We keep reading in the local papers how celebrities aren’t a big deal in Aspen, but then every time one sticks his/her head out from under a rock, some reporter or columnist oohs and aahs, making the rest of us queasy. Before you think I’m anti-social, I’d like to add my two cents regarding said lackluster brouhaha. The celebrity thing got off to an early start in my life with the presence of Gary Cooper in Aspen. My great-aunt, Julia Stapleton, somehow got invited over there to the lower Red Mountain address for lunch, and she took my mother and me along, just for the heck of it, I guess. The Coopers had a wild squirrel on the back patio that was reasonably well trained to beg for food, and tossing him nuts was the highlight of my visit with the legendary film star.In elementary school, it didn’t take us long to figure out that star-studded celebrities seemed to stay at the Hotel Jerome, and we knew which door to knock on if we wanted to see ’em, because one particular suite was always reserved for big shots. If a face we recognized answered the door, we asked for an autograph – if not, we’d say something about “sorry, wrong room” and buzz on down the hall. Obviously, it was a hit and miss system, and sometimes we’d get autographs from people whose signatures didn’t match up with the faces we thought we’d seen, and that prompted arguments about what had gone wrong, until the next week, when we’d beat on the door once again. It seems like a big deal to a lot of people nowadays to see splendiferous people here and there in town, but it used to be more commonplace and a non-event. Going down to my uncle’s house on Red Butte Drive one winter night, I helped a woman get her car unstuck from the driveway across the street. I later said something to my aunt about the neighbor lady looking a lot like Cher and was informed that Cher was indeed the neighbor. It wasn’t uncommon for Buddy Hackett, another neighbor, to poke his head in the door with the latest of what he thought were good jokes. Please, knock first, was the sentiment.One day, as I performed dispatch duties for the Aspen Mountain ski patrol, a caller asked if I’d go over to the Sundeck and tell Michael Douglas that the film crew wasn’t coming up the mountain that day. “Sure,” I said, wondering how screwed up that poor guy on the other end of the phone must be. Besides, we were the ski patrol, not a messenger service. As I was buttoning up my morning shift, Robin Perry, the patrol director, called me over to the Sundeck, saying there was someone he wanted me to meet. Yeah, it was Michael Douglas, letting me know he would have rather made a few runs than wait around for that elusive film crew. Oops.Of course, there was the time I became the stunt double for the Marlboro Man during the filming of some commercials around Aspen. Per the script, I was to rope a black stallion who had escaped from a corral just moments before, and save the day, for whomever. After a couple of days filming my unique attempts at roping this “runaway” horse, the big star was brought in for the close-ups. Someone eventually noticed that I had been doing the roping with my left hand – the “face” was right-handed. Two days of filming costs a lot of money, so the talent was told to do the best he could with his left hand. Another oops, which still makes me smile.What makes a celebrity, anyway? If any of them who come to town put their pants on any differently than the rest of us, be sure to let me know; otherwise, I’ll call you. Tony Vagneur still remembers the liplock he got from Melanie Griffith on a cattle drive, but that’s another story. Read Tony here on Saturdays and send comments to email@example.com.
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For those of you who follow my monthly missives, and occasionally read between the lines, you may have noticed a trend toward a bit of cognitive dissonance and some internal conflict on my part.