Denver brings out stars then and now

I’m trading the neon-lit streets of Las Vegas for a week to cover the celebrity scene and some political history at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

There’s enough star power gathering here, the site of the 1908 DNC, to solve America’s energy problems.

If the rumors pan out, Oscar winners George Clooney, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Warren Beatty could be mingling with Madonna.

The buzz has Bruce Springsteen giving a full concert before Barack Obama‘s speech Thursday at Invesco Field at Mile High.

It may take another 100 years to find this kind of non-sports electricity crackling in Denver.

During the 15 years I worked at the Rocky Mountain News as a sportswriter and man-about-town columnist, pro athletes were the celebrities in sports-crazy Denver.

No one lit up Denver quite like John Elway, whether it was during another Broncos comeback at Mile High Stadium or at a crowded steakhouse.

A century before Elway brought his rifle arm to Colorado, some epic figures called Denver home, or paid a visit, including some tough hombres who knew how to back their way out of a bar.

The earliest recorded celebrity sightings? Could have been 1880s gunfighters Doc Holliday and Bat Masterson bumping into Buffalo Bill Cody along the brothel-lined streets of what is now lower downtown.

Cody, who toured the globe with his Wild West show, was one of the most recognizable celebrities in the world. He died in Denver in 1917.

Holliday, who helped the Earps prevail in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Ariz., in 1881, worked at J.S. Brown Mercantile, 18th and Wynkoop, near Union Station in Denver.

In 1987, a geologist named John Hickenlooper paid $1 a square foot for the red-brick mercantile building to open Denver’s first brew pub, a move that helped develop a long-neglected, now-vibrant downtown district and boost his popularity. Five years ago, Hicken-looper was runaway winner in Denver’s mayoral race.

In 1882, a not-yet-30 Oscar Wilde, the eccentric Irish playwright, novelist and poet, was already a literary giant. He came through Colorado during an ambitious speaking engagement tour to promote the Gilbert & Sullivan musical "Patience."

Invited to silver-rich Leadville to open a new vein, or lode, with a silver drill, Wilde wrote, "I brilliantly performed, amidst unanimous applause.

"The silver drill was presented to me and the lode named ‘The Oscar,’" he added. "I had hoped that in their simple grand way they would have offered me shares in ‘The Oscar,’ but in their artless untutored fashion they did not."

Wilde also noted that during his visit to a Leadville saloon, he saw a sign that read: "Please don’t shoot the pianist; he is doing his best."

Molly Brown arrived in Colorado in the late 1880s, married a Leadville mines superintendent and later moved into a Denver mansion.

By 1908, when Denver was hosting the Democratic National Convention, she was 41 and getting into politics.

She was four years away from lasting fame as one of the survivors of the Titanic disaster.

Another 1908 DNC attendee was Damon Runyon, who worked for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post and ran the Denver Press Club before moving to New York City in 1910.

Runyon became one of Gotham’s best-known columnists, but generations of Broadway fans know him better for writing "Guys and Dolls."

Democrats are hoping Obama-mania will add another name to Denver’s pantheon of stars.


"Mr. Gore, please put your shirt on." — From David Letterman‘s "Top Ten Things Heard at Barack Obama’s Birthday Party"

Norm Clarke can be reached at (702) 383-0244 or Find additional sightings and more online at

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