I first met Katie Lee in the winter of 1965, when I was delivering a manuscript to her at the little Victorian house on Hopkins Avenue that she rented from Freddie Fisher. My ex-husband Burt had copped the job of editing her manuscript of “Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle” and had immediately, as was his wont, turned the actual work over to me.
“It’s open,” a female voice shouted in response to my tentative knock, and then more impatiently as I hesitated on the sill, “I’m out here!”
I followed her voice and found Katie Lee sitting naked at her typewriter on her back deck, clacking away while, across the alley, workmen who were laying bricks for the new Patricia Moore building were staring with disbelief and joy, their tools arrested in midair.
Did I mention that it was snowing?
Half a year later, my family moved into a Victorian right across the street from Katie (houses, alas, all now gone) and she and I became fast – if unlikely – friends. Katie was a glamour puss with a vintage Thunderbird who had a steady gig at The Aspen Inn (now gone) and a string of past recording credits plus, most impressive, two appearances on “The Great Guildersleeve” radio program, which you can actually find and listen to on the Internet. She was famous.
But what she is famous for now, and what she cared most about all along, was the damming of the Colorado River that drowned the Glen Canyon and turned it into Lake Powell.
In the decade or so following the implosion of my marriage, and preceding Katie’s decision that Aspen’s heydays were over, we were next-door buddies, each other’s go-to in times of stress or woe.
She was my source of invites to some of the most interesting dinner parties, (Katie enjoyed her role as pimp) and I spent hours going over the manuscript of the many incarnations of her next book, “All My Rivers are Gone”
She was mad about the river. She was in love with the river. It is difficult to write about Katie uncensored, but in yet another book she described, ahem, making love to the river. Don’t ask.
Katie taught me how to get down when I was stuck on a sandstone hill, bellowing from below. “Stand up and lean forward. If you lean back, your feet are gonna slip out from under you. Good – now lean forward – lean forward, goddamn it – and take little geisha steps. Stand up. Lean forward. Geisha steps, there you go, come on. You see? You can do it.”
I recently received a copy of Katie’s new book, “The Ghosts of Dandy Crossing,” about – you guessed it – the river and the goddamn Glen Canyon Dam. The cover picture is of Katie – naked of course, her favorite attire – holding a gun on a naked man in a sandstone pool. The message is that the only way to get a cowboy to take a bath is to hold a gun on him. I’m no book reviewer, but it’s a sexy read by an old broad who will turn 94 in October.
Katie also is interviewed in the new film “DamNation,” a documentary about the recent trend to destroy damaging or useless dams and restore the rivers. If they ever blow up the Glen Canyon Dam, I hope they let Katie push the plunger.
As Mehitabel the cat said to Archy the cockroach, “Sing cheerio my deario, there’s a dance in the old dame yet.”
Keep writing, railing and dancing, Katie Lee.
Su Lum is a longtime local who wishes she had seen the Glen Canyon. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at email@example.com.