ASPEN, Colo. — The party seemed straight out of an episode of "Miami Vice."
As clouds of steam billowed from an indoor swimming pool, security men dressed in three-piece suits and carrying walkie-talkies escorted guests into the cavernous high-ceilinged living room.
With city lights twinkling below, Don Johnson, dressed in a bulky designer sweater and silver loafers, played perfect host to the perfect crowd. A quick laugh with Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston, a private chat with Martina Navratilova, a moment with "60 Minutes" reporter Ed Bradley.
And so it went. But this was not TV. This was not Miami. This was Colorado--Aspen, to be precise.
Aspen . . . the name alone conjures up images of snow-capped mountains and cozy restaurants with wood-burning stoves. This may indeed be the place to traverse America's most challenging slopes, but during the holidays the ski bumps are the least-prominent moguls in town.
With its spectacular setting and relatively easy access, Aspen attracts the rich, the powerful and the overextended every winter. The 40-year-old community may boast the highest star-to-normal-folks ratio of any resort in the world. You doubt that? Media hyperbole? Then consider this: Last Saturday, there were 466 takeoffs or landings of private jets on the tiny single runway at Aspen/Pitkin County Airport. "The private planes outnumbered the commercial jets 5 to 1," said Cliff Runge, general manager of Aspen Base Operations. "It was nuts."
It is curious and yet irrefutable that many in the movie community prefer to get away to the same places as their peers. Perhaps there's a certain security in knowing you can keep an eye on the competition while sipping Crystal Champagne in a bubbling Jacuzzi at the Snowmass Club. "One morning I saw Rupert Murdoch, Barry Diller, Bruce Willis and Jane Fonda and that was when I stopped for coffee," says a major producer who keeps a condominium at the ski resort.
It's not just on-camera celebrities who flock to the slopes. This Christmas the town was packed with studio heavyweights (20th Century Fox's Diller, Orion's Mike Medavoy), music producers (Quincy Jones, Richard Perry), film producers (Don Simpson, Peter Guber, Victor Drai) and a host of rock 'n' rollers including former Eagle Don Henley, Kiss frontman Paul Stanley, Paul Simon and on and on and on.
With all of these industry types cramped into a small town like Aspen, one has to wonder, is this really just a vacation? Or, does this woodsy winterland simply provide a post-card backdrop for putting together that all-star package deal? "If I had 3% of all the deals I've heard discussed this week, I'd be a very rich man," says Shlomo Ben-Hamoo, an Israeli native who moved to Aspen six years ago and opened the popular Shlomo's Deli.
But others insist that with the film industry virtually shut down from Christmas through New Year's Day, there is little shop talk. Screenwriter Gail Parent, who brought 12 sweaters for her trip--"no repeats"--made a vow with her partner Armyan Bernstein that they would not discuss their Universal movie "An American Date." "It was fun," she says, "because we would go to dinner or the movies and we knew we simply would not discuss it."
Producer Victor Drai ("The Woman in Red") says that for him, the lack of deal-speak was refreshing. "The great thing was you really got to see all of these people that you regularly do business with on a different level. I went to a party and 80% of the room was from L.A. I didn't hear one word that night about the business."
The irony is that many of these power players desperate to get away wind up in the condo next to the guy they were cursing in Hollywood the previous week. And even if specific deals or projects are not discussed openly, some business inevitably transpires through a kind of glitzy osmosis.
The movie business, after all, is based on relationships. In Aspen, dinner is the main social event of the day and it is not at all unusual to see Hollywood types traveling in packs. You might, for example, have spotted Bruce Willis and his entourage savoring the $30 potato pancake and caviar appetizers at chic Gordon's restaurant. "It's really kind of like a big summer camp," says screenwriter Parent. "You go to the movies or to dinner and the whole bunk goes."
Expensive camp, though. While there are reasonably priced hotels in town, the locals know a good opportunity when they see one. Stars and power brokers prefer to rent spacious furnished homes and pay anywhere from $500 to $7,000 a night for the privilege. USA Today reported that Willis paid $18,000 to rent a chalet for two weeks. "That's nothing unusual," says deli owner Ben-Hamoo. "In fact, that was a pretty good deal for the house he got."