Gossipmongers

Dishing dirt on the bigmouths of Denver.

On October 15, Penny Parker, a former business writer for the Denver Post, took over as the gossip columnist for the Rocky Mountain News -- and her bow was a rocky one indeed.

Examples? A Parker-penned item about the Wynkoop Brewing Company's annual "Running of the Pigs" had the event taking place on the 15th when it actually got under way the following day, and her announcement of an upcoming Las Vegas appearance by notorious former Aspenite Claudine Longet claimed that Longet plugged her former lover, professional skier Spider Sabich, 33 years ago, when in fact the shooting took place 23 years back. (The second slip was an unintended homage to Parker's predecessor, the error-prone Norm Clarke, who likely gave her the tip; he also included a line or two about Longet's impending Vegas visit in his October 15 column for the Las Vegas Journal-Review, the publication for which he left the News. But Clarke avoided getting the date wrong -- by not including it at all.) In addition, Parker missed a fabulous opportunity when she reported that scruffy, neo-beatnik singer Tom Waits had been spotted shopping at Neiman Marcus without underlining the absolute incongruity of his presence there: Imagine Sixties-vintage Abbie Hoffman picking out china patterns at International Villa and you're on the right track. Moreover, she dedicated a full paragraph to thanking the hair-and-fashion support team that readied her for the sorta dorky Parker-on-a-penny photo/graphic that accompanies her column, and cited Dom and Jane, the morning duo at radio's Mix, for sending her a slew of welcome-to-the-new-job gifts -- a gesture that apparently paid off in two November columns, when Parker wrote chits about the Mix pair. Note to Denver publicists: flattery works.

Admittedly, Parker did manage to include a few pleasurable snippets in her debut, such as the revelation that Denver attorney Craig Silverman "was caught between television interviews on the Ramsey case" using a compact to powder his nose, and several subsequent columns featured factoids with more of an edge than Denverites might have expected. On October 17, Parker chided irresistible but previously off-limits target Annabel Bowlen, wife of Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, for wearing "skin-tight sequined jeans, a cut-down-to-there top, and a faux leopard jacket" at a Girl Scout charity bash with the line "What was she thinking?" and in her October 19 missive, she teased Broncos backup quarterback Bubby Brister for puffing a cigarette at the Palm by writing, "Note to Bubby: Quit smoking! You'll need your wind if [Mike] Shanahan ever decides to make you the starting QB again." To Parker, these observations demonstrate the prime difference she brings to the Denver gossip table: a woman's perspective.

J. Hadley Hooper

"There's a fine line when you write that kind of thing, because if people think you're making fun of them, they'll cut off your source supply," Parker points out. "So when I wrote about Annabel Bowlen, I made sure to talk about all the philanthropic deeds she's done in town. But with that outfit, I had to wonder what was going on in her head -- and afterward, I got a couple of comments from women saying, 'No one else would have written about that, and I'm glad you did.' And with Bubby smoking, I had one woman saying, 'Write more about that, because they're role models.' But I also had a lot of people hating that item and saying that he deserved his privacy. But I didn't walk into his living room and catch him smoking; he was in a public place. Besides, writing about that kind of thing is my job."

And a difficult and pressure-packed job it is. For better or worse, gossip columns are among the most popular features in metropolitan dailies, which makes filling them an important priority. And yet, like all but a handful of major U.S. cities, Denver is celebrity-challenged. The main players on professional sports franchises qualify for extended spotlight time, with John Elway remaining the undisputed top attraction, and so do the more prominent politicians, even if the requisite fluffy gossip tone prevents anything but lighter-than-air jottings about the latter. But promoting local media personalities to headlining status is fraught with peril in today's luminary-savvy society (good luck convincing an Entertainment Tonight junkie to care about Adele Arakawa), and puffing up business leaders unfamiliar to the average Joe or Jane often takes more explaining than it's worth. As a result, local gossips must find alternate ways to cover their beat -- and the choices they make say as much or more about Denver than practically any other part of the paper.

Although the Denver Post trails the News in a number of areas, including weekday circulation, the publication is clearly the gossip leader: Splitting the beat are longtimers Dick Kreck and Bill Husted, who was stolen away from the News in 1996. Of the two, Husted is the gushiest, forever going on about the famous, the near-famous or the not-famous briefly caught in fame's glow. This predilection leads to innumerable lines about where various Broncos or ex-Broncos recently ate dinner, as well as loads o' allusions to notables with long-ago Denver connections (e.g., a November 18 zinger lifted from Entertainment Weekly about diminutive ex-Different Strokes curio Gary Coleman, who lived in the "Busy Woman's Dream House" in Highlands Ranch during the late Eighties) and what-a-stretch items such as a November 16 report about the L.A. wedding of a Denver-based British Vogue correspondent that made the grade because actress Gwyneth Paltrow attended the ceremony. But Husted generally gets away with such silliness because of his infectious enthusiasm, his blind faith in the power of the exclamation point -- one day it's "Mon Dieu!" and the next it's "You go, girl!" -- and his willful embrace of Walter Winchell-like slanguage: Paltrow is identified as the bride's "childhood pally." As it turns out, Husted's sister was Winchell's secretary, giving young Billy a chance to see the godfather of gossip in social situations. Like Winchell, he says he tries to give readers "a certain intimacy with the city -- tell them what's fun, what's hot, who's been passing through town. I want my point of view to be affectionate to the city but a little world-weary and sophisticated -- but also funny."

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