Reporting on Aspen’s most famous imbroglios will get you in trouble. Just ask Jay Cowan, who recently released a compilation of his juiciest pieces.
Bonnie’s Restaurant, the scene of a messy ménage à Trump
Scandals can be entertaining and even informative, as long as they’re not happening to you. The old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity would likely be disputed by Charlie Sheen, Claudine Longet, Donald Trump and Ted Bundy if he could, among many others who have run into problems in Aspen. So, writing about scandals can embody all the challenges that being the bearer of any bad or embarrassing news entails. People come at you with phrases like “lawsuit,” “we’ll yank our ads” and “burn in hell.” It doesn’t matter that you didn’t create the scandals, you’re just reporting on them. Killing the messenger is a tradition that almost certainly dates back to early hominids.
Donald Trump and his second wife, Marla Maples
When I started writing about scandals in Aspen, I learned how TMZ and others do it and stay in business. You have to triple-check all your facts, be careful how you word things and pay people to start your car. That last thing became an issue when I was writing about one of Aspen’s infamous black widows. Pamela Phillips was charged with hiring someone to blow up her ex-husband Gary Triano with a car bomb in Tucson, then living it up with the life insurance money, in Aspen and abroad, before facing trial and being convicted.
After I had a piece published about it and appeared for about 12 seconds on NBC’s Dateline, I got a call from an ATF agent in Arizona who talked to me about Phillips and several other cases relating to the Aspen area. They included the car-bombing murder of an alleged local drug kingpin, which is also in my book. Months later the agent rang to let me know that the Triano car bomber had been convicted and sent to prison for life, and left me wondering if I should have been worrying about those ticking sounds under my hood.
See also: An Untold History of Aspen by Jay Cowan
Claudine Longet departing the Pitkin County Courthouse
When actress/singer Claudine Longet shot and killed her lover Spider Sabich, it received enormous national attention. Rumors were widespread from the outset that Andy Williams was buying his ex-wife’s way out of trouble with top lawyers, threats and hush money. And after I first wrote about the case, Longet’s ardent local supporters let me know their feelings on “what really happened” in no uncertain terms, largely unproven, but cited in the book.
Donald Trump is notorious for continually creating chaos, then reacting when the blowback hits. He didn’t act too fazed at the time when his then-wife Ivana got in a heated clash with his then-girlfriend Marla Maples at Bonnie’s Restaurant on Aspen Mountain over the Christmas holidays in 1990. However, when the brazen infidelity went global and cost him more than $14 million in the resulting divorce, he allegedly told friends he thought the reporting was unfair.
A young Charlie Sheen in all his bad boy glory
Similarly, Charlie Sheen’s multiyear binge of bad news, culminating with his arrest for assaulting his then-wife Brooke Mueller in Aspen, seemed not to dampen the self-proclaimed “bitchin’ rock star from Mars” support from his fans. It did, however, cost him huge sums of money in lost work for advertisers like Hanes and, eventually, after his behavior continued to devolve, he lost his role on a TV show that had made him the highest-paid talent on the tiny screen. To his credit, he never blamed or threatened the media for any of it.
One chapter in the book was even pulled from its original magazine slot by someone influential who was friends of those involved. In the end, I knew when I wrote these kinds of stories what I was letting myself in for: pissy main characters, ill-humored attorneys and nervous publishers. Res ipsa loquitur.
Scandal Aspen: The Rich and Famous Run Amok in Paradise, $14, Amazon Digital Services
Photography by: From top: © Aspen Historical Society, Aspen Skiing Co. Collection; Getty Images