When it comes to vanity projects, there are bad ideas, and then there are catastrophes. Some stars open restaurants with their windfalls or even finance their own movies, but Bruce Willis isn't just some star. He's the action hero from Die Hard, and he doesn't do anything small. Throughout the '90s, Bruce Willis and Demi Moore lived in the small town of Hailey, ID, which they transformed into their idea of paradise. Willis invested in a diner, a club, and even his own theater. Moore filled a renovated Victorian mansion with her doll collection. The small town with a population of less than 10,000 became so flush with Willis's cash that people started calling it "Planet Haileywood."
And then, suddenly, the money went away. Willis simply shut down all his properties and left - but he didn't stray far. In 2017, Willis began moving forward with plans to build an airstrip not far from Hailey. This resurfaced tensions among residents, some of whom are still angry at the actor for his past actions. Some have even filed a lawsuit against his airstrip.
In the years since he took over the town, the reasons for his actions are still murky. Why did Bruce Willis buy out an entire town and why is he still kicking around Idaho with big ideas?
Shorty's Diner Revived The 1950s Vibe In Hailey
One of the many passion projects Willis took on in Hailey was Shorty's Diner, a 1950s-style malt shop complete with sea foam green booths and a jukebox in the corner. According to The Independent, Shorty's had such a hold on the breakfast crowd that the two other diners in town shut down due to lack of business.
Even though the diner was a popular attraction in Hailey, one day in May 2008, Willis shuttered the windows and walked away. Terra Korom, Shorty's bookkeeper, recalled: "He came into Shorty's on a Sunday night, clapped his hands, and said: 'Okay. Close the place down. We're done.'"
The staff was sent home, and that was that, though the diner soon reopened under new management.
- Photo: Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com
Demi Moore Filled A Victorian Mansion With Porcelain Dolls
Many of Willis's purchases in Hailey can be explained as business acumen despite their extravagance, but one seemed inexplicable. After buying a plot of land and everything on it from the Lawson family, Willis's brief neighbors, Willis reportedly pressured the family also to sell him their new home, a Victorian mansion they had just renovated, for far above the asking price.
Willis gave the home to his then-wife, Demi Moore, for her 30th birthday. Moore used the house as a place to store her collection of porcelain dolls, which at the time numbered around 2,000.
Ed Lawson later explained, "What Bruce Willis wants, Bruce Willis gets. He makes up his mind what he is going to do and does it."
Willis Was Allegedly A Harsh Employer
Working for Willis was not the most pleasant experience, according to many of his former employees in Hailey. Willis's employees claimed the actor took out his frustrations on them and often fired people with no explanation. Everyone who worked for his establishments had to sign an NDA - talking to the press and other "outsiders" about Willis's business in Hailey was not allowed.
It wasn't just Willis who was heavy-handed. Moore was known to confront people if she thought they were taking her picture. One story alleges Moore sent her children's nanny to ask for a woman's camera at a Halloween party so she could remove the film, just in case Moore was in any of the photos. The woman refused to hand over the camera.
His Career May Have Caused Him To Pull Out Of Hailey
For a few years in the mid-to-late '90s, Willis reigned at the American box office. But in 1998, Willis pulled his investments out of Hailey without any warning or explanation. He shut down both the Mint and Shorty's, leaving buildings empty on Hailey's Main Street.
While he was the king of Hailey, Willis paid for extravagant, firework-laden Christmas and Fourth of July celebrations, but after he pulled his investments, the fireworks stopped. Plans for future developments were canceled. Willis also faced a series of lawsuits from former contractors and employees about unpaid invoices and wages.