Side Streets: Scandalous singer, Elvira, Woodrow Wilson among famous to reside in Colorado Springs
Copyright by The Colorado Springs Gazette
Published Oct. 15, 2014
By Bill Vogrin
One of the most fascinating people call Colorado Springs their home was Depression-era singer Ruth Etting, whose signature hit was “Shine On, Harvest Moon” and who has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
How did she come to live at the base of Pikes Peak? Turns out she came here to hide from her mobster husband after he discovered her affair with a piano player, kidnapped him and even shot him! I admit I’d never heard of Etting. But after looking her up, I wish I had. What a wild life she lived!
Etting was a Nebraska native who ended up in art school in Chicago where she became a singer. Her big break came in 1927 in the Ziegfeld Follies, which led to stardom. She was in demand for national radio shows, appeared in Broadway shows and even landed a few movie roles.
While her professional career was a huge success, Etting’s private life was a disaster. In 1922, she married Chicago gangster Martin “Moe the Gimp” Snyder. They divorced in 1937 and a year later he accused her of betraying him with her pianist, Myrl Alderman, who had family in Colorado Springs.
In October 1938, Snyder kidnapped Alderman from a Los Angeles radio station, then held the pianist and Etting hostage, along with his own daughter, at Etting’s Beverly Hills home. Ultimately, Snyder shot and injured Alderman before giving himself up.
A short time later, Alderman’s wife sued Etting for breaking up their marriage.
Both cases resulted in sensational trials featuring salacious testimony of betrayal and “love theft” and love triangles involving star Dorothy Lamour. The headlines effectively ended Etting’s singing career.
She and Alderman married and settled in the Colorado Springs area. Gazette archives report the couple built a home at 900 E. Fillmore St., where they lived and eventually opened the T-Bone Club restaurant. Today, it’s the Omelette Parlor.
Alderman was a noted conductor, according to his 1966 obituary in the Gazette Telegraph. Etting lived until 1978 and both are buried in Evergreen Cemetery.
Her life was the basis of a 1955 movie, “Love Me or Leave Me,” starring Doris Day as Etting and James Cagney as the Gimp. It won an Academy Award for best story.
A couple of other notable Colorado Springs residents include Katharine Lee Bates and Woodrow Wilson. They qualify as marginal residents when each taught a summer session at Colorado College.
Of course, Bates was a Massachusetts English teacher who took a sightseeing trip on a covered wagon up Pikes Peak in 1893 and wrote a poem that became the hymn “America the Beautiful.”
A year earlier, Wilson was a history teacher who lectured for the summer at CC, staying with his cousin, Hattie Woodrow, whose husband was a mining engineer and stockbroker in Colorado Springs, according to August Heckscher’s 1991 biography of Wilson, who became president of Princeton University, governor of New Jersey and two-term U.S. president beloved for his sweeping progressive legislative accomplishments.
Wilson stayed in a house in the 1100 block of Weber Street.
More recent among notable residents is 1969 Palmer High School graduate Cassandra Peterson, known to TV viewers by her macabre persona of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Reader Amy Lee Corbin also voted for Elvira.
Members of the retro rock ’n’ roll band Flash Cadillac were longtime residents after gaining fame in the 1973 movie “American Graffiti” and appearing on TV in shows like “American Bandstand and “Happy Days.”
Another area native was famed and controversial cartoonist/artist Boardman Robinson and artist Archie Musick, whose mural “Hard Rock Miners” graces the City Auditorium.
Music lovers might remember legendary jazz guitarist Johnny Smith.
Recent religious leaders to achieve national fame, and infamy, include James Dobson, founder of the Christian ministry Focus on the Family, and Ted Haggard, evangelical minister who built New Life Church, then resigned in 2006 amid allegations he paid a male prostitute for sex and meth.
Ceramic artist Artus Van Briggle, whose nouveau-style pottery remains influential and prized more than a century after his death, should have made my first list.
Fans of early TV westerns will recognize the name of Ken Curtis, who was famous in the 1960s as Marshal Matt Dillon’s ornery and illiterate sidekick Festus on TV’s “Gunsmoke.”
A native of Lamar, Curtis had studied medicine at Colorado College before discovering music and eventually becoming a singer in the Tommy Dorsey Band and then the Sons of the Pioneers, according to a New York Times biography. Curtis married director John Ford’s daughter and acted in several of his father-in-laws Western films alongside John Wayne before achieving widespread fame on TV.
Political junkies will recognize Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a conservative Republican who was elected in 2010 and made national news for slashing budgets and stripping public employees of their union bargaining rights. Walker was a young boy when his family moved from Colorado Springs.
Several sports stars spent time here or retired here. Among them was New York Yankees star Billy Martin who was stationed at Camp Carson in 1954. In fact, Martin made several headlines during his brief time, including getting three hits and driving in four runs for the Army all-star team in a 7-6, 10-inning loss to the Sky Sox..
And then there were Green Bay Packers greats Willie Davis and Forrest Gregg retired in Colorado Springs.