“I have found that Palm Springs is the place where I can have the best of everything including people, activities…I’m really very happy here. And I am amazed at the philanthropic people, who really give here with all their hearts, like Harold Matzner and Helene Galen plus others. It’s remarkable what they do, and I have not seen that in L.A. It’s a caring community and people give naturally.” — Grace Robbins, author
Grace Robbins first came to Palm Springs in 1985 with her then-husband, rock star author Harold Robbins, who made his name making simple prose sizzle. Before there was Dynasty and Falcon’s Crest, Robbins’ pop novels like The Carpetbaggers and The Betsy evoked a world of superrich fame and excess. The world snapped it up, to the tune of 750 million copies sold.
As he tumbled through the heyday of the sexual revolution, Grace was often by his side, whether at their home in the foothills above Cannes, on their yacht or in California. Grace, whose elegant manner and inimitable loveliness makes that as fitting a first name as any, recounts some of those adventurous times in her own book, Cinderella and the Carpetbagger.
Harold’s final years in the desert weren’t the easiest ones, but as Grace recalls, “we rented a compound on Patencio Road in the Las Palmas section of Palm Springs and we were there for five consecutive years and loved it. Kirk and Anne Douglas were around the corner, they were wonderful neighbors. Sidney Sheldon and his wife, too. And across the street from me, there was Janet Rockefeller, who loved to give parties.”
She went back to New York for a time, but “the Palm Springs lifestyle” eventually led her back to the desert, and this month she made time for a chat in the living room of her gracious Cathedral City home.
You have a great figure, but I suppose you do have to eat sometime. What are some of your favorite desert dining spots?
“Some of the places that were hot spots in the ‘80s, still are now. Le Vallauris restaurant was our favorite and still is. There’s a great atmosphere and the owner, Paul Bruggemans, I adore. I don’t think Spencer’s was here then, and it certainly is a favorite of mine now. I live between Rancho Mirage and Cathedral City. So I like to visit and support all the different businesses here. For instance, I love Cello’s for dinner and I love Michael’s Cafe for breakfast..that’s a very famous restaurant with a homage to Marilyn Monroe. And when my daughter [Adriana] comes to visit me, the first place we go is Las Casuelas Nuevas [on Highway 111 in Rancho Mirage]…we take our dogs and we sit outside and enjoy it.”
What about nightlife?
“For entertainment, I like to go to the Purple Room on East Palm Canyon…it’s a restaurant as well. And can’t forget Melvyn’s! I used to go there with Harold in the ‘80s: it’s still the same, and there’s a piano bar and dancing there as well. There’s the 849, which is new and wonderful. (Luke, her 5-year-old Yorkie mix, pants in affirmation.) Palm Springs is very pet-friendly. I’m even able to take Luke to the supermarket with me. He loves to shop with me.”
Any favorite stores?
“There’s a place I love to shop, here in Cathedral City..it’s Burlington! You can just go down aisle to aisle and something will speak to you…little discoveries. And there’s the Westfield Shopping Center, which has Barnes & Noble.”
Speaking of things literary, what’s the latest book you’ve read?
“An autobiography of Peter O’Toole..I never had the pleasure of meeting him, that’s why I wanted to read it. By the way, the library in Cathedral City is a great resource.”
“The little boutique hotels in Palm Springs are the best. When I have several people visiting at the same time I try to find a reservation for them at any one of them..I don’t think they exist anywhere else but Palm Springs. There’s the Colony Palms Hotel on Indian Canyon Drive, and lots of little inns in that area.”
Art galleries or museums?
“I love the Palm Springs Art Museum..a very good friend of mine, Donna MacMillan, has donated some marvelous artworks..and here in Cathedral City there is a wonderful art gallery that I think exceeds many of those around…the Colin Fisher Art Gallery. He has excellent taste in art, very personalized.”
Anthony Grant has reported on desert culture for Palm Springs Life, The New York Times and and produces The Tel.