Talking to Tukey
September 17, 2007
We first visited Aspen in 1949 and moved there from the outskirts of New York City in 1950. Aspen has changed enormously since then; the experiences of early Aspenites often seem unimaginable in today’s context. I’ve written several articles about those days, including an interview with my mother, Nancy Morgan Smith, which The Aspen Times published earlier this year. The following is from a Sept. 12 interview with Tukey Cleveland (then Tukey Jonas) at her home in Santa Fe, N.M. Tukey Koffend, her sister, also lived in Aspen and owned Uriah Heep, a store selling imported clothing and items.
Morgan Smith: First, Tukey, I’ve always been curious about your name. Where did Tukey come from?Tukey Cleveland: It’s my maiden name. I was born Lydia Louise Tukey. Tukey is Welsh.
MS: Thanks. Now tell me about how you came to Aspen.TC: Carl Jonas and I drove to Aspen in October 1946. We were newlyweds and went from Omaha to Aspen in a Jeep that had no heater and a canvas top that Carl had made himself. Near the end of the trip we crossed Loveland Pass. It was so cold that we stopped in a roadside place west of the pass and bought a bottle of bourbon to sip on. When we tottered into the lobby of the Hotel Jerome, Tom Effinger, the assistant manager, greeted us. The bar was full of people dying to meet the newest residents, so we pulled ourselves together and joined them. We had the Jerome’s famous milk punches. They were called the Aspen Crud. What a punch!Soon we rented a small house next to Judge and Dorothy Shaw for $40 a month. It was so cold that first night that Carl’s shoes froze to the floor. There were three coal stoves, on one of which I learned to cook. A true challenge since I had never cooked anything. That first morning, I asked Dorothy Shaw how to cook a medium boiled egg. She said, “You sing three verses of ‘Lead Kindly Light’ and it’s done.”
Carl had been a Baptist and should have known this hymn but didn’t, so I winged it.MS: What did you do in Aspen?TC: Carl was a writer. He rented the timing shack at the base of Aspen Mountain to use as his studio. In 1952, his novel, “Jefferson Selleck,” was chosen as Book of the Month. And I opened a contemporary furnishings and folk art store in the Benedict Building, but soon moved it to the old railroad station where the trains still came in twice a week. For clients I had a captive audience, as there was very little competition
MS: Those early days were so different from the Aspen of today. Tell us about it.TC: The late ’40s, ’50s and ’60s were the years to live in Aspen. Farmers, ranchers, skiers, business people – everyone got along and respected each other. There were many new businesses and lots of hard work but also much fun. For example, Bob Marsh started the Epicure in 1954 and everyone met there for lunch. (Bob was a great community leader and also started the Hospital Thrift Shop in the fall of 1949.) Elli Iselin opened her store across the street and sold high-end ski clothes. Down the street Franz Berko and John Richardson had a photography shop. John Litchfield started The Red Onion, which was my favorite. Walt Smith, Dean Billings and Eric Lawrence played there. And, of course, Freddy “Snicklefritz” Fisher on clarinet and his son, King. He also had a workshop on Main Street with a sign out front that said “Fisher the Fixer.”Steve Knowlton had live music at the Golden Horn with local musicians like Teddy Armstrong on drums, Kenny Williams playing bass, Willy Reston with a baritone sax and Bert Dahlender also on drums. And the now-famous Dave Grusin played piano.
I also remember Fred Glidden with great fondness. He wrote westerns as Luke Short. He and Joe Marsala wrote a play about Aspen called “I’ve Had It,” which opened at the Wheeler Opera House without great success.In addition to working hard, we were young and full of hell and seized every opportunity to have a party. I remember a political party at the Hotel Jerome. Fabi Benedict came in a daring low-cut gown. In the ample bare area was written, “Filibuster.” Fritz Benedict came in a barrel labeled “Republican Prosperity.” Carl came as the “Gallup Pole,” with a plumber’s helper stuck on his head. Your father, Jimmy Smith, a staunch Republican unlike you, came with dollar bills pinned all over his suit.I had a “neuroses” party. What guests chose as their neuroses costumes proved hilarious and very revealing. Architect Gordon Chadwick’s costume involved a vacuum cleaner hose (Oedipal maybe?).
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We finally ran out of themes. The last party was at Ruthie Humphrey’s pink house and was a “foot” party. I wore a third leg, one-half of a pair of ballet tights stuffed with an extra slipper on it. It hung from my garter belt and was shockingly realistic. I won the prize. To top it off, Bob Klusmire, a local cowboy, rode his horse into the house.We would also go to the Opera House before it was remodeled, bringing pillows to sit on because it was just a burnt-out husk. That’s where I heard Burl Ives, as well as the folk singers, Marais and Miranda.I also remember wonderful Fourth of July parades. One year, we had a float with Carl wearing a cowboy hat and sitting in a bathtub looking stark-naked. Our theme was “Saturday night at the ranch.”
Aspen was an amazingly enterprising place in those days. Fritz Benedict, for example, had a ranch on Red Mountain. He arranged things so that “would-be” ranchers like Phil Wright and other Camp Hale veterans could go there on the GI Bill of Rights. None of them were real cowboys; they were ski bums with college degrees but they thrived in Aspen. One year the Hotel Jerome paid Bob Marsha and me $100 to put up the Christmas decorations. We worked like dogs in an unheated building, our hands so cold we couldn’t feel the pricks and punctures we endured. MS: What made you decide to leave?TC: I remarried and moved to Santa Barbara. But it left a great hole in my heart. I still treasure my Aspen and the memories of all those wonderful people.