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Simla, Colorado: Tuesday, September 3, 1974
The cook squinted
at the ticket on the wheel facing him, pretending to be
deciphering the handwritten lunch order.
“What language is that?” he asked softly.
“English,” said the perky teenaged waitress, pointing at the ticket with her
“Can’t you read?”
“No, I mean—”
“I know what you meant,” she said impishly, nodding almost
over her shoulder, in the direction of the man and woman conversing in
window booth. “German, I think. Or maybe Spanish.”
her platinum hair unmistakably was dyed, the woman looked to
be in her early sixties. Her smart pantsuit
and haughtiness made her seem
unwilling to concede anything beyond mid-fifties, even to herself. On the
other side of the table, the skinny young man with shaggy blond hair was
his coffee as the woman animatedly made a point with
both hands and a Teutonic torrent. Werner Vass had
just turned thirty and
he was accustomed to listening.
The only customer at the four-seat counter, a middle-aged regular who
owned the Simla Grocery next door,
devoured the final bite of a hamburger
and wiped his mouth with the paper napkin.
“Kristy,” he called out to the waitress. “Half cup for the road, will ya?”
As she poured the coffee, he told her bitterly, “It’s German, all right. I
I made her a goddamn widow.”
Kristy sneaked a look at the booth, where the woman continued her
The grocer raised his cup, took several swallows, and then slammed it
dropped four one-dollar bills on the counter and
As the cook finished assembling the Germans’ sandwiches and slapped
them on the plates—there
were no “presentation” issues at the Simla Café—
a stocky man in a dark suit,
with a chauffeur’s hat tucked under one arm,
entered and approached the booth. The Germans made no
move to make
room for him.
up,” he said.
The woman responded in clipped and accented
English. “How long will it
take us to travel to the Denver airport?”
“About two hours, ma’am.”
Werner Vass looked at his watch and rattled off something in German to
the woman. She nodded emphatically.
Turning to the chauffeur, Vass said,
“After we finish here, we would like to tour the area a bit
more before leaving
sir. I’ll be outside.”
Kristy delivered the food, sliding
the plates in front of them. Then she
stepped back, put her hands together and smiled. “Is there
anything else I
can get you?”
return smile wasn’t warm; it was a formality. It was a smile
offered in accompaniment with a request.
“Perhaps some information,” she
said. “How long you have lived in Simla?”
“All my life,” Kristy said. “Except last year at CU
. . . at college.” Self-conscious,
she added, “I’m taking this semester off. Going back
next . . .”
The woman cut her off. “Are you or the cook
aware of Glenn Morris?”
“The Olympics guy, right?”
“Well, Eddie just moved here a couple of years ago. So I don’t think he
does. But there’s
a display case about him at the school and they always cover
him in Modern American History. Won a gold
medal in something at the
Olympics in the twenties somewhere in . . .”
Kristy’s pause was momentary, but something was clicking.
“ . . . in Germany.”
the woman said, scolding. “The decathlon. And 1936.”
“I guess that’s why I only got a ‘C,’” Kristy said lightly.
The woman didn’t smile.
Kristy squinted. “Didn’t he just die, too?”
“In January,” the woman said flatly. “In California.”
“Did you know him?”
“Ye-e-e-e-s.” The woman
drew out the word, as if she was deciding
whether it would be the final one or she’d keep going.
She didn’t keep
going. Kristy interpreted the awkward pause as an excuse to leave and let
When Kristy dropped off the check, Vass perused it and said,
looking up, “You say there is a display honoring Glenn Morris at the town
“Outside the gym.”
“Where is this school?”
The waitress pointed north.
“A block up Caribou, right on Pueblo, up
the hill and you can’t miss it. Gym’s the first
thing you come to. School just
A few minutes later, Vass stood back as the German woman, transfixed,
over the glassed-in display. A bell rang and students scurried past. A
sign in school colors, blue lettering
on yellow background, stretched above
1936 Olympic Decathlon Champion
Pictures from his youth established that Glenn had been a student leader
star athlete, both at Simla High and Colorado Agricultural College in
Fort Collins, and handsome even then.
Front pages from Colorado newspapers
told of Morris’s Olympic triumph (“GLENN MORRIS CAPTURES
CROWN”) and his tumultuous welcome home to Colorado. The woman
A front cover of a German tabloid showed Morris, dark-haired and lean,
chiseled, wearing a USA sweatshirt, smiling slyly at the camera, resting
on one elbow as he lounged on
grass. He was featured so prominently, his
head even covered up part of the newspaper name. The editors
believed their readership didn’t need to be reminded of the title, but wanted
see the American star.
Finally, she came to a newspaper picture
of Morris in a dark USA pullover
sweater, and a white collared shirt underneath, sitting on the edge of
and writing a note on the adjacent tiny desk. A framed picture of a prim
young woman, her hair tied back, was next to his writing pad. The picture’s
and caption proclaimed:
GIRL HE LEFT BEHIND
Glenn Morris, the Colorado boy who is America’s
hope in the decathlon, takes
time out to write his girl back
The German woman lingered.
Vass solicitously placed a hand on her
“Er sollte bei mir übernachtet,” she snapped.
She pulled away from his hand and moved toward the school doors.
noticed that three boys had stopped behind them. It was as
if a pedestrian looked up at the sky. These
kids wanted to take a closer look
at what was drawing the strangers’ interest.
Starting in pursuit of the woman, Vass bumped one boy. “I’m sorry,” the
German said. “Excuse me.”
The kid pointed to the woman
storming off. “What did she say?”
Vass slowed and turned. Backing up, he told them, “She
said . . . ‘He
should have stayed with me.’”
* * *
With no orders pending and only three customers in the cafe,
poured himself coffee, gathered up a couple of sections from the Denver Post
piled by the cash register, sat at the counter, lit a cigarette, and started reading.
In the front section, he skimmed pieces summing up the early days of
the Gerald Ford administration
and Richard Nixon’s hermit-like existence
since his resignation. In sports, he checked on the status
of Denver Broncos
quarterback Charley Johnson’s wobbly knees. On the cover of the Rocky
West section, he read of the freshman cadets reporting to the
Air Force Academy fifty miles away in Colorado
Springs and laughed at the
pictures of hair shorn as barbers showed no mercy. He opened the section,
flipped a couple of pages and came to the beginning of the “Entertainment and Arts”
The lead story startled him. Above the headline were three face shots
the woman who a few minutes earlier had been sitting in the booth behind
three were from the same interview session. In the first, she smiled.
In the middle, she was pensive. In
the third, she decisively was making a
point with her hand.
The cook read the story
“Nazi” Controversy Mars Telluride Film Festival
Western Slope Bureau
TELLURIDE—By most standards,
the inaugural Telluride Film Festival at
the historic Sheridan Opera House in this southwestern Colorado
town was a spectacular success over the weekend, drawing marquee names,
overflow crowds, and establishing itself as a can’t-miss stop on the
Talks from acclaimed “Godfather” director Francis Ford Coppola and
iconic actress Gloria Swanson
were popular, but the appearance of German
filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, noted and criticized for her connection
Hitler and the Nazi Third Reich, drew the most attention.
of two of the famed director’s works—“Blue Light,” a 1932 drama
starred in, and Part 2 of “Olympia,” a documentary about the
1936 Olympics in Berlin—were
respectfully, even reverentially, received in
the showcase evening’s session. Many “Olympia”
viewers were surprised to
note that Riefenstahl placed a spotlight on a photogenic Coloradoan, American
decathlon gold medalist Glenn Morris.
Riefenstahl was given thunderous standing
ovations after both films, and
also when she was awarded a silver medallion as one of the festival’s
honorees. Her reaction was akin to those of prima ballerinas or opera sopranos,
her blowing kisses, repeatedly mouthing “thank you,” and accepting
A showing of her most famous film, “Triumph of the Will,” the documentary
about the 1934 Nazi
Party Congress in Nuremberg, was slotted for 1 a.m.,
drew a smaller crowd and surprisingly little reaction—positive
During the weekend, security was tight. However, protesters numbered less
a dozen and their actions didn’t disrupt festival events.
Festival organizers, as they
had earlier, noted that Riefenstahl never had
been a member of the Nazi party.
Riefenstahl, still a striking woman at age 72, consented to interviews with
individual reporters in her
suite at the Manitou Lodge before the festival began,
reiterating her claims that her films were the work
of an artist and that she
was neither philosophically nor politically aligned with Hitler and the Nazis.
“I am independent, always,” she said. “Hitler said about me that ‘Leni is
stubborn as a donkey.’”
She denied she ever had been romantically
involved with the Nazi leader.
“Because I am a woman and because he admired my work,
people who were
jealous or were looking for a good romantic story say I was his lover,” she
stated. “I was never Hitler’s lover. We talked a few times on artistic things.
politics. He didn’t talk politics with artists.”
Pointing out she was a successful actress and director before turning to documentaries,
she asserted she made “Triumph of the Will” only after much convincing
who told her that if his propaganda ministry oversaw the
project “it would bore everybody.”
She said she told Hitler she was ignorant of
the inner workings and militia designations of the Nazi Party,
but that Hitler
saw that as a positive, not a negative. She scoffed at the notion the film was
“It is a documentation, a newsreel done artistically,” she claimed.
Swanson, the star of film’s
silent age, especially seemed incredulous that
some considered Riefenstahl’s presence deserving of
criticism. “Why?” she
asked. “Is she waving a Nazi flag? I thought Hitler was dead!”
The cook called Kristy over, gestured at the stool next to him, slid the
section over on the counter to be in front of her, and asked, with eyebrows
“Sure is. Read it.”
The cook returned to the kitchen. Soon, Kristy poked her head next to
the order wheel.
“Okay, I’ve read it,”
she announced. “And it figures.”
The cook asked, “How’s it figure?”
“She left a quarter tip.”
The grocer burst in, brandishing the same Post section, opened to the
“See!” he demanded, slapping the page with his free hand.
“Matter of fact, we did,” the cook
“I was guessing she was a Nazi bitch, all right,”
the grocer said. “Like all
those others. We buried our buddies, we liberated the camps, we saw the
human skeletons, then we heard about the Kraut bitches saying they had no
goddamn idea what
Hitler had in mind so give ’em and their kids food and
feel sorry for ’em! But man . . .”
Pausing, he shook his head.
Then he continued, “This is The Nazi bitch. What did we do to deserve
The cook shrugged. “Wish we could ask Glenn Morris,” he said.