From its earliest days as a health resort and continuing through a century of rapid growth and expansion, Palm Springs has retained its richly earned status as one of leading winter playgrounds in the United States, as well as one of the most desirable golfing destinations in the world.
Naturally, a prime affluent-tourist magnet demands caviar standards of taste and excellence. That’s why, for 50 years, Palm Springs Life has celebrated the relaxed yet elegant lifestyle that characterizes gracious desert living.
Whatever the celebration or event, if something important happened in the desert, it received pictorial coverage in one of the magazine’s 600 issues dating from 1958 — from the Desert Circus, Canyon Can-Can, Desert Hat Parade, and exploits at the Chi Chi, to country club life, sports, fashion, architecture, and design, Palm Springs Life has covered the the desert in first-class fashion and with greater passion than any other media.
Golf figures prominently in this tradition. The magazine’s first cover featured an illustration of a golfer, and numerous issues since have paid tribute to this beloved pastime. In fact, golf and tennis have pivotal roles in the desert’s recreational development.
Charles Farrell and Ralph Bellamy, who founded Palm Springs Racquet Club, were responsible for attracting U.S. tennis champions such as Bill Tilden, Don Budge, Gene Mako, and Lew Hoad to play local charity matches.
Many tennis stars felt a strong attraction to the desert, and some bought homes here. Rod Laver, the only tennis player to have twice won the Australian, French, and U.S. opens, as well as Wimbledon, moved to the Club at Morningside in Rancho Mirage. Alice Marble, who won 12 U.S. Open championships and five Wimbledon titles, settled in Palm Desert Country Club. Pete Sampras, with 14 wins the all-time Grand Slam titleholder, “retired” to Bighorn Golf Club in Palm Desert.
Tennis is not alone, however, in having attracted pro athletes to the desert. Baseball Hall of Famers such as Ralph Kiner, Willie Mays Jr., Leo Durocher, and Don Drysdale each purchased a piece of paradise here. In 1994, Darryl Strawberry paid $1.2 million for a magnificent home at Clancy Lane Estates in Rancho Mirage.
Hollywood singing cowboy Gene Autry, who once owned the Anaheim Angels baseball team, billeted its members at several hotels he owned, including Melody Ranch (subsequently Gene Autry Hotel, now Parker Palm Springs), during local practice.
Another celebrity who generated a lot of favorable publicity was Western actor Chuck Connors, a nine-year resident of Canyon Country Club (now Palm Springs National Golf and Country Club) in Palm Springs. Before he took up acting, Connors played professional baseball for the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers.
But it was the rising popularity of golf — which required the expensive construction of grassy fairways, sand traps, and manmade lakes that became the desert’s obsession — that set the tone for the valley’s illustrious future. Today, more than 120 golf courses stretch from Palm Springs to Coachella.
Golf legend and restaurant owner Arnold Palmer, a resident of Tradition Golf Club in La Quinta, competed in four Masters and two British Opens and won 29 major golf tournaments, including the original Palm Springs Classic.
The social desirability of golf, which is now played by the discerning likes of former actor and now California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, actor Kevin Costner, and rock star Alice Cooper, prompted many desert celebrities to install their own putting greens.
Billionaire publisher Walter Annenberg, a 36-year resident of Rancho Mirage, went one step further: In 1966, he built a walled and gated 266-acre estate complete with a private nine-hole golf course because he grew tired, he said, of waiting for tee times at adjoining Tamarisk Country Club.
Not surprisingly, the corporate sector was quick to pick up on golf’s promotional benefits. Each year there was a veritable parade of monthly golf tournaments, which landed many stars on the front cover of Palm Springs Life. Of 12 yearly issues, at least three or four of those were sports-oriented.
Emmy-winning TV personality Dinah Shore was a newcomer to golf when she lent her name to the annual women’s Nabisco Championship in 1972. Shore, a 12-year Palm Springs resident who later moved to Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, appeared 20 times on Palm Springs Life’s March covers over the years.
The nation’s top golfers who made it to the cover during each year’s Skins Game include Payne Stewart, Tom Watson, Fred Couples (twice), and Tiger Woods (2000, 2001, and 2002).
Award-winning vocalist and longtime valley resident Frank Sinatra, who fronted the glittering Frank Sinatra Celebrity Invitational, which benefits the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center, was another popular magazine selection — appearing on the cover 15 times beginning in 1988.
But the king of Palm Springs Life magazine covers, whose face was featured more than any other celebrity, was Bob Hope, the desert’s favorite funnyman and yearly host of the Chrysler Classic. An expert player, Hope’s long nose and graceful swing adorned the issue no less than 37 times between 1965 and 2003. Sinatra and Hope traded spots on the January and February covers, depending on whose tournament came first.
Sport wasn’t Palm Springs’ only media attraction, however. The desire to be a good citizen; promote a charitable cause; or show off a new house, car, or gadget brought out the competitive streak in celebrities who lined up for a choice of photo opportunities — and a place on the magazine’s cover.
Actor Kirk Douglas, a Palm Springs resident for 45 years, displayed his extensive art collection and considerable athletic prowess three separate times for the magazine: 1980, 1988, and 1999. “Palm Springs has been a big chunk of our lives,” says Douglas, who raised his three sons here. “We have so many fond memories.”
Oscar-winning leading man and art collector William Holden, a 14-year city resident, revealed his passion for motorcycles and wildlife conservation when he flashed his youthful grin twice for the cover.
The late Emmy-winning TV star and game show inventor Merv Griffin, who retired to a horse ranch on the outskirts of Indio, wasn’t shy about being photographed with his stable of Arabian thoroughbreds or promoting La Quinta Arts Festival when he posed three times for the cover in 1991, 1996, and 2000.
From stud farms to sequins, haute couture was a high point of local fashion, which is why French designer Hubert de Givenchy, whose chic outfits were worn by Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor, merited two separate covers. In 2007, Nancy Reagan’s favorite couturier, James Galanos, who lives in Palm Springs, also graced the cover.
Occasionally, actors shucked their tuxedos in favor of tennis shorts or swimwear. George Hamilton showed off his tanned good looks for the cover in 1991 and 1999. He proclaimed that a Palm Springs tan was the best winter tan in the hemisphere, providing you kept it moisturized!
Pop singer, Palm Springs mayor, and U.S. Congressman Sonny Bono brought inestimable notoriety to the desert through his public service. Bono grinned twice for the magazine’s cover — once in 1987 in shirtsleeves and blue jeans, the other time in 1996 wearing a business suit.
This represents the true essence of the desert as a place to work and play. “For all its many charities and good causes,” says California historian Kevin Starr, “Palm Springs was about golf, nightlife, and swimming pools, with a Frank Sinatra soundtrack in constant play.”
This love of music was reflected in numerous Palm Springs Life covers that featured Emmy-, Tony- and Grammy-winning, desert-based showbiz performers, including Jimmy Van Heusen, Vic Damone, Diahann Carroll, Andy Williams, Nancy Wilson, and Barry Manilow.
Another cherished desert pastime that captivated people’s imaginations was poolside reading. Oscar-winning screenwriter and novelist Sidney Sheldon, who wrote 17 best sellers, sponsored many literacy programs while living 33 years in Palm Springs. He made two memorable cover appearances, in 1994 and 2002.
Well-coiffed screen beauties Stefanie Powers, Eva Gabor, and Jane Seymour each posed for two covers, promoting everything from jewelry to polo matches. Actress Suzanne Somers, a Palm Springs homeowner for 29 years, managed three delectable appearances in 1987, 1999, and 2008.
Another favorite desert icon — whose enticing cover appearances in 1987, 1993, and 2006 demonstrate a neverending fascination with her life — is Marilyn Monroe, one of the most mythic figures in Hollywood and Palm Springs history.
Music legend and much-loved Palm Springs resident Elvis Presley appeared on the magazine’s cover in a special 1995 retrospective.
Romance and glamour, two of the desert’s most identifiable traits, were epitomized by stylish cover models such as Sophia Loren, Robert Wagner, and Linda Evans, who were photographed in their best finery and sipping champagne.
Oscar-winning actress Loretta Young, who gilded the magazine’s cover in 1995, was notable as one of the first stars to own a Rolls-Royce and a car phone when such luxuries were rare. Young called Palm Springs her “personal little haven.”
The friendliness and affability of many celebrities made them ideal for cover shots, especially if humor was involved. George Burns, Phyllis Diller, and Red Skelton happily obliged these requests. Debbie Reynolds, Joan Collins, and Carol Burnett also got in on the fun.
Other performers declined being photographed in unfamiliar settings. Yet the willingness of these artists to support essential fundraising events here eclipsed their initial shyness or reluctance.
That’s how readers were given revealing glimpses of Hollywood superstars like Charlton Heston, Sharon Stone, Jack Lemmon, Raquel Welch, Tom Selleck, and Liza Minnelli, discussing topics that were near and dear to their hearts.
More recently, Lily Tomlin, Shirley MacLaine, k.d. lang, Patti LaBelle, Udo Kier, Dennis Hopper, Ed Ruscha, Frank Gehry, and many others have captivated our readers with their cover appearances and interviews in the magazine.
Not everybody who appeared on the cover of Palm Springs Life came from the field of entertainment; some were respected business tycoons such as Donald Trump and retired Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca of Indian Wells.
Real estate developer William Bone, who built Sunrise Country Club, and valley homebuilder John Wessman both earned cover status — as did former Palm Springs mayor and author Frank Bogert, a mainstay of the valley for 80 years and counting.
The natural beauty of Palm Springs has provided a scenic backdrop for numerous feature films and television episodes. Sitcom stars Gavin MacLeod (The Love Boat), Betty White (The Golden Girls), Jason Alexander (Seinfeld), and Shelley Fabares (Coach) each showed their appreciation in clever and spontaneous cover poses.
They weren’t the only actors that flashed their pearly whites. Primetime series regulars Jaclyn Smith, William Devane, Donna Mills, Chad Everett, Michele Lee, Ed Begley Jr., and Connie Stevens, several of whom are longtime desert homeowners, have also been featured on the cover.
Of course, what would Palm Springs be without megawatt star power? One of the most memorable groupings occurred for the remake of the Rat Pack classic Ocean’s 11 and its sequel Ocean’s 12 that paid tribute to Sinatra and his pals.
The result was two evocative cover shots from 2001 and 2004, featuring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon. Jerry Weintraub, a 34-year desert resident and current homeowner at Bighorn Golf Club in Palm Desert, produced both films.