For better or worse, the 125-year history of The Denver Post includes plenty of blood mixed in with the ink, particularly in its coverage of gossip and society scandals.
Besides crime and political news, which generated their own metaphorical gore, the Post’s society- and celebrity-driven coverage has been a staple for most of its existence — even before New York Daily Mirror columnist Walter Winchell invented the modern-day gossip column in the 1930s.
Printing society news and scandals in The Denver Post often lent transparency to the lives of powerful people, or highlighted worthy charitable efforts. That’s the “for better” part.
For worse? Many of the earliest examples were agenda-laden and falsified, written to settle scores or stoke lurid interest in the gilded world of the rich and famous. Furthermore, some of the most appalling stuff happened not in the pages of The Post, but in its offices.
“We live by stricter standards today, at least here at The Post,” wrote Bill Husted, The Denver Post’s last gossip columnist, in his Nov. 28, 2011, farewell column.
Husted’s 15-year tenure at The Post — following an equal amount of time spent at the Rocky Mountain News — traced a long line of Post columnists and celebrity-watchers who competed with Front Range publications such as the Rocky (shuttered in 2009) for the latest, greatest sparkle and sleaze in the Mile High City.
“Newspaper (gossip) columns had a reach far deeper than any newscast today,” said Husted, whose sister, incidentally, worked as Winchell’s secretary.
Husted met everyone from Cary Grant and Lucille Ball to Lionel Richie and Arnold Schwarzenegger at Denver events such as the Carousel Ball, a children’s diabetes fundraiser that is still held biennially in Denver. Husted also shadowed politicos’ and celebs’ movements during the Democratic National Convention in 2008, when Barack Obama became the first black man to be nominated for the presidency.
RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post
John Legend and will.i.am perform on the final night of the Democratic National Convention, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2008 at Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver.
RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post
Fergie on the final night of the Democratic National Convention, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2008 at Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver.
RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post
U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist Shawn Johnson on the field at Invesco Field at Mile High during the fourth and final day of the Democratic National Convention on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2008.
RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post
Michelle Obama arrives on the field at Invesco Field at Mile High during the fourth and final day of the Democratic National Convention on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2008.
Karl Gehring, The Denver Post
Chicago singer Terisa Griffin showed off her moves during a reception for Illinois residents in town for the Democratic National Convention. Delegates from Barack Obama's home state of Illinois partied early into the morning Aug. 28, 2008 inside the grand ballroom of the downtown Denver Marriott Hotel.
RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post
Singer Cheryl Crow preforms on the final night of the Democratic National Convention, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2008 at Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver.
RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post
Al Gore takes the stage on the last day of the Democratic National Convention, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2008 at Invesco Field in Denver.
RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post
Jessica Alba on the final night of the Democratic National Convention, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2008 at Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver.
Gleefully reporting on every step of the big names in attendance, Husted tracked Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton to the Brown Palace Hotel, among others.
“The whole paper was basically a gossip column during the DNC,” Husted said.
Denver Post scandals
Social media, television and magazines have largely supplanted newspapers as the go-to sources for spectacle and celebrity misfortune in recent years. But The Post’s early history offers lessons on mixing journalism with gossip, or even outright incitement.
Like many other newspapermen of his time, former Post publisher Frederick Gilmer Bonfils (1860-1933) frequently used the paper as a civic attack dog, a bullhorn for deep-pocketed interests and a cudgel against former friends and family who he felt had wronged him.
“One of the things Bonfils did with (The Post) was blackmailing or even blacklisting certain people,” said Tom Noel, a University of Colorado Denver professor who has written or co-authored more than 40 books on Colorado history.
Bonfils’ ethical transgressions most certainly belong in the “for worse” column. As chronicled in Noel’s work — as well as books such as Gene Fowler’s “Timber Line” and Bill Hosokawa’s “Thunder in the Rockies” — Bonfils and former bartender Harry Heye Tammen bought The Denver Post in 1895 and quickly reshaped it into a font of sensationalism and personal profiteering.
It wasn’t long before Bonfils paid a price. In early 1900, national media reported that he and Tammen had been shot in their Denver Post offices by William Anderson, a lawyer claiming he could free infamous cannibal Alfred Packer. They survived. Less than a year later, Bonfils and Tammen were ambushed and horsewhipped by another lawyer displeased with their fast-and-loose approach to journalism.
The Post was the first newspaper to uncover the Teapot Dome Scandal of the early 1920s, which would go on to embroil President Warren G. Harding’s administration. But after Harry Sinclair of Sinclair Oil paid Bonfils and his associates $1 million, they dropped their investigation and personal attacks starting in September 1922.
“That showed The Post could be bribed,” Noel said.
Other examples include Bonfils inviting advertisers to review articles before publication and allegedly threatening to use The Post to expose the son of Leopold Guldman, owner of the popular Golden Eagle department store, as gay unless Guldman sold his Cheesman Park mansion to Bonfils.
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The 40-room, three-story mansion at Humboldt Street and Ninth Avenue, which was custom-built for Guldman in 1912, was acquired by Bonfils in 1917 (and has since been demolished for high-rise condos).
If newspapers are “the first rough draft of history,” as former Washington Post president Philip L. Graham is credited with saying, The Post’s coverage under Bonfils was riddled with items that demanded revision.
“It wasn’t until Palmer Hoyt takes over in 1946 (13 years after Bonfils’ death) that The Post has a separate editorial page,” Noel said. “Before that, editorials and news were all mixed up together, and before that most news stories had an editorial point.”
In that way, the most salacious news moved out from behind the scenes of The Post and into its columns as the paper began to cover the city in a more forthright, ethical way.
Society and gossip
By contrast, society coverage had always played an influential role in The Denver Post, giving socialites and their fans a reason to scour the paper’s “Notes and Happenings of Interest to the Social Few” (as it was called early on) for names and photos culled from the weekly swirl of upper-crust events.
“One of the most delightful of the informal parties of the week was presided over today by Mrs. Oscar Malo, who entertained at a luncheon in her home,” The Post reported in a typical unsigned column from June 22, 1922.
The Denver Society column acted as the social media feed of its day, reporting on happenings as mundane as impromptu bridge gatherings and the times and locations of well-to-do-Denverites’ vacations. Aimed exclusively at women, the page included wedding announcements that were often accompanied by hand-cut, black-and-white photographs of brides in white hats and dresses clutching bouquets, among various birth and engagement notices.
Symbolically, it offered more than simple fodder for scene-watchers.
“For a certain set of people, having your activities covered in The Denver Post made them real and reinforced your social tradition,” said Jason Hanson, chief creative officer and director of interpretation and research at History Colorado. “It also gave people who aspired to be part of that set a template for how to behave and what to do to get there.”
That’s not dissimilar from Facebook or Instagram today, where celebrities offer carefully orchestrated glimpses into their apparently fabulous lives.
For most of its history, however, Denver was relatively isolated and self-contained — a typical small town with big-city aspirations. Society and celebrity coverage here was a smaller beast, by necessity.
“The Denver Post had different access and a different perspective on the people they were covering than a paper like the New York Post,” Hanson said. “Denver was really self-aware that it was the cultural capital of the Rocky Mountains, and The Post both shaped and amplified that awareness and that commitment to culture. (The paper) ensured that this mining camp had a culture that could stand shoulder to shoulder with cities out east.”
Despite its entanglement with the city’s civic and cultural elite, The Post was there for a number of high-profile scandals in early Denver history, including “prominent Denver clubman Courtland Dines, who was wounded during a frolic with two silent-screen stars in his Hollywood apartment” in 1924, according to former Denver Post columnist and editor Dick Kreck, in his 2016 book “Rich People Behaving Badly.”
Also chronicled: the tragic story of Isabel Patterson Springer, an intoxicating beauty who displayed a startling lack of judgment in the rich men she befriended. Her death made the front page of the April 20, 1917, edition of The Post.
“One by one the petals fell from the blooms of the primrose path, to bring her at last into the tangle of thorns which snarled themselves at the end,” wrote Courtney Ryley Cooper. “(They) enmeshed her, tore at her with their poison-tipped lances, which dragged her downward, downward to the mire.”
Isabel’s entry into Denver society started far more promisingly. A Post columnist wrote in 1906 of “a stunning beauty” who had married wealthy Denver businessman and civic leader John W. Springer, who first met Isabel on a business trip through St. Louis. “It is safe to prophesy that the Springer home is going to be a social center,” The Post reported of the couple’s two-story mansion at 930 Washington St.
Isabel was a ubiquitous society figure known (by some) for her infidelity, but a long-simmering battle for her affections eventually led to the killing of two men, and the subsequent high-profile trial of shooter Frank Henwood. Scandalized, Springer divorced his wife, who fled Denver, fell prey to drugs, alcohol and prostitution, and died penniless at age 37 in a charity hospital.
She was “a seducer, not unlike many young women who manipulate men,” The Post’s Frances “Pinky” Wayne wrote, scolding Isabel for her womanly charms. “The easiest way they have found is to assume the ‘eternal feminine’ pose.”
Modern society coverage
While much of The Post’s 20th century society coverage implicitly reinforced mainstream class, race and gender roles, a tectonic shift occurred when Joanne Davidson joined the paper on Nov. 19, 1985, from California’s Contra-Costa Times.
“They took me out for a very expensive dinner and gave me marching orders,” Davidson said of then-publisher Richard T. Schlosberg and editor David Hall. “They wanted to be sure that the society coverage reflected the entire community, not just white people from Cherry Hills. And I was kind of taken aback that somebody had to say that to me, because where I came from you just wrote about everybody who was doing something. But their message was: ‘I don’t want to see a lot of white faces.’ ”
That’s partially because The Post had been picketed in the weeks prior by minorities who felt the paper’s coverage only showed brown-skinned people in mug shots, and not in tuxedos and evening dresses.
Fortunately, Davidson — the former San Francisco bureau chief for U.S. News and World Report — started her job during the busy holiday-party season. She quickly befriended local African-American charity groups and was invited to speak at events in front of other minority organizations, which promised to hold her accountable.
Davidson, who acted as society editor of The Post for 29 years, still writes her regular Seen column as a freelancer — one of the only local Features columns to have survived the past decade of buyouts and layoffs at The Post.
“There have always been haters who say, ‘Who cares about this?’ ” Davidson said. “But it’s so much more than people just wanting to get dressed up and go to a party. There’s a whole service economy of hotels, stylists, boutique shops, babysitters and printers making money off the charitable scene here.”
The scene’s biggest events still raise tens of millions annually, such as the Children’s Hospital Gala, which marks its 40th year this year, or the Denver Debutante Ball, which has been held at the Brown Palace Hotel every year since its start in the 1950s and is considered the debutante event for the city, according to Davidson.
“Society events are big business in Denver,” Davidson said, noting that she once counted being invited to more than 1,500 formal events in the first eight months of the year. “For what was once a sleepy little cowtown, we’ve done OK for ourselves. And I’ve always taken it seriously. My editors always told me: ‘Cover it like any beat story. We don’t want you making fun of people. Leave that to the Krecks and the Husteds.’ ”
Competing for tips and scoops
In their own tenures at The Denver Post, Kreck (at 38 years) and Husted (at 15) left their marks on the city. Kreck even coined the term Lower Downtown, or LoDo, in a Nov. 2, 1983, Post column, after deciding against the less-catchy ABEWA (or “Area Below Wazee”), which was suggested by his girlfriend at the time, Vicky Gits.
“I just wish I had trademarked it so I’d get 25 cents every time somebody used it,” Kreck told Husted in a 2008 Post column. “No one paid much attention when I first wrote it. Then I started seeing it in press releases.”
Kreck and Husted’s thousands of column-inches of local gossip arrived in what was often a fiercely competitive local media environment.
Husted remembers sporting a vanity licence plate for his car that read “Tell me.” When rival (and late) gossip columnist Penny Parker joined the Rocky Mountain News in 2000, she got one for her BMW convertible that read “Tell Me 1st.”
“I always hated that because it just illustrated how unoriginal Penny was,” Husted joked.
So what would a Denver Post gossip writer have made of last month’s Taylor Swift groping trial, which drew international media to town?
If it had happened in the mid-to-late 20th century heyday of the gossip column, we might have known Swift’s every movement — a triangulated map of where she was eating, sleeping and tweeting, based on reader tips and on-the-ground reporting.
“In the old days, it would have been all hands on deck,” Husted said, noting that he heard several tips about Swift’s time in Denver (including her staying at the Ritz Carlton) but didn’t have a column in which to put them.
“I made a lot of enemies with my column. Mine was sort of the garbage pail of the paper, and a lot of people definitely looked down upon it. But we filled it up, seven days a week.”
A sampling of local and national celebrity news that The Denver Post has covered over its history, according to archival reports:
1892 — Frontier carpenter Henry C. Brown, having made a fortune selling land around Capitol Hill, becomes one of Denver’s biggest personalities thanks to the opening of his $2 million Brown Palace Hotel — where countless more celebs (and every President since 1905, except Calvin Coolidge and Barack Obama) would stay over the next 125 years.
1905 — Theodore Roosevelt becomes the first president to visit the Brown Palace atrium. He is welcomed with 1,000 American Beauty roses, 2,000 pink carnations and “carloads of apple blossoms” to decorate his eighth-floor suite.
1912 — Wealthy Denverite Molly Brown, deemed “unsinkable” after surviving the wreck of the Titanic, returns to Denver, where she is finally accepted by the city’s society scene.
1917 — Western legend Buffalo Bill Cody dies on Jan. 10. Four months later, The Denver Post organizes “a procession fit for a head of state,” ending with Cody’s burial on Lookout Mountain.
1919 — Boxer Jack Dempsey, a native of Manassa, in the San Luis Valley, claims the world heavyweight championship title after knocking out Jess Willard in Toledo, Ohio. Dempsey is famously known as “The Manassa Mauler.”
1935 — Infamous society figure Elizabeth “Baby Doe” Tabor, the scandal-ridden second wife of Horace A.W. Tabor, freezes to death in a cabin near Matchless Mine in Leadville.
1955 — After a Sept. 23 round of golf at Cherry Hills Golf Club, President Dwight D. Eisenhower suffers (and survives) a massive heart attack. He spends nearly two months at Fitzsimons Army Hospital, during which time he is photographed for The Post, smiling in a wheelchair and surrounded by his nurses and doctors.
1957 — First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, who was raised in Denver, returns to the Brown Palace, charming the staff and leading The Post to report (on its front page) of her “ladylike and pleasant” demeanor.
1964 — The Beatles play their first and only Colorado gig at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Aug. 26 — the only venue not sold out on their American tour.
1975 — Mick Jagger graces the pages of The Post as the The Rolling Stones are photographed playing at Fort Collins’ Hughes Stadium on July 20.
1981 — President Ronald Reagan is shot by sometime-Colorado resident John Hinckley.
1982 — Colorado astronaut Jack Swigert dies on Dec. 27, a week before he was to be sworn in as a member of the U.S. House.
1984 — Controversial radio host Alan Berg is gunned down outside his east Denver home by a racist group known as the Silent Brotherhood on June 18.
1987 — Democratic candidate and former Denver lawyer Gary Hart drops out the 1988 presidential race after reports of an extramarital affair with a 29-year-old model from Miami.
1999 — Legendary producer Robert Evans attends the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen to read from his autobiography, “The Kid Stays in the Picture.” In the crowd (as spotted by The Post’s Bill Husted) are Jerry Seinfeld, James L. Brooks, Janeane Garofalo, Martin Short, Neil Simon, Ben Stiller and Eugene Levy — a typical draw for the now-defunct mountain event.
2005 — Denver hosts its second NBA All-Star Game on Feb. 20 (the first was in 1984), drawing athletes, musicians, actors and other celebrities such as Julius Irving, Michael Jordan, Destiny’s Child (yes, when Beyoncé was still a member), Jay-Z, Russell Simmons, Justin Timberlake and Cameron Diaz (then a couple), Alicia Keys, Shaquille O’Neal, Patti LaBelle, Wolf Blitzer, 50 Cent, LL Cool J, Ludacris, Jermaine Dupri and … get the picture?
2005 — Owing to his loyalty to Comedy Works owner Wende Curtis, Dave Chappelle plays “secret” — and very sold-out — shows at the club’s Larimer Square location, kicking off regular Colorado visits that continue to this day. The comic’s most vivid memory of the city stemmed from an incident in which he was nearly arrested for skateboarding down the 16th Street Mall, he told Post writer Elana Ashanti Jefferson.
2008 — The Democratic National Convention also draws countless celebrities and politicians to town for parties, fundraisers and rallies. Among the leading ladies The Post spots: Jennifer Lopez, Arianna Huffington, Rosario Dawson, Jessica Alba, Eva Longoria, Annette Bening, Idina Menzel, Sarah Silverman, Jennifer Garner and Kirsten Dunst.
2016 — “La La Land” star Emma Stone and director Damien Chazelle light up the opening night red carpet at the 39th Denver Film Festival, held at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House.
2017 — Bill Murray, a 1960s alumnus of Regis University who is known for crashing weddings, birthday parties and kickball games, gets the tables turned on him when social media-aided fans crash his college reunion at LoDo’s in July.
Source : http://www.denverpost.com/2017/10/15/denver-post-celebrity-gossip-scandals/