Posted On: October 12th, 2021 1:14AM
I drove to Palm Springs to try out my newest movie-star tour on my husband and dog. I wanted to get out of the house and play cheerful tour-guide to escape the constant dirge of dispiriting news.
Still blazing hot outside even in September, the AC caressed Kobi, the car-loving canine, in his front-seat perch with spillover for the spouse in the back. Other drivers notice and smile.
The artery connecting the seven desert cities indulges the traveler with a cracking finish of the neck-craning San Jacinto Mountains. The towering, textured backdrop always catches my breath. Revolving gondolas deposit awe-struck visitors on the alpine crest.
My homage to this magical city’s deep celebrity roots became Mary’s Marvelous Movie Star Tour—a curated drive through the ritzy Old Las Palmas neighborhood north of downtown. I have regaled many patient guests with my not-quite perfected chronicle of long-ago lives while meandering the loopy streets.
Although I appreciate Kirk Douglas’ front-door visibility, the Spartacus star died last year, leaving a residual ache for the gone glamour of Old Hollywood. He hosted Tracy and Hepburn during the making of the star-studded It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Spencer’s last film whose zany opening sequence was filmed in the nearby serpentine mountain pass.
Dinah Shore’s huge tennis estate, also unhedged for the hoi polloi, always elicits favor. Since its new owner—Leonardo DiCaprio—bridges two generations, there’s something for everyone.
My Palm Springs-bred girlfriend remembers a teenage sleepover at Elvis’s Honeymoon House before The King made the Ladera Circle address a must-see for decades of tourists. The galleon-sterned home jutting over the tiny cul-de-sac was built by Robert Alexander—creator of the swooping mid-century shapes that now define the city.
I hit pause on my tour several years ago after ferrying around a Generation Z cousin. The old-timers’ names—Liberace and Lena Horne, Gable and Lombard—would mean naught to her Brittany Spears sensibilities.
Strolling downtown Palm Canyon, she gleefully announced that she finally recognized one of the sidewalk’s embedded golden stars. Marilyn Monroe resonated. She posed prettily atop the femme fatale’s honorific.
Ms. Marilyn is herself back in town after years of city wrangling over purchasing the 26-foot-tall exuberant beauty in the iconic pose with the billowing white dress and old-lady knickers. The kitschy behemoth now bestrides a new avenue annexing the PS Art Museum to the main drag. Smart move. The LA Times’ art critic had apoplexy over her déclassé artistry. But the tourists remain smitten.
This time the curated pages of my new tour capture the Movie Colony, another celebrity conclave nestled on the far side of the main drag.
Equally heady names highlight the registries of quaint Spanish colonial homes built in the ‘30s, some accessible, others cloaked by unwelcoming walls befitting the privacy-seeking denizens.
Shoe magnet Florsheim probably wore sandals during his desert days while Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker hid out on the estate as their televangelist empire crumbled. Jessica Chastain recently complained that the oppressive eye makeup she endured to channel the always tearful Tammy caused irreparable damage.
A neighbor often regaled me with her Tammy sightings at Ross discount store during her final years in the valley.
If Eddie Cantor rings a bell, he too resided in this cozy community. Although he was wiped out financially in the 1929 crash, his upbeat songs lifted the nation’s spirits during the unrelenting Depression years.
Bob and Dolores Hope owned two modest homes here before decamping to the huge Neutra-crafted house perched high above the city. My ritual is a cheerful wave to Bob Hope and his mushroom-topped one-bedroom edifice, amazingly visible from every nook and cranny of the valley floor.
Other members of the seven Road Films called this spot home. Bing Crosby and his wife Dixie owned a corner Colonial for 30 years but never socialized with next-door neighbor Dorothy Lamour, the distaff member of the feckless film trio. No borrowed sugar or shared cocktails from the beautiful brunette.
A short detour lets us ID the still glamorous mid-century home of ‘50s IT couple Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis. She’d just made Psycho the same year. The Uber-white home is right there to ogle and I could easily see myself moving in. Too bad the photogenic couple divorced just two years later.
My polite passengers graciously absorb my shaky spiel as I navigate the unfamiliar roads clutching my text. Spouse thinks I should elaborate further. The terrier vigilantly watches for dog walkers he can greet vociferously. I feel myself flagging.
Then an unexpected one-way street sign forces a detour halfway through the tour and I can’t seem to get back on track. The passengers sense my quandary. The human one proposes an interim pause to regroup. I gratefully agree.
We swing through downtown, now revitalized with a luxe pool-topped seven-story hotel, very LA, and check out Marilyn’s new digs.
Our sardonic poses under her nether limbs in the dragging heat seems a perfect coda to my ambitious, aborted movie-star tour. Cary Grant and Busby Berkeley will have to wait. I’ll check out the entire route later and get back to you.