In March of 1974, I got a call from my old friend Bob Korn one afternoon. Bob said that he was in his office and that Bill Pence was there and they wanted me to come up to talk about something they were working on. Not needing much an excuse to take a break from making stained glass windows, I told them that I’d be right up.
Bob’s office was in the upstairs of the Examiner building. His office was in the front with a great bay window and George Greenbank and Kimble Hobbs had their architecture outfit in the back.
I had known Bob since I moved to Telluride in the Summer of 1971. Bob and his wife Carol were already settled in and had a house on west Main Street. Coming from Kansas, I think Bob was one of the first New Yorkers I had ever met and I was certainly the first person from Kansas that Bob had ever met. Regardless of our geographical differences, we shared a true love of Telluride and were always involved in whatever was going on but certainly not always on the same side.
Bill Pence was the owner of the Sheridan Opera House which he had recently refurbished and had opened as a movie theater. He really did a beautiful job on the restoration and set the bar high in terms of class and style. The community was very grateful.
A few months before he had brought in Bill Card the curator of the George Eastman House for a presentation of old Charlie Chaplin films, the community really responded and showed up more in support of Pence than in curiosity about the films. As it turned out the Chaplin films were very funny and entertaining and Card’s talk following the showings, was very informative and educational. Bill also owned small movie theaters in Aspen, Crested Butte and Denver where he showed mainly films from the Janus Films collection which his family was connected to.
Bob and Bill got right to it. The pitch was that Bill wanted to start a film festival in Telluride and needed some help. As the co-Chair of TCAH they wanted to pitch me on delivering some of the things they needed—things like money, organization, know-how, staff, table, chairs, ushers, ticket takers, and ultimately an audience.
My first question was: “What’s a film festival?” Bill was very excited and animated, which if you know Bill is a bit unusual. He said all the right things including, “it will be good for the town” and “what would TCAH want in return for their help?”
I explained that TCAH was formed for just such an opportunity and that we had some money saved up, plenty of volunteers to help, lots of tables, chairs, tents, and would love to help.
So, I said, “Have you thought of a public educational component that would be free and open to all, it will be a requirement in future grant applications” Bill, who thought very quickly on his feet, said, “How about a panel discussion in Elks Park where people talk about film” I said, “Great, that will work.”
“Next we need, to involve the arts community. How about a Poster designed by local artists?” Bill said, “Perfect, we’ll stage a design contest and award some kind of prize.”
“The event has to be held under the umbrella of TCAH, so we can apply for grant funding for next years event, because we’re too late this year.” Bill, replied, “Now you’re talking, how much money, do you think we can get?”
“And, last, “There always has to be local tickets available at affordable prices.”
“I agree, “said Bill
“Then it’s a deal. I’ll need to get formal approval at next week Board meeting, but I can tell you that, everyone will love it.”
Bob was gleeful. He hugged me and said, “I knew you could do it.”
We all shook hands and I went back to being a stained glass artist.
At the Board Meeting, I presented the proposal and everyone was extremely excited. The Board members quickly divided up assignments and when it was my turn to pick a job, I said, “I’m going to be busy. I’m not sure how much time I’m going to be able to devote for a while. I’m getting married in late May—and you’re all invited.”.
Doing business with Bill Pence is always a pleasure. He performed as agreed. The film festival came off beautifully. The panel discussion in the park was a big hit with both, locals, attendees and the special guests that participated in the panels.
Nancy Ward, won the poster contest. She did the best poster that has ever been done. The festival was co-produced by Pence and TCAH as agreed and there were local tickets that were affordable which continues to this day.
Some of my personal favorite memories from the first year include putting up folding chairs in the basement of the Telluride Lodge (now Clark’s Market) with Francis Ford Coppola as people started wandering in for a showing of one of his movies that he made while still a college student.
All of the controversy over Leni Reifenstal being one of our honorees and the response to her presentation in the Opera House. I thought she was beautiful and her cinema was inspirational. Following her presentation, I got with some members of the Jewish community and everyone said that they loved her.
Sitting in some of the better seats in the Opera House during Gloria Swanson’s tribute, Karen and I were tapped on the shoulder and asked to give up our seat. We moved over and sat on the floor wondering what was going on. Pretty soon, a couple were ushered in and I looked up to see Joe Zoline and his wife just as Joe stepped on my hand as he took our seats.