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Hollywood’s Playground

Marilyn Monroe and others

Some of Palm Springs Earlier Hollywood Connections.

Palm Springs gained more fame in the 1920s when Hollywood movie stars made it their weekend retreat of choice. Within a 2-hour drive east of the Hollywood studios in Los Angeles, Palm Springs beckoned with reliably warm weather and cinematic desert expanses framed by San Jacinto Mountain. Palm Springs became Hollywood’s playground.

Film Friendly

In the 1938 film Her Jungle Love (the first jungle film in Technicolor), a scantily clad “native” Dorothy Lamarr is paired with Ray Millan. Hollywood felt it necessary to decorate the 15-mile-long Palm Canyon Drive with $330,000 worth of transported vines and foliage to create an authentic “tropical rain forest.”  Portions of the movie were also filmed in Tahquitz Canyon at the waterfall.

Her jungle Love movie

In the gloriously tawdry 1950 film noir The Damned Don’t Cry, Joan Crawford plays a gangster’s moll who hides out at her boyfriend’s estate in “Desert Springs.” Palm Springs Modernist architect E. Stewart Williams designed the masterpiece mid-century property featured in the film, owned by Frank Sinatra.


In Sean Connery’s last official outing as 007 and the only Bond film to be shot in Palm Springs, 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, James discovers two bikini-clad female gymnasts inside the 2,400 square-foot Elrod House (a stunning circular house built into a mountainside). They introduce themselves as Bambi and Thumper, of course. The exclusive Southridge Drive retreat was created in 1968 by architect John Lautner for the celebrated Palm Springs interior designer Arthur Elrod.


Hollywood’s Playground at Resorts

Long before the $27 million Jonathan Adler transformation of the Parker Palm Springs into a hip hangout in 2004, the resort opened as California’s very first Holiday Inn in 1959. Yet, in between, a Hollywood-singing cowboy and a TV talk show host/media mogul each separately owned the 13-acre property at one time or another. Gene Autry bought the Holiday Inn property in 1961 and ran it as his namesake hotel.


In 1994, French fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy revamped the place into a mini Versailles in the desert. In 1998, billionaire and longtime local resident Merv Griffin (creator of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune) picked up the property, keeping Givenchy’s name and marble-column-and-trellis aesthetics.

merv-griffin-show with zsa zsa gabor
Merv Griffin, with Zsa Zsa Gabor, also owned a home in Palm Springs.

Givenchy hotel now parker

Guests can still stay in Autry’s former two-bedroom, two-bathroom on-site residence at Parker Palm Springs.


Hollywood Escapes to Palm Springs

Many Hollywood stars owned homes in Palm Springs, including all the Gabor sisters, Bob Hope, Lena Horne, Howard Hughes, Alan Ladd, Liberace, Dean Martin, Debbie Reynolds, and Frank Sinatra, just to name a few. If they didn’t own homes, they leased homes for the winter. They would gather at the Racquet Club and El Mirador Hotel for tennis, cocktails, and nightly entertainment. Everyone could be themselves without the eye of the cameras.

jack benny with lucy
He played himself on “Here’s Lucy” three times, starting with the second episode, “Lucy Visits Jack Benny” (HL S1; E2) on September 30, 1968. The action was set at Benny’s Palm Springs home,
Dinah Shore and George Montgomery at the Racquet Club

Leonardo DiCaprio now owns the Dinah Shore estate on Hermosa in the prestigious Las Palmas neighborhood. 432 Hermosa is available for stays or events. Floor-to-ceiling windows throughout bring the beauty of the desert, the clusters of palm trees, and the majestic San Jacinto Mountains into the estate. This furnished house rental is one of the finest examples of Mid-Century architecture in Southern California, the birthplace of the progressive design movement.

ebbie reynolds at racquet club

Hollywood Mayors

Serving from 1988 to 1992, Sonny Bono remains Palm Springs’ most famous mayor (and its congressman up until his death in 1998). He was instrumental in creating the Palm Springs International Film Festival.


But two other legendary mayors of Palm Springs also hailed from Hollywood. The duo were BFFs and a driving force behind the most star-studded retreat Palm Springs has ever known: The Palm Springs Racquet Club. Frank Bogert (mayor from 1958 to 1966 and from 1982 to 1988) appeared in bit parts in Westerns as both an actor and a stuntman. He was also a lifelong friend of Lucille Ball, who also frequented Palm Springs.

John Kennedy Mayor Frank Bogert
John F. Kennedy and then Mayor Frank Bogert at the Palm Springs Airport.

Bogert’s good pal Charles Farrell (mayor from 1948 to 1953) starred with Janet Gaynor in over a dozen films of the ‘20s and ‘30s and starring in two 1950s TV shows.

charlie farrel janet gaynor

Frank Sinatra Flew A Jack Daniels Flag To Let Neighbors Know It Was Party Time

Frank Sinatra was familiar with hosting parties; his guest lists often included names like Marilyn Monroe, Lana Turner, Cary Grant, and Bing Crosby. According to legend, Sinatra would raise a Jack Daniels flag in his yard to inform friends and neighbors that partying had begun. You can stay or have an event at Frank Sinatra’s Twin Palm Estate.

frank sinatra
image credit: John Diminis via Life

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