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Review: New national podcast (slowly) tells the story of Bruce Willis and Hailey, Idaho

iHeartMedia recently launched a podcast that says it will tell the story of Bruce Willis buying up key properties in the town of Hailey, Idaho. But through the first two episodes, it told very little of the story.

Willis, of Die Hard fame, moved to Hailey in the late 1980s. Through the 1990s and early 2000s, he bought up a number of landmarks and other properties in the town south of Sun Valley.

Dubbed Haileywood (borrowed from an editorial cartoon that ran in the Wood River High School student newspaper at the time), host Dana Schwartz guides listeners through the high and low points of Willis’ time as a developer. The podcast is ranked 47th on Apple’s list of top pods.

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Here’s how iHeart describes the podcast: “Offscreen, (Willis) dodged the tabloid press and became so determined to live a private life he moved to one of the smallest towns in Idaho. But he didn’t just want to live in Hailey — he wanted to transform it. Soon, this sleepy old mining town was home to a culture clash between Hollywood spectacle and small-town values, with real-life secret rooms, car chases, and betrayal worthy of a Willis thriller.”

While Hailey’s population is small, it is larger than almost 200 other Idaho cities and towns.

Making a story podcast-able

The story Haileywood sets out to tell is fairly straightforward.

Willis purchased a home in Blaine County, and in 1994 started buying properties along Main St. in Hailey under a shell corporation called the Ix Nay Trust (pig Latin for nix). The now-defunct Wood River Journal traced the company to Willis, who continued to buy more properties – including The Mint, Liberty Theater, an office building, and empty lots. Willis and then-wife Demi Moore went about revamping some of the properties and brought A-list celebrities and entertainers to The Mint. The community of Hailey was mixed on Willis’ projects, and he ultimately pulled up stakes and sold or donated most of the commercial properties.

While there are twists and turns to the story, you could probably convey the whole thing in about 20 minutes. But twenty minutes doesn’t a great podcast series make. Haileywood stretches out the story by taking storytelling side roads to Willis’ distaste for the media, raucous parties, long descriptions of failed movies, and tales about Anna Nicole Smith. Each episode released includes more than eight minutes of podcast commercials in each roughly 40-minute episode.

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The podcast relies on a few interviews, a liberal dose of sound effects, and heavy-handed prose (“The fact that Ix Nay was a mystery was, well… a mystery!”). Facts are often confused. For instance, the podcast can’t decide if 5,000 people lived in the “small, sleepy” town or 3,000.

The podcast has spawned lots of headlines like “Bruce Willis tried to buy an Idaho town in the ’90s,” which overplays what happened.

If you’re really interested in Bruce Willis, the podcast series will entertain you. If you’re interested in the story of Willis and Moore’s attempt to redevelop Hailey, you might find it less fulfilling. You can listen here.

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Don Day - BoiseDev Editor & Founder
Don is the founder and publisher of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow. Contact him at don@boisedev.com.

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