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Off Limits

The day the music died

When former Colorado attorney general Gale Norton was President George Dubya Bush's surprise pick to be the nation's new Interior Secretary, enviros quickly labeled her "James Watt in a skirt." Watt, the controversial Interior Secretary under Ronald Reagan, was a man who had as much of a penchant for putting his foot -- swiftly -- on the rear ends of environmentalists as he did for putting it in his mouth.

In 1983, for example, Watt announced that the Beach Boys wouldn't be invited to perform at the Washington Monument on the Fourth of July, as they had in years past, because rock and roll encouraged drug use and attracted "the wrong element." Instead, Watt asked Vegas regular Wayne Newton to take the Beach Boys' place. The substitution provoked understandable outrage and was overturned with an apology from Reagan, who even admitted to being a fan of the surf rockers.

Norton, fresh out of law school when she got a job working for Watt's Denver-based Mountain States Legal Foundation in 1979, was shaped by his philosophies on the environment and land use, but she clearly doesn't appreciate any comparisons between herself and the former Interior secretary. "A person we worked for twenty years ago does not determine who we are now," she told a daily reporter late last December. "I have a very different style."

Perhaps. But those formative years may have produced something even more chilling than the thought of James Watt in a skirt. To wit: James Watt in a poodle skirt. Last week, Norton revealed the names of ten celebrities she'd lined up to make public-service announcements for the Interior Department's "Firewise" radio campaign, which offers tips on how people who live in fire-prone areas can make their property safer. Heading up the list? Would you believe... Wayne Newton? That Mountain States Legal Foundation must have been one happenin' place during the disco era.

And let's just say that the rest of the talent -- Watt-approved, no doubt -- isn't exactly smokin'. The list starts with septuagenarians Dick Clark and Monty Hall, segues to Willard Scott, ropes in comics Elayne Boosler and Jackie Mason (whose current show in Denver is a ticket-sales bust), adds singers Lee Greenwood and Andy Williams and ends with alleged actresses Adrienne Barbeau (Maude) and Andrea Evans, from the soap opera Maude's Passions.

C'mon, baby, light that fire.


Mr. Smarty Pants: Back in 1986, Boulderite Rick Rosner-- dressed in roller skates and a loincloth and, at 26, fresh from yet another stint masquerading as a high school senior -- was Westword's cover boy for a story that asked, "Is This the Smartest Man in America?"

Sixteen years later, we have the final answer: No.

If he were, Rosner would never have spent the last two years fighting to make the folks behind Who Wants to Be a Millionaire recognize that the $16,000 question they asked him when he reached the hot seat was wrong, wrong, wrong -- and to let him "do over" the show, just like he redid high school.

Last month, Rosner, who lives in L.A., filed suit against the show's producers and ABC, asking $1 million in damages for the pain he's suffered since he answered "Kathmandu" to the question "What capital city is located at the highest altitude above sea level?" The correct answer was Quito, Regis Philbin told him. In fact, Rosner asserts, the correct answer was "None of the above." (La Paz, Bolivia, is actually the world's highest capital.)

While ABC shows no sign of relenting, Rosner's back in another hot seat next week: He's the star of Errol Morris's First Person, on the Independent Film Channel, telling the documentary producer how Millionaire ruined his life. "It's the most lucrative TV show in the history of the world," says Rosner, who's determined to be a millionaire one way or another. "You'd think they'd have enough money to know what they're doing.".

 
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