Excerpts from the book Hollywood Celebrity Playground by Howard Johns.
©2006. Published by arrangement with Barricade Books Inc. (www.barricadebooks.com).
Hollywood loves sequels! That is not the reason, however, why I wrote a star-studded follow-up to Palm Springs Confidential (Barricade, 2004), which proved to be something of a bombshell. Several socially prominent friends and acquaintances, whose personal addresses I included in that mildly scandalous tome, were so taken aback by my effrontery that I was excommunicated from their lives and my name was deleted from invitation lists. The reason for this condemnation, they said, was that I had violated the code of silence and told what I had seen and heard. Their sharp criticism, I learned, was motivated by resentment and jealousy.
Conversely, many thousands of homeowners, real estate agents, and tourists — for whom I had written the book with the intention of broadening their knowledge of important people, places, and events — were genuinely appreciative.
These curiosity seekers, together with customers who greeted me at book signings and luncheons, all wanted to know which movie stars lived elsewhere in the Coachella Valley, in cities omitted from the first book. The most fre-quently asked question was, invariably, Did so-and-so live in such-and-such a place? And, if so, where were those homes located and in what cities within the proximity of Palm Springs?
Those questions were the reason I planned to write a sequel. Unlike Palm Springs Confidential, which was a valentine to the past, the newly released Hollywood Celebrity Playground (Barricade, 2006) focuses on more recent events. In addition to the vignettes exclusively excerpted on the following pages, the book — which includes the hush-hush desert stories of Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates, former Chrysler Corp. CEO Lee Iacocca, Presidents Gerald Ford and Dwight D. Eisenhower, and countless others — takes readers through the security gates and into the homes where multiple plots unfold — from corporate mergers and extramarital flings to suicide attempts, failed and successful, and cold-blooded murders. Read on!
Boys’ Night Out
Justifiably described as a midcentury desert landmark, the architecturally noteworthy Desert Palms Inn (67-580 Jones Road, Cathedral City) has always been a fun place, thanks to its "anything goes" atmosphere and frisky all-male clientele.
The inn’s reputation dates back to the sophomoric 1963 romantic comedy Palm Springs Weekend, which starred Troy Donohue, Connie Stevens, Robert Conrad, and Stefanie Powers. The 29-room hotel doubled for the film’s hitching post, La Casa Yates, where clueless cowboy Ty Hardin sang "Bye Bye Blackbird" with Jerry Van Dyke, and 8-year-old Peeping Tom Bill Mumy put soapsuds in the swimming pool.
During the busy tourist season, the "D.P." is a popular cruising spot, and you can see butch men in G-strings having water fights with drag queens wearing cha-cha heels. But the once notorious garden maze, where naked men disappeared for moonlit trysts, has been removed in the interest of public safety.
Under the Influence
In 1986, while earning an estimated $6 million per movie, Chevy Chase checked into the Betty Ford Center to beat his addiction to the painkiller Percocet. His stay proved ineffectual: In 1995, he was busted for drunk driving in Beverly Hills. A year later, a limousine driver on the Disney film Man of the House was arrested and later sued Chase, asserting that the actor had instructed him to drive across the U.S.-Canada border to pick up a FedEx package containing 100 Percocet pills.
Other Betty Ford Center alumni include Elizabeth Taylor (twice), Peter Lawford, Johnny Cash, Mickey Mantle, Liza Minnelli, Robert Mitchum, Mary Tyler Moore, Tony Curtis, Tanya Tucker, Andy Gibb, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tammy Wynette, Eddie Fisher, Margaux Hemingway, Richard Pryor, Don Johnson, Gary Busey, Anna Nicole Smith, Kelsey Grammer, and Billy Joel.
Born again (and again and again) Christian Tammy Faye survived the embezzlement scandal of her husband, the Rev. Jim Bakker, and divorced him a year before he was released on parole in 1994. The emotional stress landed her in the Betty Ford Center to be treated for Ativan addiction. Then, claiming she had seen the light, she married the ministry’s building contractor, Roe Messner, and they moved into Lake Mirage in Rancho Mirage.
When Messner received his own prison sentence for federal bankruptcy fraud, Tammy Faye vowed to stand by her man and went into the celebrity-for-hire business, appearing on TV sitcoms Roseanne and The Drew Carey Show. Her most bizarre career choice so far was to remove her makeup on VH1’s reality TV series The Surreal Life. Incredulous viewers were subjected to her midnight ranting in company with actor Erik Estrada, rap singer Vanilla Ice, and former porn star Ron Jeremy. In 2004, Faye was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, which in true tabloid tradition has been turned into yet another TV show.
Goldie Hawn started out as the zany, ding-dong blonde with the high-pitched giggle who chimed, "Sock it to me!" on the TV comedy show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Hawn had male viewers drooling over her painted, half-nude body as she gyrated to disco music while reading profane cue cards that made her hysterical with laughter. Hawn’s flair landed her acting auditions, and the former go-go dancer was cast in her first major film, Cactus Flower, as the mistress of Walter Matthau. To her complete surprise, she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress — her ticket to stardom.
Regardless of how hard moviegoers laughed at her antics in side-splitting films such as Shampoo, Foul Play, and Private Benjamin, she was unhappy in real life. She divorced her chronically unemployed choreographer-husband Gus Trikonis and married actor-musician Bill Hudson, with whom she had a son, Oliver, and a daughter, Kate. Then he grew jealous of her fame, they divorced, and he sued her for alimony.
Hawn vowed never to marry again. She threw herself into heartwarming comedies: Seems Like Old Times, Best Friends, and Protocol. In between, she dated French actor Yves Renier, Chevy Chase, and Tom Selleck. It wasn’t until she teamed with former Walt Disney child star Kurt Russell in Swing Shift that Hawn found the perfect match. Russell, who is six years younger, had matured from a gangly teenager into a chunky leading man.
On their first date, he took her to the Playboy Club and booked a hotel room, where they stayed overnight in 1983. Hawn compared their lovemaking to a wildfire, and they were soon cohabiting at her Pacific Palisades home. To celebrate their commitment to each other, Hawn announced she had conceived a son named Wyatt, who was born in 1986.
Hawn insisted that Russell give up smoking, and he joined an aerobics class to stay in shape. His new, slimmer look helped foster his reputation as a sex symbol; and to cash in on their newfound popu-larity, they co-starred in the raucous boating comedy Overboard and combined their two real-life families, including Russell’s son, Boston.
The press bombarded Hawn with questions about impending marriage. But the couple has stated they have no intention of exchanging wedding vows. Russell, however, assumed the role of working dad, starring in Backdraft, Stargate, Executive Decision, and Breakdown. Hawn became a stay-at-home mom in
T-shirt, jeans, and sandals, preparing meals for their four children, two of whom have embarked on their own acting careers.
But Hawn couldn’t stay away from movies for long. She starred in Death Becomes Her, a comedy about transfiguration, and played an aging actress not unlike herself in The First Wives Club. In 2004, she and Russell purchased a four-bedroom Tuscan-style villa with views of the 12th green in Bighorn Golf Club in Palm Desert — also home to Mary Hart and Burt Sugarman, Michelle Wie, Annika Sorenstam, and Jerry Weintraub.
At the height of his power, during Prohibition, Alphonse Capone was the greatest symbol of law and order’s collapse in the United States. He controlled speakeasies, bookie joints, gambling houses, distilleries, and breweries for an
estimated tax-free income of $100 million a year.
A modern-day Robin Hood, he stole from the rich and gave to the poor. But Capone’s motives were hardly altruistic. He ordered dozens of murders and even killed with his own hands. His most publicized killing was to be the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929. On Feb. 14, four of his gang — two dressed as police officers — entered the [Chicago] headquarters of rival bootlegger George "Bugs" Moran and fired 150 bullets from two shotguns and two machine guns, killing seven men. But Capone had an alibi.
In 1931, however, the ax fell: Capone was indicted on 22 counts of income tax evasion. The criminal mastermind turned himself in, posted $50,000 bail, and left town. For three months, people speculated on his whereabouts. If the curiously tanned Capone had stayed at Two Bunch Palms in Desert Hot Springs, it was a well-kept secret.
Eventually, Capone stood trial and was incarcerated for 17 years. Seventy-five years later, Two Bunch Palms Resort & Spa (67-425 Two Bunch Palms Trail), does brisk business, much of it because of the Capone legend. The clientele now includes top-line celebrities. Oscar-nominated actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen were once observed submerging their naked bodies in the tropical rock pools.
Incidentally, this is the same place where Tim Robbins and Greta Scacchi took a refreshing mud bath in Robert Altman’s dark satire of Hollywood moviemaking, The Player. Pop singer Madonna has also been spotted at the property.
On TV, actor Gavin MacLeod played Captain Merrill Stubing in the hit series The Love Boat, sitting at the captain’s table and gloating over the romantic entanglements aboard the luxury ocean liner Pacific Princess. In real life, he waged a private battle with obesity and alcoholism.
While MacLeod — who became a household name as frumpy, balding news writer Murray Slaughter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show — was playing cupid to star-crossed TV lovers and dispensing advice to the lovelorn, his own marriage was about to run aground. Despite the worldwide fame and financial security the sitcom brought him, MacLeod sank deep into depression. His second wife, Patti Steele, hoped her husband would be able to control his temptations, but the problem was more difficult than either of them imagined. He and Steele eventually divorced, and the actor’s beaming smile concealed the heartbreak of a desperately lonely man who missed his wife and children.
However, they reunited and wrote about their struggles in Back on Course: The Remarkable Story of a Divorce That Ended in Remarriage. Today, the MacLeods — who paid $290,000 for a retirement home next to Nancy Sinatra’s home in Rancho Mirage — couldn’t be happier.