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Hollywood’s Playground

racquet club pool

The brief history of Palm Spring’s Hollywood connection.

The city’s history of Hollywood connections dates back to filming the 1915 version of Peer Gynt, followed by Zane Grey movies. Studios discovered the wonders of location shooting in Palm Springs with vacant land, mountains, and boulders for Westerns and sand dunes for films about the Arabian desert. In 1921, heartthrob Rudolph Valentino filmed scenes here for The Sheik. When stars came here to work, some found themselves checking out real estate afterward. Hollywood’s famed “It Girl,” Clara Bow, and her husband, Rex Bell, were early village residents.

Rudolph Valentino in the Sheik.

Palm Springs gained more fame in the 1920s when Hollywood movie stars made it their weekend retreat of choice. Within a two-hour drive east of the Hollywood studios in Los Angeles, Palm Springs beckoned with reliably warm weather and cinematic desert expanses framed by the San Jacinto Mountains. Celebrities, prominent business leaders, and the famous could escape the spotlight and sip cocktails by the pool.

A young Marilyn Monroe was discovered at the Racquet Club.

In 1927, actor Charlie Farrell co-starred with Janet Gaynor in a silent film called Seventh Heaven. Gaynor won Hollywood’s first Academy Award for that role. The Gaynor-Farrell on-screen romance was so contagious that they co-starred in 12 more films during the 1920s and 1930s. He would later open the Racquet Club in 1934, which was a favorite of Hollywood, the wealthy, the powerful, and the rich.

Charlie Farrell and Kirk Douglas

Many began to purchase second homes here, in this remote yet easily accessible desert community, where they could play, relax, and frolic in relative isolation away from the public eye. The initial influx of stars to Palm Springs started with a trickle. However, by the mid-1950s, an increasing number of Western movies were being filmed in the area, and there needed to be more hotels and homes to accommodate the stars and studio personnel.

Rock Hudson at the Racquet Club

By 1933, Palm Springs was so indelible to Hollywood that one of the film industry’s most-anticipated films, Camille, starring Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor, had its world premiere at the village’s Plaza Theater. Publicity spread throughout the country. Taylor was a frequent visitor and, like Cary Grant, often found time to go horseback riding with the city’s riding club, The Desert Riders. As for Garbo, she continued to visit throughout her life.

Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck at the premiere of Camille.

As time progressed, more Hollywood and music stars flocked to the desert to purchase their hideaway homes. Those stars included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Lucille Ball, Liberace, Zsa Zsa Gabor, George Hamilton, Bob Hope, Kirk Douglas, Cary Grant, and Jack Benny. Over time, the Hollywood—Palm Springs connection grew.

Cary Grant and his Palm Springs home.

Today’s Hollywood stars are indeed rediscovering Palm Springs, and the Hollywood – Palm Springs connection continues. This is no more evident than the popularity of the International Film Festival held each year in January. The festival, founded by then-mayor Sonny Bono, is a dazzling star-studded event attracting A-list celebrities.

Many celebrities stayed and purchased hideaway homes in Palm Springs, including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Bob Hope, Kirk Douglas, and Cary Grant. Several ladies were frequent visitors, including Marilyn Monroe, Dinah Shore, Lucille Ball, Lily Tomlin, and Elizabeth Taylor.

Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.
Lucille Ball at Racquet Club

Famous couples rendezvoused in Palm Springs, including Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner, Lucy and Desi Arnaz, and Elvis and Priscilla Presley. President Dwight Eisenhower, Robert F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and the Obamas were frequent visitors.

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

A new generation of Hollywood A-listers has succumbed to the lure of the desert and the relaxing privacy it offers. Palm Springs is being rediscovered by today’s Hollywood stars, especially during the Palm Springs International Film Festival held annually in January. The star-studded events attracts celebrities such as Clint Eastwood, John Travolta, Brad Pit, Halle Barry, Leonard DiCaprio, Anne Hathaway, Angela Jolene and many more.

Experience Hollywood’s Playground

Check out our Walk of Stars downtown, where ‘stars’ are embedded in the sidewalk.

Elvis was honeymooned in Palm Springs. 1350 Ladera Circle.

Take a celebrity tour of Palm Springs and see where the stars lived and played.

Home Marilyn Monroe stayed.

The Willows Historic Palm Springs Inn has hosted Albert Einstein and many celebrities.

Eat at Copley’s Restaurant, the guest house of Cary Grant’s former estate

Dine at Melvyn’s, where The Rat Pack often partied, part of the Ingleside Estate

The Purple Room opened in 1960 and was a Rat Pack hangout. Catch a show in the same room where Frank, Dino, and Sammy dined.

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