And to say “the Springs” has long maintained a strong Hollywood connection is an understatement. After a two-hour drive from L.A., once you pass the energy-saving windmills on its outskirts, you might exit at Bob Hope, go by Ginger Rogers and Gerald Ford until you hang a turn onto Frank Sinatra. Or, you could fly into the no-fuss, no-muss international airport, rent a car, then take Kirk Douglas to Gene Autry. You don’t find a whole lot of streets out here named 34th or Elm or Oak.
A “walk of stars” in downtown Palm Springs salutes celebs by the hundreds. A tour bus stops by homes that the famous owned. The futuristic one Bob Hope owned above Highway 111 — the 23,366-square-foot, nine-bath, two-pool manse — went on sale in 2013 for a low, low starting price of $50 million.
A cemetery in Cathedral City is the final resting place for Sinatra, William Powell, Betty Hutton and scores of others, right across the street from a mausoleum with the crypts of Rock Hudson, Jane Wyman, Shore and more. A variety of casinos offer gambling along with big-name entertainment. The elegant McCallum Theatre concert hall and a few smaller clubs often offer performers whose mere presence will either put a smile on your face or make you go: “I had no idea he was still alive!” (Or she.)
My favorite local entertainment?
I must admit, I was unable to resist The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies, a star-spangled combo of vaudeville and burlesque, funny and corny and classy and sassy, with dancers aged 55 to 84, some in sexy showgirl garb. Your genial host: Riff Markowitz, who heckled me mercilessly from the stage when I made the mistake of sitting in the front row. I laughed my seat off. Alas, after so many packed shows, the Follies announced it would forever close on May 18 of this year, lining up the great Maureen McGovern and Darlene Love as featured singers for its final days. If it isn’t too late to save it and let the show go on, somebody please do.
Living in the Springs was a kick. I miss it. I miss envying the Bentleys and the Aston Martins driven by people who never needed to be concerned about snow or rust. I miss listening to the British-lilted voice of Don Wardell on his eclectic KWXY radio show. (My last time in town, his program opened with Nat King Cole at the Sands, followed by the Perry Mason TV theme song.) I miss Olde English theme restaurants like Lord Fletcher’s and Lyons English Grille. I’m still unsure why Palm Springs types seem to have such an affinity for prime rib, Yorkshire pudding and kidney pie.
I miss the palms, dates, cactus and wildlife, including those cute roadrunners I beeped my car’s horn at, but not those wily coyotes who occasionally showed up in the same neighborhood. (Honest. We had both.)
Maybe I should move back. The temperature might hit 120 this summer, but, hey, some like it hot.
MIKE DOWNEY, a regular contributor to American Way, wrote about the legendary Cassius Clay/Sonny Liston fight in the Feb. 15, 2014, issue.