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WATCH: ‘Monkey Business’ revisited: Gary Hart/Donna Rice movie debuts at Telluride fest

Author: Mark Harden - August 31, 2018 - Updated: September 11, 2018

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Former Sen. Gary Hart is shown with model Donna Rice on a yacht named Monkey Business — the infamous shot that helped sink Hart’s presidential quest. (AP-File)

Too much monkey business? Evidently Hollywood doesn’t think so.

It’s been 31 years since the lurid tale of former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colorado) and his alleged dalliance with model Donna Rice dominated headlines and knocked the earnest, brainy Colorado Democrat out of the presidential race.

As Paul Bedard of our sister paper Washington Examiner puts it:

Gary Hart had it all. Maybe too much.  The presumed 1988 Democratic presidential front-runner was considered a good bet to beat Vice President George H.W. Bush to succeed Ronald Reagan until he faced rumors of affairs complete with a sexy photo from a boat named “Monkey Business” that doomed his campaign.

In 1987, then-50-year-old Senator Hart — amid rumors of his womanizing — basically challenged reporters to investigate his private life, which led to the Miami Herald staking out his D.C. townhouse and reporting that the 29-year-old Rice visited him there while Hart’s wife was in Colorado.

The whole thing seems almost quaint by recent standards of candidate behavior. But in 1987, it was shocking to see a photo of a grinning married politician with a young woman on his lap during a yacht cruise to Bimini. (Both Hart and Rice have denied having a sexual relationship.)

Hugh Jackman as U.S. Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colorado) in a scene from the upcoming film “The Front Runner.” (Columbia/Sony Pictures via AP)

But the story still has enough vinegar to it that moviemakers have revisited the tale in a feature film — with Hugh “Wolverine” Jackman as Hart.

And the movie — “The Front Runner” — has come home to Colorado, making its world premiere over Labor Day weekend at the Telluride Film Festival.

The film is no cheap exploitation hit-and-run. Jackman — an Oscar nominee for “Les Misérables,” and a mainstay of the X-Men movie franchise — is one of today’s best-paid stars. The director is Jason Reitman, whose credits include the acclaimed “Juno” and “Up in the Air” — both of which, coincidentally or not, explore the emotional and moral implications of casual sex.

Jackman dropped by Telluride for the screening — and, according to his Twitter feed, a little hiking. Reitman also was on hand.

Telluride is seen as a launching pad for potential Oscar winners. As the Associated Press reports:

The festival has played host to eight of the last nine best picture winners, including “12 Years a Slave,” “Birdman,” “Moonlight” and “The Shape of Water,” which screened there last year alongside fellow eventual best picture nominees “Lady Bird” and “Darkest Hour.”

As my colleague Ernest Luning reported when Jackman was cast in the movie last year, the film is based on a best-selling 2014 book by journalist Matt Bai, “All the Truth is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid.”

As Ernest noted then:

Hart, who served two terms in the U.S. Senate, was the titular frontrunner for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination after running a close second to Walter Mondale in 1984, leading then-Vice President George H.W. Bush by double digits. In a single week in May 1987, his campaign was derailed when an unprecedented media frenzy exposed his (alleged) extramarital affair with model Donna Rice, forever changing the way political news is reported.

After a photo of Rice sitting in Hart’s lap aboard a yacht named Monkey Business emerged, Hart withdrew from the race. (Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis went on to win the Democratic nomination and lose to Bush the following November.)

Where are they today? Hart, now 81, served as former President Barack Obama’s special envoy to Northern Ireland from 2014 to early 2017 and recently weighed in on the death of his former Senate colleague, John McCain.

And Donna Rice — now Donna Rice Hughes, age 60 — is a speaker and advocate for making the Internet safer for families and children. Sara Paxton plays her in the movie.

“The Front Runner” is slated to open in theaters on (of course) election day, Nov. 6.

The 45th Telluride Film Festival runs Friday through Labor Day. CLICK HERE for information.

TRAILER: Watch a preview of “The Front Runner” below.

Mark Harden

Mark Harden

Mark Harden is managing editor of Colorado Politics. He previously was news director at the Denver Business Journal; city editor, online news editor, state editor, national editor and popular music critic at The Denver Post; and an editor and reporter at newspapers in the Seattle area and San Francisco.