Celebrities including Barbra Streisand shun Colorado over gay rights

By Frank Spotnitz and Giselle Benatar
Updated December 04, 1992 at 05:00 AM EST

Actually, Virginia, there may be fewer megabuck Santa Clauses in Aspen this year. In response to Colorado’s election-day passage of an amendment to the state constitution that repealed antidiscrimination ordinances against gays, COFFIN (Coloradans and Californians for Fairness in the Nation), a group founded by L.A. publicist Phil Lobel, called for an entertainment-industry boycott of the state. The ensuing controversy is threatening to disrupt Hollywood’s favorite ski-and-schmooze fest, the annual holiday gathering of high-profile snow lovers, from Jack Nicholson, Cher, and Michael Douglas to Michael Ovitz, Michael Eisner, and Peter Guber.

Several Hollywood power players are already caught in the middle of the COFFIN controversy. At a Nov. 18 AIDS Project Los Angeles benefit, Aspen regular Barbra Streisand appeared to support the group’s plan. ”If we’re asked to,” she told the star-sprinkled audience, ”we must refuse to play where they discriminate.” But last week Streisand backpedaled in a press statement, saying she had not called for a boycott: ”The people living in Colorado, whom this most deeply affects, are contemplating many strategies. I will respect whichever one they feel is most effective.”

Streisand’s change of heart might have something to do with former Twentieth Century Fox head Marvin Davis, who is also represented by Streisand’s publicist, Lee Solters. According to several sources, Davis, who is an enormous financial and social presence in Aspen, is persuading his Hollywood buddies not to back out of their holiday plans. ”I’ve heard he’s been on the phone convincing people they shouldn’t cancel their vacations,” says Aspen mayor John Bennett (Davis wouldn’t comment on the calls). Some are listening. Robert Wagner and Cher faxed antiboycott statements to an Aspen press conference last week.

Despite Davis’ efforts, one public relations blow has already been struck. Just days before the event, the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR) withdrew from ”24 Hours of Aspen,” an endurance ski race scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend, which will now raise at least $200,000 for other AIDS causes. But some entertainment figures still intend to play the state. The Grateful Dead has said it will tour Colorado early next year, not wanting to penalize its fans. Manhattan Transfer will also perform in the state; the concerts will include special invitations for gays.

Aspen residents insist a boycott would be unproductive, given the city’s solid 3-to-1 rejection of the Nov. 3 amendment. ”If Hollywood doesn’t come to Aspen, they are falling into the hands of Colorado’s ‘family-values’ groups. They don’t want those people here,” says Robert Aikens, president of AIDS/Aspen CARES.

Aspen natives hope they can turn the situation around by Christmas. ”I’m not convinced Aspen won’t find a way to bring Hollywood back,” says Janet O’Grady, editor of Aspen Magazine. ”We’d like stars to use their clout to help America see the travesty of this ballot.” She may get her wish. ”You can’t afford to miss Aspen,” notes one Hollywood insider. ”You get more business done on a ski-lift ride than you could stuck in traffic with a cellular phone for an entire week.”