Our Founder, Katharine Thalberg
Katharine Thalberg founded Explore Booksellers in 1975 and ran the bookstore until her death in 2006. Over those 30 years Explore became famous for its impressive book collection and charm. As today's Explore Booksellers evolves, we honor our founder and are grateful to her for the wonderful legacy she left. Much of what makes Explore Booksellers a successful and valuable resource to the greater Aspen community today is a direct result of Katharine Thalberg's dedication, intelligence, and grace.
Katharine was born in Santa Monica, Ca. in 1935. Her parents were Norma Shearer and Irving Thalberg, Jr. Norma Shearer was nominated best actress seven times and won once, and Irving, aka the “boy genius,” was the creative director of MGM for ten years. His films won two academy awards. He moved to California at age 18 for a more salubrious climate for better breathing, died at age 36 of consumption. Norma died in 1983.
Katharine grew up in the Pacific Palisades, living in the first private residence in America to be air conditioned on the beach. She lived in Paris with a French family and attended the American School in Paris from ages 13-16, just after the war. Their home was always crowded with Norma’s Hollywood cronies. Katharine graduated from the Westlake School for Girls in Beverley Hills , and another long time Aspenite and tennis great, Julie Anthony, also attended Westlake, long after Katharine.
While growing up, every Saturday she would be chauffeured to the Beverly Hills Bookstore in the morning. She would go upstairs to their children’s section, and spend the entire day there. Mid afternoon she would descend the stairs with a stack of books under her chin. She would walk to the counter with some trepidation, as she was reserved and shy, and ask if she could charge the books. She always worried they might say NO. However, the booksellers always smiled and said of course. The world of books was her sanctuary, and as she grew up, owning a bookstore was always a dream.
She learned to ski at Sun Valley at age three. After Katharine's father’s death, Norma married her ski instructor, Marty Auroge. Katharine traveled to Aspen with her mother and Marty in the early 50’s, and returned for part of a winter in the late 50’s . She made friends in Aspen, and always thought of living there.
At age 18 she married an American skiing great, Jack Reddish, who she had become friendly with during the Sun Valley days and at Alta in Utah. He was tall and handsome and the first American skier, along with Dick Durrance, to compete head to head with the Europeans. After living in Salt Lake for a couple of years, they moved to LA. He worked as an assistant director in films and raced cars, teaching Steve McQueen to handle a race car. Katharine started college in her early 20’s first at Stanford, and then graduated from UCLA with honors. They divorced, and she began taking graduate courses in psychology at USC, and then began writing scripts for televisions, especially the GE dramatic series.
Around 1960 she met and married a well- known film actor, Richard Anderson. He starred with Kirk Douglas in Kubrick’s PATHS OF GLORY, and went on to make his name worldwide, as Oscar Goldman in the SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN tv series. Katharine gave birth to three girls: Ashley, Brooke and Deva. They lived in the Benedict Canyon in LA, and the girls attended the John Thomas Dye School. Richard continued working in film and tv. Katharine continued to write at home, while raising the girls, and she wrote poetry, short stories and one novel.
In 1972 she and Richard divorced, and she moved to Aspen with the girls in September 1973. The girls attended the Aspen Public Schools in the Red Brick and Yellow Brick schools. They spent summers with Richard.
In 1975 Katharine started Explore Booksellers, renting a small Victorian from Ann Chapman on E. Hopkins. She was a single mom, teaching women consciousness raising groups in the evenings, skiing, enjoying Aspen and running the burgeoning bookstore. Brooke and Ashley eventually graduated from high school in LA, and Deva graduated from Aspen High School.
She and Bill Stirling began dating in December 1978 and were together until her death from lung cancer in November 2006. He was a book lover and had been a customer of the bookstore from its inception. They married in August 1986, and lived together for 29 years at the Victorian at 434 W. Smuggler in Aspen. Bill introduced authors and led book discussions for Katharine at Explore for almost 25 years.
In 1976 Katharine had bought a Main St. Victorian from the Frost family, and remodeled and reshaped the building to become the new home of Explore Booksellers, starting in the spring of 1977. The bookstore become a gathering place for locals and visitors alike. People became attached to the charm, the intimacy and the amazing book selections by Katharine. It began to evolve into the literary and cultural center of Aspen. It became one of the “last, good, great places,” which are the nucleus of any profound community. You could count on running into friends and colleagues at Explore at any time of day. It became a gathering place for locals.
She inspired Bill to run for Mayor in 1983. She was his partner and political consultant. She was more radical in many of her world views, and she greatly influenced and helped build Bill’s confidence. Together they had owned dogs and an occasional cat. They spoke out for the plight of animals, and became animal rights advocates. In 1990 Bill introduced legislation to ban the sale of furs in Aspen. It was a shot heard round the world. Though the plebiscite lost in the spring of 1990, the cruel treatment of animals in the fur industry was no longer a secret.
Katharine was an inveterate letter writer to the local papers, and was a brave spokes-person for the power of the written word, women’s rights and spoke ardently against the poor treatment of animals worldwide. Her greatest love was running Explore. It was amazing the array of notables, luminaries and characters who crossed the threshold of Explore. It became an institution in Aspen as important as the Aspen Institute or the Aspen Center for Physics. Visitors and locals would tell others that you cannot visit Aspen without visiting Explore. It was a must.
IN 1989 she started a vegetarian restaurant upstairs in the bookstore. It was the only veggie restaurant in Aspen, and was named the Explore Bistro. The restaurant had a strong following, and became a meeting place for groups of locals. It was another brilliant way to draw people into the world of books. She had become an advocate for vegetarianism, when she had contracted breast cancer in 1984. She pursued alternative cancer treatments, and never had a course of chemo or radiation. When she contracted lung cancer in 2003, it was discovered to be inoperable. She fought hard to fend it off, and yet never missed her work shift at Explore up until Thanksgiving eve in 2005. She died January 6, 2006. Her love for the store and for the world of ideas were inseparable. Her keen intellect was indefatigable. She will always be remembered.
A warm thank you to Bill Stirling for sharing this wonderful information about Katharine with us and the many who have such fond memories of her.