Coghi headed to Hollywood
Everyone loves a good prank. At least that’s what two independent moviemakers and Aspen native Roger Marolt are hoping. Filming continued this weekend on a documentary that captures the ruckus caused when Marolt, an accountant with a penchant for fiction, wrote 180 hoax letters to local newspapers over three and a half years. From 1999-2002, he signed the editorials with 23 different names. “The film stirs up some situations that might have got a little touchy,” said producer Alan Stepp, describing the documentary based on Marolt’s book “Dear Editor.” The book is a compilation of his letters to the editor. Director Allan Tudzin stumbled across the story via his wife, a travel writer for The Robb Report. While researching Aspen for a feature on The Little Nell hotel, she picked up Marolt’s “confession” at a local bookstore and devoured it on the flight home. Tudzin was less than thrilled to read it, despite his wife’s insistence. “I was like, ‘This is a stupid book,’ but the weird thing was she was laughing all the time, I mean big belly laughing,” he said.
Finally the director consented and quickly realized he could turn the book into a full-length feature film. “It’s nothing more than a compilation of letters, but it’s hilarious,” Tudzin said. The plan is to film in Aspen throughout the year, capturing different seasons that correspond to different letters and issues raised, he said. As Marolt understands it, the documentary is intended to be tongue-in-cheek, portraying a more realistic Aspen than the glitz and glamour Hollywood often paints. Tudzin said he looks forward to delving into the nitty-gritty of Aspen’s community. His favorite part of moviemaking involves meeting unusual characters, and this documentary is no different.”Out in L.A., everyone’s quirky to a degree, but there’s no substance,” he said. “But [in Aspen] there’s quirkiness with substance.” There’s plenty of cinematic fodder, judging by the elaborate lengths the prank reached. Marolt would occasionally exchange barbs with his fictional characters, writing letters responding to his make-believe Aspenites. During one particularly famous duel, the accountant challenged “Todd Coghi” to a ski race.
To complicate matters, Aspen radio station KSNO snatched up the story. Former disc jockey Brian Keleher invited Marolt and “Todd” to duke out the argument on the airwaves. Predictably, “Todd” didn’t show; the predicament ended with Marolt calling the station using a poorly disguised voice and Keleher discovering – then joining – the hoax. “He’s a devil too,” Marolt said, adding that Keleher later helped him broadcast a mock fight with his pretend nemesis. The prankster kept suspicious local newspapers at bay with all sorts of tricks, such as submitting the letters to the editor from specially made AOL accounts and answering his cell phone, “Hello, this is Todd,” and other aliases. The cat-and-mouse game finally ended in September 2002, thanks to the sleuth work of former Aspen Times reporter Brent Gardner-Smith. “It was pretty uncomfortable for me to walk around town for about a month,” Marolt said. Both The Times and the Aspen Daily News wrote scathing editorials slamming his actions. “I was initially quite angry,” said former Aspen Times Editor Mike Hagan. “I felt there’s got to be a certain amount of trust between newspapers and the community, especially in a small town like Aspen.”Since then, the controversy has cooled somewhat. Aspen is a forgiving place, Marolt said, and thankfully “there’s always something nuttier coming down the road.”
Ironically, the accountant is now a weekly columnist for The Times.Hagan, who initially banned Marolt’s letters for life, needed a local writer who could “stir up the pot,” so he overlooked the past and pitched the idea. “I think they hired me just to get me to stop writing letters,” Marolt joked. The yet-to-be-named documentary is tentatively slated for completion in time for the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, Tudzin said. “It could be the biggest flop in the world, but I don’t think it will,” he said, explaining that the book propels a good story with a beginning, middle and, most importantly, end. While the Los Angeles-based director said Marolt seems like a good person, “the movie is not about Roger, it’s about the letters and characters developed.”After the first weekend of shooting he estimated that half the town loves Marolt and half hates him. But as an outsider, Tudzin said he doesn’t know who is who. The filmmaker anticipates speaking with at least 65 people for the film (although the final footage will contain 15 or 20 individuals). “Maybe I’ll come and interview you,” he said.
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A driver looking to squeeze one last four-wheel drive up Aspen Mountain discovered that it’s not the ascent but the decent that poses a challenge.