.Many Crystal Palace patrons remember Joan Metcalf’s signature tune, “Hello, Dolly.” She sang it straight, though most of the dinner theater’s musical offerings are topical, satirical numbers. The waitstaff at the Palace is also the cast for its nightly performances, winter and summer.
“Not only was she the lead singer at the Palace, but she greeted everybody at the door with Mead,” said former Palace performer Dottie Wolcott, who now runs The Aspen Times front office. “She was just a very full-of-energy, fun-loving woman who had a terrific voice and hated every moment she was on the ski slopes.”Metcalf skied with Mead but was no fan of the sport, Wolcott recalled.Her wide circle of friends extended well beyond the Palace, according to longtime friend Michelle Mains Sanchez.”She was just a very generous and loving spirit,” Sanchez said.
“She was a wonderful lady,” Sanderson said. “She leaves behind a lot of people who thought she was the best.”Metcalf’s family is planning a celebration of her life after Thanksgiving, and a detailed obituary will be published at a later date.She is survived by daughter Kim Higbie, son Don Higbie, sister Susan Fox of Glenwood Springs and brother King Fisher of Australia.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org