Palm Springs Weekend

Palm Springs wanted nothing to do with "letting loose," thank you.

Palm Springs, Palm Springs, Go to Palm Springs And you'll find out What you've been missing... Let loose To all the swinging things You want to do...
From the song, "Live Young" Sung by Troy Donahue in Palm Springs Weekend ("singing for the very first time") Written by Larry Kusik and Paul Evans

As soon as Variety announced on February 6, 1963, that a movie was going to be made based on a wild weekend in the desert, Palm Springs sprung into action. Under the Variety headline "Palm Springs Hates 'Weekend' Film," Frank Scully, whose "Scully's Scrapbook" was Hollywood's dish of the day, described the mood of the village: "One councilman, Harry Paisley, tossed his shawl aside and said, 'It reads like the work of a 13-year-old boy, the most terrible thing I ever read... They make a fool of our police chief, our hotels and everything else.'"

What's more, Scully noted, "City Attorney Jerry Bunker, who said he read the script, says it's 'drivel.'"

Meanwhile, the desert prepared for possible trouble. "Just in case, three members of a five-man police detail have been assigned to the film company," reported the trade paper. This extra precaution was taken after the movie's stars and 64 extras "in pigtails, suntans and swimsuits" descended on the Riviera Hotel.

To everyone's relief - and no right-minded person's surprise - Palm Springs Weekend was filmed sans incident. That is, unless you count Connie Stevens' mild bout with sunstroke; or the crickets that drowned out Troy Donahue and Stefanie Powers; or the soapsuds-filled sound stage swimming pool that nearly asphyxiated half the cast.

On its release, the critics were also far kinder to Palm Springs Weekend than outraged citizen Paisley and critic Bunker. The New York Times called it "A harmless, good natured romp." Cue noted, "Warner Bros. blue-prints the Where the Boys Are pattern and turns out a slick, splashy, artificial, generally juvenile and frequently foolish bundle of filmic nonsense."

Variety reported, "It comes off pretty well as a hymn to spring and romance, but as a social document it's a piece of hokum." And The Hollywood Reporter observed, "[Director Norman] Taurog gets the most out of his cast, all of whom perform admirably."

Thirty-two years later, Palm Springs Weekend still comes off pretty well as a kind of cinematic time machine, transporting those who catch it on late-night TV or on video back to a more innocent era in America. For longtime Palm Springsters in particular, it recalls the days before development played havoc with their quiet, somewhat provincial haven; its Technicolor location footage capturing open desert landscapes where strip malls and chain restaurants now stand. Quaint and corny by today's free-falling standards, the once controversial film is now embraced like a prodigal child with a pocketful of old family photos.

But what about the stars and the creator of Palm Springs Weekend? Looking back after 32 years, what do they remember best about making the movie Palm Springs didn't want made? Did they "let loose to all the swinging things you want to do" while on location? Was it a stepping stone or a stumbling block in their careers? And are they proud of their kicky celluloid concoction?

EARL HAMNER, JR. AS THE WRITER

Turns out the writer of the script damned as "drivel" went on to create one of America's most beloved television shows, The Waltons. He's constantly reminded of Palm Springs Weekend, whether he wants to be or not.

"When the phone rings around midnight, I know it's someone calling to tell me, 'Earl, Palm Springs Weekend is on'," laughs Earl Hamner Jr., who recalls how movie mogul and part-time Palm Springs resident Jack Warner gave him his first Hollywood writing assignment.

"I'd written a book called Spencer's Mountain that Warner Bros. made into a movie with Henry Fonda," Hamner says. "They gave the screenplay duties to someone else, and I think Mr. Warner thought that he owed me one. He called me one day and asked me what I thought of Palm Springs. I was just newly arrived from New York, and I told him that I'd never been there. He said, 'I want you to go there over Easter Weekend and poke around and see if you come back with a movie.'"

The 38-year-old Hamner might have seemed an odd choice to chronicle swinging Easter Week antics, but Warner was confident. "I suppose since he'd just done Spencer's Mountain, he trusted that I could write about young people," Hamner says. A few weeks later, Hamner checked into the Riviera Hotel and "watched all the young people, got some notions and came back to Los Angeles and wrote some notes up."

Hamner eventually hammered out a plot which he now says, "as a finished product, I think, was a lot of fun. Though I did hear that there was some hostility toward the movie at the time."

And while he didn't visit the set to watch his heroes and heroines twist instead of tryst, Hamner has since met several of the stars.

"In a nice full circle, I met the late Andrew Duggan [who played Stefanie Powers' police chief father in Weekend] when he played the father in The Homecoming, which was the basis for The Waltons," he recalls. Some of the reunions have even come as complete surprises.

"A few years ago I was in London, and someone had set up a meeting between me and Stefanie Powers," Hamner says. "While we were talking, the subject of Palm Springs came up, and Stefanie said, 'Oh, you know, I did a movie called Palm Springs Weekend. I don't know if you ever saw it.' I said, 'Saw it? I wrote it!'"

TROY DONAHUE AS JIM MUNROE THE BASKETBALL STAR/MED STUDENT

Top bill Troy Donahue claims his most lasting Palm Springs Weekend memory is "that none of us wanted to do it." Along with co-stars Connie Stevens and Robert Conrad, the 24- year-old hearthrob was under contract to Warner Bros. - he was starring in the studio's Surfside Six television series - when Weekend got the green light. "We all wanted to be movie stars," Donahue explains. "But nobody thought this was the kind of movie that would be particularly advantageous to our careers."

According to Donahue, who had previously appeared on the big screen in A Summer Place and Parrish, the actors rebelled. "We got together and decided we would say no, one person at a time, hoping they'd lose interest," he recalls. The tactic flopped. "They put us all on suspension, and I ran out of money in a month and a half," he says. "So, finally, here we all were in Palm Springs doing this formula movie with Norman Taurog, who could direct these things with his eyes closed."

The New York Times reported that Donahue played basketball star-med student Jim Munroe with "pained dignity." The actor recalls phoning in his performance. "You didn't have to be able to relate to the part," he says. "If you said your lines and didn't fall down, they'd print it."

So, instead of rehearsing, Donahue took his theme song's advice and "let loose" in Palm Springs. "The best thing about the film was that it was being made in Palm Springs," Donahue says. "And I was there to drink and get laid.

"I remember that a friend of mine and I started at opposite ends of town. Halfway through the movie, we crossed paths. I got everything he got going in his direction, and he got everything I got coming in mine. I mean, the picture was tame compared to the reality."

Still, Donahue does recall some memorable moments in front of the camera. Like the scene where a brat named Boom-Boom (played by Billy Mumy) puts soap suds in the La Casa Yates pool, and Donahue, Jerry Van Dyke and a whole bunch of extras fall into it.

"We shot on a sound stage, and they used real soap in the pool, and you can't breath in real soap," Donahue says. "There's no oxygen and half of us nearly asphyxiated in those suds. After the first take, they had to have respirators and oxygen tanks ready at all times."

Then there's the tender scene where Donahue and Stefanie Powers profess their love in the desert. "It was also shot on a sound stage, and they had these cricket sounds going to make it seem like we were in the real desert," Donahue says. "But we couldn't hear one another because of those damn crickets."

And, sorry, there weren't any sizzling romances between the hot, young stars of Palm Springs Weekend. At least none that Donahue cops to. "Everybody had their own agenda, and most of us didn't have it with each other," he says. "I did, however, fall in love with Stefanie Powers while we were filming. But, no, nothing happened between us."

CONNIE STEVENS AS GAIL LEWIS, THE PHONY DEBUTANTE

Like Troy Donahue, Connie Stevens was drafted into doing Weekend by Warner Bros., where she was under contract. At the time, Stevens starred as Cricket, the perky chanteuse in the studio's enormously popular Hawaiian Eye TV series.

But unlike Donahue, Stevens has only fond memories of her experience. "People will always ask me, "What's your favorite film that you worked on?'" she says. "By far, that film was one of the most fun times of my life."

Her performance as Gail, the Hollywood High student who poses as a Beverly Hills deb and is assaulted by Robert Conrad's troubled, T-Bird driving Eric, didn't exactly wow critics. The New York Times described her as "a shrill, petite paragon of virtue," while Variety said she "put so much minx into the role that she arouses little sympathy."

Stevens shrugs off the pans. "I never really analyzed what my role was all about," she says. "I was getting ready to do another film." Besides, the actress realized going in that Weekend was no career maker. "It was an exploitative kind of teen thing about rebellion that had hardly any real meaning and wasn't very rebellious at all."

Not that Stevens didn't "let loose" a bit during filming. Weekend's cast and crew stayed at the Riviera, and she remembers that the hotel "wasn't so swank once we got done with it. One night, after we'd been gallivanting all night, we broke into the kitchen and I cooked breakfast for everybody."

In between shoots, she discovered Palm Springs. "I remember vividly that we went horseback riding several times, and would go up into the mountains. The sky was so beautiful," Stevens says. "That's when I fell in love with the desert."

During one such ride, however, one of the horses decided it wanted to head back early - and streaked for town with its novice rider on board. "It went galloping down the middle of the highway with this girl hanging off the side, and Ty Hardin and all the guys chasing after her," Stevens recalls. "It was like a Western, except it was on a street."

The fair, blonde Stevens also discovered that sunstroke can take one by surprise. "Something had happened with a camera, and Bobby Conrad and I were sitting out in the desert waiting and waiting. I had a scarf on my head," she remembers. "Bobby turned around and said, 'What's wrong with you?' I was irritable and babbling and foaming at the mouth. So he drove me into town, and they put me right into the hospital for a couple of days."

Romance on location? You bet. "I remember at first I had a crush on one of the extras, I can't remember his last name now," Stevens says. "But then I met my husband there. He had come down to visit his brother who was doing stunts for Bob Conrad."

Stevens has special affection for her Weekend alums. "They were all delightful, and we've remained friends all of these years," she says. "I saw Jerry at a party we held for [the late] Doug McClure when he got his star on Hollywood Boulevard; I see Troy and Bobby every year at Christmas; I see Bobby even more often than that."

She remembers her Weekend rape scene with Hawaiian Eye co-star Conrad as the biggest acting challenge she'd faced until then. "It was pretty intense, and neither of us had done so serious a subject before." she says. "I think it was good work, and considering we were like brother and sister, it was even better."

Playing Gail, a girl pretending to be somebody she's not, also presented some challenges. But Stevens looks back and figures she simply fulfilled the terms of her contract. "I guess it required a little bit more acting than some other parts," she says. "But I wouldn't really know. For me, it was earn while you learn."

ROBERT CONRAD AS ERIC DEAN, THE RICH KID

"Palm Springs Weekend was an incredible break for me," says Robert Conrad, who credits Hawaiian Eye co-star Connie Stevens for helping him land the part of Eric, the troubled rich kid.

"Connie went and talked to Jack Warner's assistant," he says. "They wanted Ed Burns in the role, but he was so popular that he thought it would be demeaning to be part of an ensemble cast. I saw an opportunity to do some real acting."

Indeed, Conrad, 28 years old and starring as private detective Tommy Lopaka in Hawaiian Eye at the time, played against type in Weekend. "I should have got an Academy Award for that performance," Conrad says. "It was the furthest thing from my own background imaginable. I was raised by an unwed, working mom and had been working from the time I was old enough to."

Described by The New York Times as "quite credible as the rich neurotic," Conrad recalls one particular scene in Weekend that led to a long association with producer Jack Webb and his subsequent successes. "There's this emotional scene where Eric is in trouble and he's in a phone booth trying to reach his father, who isn't available for him," he explains. "Jack Webb saw that scene and was so impressed with it that he kept me under contract at Warner's for years. Thanks to that scene, I went on to do Wild Wild West and Baa Baa Black Sheep and everything else."

Looking back, Conrad insists his tough guy reputation wasn't compromised by a scene where Ty Hardin's Stretch "bitch slaps" Eric for misbehaving. "Well, that was pure fiction," he laughs. "And good acting on Ty's part, too." He does, however, cop to enjoying Eric's perks. "I thought I was hot: I had tailor-made suits and a James Dean haircut and I was driving a T-Bird. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven," he says.

According to Conrad, who was "sort of" married during Weekend, his off camera hours were spent hanging around the Riviera pool with Stevens and her future husband. "I mean, why would you go anywhere else?" he says.

He remembers Palm Springs, 1963, as a simpler, "more elegant" place. "You had the Riviera, which was new, Charlie Farrell's Racquet Club, the Biltmore and the Ocotillo - and that was all there was," he says. "I liked it better back then."

Like Troy Donahue, Conrad admits to having had a thing for Stefanie Powers. "She's my favorite memory of making that movie," he says. "I think she was just 19, and she'd been spectacular in Experiment in Terror with Glenn Ford for Columbia." But, like Donahue, Conrad didn't get lucky with Powers. "But, hey, it wouldn't have been a bad idea," he says. "She had tremendous charm then, and has it now. She's a lovely person."

STEFANIE POWERS AS BUNNY DIXON, THE POLICE CHIEF'S DAUGHTER

Stefanie Powers recalls being "a little bit of an ogler" on the set of Weekend. "I was the youngest member of the crew, and I literally brought my lunch in a brown paper bag," she says. "And here I was surrounded by all these big stars like Connie Stevens and Troy Donahue."

On loan from Columbia to Warner Bros., Powers was also "something of an outsider among old friends," she says. "They were all very nice to me . . . but it was the Warner Bros. family."

Powers' performance as Bunny, the police chief's daughter who falls for Troy Donahue's basketball star-med student - and promises to wait seven years until he becomes a doctor to get married and, presumably, do "it"! - was praised by The New York Times as "disarming as a thoughtful innocent." Powers, however, found Bunny boring. "It's never the goodie-goodies you enjoy playing" she says "We actors like to chew up the scenery."

Powers did, of course, join the rest of the cast in twisting the night away in the requisite "wild party" scene, but she doesn't deign that a creative challenge. "I was a serious dancer. I started out dancing for Jerome Robbins," she says. "Twisting is hardly a serious dance, so it's not very difficult to learn."

Speaking of scenery, Powers remembers additional details of the disastrous desert love scene with Donahue. Like the phony rock that moved when they leaned against it: "It was the worst fake rock in the world. Oh, it was just awful!" And the scrim [backdrop] screw up: "It's an incredible oversight. You can see over the top of the scrim and there's all these lights visible, so you can tell that it's a sound stage. It's the most embarrassing thing."

Young and among strangers, Powers didn't spend much time with the rest of the Weekend cast and crew, and has no tales to tell today. "I remember that Troy was off on his own, and that Connie and a whole bunch of people stayed at the Riviera," she says. "I sought refuge with my aunt and uncle, who lived in Palm Springs."

Powers says she deeply values the friends she made on Weekend, but rarely indulges in nostalgia. "I went in and did it, and then went on to do other things that I was a bit more comfortable with. So for me, it was not such a significant moment in my life."

JERRY VAN DYKE AS BIFF ROBERTS, THE TEAM MANAGER

"I remember there were all these young, beautiful girls around - and they wouldn't have anything to do with us," says Jerry Van Dyke, who at 32, was one of the senior members of the Weekend cast. "Jack Weston [who played the team coach] and I hit it off the first day, being the older guys and all that. We buddied around and became good friends."

At the time, Van Dyke was just breaking into big screen work after establishing himself on television. "I'd just come off the Dick Van Dyke Show, and had signed a contract with CBS," he says. "I was pretty hot in those days."

As Biff, the wisecracking but sexually frustrated team manager who comes to Palm Springs with a wacky "romance machine" that looks like a combination short wave radio set and automatic martini maker, Van Dyke was a perfect fit. "It was a natural for me," he says. "I was always the class clown."

Biff finds romance in the end, which Van Dyke finds eerie.

"Sure, I got the girl in the end, and heaven knows whatever happened to the actress," he says. "I have that effect on people. My wife in My Mother the Car disappeared off the face of the earth, too."

Van Dyke also got a chance to show off his musical talent in Weekend. In a particularly implausible poolside scene, he and Ty Hardin perform a banjo and guitar duet on "Bye, Bye Blackbird" that is punctuated by lame one-liners from Van Dyke. "They wrote that scene in because they knew I played banjo and I had one with me," he explains.

Unlike Donahue and Conrad, Van Dyke doesn't profess to being smitten by the young Stefanie Powers. On the other hand, he got to work with her again. "I later courted her in a John Wayne movie, McClintock," he says. "I didn't win out. I was the sissy guy from the east. I played banjo in that, too, oddly enough."

Van Dyke, had a TV hit as the bumbling assistant Luther in Coach, wonders if Weekend didn't stall his career. "In retrospect, I should never have taken that movie. I should have held out and waited for better stuff to come along," he says. "But I did make some good friends."

Plus, there's always the memories of a great time in the desert. "I was on Cloud Nine the whole time, and I didn't care much about what I was doing in the movie," Van Dyke says. "California was still new to me, and I was having fun in Palm Springs."