Most of you folks were not alive at the time when The Front Runner’s narrative took place. But I was. I was there with that stare, just short of a glare. Due to hit cinemas today, the film stars Aussie Hugh Jackman as potential Democratic Nominee Gary Hart, who in 1986/7 was the regeneration of the Kennedy-esque charismatic contender for President. The movie follows the rise and media-caused fall of Hart, a born womaniser in the Kennedy tradition. I was an eye witness to that exciting meeting between the Colorado Senator, who was wearing a Larry Hagman style ten-gallon cowboy hat at the time, and Donna Rice, the Miss South Carolina World beauty pageant winner who had just recently bagged a role in Miami Vice. Contrary to a story written by Alan Richman in People back in 1987, they weren’t at Don Henley’s party, but rather at the annual Aspen New Year’s Day party of Miami Vice co-stars, Don Simpson and Don Johnson.
Your reliable narrator had just met his soon-to-be wife, who knew Aspen like I now know the back of my hand, despite the restraining order I took on it. She led me to the Jerome Hotel, that fateful New Year’s Day, for an early dinner, before the two Dons’ party of the year (a true fact for at least one day every year). Her best friend was “dating” Bill Dixson, the Campaign Manager of Hart’s Presidential run and, incidentally, Hunter S. Thompson’s best friend. A clash of un-civilisation was inevitable.
The first person I noticed was the ultra-tanned, ultra-blonde beauty, Patricia Duff, wife of movie powerhouse Mike Medavoy, an LA veteran, and looking odd, as Jews have never really fitted the Hagman Big Dallas Hat comfortably. Medavoy wore lamb wool rimmed lining on his leather tanned coat with leather frills up and down the arms and shoulders, a jet-white shirt with perfectly lassoed tangled string and gemstones around his neck, working as a noose rather than as a tie. They were just a table away, when the bigger-hatted Gary Hart, clothed in an identical coat, lined with shagged wool akin to an earlier version of Ugg, came through the door to much acclaim.
Hotel Jerome at the time was very Democratic. The drug trade in Aspen was recently shaken by the bombing of a major dealer’s Porsche in the Aspen Sports Club carpark, so the town’s people and its visitors leaned left in politics, and forwards when skiing downhill. Gary Hart and Bill Dixon took their places at Medavoy’s table, which was rim-to-rim with big grey Hagman hats. There were other people, not recognised by your humble narrator, as the glow of Patricia Duff filled my wide-open eyes. Dixon waved at his girlfriend at our table but dare not break the circle of hats. Hunter never ever ate out.
The next sighting was after I had three cups from Sonny Bono’s huge glass bowl of punch. Bald as a bandicoot, I would have never recognised him at the Two Dons’ party, but the relentless “Sonny, Sonny, Sonny!” of the Punch Drunk made me look closer. Heaven and probably Bill Crosby knows what Sonny put into the punch, but my fiancée was hot under her cowboy collar, and her familiar tug of my ear led me to the safety of the house. The co-host, Don Simpson, co-producer of the 1990 sports actions drama, Days of Thunder, was the only man I ever knew who looked at me carnally. Those dark eye-browed black eyes haunt and hunted me long after he expired on the toilet from excessive living. I should have been flattered, but something unhinged hung on his brow.
Soon the big hats came, mounting the stairs into the house from the line of cars in the deep snow. Bob Segar was with them. I had momentarily forgotten his existence; hit after hit I thought he was dead, but I suspect he was merely snow-blinded in Aspen. It was the American centre for the Snow Storm from Colombia. Aspen airport accommodated private jets without the nuisance of customs, barely a carousel in those days.
Don Henley of The Eagles was there with a dark-haired girl and was joined by the bevy of Big Hats. Bill Dixon came over to us with Hunter in tow and Bill’s English girlfriend pulled out the little baggies and soon it was on for young and old. Strange thing is, Hunter only did a little fingernail bump of the jet white powder, mind you, one in each nostril. His appetite was always on a tight lead, although he started each day with the same two snorts and some whiskey, he never squandered or had more, but just regularly enough to get that bump. Before long, the conversation steered to taking Gary on tour in a special commissioned Qantas Jumbo Jet. Travelling with Gary, Bill and team, Patricia and Hunter, me and Fiancée and Bill’s girlfriend, we were flying to Perth. Why Perth? My memory fails but not my eyes. Donna Rice was going to be on that flight.
Memories jump in time, now I am in a bedroom, Jack is on the bed, with a plate and Amex card with in-built magnifying glass he had invented to read the bill at restaurants. Then, Bruce Willis, also as bald as a bandicoot, burst through the door, “Jack, I think it’s weird we have never met!” at the top of his gravelly voice. Jack nodded his cool nod. The plate was offered. Behind me was JD Souther, the brilliant singer-songwriter of many Eagles’ songs and former boyfriend of Linda Rondstat. He was fucking a literary Aussie girl who just happened to be there. Her long red hair hanging with the green curtains leaning against the wall. JD was one of those tall, lean, long-haired guys, usually bass players or painters, who have been stealing my girls all of my life. They are built like a stripling tree but are hung like bulls. It was about 4:25 am when I checked my watch, which was still in use in 1986, but long since replaced by the phone.
These memories are true. I look forward to seeing the movie and whether or not they got it right. Rice and Hart continued their relationship during the New Year until the goddamn press made it impossible to commit adultery as a presidential candidate, until the assumption of Bill Clinton and John Edwards.
Image: Fiona Waterstreet, Charles Waterstreet and Pamela Mora In Los Angeles, 1987.