News

Off Limits

Villa Italia Mall, which opened in 1966 on one hundred acres at the corner of Alameda Avenue and Wadsworth Boulevard in Lakewood, will officially close on July 15, another victim of bigger and better malls on all sides of Denver. Although it has been suffering since the early 1990s, Villa Italia was once one of the area's premier shopping centers, and it gave Lakewood something to brag about. Plans call for razing the mall and building a brand-new shopping center on the site. (Tragically, the closure also means one less Orange Julius franchise in Colorado.)

But at least Villa Italia is going out the way it came in -- with a star appearance by another beloved relic of days gone by: Blinky the Clown. Blinky, aka Russ Scott, took to the airwaves with his Channel 2 kids' show, Blinky's Fun Club (can you sing "Happy BIRF-day"?), the same year the mall opened. But like Villa Italia's, the program's popularity dropped dramatically through the 1990s (from a ratings standpoint, at least), and Blinky's Fun Club was finally -- and unceremoniously -- canceled in 1998.

Blinky's still clowning around, though. Scott, who turned eighty earlier this month and owns an antique store on South Broadway (called Blinky's Collectibles -- duh), is looking forward to his weekend appearance at the mall, where he will be in full clown dress. "The lady called me about two weeks ago and said she found out that I was there for the grand opening," he says. "And I said, well, I've been to so many places over the years, I think I probably was."

Although Blinky hasn't made too many appearances in his signature plaid jacket, big red nose, bowler hat and makeup since Fun Club was canceled, he does show up in a new, $50 coffee-table book called Denver: On Top of the World, one of a series churned out by Memphis, Tennessee-based Towery Publishing Inc. Towery got to Denver only after having published similar books on about ninety or so other cities (including Des Moines, Iowa; Lubbock, Texas; and Colorado Springs, for crying out loud). In addition to the two-page spread on Blinky, On Top of the World features photos of some of the state's most upstanding citizens and, in the religion section, a serious portrait of Reverend Father Martin Philips -- that's "Father Phony" to you -- getting ready to shake down some upstanding citizens.

Like the rest of Towery's Urban Tapestry Series, Denver's tome includes mini-profiles of companies, organizations and agencies that paid to be included, along with an introduction written by a colorful local figure -- in this case, longtime radio announcer Pete Smythe. But Smythe wasn't the first choice for Towery, which tapped quarterback Steve Young for San Francisco and relied on Ed Koch to introduce New York. For Denver, Towery went after former Denver Bronco John Elway, who turned the publisher down.

Still, from Elway to Smythe is quite a leap, particularly when you consider that Smythe died in May 2000. But then, Smythe also lives on at Denver International Airport, where his folksy voice utters the bossy train admonitions: "The train is approaching. Please stand away from the doors."

Maybe they used a ghostwriter...

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes