Denver Post file Helen Bonfils at the Denver Hilton in 1965.
An undated photo of Helen Bonfils
Helen Bonfils — “Miss Helen” to those who knew her — grew up a “poor little rich girl” whose father, Frederick, co-owned the powerful Denver Post, and who became a force in the community with her charitable works.
She was born in 1889, the younger of two Bonfils daughters. The apple of her father’s eye, she became known as “Papa’s Girl.” As a woman, she was tall with an elegant demeanor and a full head of blond hair, and she was often clad in luxurious furs.
Her father wasn’t as close to her older sister, Mary Madeline, known as May, who angered her father when she eloped at age 21 to marry a non–Catholic, sheet-music salesman. Helen waited until she was 46 to marry, wedding producer George Somnes in 1936, three years after her father died.
Papa’s death also freed Helen’s passion for the theater, and she appeared in small theaters and in summer productions at Elitch Theater in Denver.
After the girls’ mother, Belle, died, May and Helen got into a fierce legal battle over the Bonfils fortune, one that left them estranged for life.
After Somnes died, Helen married “Tiger Mike” Davis, her 28-year-old chauffeur, when she was 69. Their divorce in 1971 made Davis a wealthy man, and he invested in wildcat oil, which made him even richer.
Helen and May got into it again when the latter sold her stock in The Post to Samuel Newhouse, who wanted to take control of the paper. The lawsuit was settled in Helen’s favor, but not until after her death. She won, thanks to her attorney, Donald Seawell, who oversaw her finances and later used the Bonfils Foundation to fund and support the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.
Helen was generous beyond measure to her adopted city. She gave millions to charity, directed The Post to stage outdoor operettas in Cheesman Park for three decades, established the Belle Bonfils Blood Bank and built the Bonfils Theater (and performed there).
She spent the last six years of her life in failing health in a private suite at St. Joseph Hospital, except for a brief outing when she attended the Denver opening of “Sleuth,” a play she and Seawell backed on Broadway. She was posthumously inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in June 1972.