UP, UP, AND TRAMWAY!
"[The] annual ‘Miss Tramwayland’ beauty pageant, held July 4 at the mountain station of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, attracts beautiful young women from all over Southern California. Victor Mature heads this panel of three judges. The winner and her court of princesses receive awards and are guests of honor at the Jaycees fireworks spectacular that night at Angels Stadium."
Palm Springs Life Summer Issue, 1968
Offering a forecast on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (which opened in September 1963) in its January 1962 issue, Palm Springs Life reported, “There have been statements that the tramway will carry seventy thousand passengers a month during the peak winter season (January to April), but they seem to have hardly raised an eyebrow among the city’s present thirteen thousand permanent residents.
“It is as Earl Coffman recently remarked: ‘I just don’t think people here can possibly realize what a drawing card it’s going to be.’”
Although monthly ridership in the winter season — at an average of 42,000 — falls well below the suggested 70,000, the tramway is nevertheless one of the Coachella Valley’s prime tourism attractions.
Less successful than the lure of cooler temperatures, hiking trails, and the wilderness experience was the tramway’s International Hot-Air Balloon Race, which only enjoyed one year, 1967, despite its billing as the “first” such event. The April race, according to that month’s issue of Palm Springs Life, was to feature aeronauts from the United States, Switzerland, Denmark, Canada, Mexico, and France. Sponsored by the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce, the event was to have competing balloonists carry mail that they would take to the post office nearest their landing area. Those invited to participate included local aeronauts Jacqueline Cochran, the first woman pilot to break the sound barrier, and Zaddie Bunker, “the flying grandmother.”
Longer-running competitions were the Miss Tramwayland pageant, which ran from 1965 to 1986, and sled dog races, which also began in the mid-’60s and continued into the ’80s, running intermittently and then being discontinued for lack of sufficient snow. In a January 1972 PSL cover story on the races, Mrs. Fern Quirmbach of Northridge claimed her favorite sled team dog was Frederick. “He’s named after my husband, because they do so many things alike — lie on the couch, watch television — only my husband doesn’t play in his water dish,” she said.
BIGGER, BETTER SHOPPING
The September 1969 issue of Palm Springs Life trumpeted Palm Springs Mall as “the retail hub of Coachella Valley,” evidenced by the fact that shoppers drove “for miles to the center” from low and high desert communities. According to the magazine, the mall, anchored by a JC Penney department store, was one of the first enclosed-mall, air-conditioned shopping centers in California — “a completely new type of shopping” claiming to take the “drudgery” (yes, shopping lovers, you read that right) out of the buying process.
The main excitement, however, was construction of a two-story, 63,000-square-foot Walker Scott department store: “On the mall level, customers will note the shaped acoustical ceiling, fabricated into pyramidal units over the fashion departments and a 26-foot contemporary sculpture suspended from the ceiling of the upper floor and comprising a focal point for both floors. Escalators — something new under the sun in Palm Springs — will flank the sculpture.” Imagine the thrill.
“Has El Paseo arrived?” asked the October 1979 issue of Palm Springs Life. With elegance and exclusivity on display in the Palm Desert boulevard’s boutiques, the question was pointedly intended to compare El Paseo with Fifth Avenue, the Champs-Elysées, and Rodeo Drive. Yet the article pointed out that, “On any given day during the season, the street will be bumper-to-bumper Rolls-Royces, Mercedes-Benzes, Porsches, and Lincoln Continentals. One shopper commented, ‘You’ve heard of the Golden Mile? El Paseo is the Platinum Two Miles.’”
Merchants on the street included Cabale Cachet, Neil’s Apparel, Edith Morré, Lilly Pulitzer, and Comerfords’. Ginger Rogers, Mary Martin, Alice Faye, June Allyson, Janet Leigh, the Gabors, and Elizabeth Taylor (with her mother, Sara) frequented Beau James, whose setting was described as follows:
“During the season, six days a week, carefully groomed ladies gather at noon to nibble at chicken salad and sip complimentary champagne provided in the tea room in the middle of the 5,000-square-foot shop. These luncheons are by reservation only and generally are sold out a week in advance. As the ladies lunch, models wearing original designer gowns or chichi sportswear waft through the aisles chatting with the audience and drawing appreciative ooohs and aaahs.”
The other question posed was whether the forthcoming Palm Desert Town Center (now Westfield Palm Desert) would threaten the viability of El Paseo. Almost 30 years later, it’s obvious that El Paseo could and does hold its own without benefit of air conditioning from one shop to the next.
The October 1983 issue of Palm Springs Life heralded the arrival of the Town Center, which included May Co., Bonwit Teller, Bullock’s, JC Penney, and a Robinson’s scheduled to open in 1986. The center, the magazine declared, was expected to “revolutionize shopping habits in the valley. … Finally, desert dwellers can spend their spare time and dollars in their own back yard.”
In addition to major national retailers, the center lured shoppers with the Ice Capades Chalet; a Red Onion restaurant; full-service day care; seven-screen movie complex; and The Private Vault, the first private safety deposit vault service in the valley and the first in the country to be located in a regional shopping center.
In April 1986, the magazine greeted Palm Springs’ Desert Fashion Plaza with a feature titled “The Making of a Masterpiece.” Unfortunately, unlike El Paseo, this “masterpiece” didn’t have holding power. But before its short-lived lights dimmed and then extinguished, the downtown shopping center enjoyed glory days. “The lineup of stores promises versatility, enchantment, style, with touches of tomorrow,” read the 1986 article. Stores included luxury names such as Gucci, I. Magnin, Laura Ashley, and Saks Fifth Avenue, as well as Martin Lawrence Galleries, Leeds and Son, Katrina, Ritva Atelier de Jewelry, Ted Land Salon Shoes, Shea Luggage, and Brentano’s. Attached was the newly opened (February 1986), $38 million Maxim’s de Paris Suite Hotel, “the first of five all-suite hotels to be developed and operated by Pratt Hotels under an exclusive licensing agreement with Pierre Cardin.”
Palm Springs Life may have misread its crystal ball as to the Desert Fashion Plaza, but one needs no precognitive abilities to see that shopping will remain an important dimension of the desert lifestyle.
THE SALTON SEA PROMISE
"Yes, you can fly down in our company-owned and operated airliner in just minutes … and we can have you back when you wish. Busy businessmen need not worry about making a weekend ‘Safari’ to see this fabulous water wonderland. Just call (phone) for an appointment convenient for you. You are under no obligation and you fly as our guest."
Fifty years ago, the words above were used to lure potential investors to the latest venture of the M. Penn Phillips Co. Today it’s sadly laughable: That project was to create a thriving, yacht-loving community at the Salton Sea.
The August 1958 issue of Palm Springs Life reported that Phillips Co. purchased 19,600 acres on the Salton Sea shoreline “with blueprints already prepared for a yacht harbor, hotel, giant administration center, airport, trailer park, 2,000 miles of streets, shopping center, schools, and residences.
“With an investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and a half-year’s work by an experienced staff of 500, the Phillips firm prepared for the May 17 opening of the 19,600-acre area, to be christened ‘Salton City.’ When Salton City was opened for public sale May 17, there was a sale recorded on the average of every five minutes! Total dollar volume of sales amounted to $4,500,000 during the first two days!”
Based in Beverly Hills, Salton Sea Vista Estates Inc. promised, “your investment will grow along with [the development]. Perhaps you were born fifty years too late to catch the Gold Rush … the Uranium cache, Newport, Palm Springs … or even Wilshire and La Brea! But there’s no reason NOW for you to miss this opportunity … and it doesn’t take a ‘bundle’ to do it.”
Calling the Salton Sea “America’s last undeveloped water frontier,” promoters said it was “destined to become one of the history-making developments of modern times.”
Unfortunately, the only part of the promise that survived was that of “ample parking space.”
FRANK BOGERT SHOOTS FROM THE HIP
Only a couple years shy of the century mark, Frank Bogert has lived in Palm Springs since he was 16. He served as mayor from 1958 to 1966 and was the city’s first directly elected mayor for a second tenure from 1982 to 1988; he was proclaimed mayor emeritus in 2005.
Anyone who has lived in Palm Springs for more than a few years knows Bogert’s reputation as a man who speaks what’s on his mind without hesitation. But perhaps Ray Corliss described Bogert best in a profile published in the December 1965 issue of Palm Springs Life. Here are a few golden excerpts:
He has the face of an inept linebacker. Or a retired bulldogger. One who missed more horns than he caught.
His body is sort of terraced. It extends farther in most directions than seems necessary or practical. His hands have all the frail symmetry of Kodiak bear haunches.
He calls men Homer, with the possible, but not certain, exception of visiting heads of states. Women he calls Mary Alice. If he likes you very much, or not at all, he calls you things that are unmailable.
His dress is Rodeo Renaissance. Plus some vaquero. He buys his belt buckles by the pound and his boots by the hundredweight.
[Some] point to the time he kept his hat on when welcoming President Kennedy. They recall the time he more or less accidentally dropped a newspaperman on his head, doing him considerable temporary damage. …
Yet his wife has seen him moved to quick tears.
And his office looks like a cross between a free employment agency, a border refugee station and a small-town banker’s anteroom.
A man of natural pith and juices, he never felt the need for ethyl alcohol. He drinks rarely. He dances well, considering the physical principles of motion, mass and turning radii concerned. His golf swing, on the other hand, resembles nothing so much as a little boy falling out of an apple tree.
In Mexico, he is almost as well known as in the United States. They call him El Grandotte, The Tall One. He is one of the few North American Charros, gentlemen riders who practice the old ways with horse and rope.
Palm Springs … has itself a hand-painted, fully authenticated original.
QUIPS & QUOTES
We could go on and on about the longstanding love affair between celebrities and the desert, but you’ll find more on that in Howard Johns’ story, Snap! We (Still) Have You Covered. Instead, we’re using this space to serve up a dose of mix-and-match from Palm Springs Life’s celebrity interviews over the years. Read the quotes and then see if you can guess, from the list at left, who said what (answers at bottom of this page).
A. The real me is somewhere between Mother Theresa and Joan Collins.
B. I was just lucky to have a very talented guy cut my hair.
C. Tom Cruise shows great promise. Mel Gibson, too — you know his next role is in Shakespeare. That shows depth and range of choice.
D. I’m sure he’s sorry now he did the deal with me because it’s what eventually cracked his empire.
E. Palm Springs is probably the darkest tan for winter in this hemisphere, and it holds on as long as you moisturize it well.
F. There are only two honorary Old Etonians in the world — the Queen Mother and myself.
G. I’ve always had a strong sense of myself, or my own identify; otherwise, I don’t think at 15 I could have told L.B. Mayer to go to hell and take his studio with him.
H. I play golf and I drive up to the market barefoot to buy fresh produce for the night.
I. I wouldn’t walk across this room if you’d carry me.
J. I couldn’t live without art around me.
K. I honestly have no idea how old I am.
L. You have your couch reupholstered every five years, and I have my face redraped.
M. I thought opening a restaurant would be like Humphrey Bogart playing Rick. I thought I’d just socialize and tell everybody what to do!
N. I have a taste for human inconsistencies, frailties, ironies.
O. Your body is your home, and your skin is your paint job.
P. I was geeky, unexperienced, but the audiences seemed to take to me. I still don’t understand why.
Q. I’m very romantic. Every time I look in the mirror, I feel romantic.
R. I hate exercise. It’s so b-o-r-i-n-g!
S. I rarely socialize. I’ve not even been to the Racquet Club more than twice in the past five years, though I am very fond of Charlie Farrell. But I just can’t waste the time socializing when I can be alone, informing myself with a good book. I read differently here. In Palm Springs I can read to think, while everywhere else I find I read only to be reading.
T. It’s nice to be remembered. But I like to be remembered in the present.
U. I drive up to this monastery, and I just do the work. I clean toilets. It’s service. It’s duty.
THE START OF SOMETHING BIG
Seen Right: William Holden and Ray Ryan.
Collecting money from a man rumored to have mob ties could tingle anyone’s nerves, but Helen Portnoy was only 19 years old — and it was in the late 1950s — when she was dispatched to do so by her boss: Palm Springs Life’s first publisher. El Mirador Hotel owner Ray Ryan (who was blown up in Indiana in 1977 when his car was rigged with a bomb) owed the magazine money for advertising.
“I went to the lobby and was told his cottage was No. 52 in the back,” Helen recalls. “I had to walk the length of the Olympic-size pool and through the gardens. I knocked on the door. It was answered by a huge man with a gun. I was escorted into the room. There were several other large bodyguard-type people. At the table sat Mr. Ryan. I said I was there to collect a bill that was due Palm Springs Life magazine. I remember he called me ‘sweetie,’ and I hated that.
“He pulled out a wad of cash and peeled off $5,000 in hundred-dollar bills. He handed it to me and said, ‘Now we’re even.’ I said, ‘Yes, thank you.’” With trepidation, Helen took the long walk back to her car. When she arrived at the office, she put the $5,000 on the desk of publisher Jerry Brittingham.
“I said, ‘Don’t you ever ask me to do that again’ — and he never did.”
Fortunately for Helen, most of her professional contacts during the magazine’s nascent days were with celebrities of another type: Hollywood stars. Having grown up in Palm Springs, she took it in stride — except for the day a young William Holden waltzed into the magazine’s offices to talk about a brochure for his Mt. Kenya Safari Club.
“I was speechless, which I remember very clearly, because few times in my life have I been speechless,” she says. “He got embarrassed, and then I got embarrassed.” They both froze while regaining their composure. Holden was the first to speak, greeting Helen with, “Good afternoon.”
Not every day seemed dangerous or glamorous (although Helen attended many country club parties and premieres).
“This was a real shoestring operation,” says Helen, who started at $2.10 an hour. In the early days, there was Brittingham (in his late 20s), Art Director Earl Cordrey (in his 60s), and Helen, on whom fell the task of mailing the magazines to subscribers. “I used a mimeograph machine to do labels,” she recalls. “I sorted them and took them to the post office.”
Helen says Brittingham established Palm Springs Life to report on the social life at desert country clubs, though he himself lived at The Four Hundred apartments at 400 W. Arenas Road in Palm Springs.
Helen credits Cordrey with the look of the new magazine. “He was a genius,” she says. “We would do a profile of someone important in the community and he would do a scratchboard portrait of that person.”
Before she left in September 1959, she was promoted to the position of assistant to the publisher, and the staff grew to include Bud Taylor as a sales manager.
“We were a family, and they all looked after me,” Helen says.
AS TIME GOES BY
“The great desert spa of Palm Springs is manifesting every symptom of becoming the playground of the world. Within this sphere, the club living is being developed to an unparalleled degree. No longer are Boca Ratons and Palm Beaches uttered in the same breath with Palm Springs. The oft-abused superlatives ‘fabulous’ and ‘spectacular’ should have been reserved for Palm Springs. And it is with this in mind that Southwest Publications has developed a format revolving around the social and sports life of clubs in the Palm Springs area, with an eye towards extended coverage as the new magazine matures.”
So proclaimed Vol. 1, No. 1 of Palm Springs Life.
Fifty years ago, Palm Springs Life began reporting on golf and tennis tournaments, balls, and other activities of the desert’s early country clubs, including Thunderbird Country Club, The Racquet Club, Tamarisk Country Club, Eldorado Country Club, Indian Wells Country Club, and O’Donnell Golf Club. The sole advertiser in the magazine’s inaugural issue (for the week ending March 20, 1958) was Tony Burke Inc. Real Estate Brokers, whose cowboy-styled ads ran consistently, each time touting new properties. (Other advertisers soon jumped on the real estate bandwagon, including the Salton Sea Realty Co. in Beverly Hills, which ran a two-page spread in issue No. 8 touting a resort lifestyle along the shores of the inland sea.)
According to the second issue, “So many newsstands reported immediate sellouts [of the first issue] that the Palm Springs office of PSL was forced to halt distribution and retire its remaining stock to a permanent file.”
Copies of the weekly cost 25 cents; subscriptions ran $6 a year or $10 for two years (weekly from Oct. 10 to May 10, with four summer issues). President Earl Cordrey’s sketches (typically of golfers) adorned the covers of publisher Jerry Brittingham’s ode to country club living.
In November 1961, Palm Springs Life became a monthly, year-round magazine, costing 50 cents per issue or $5.50 for a subscription. Brittingham, now listed as “L.G.” instead of Jerry on the masthead, assumed the titles president and publisher. In that issue, he wrote the following in his publisher’s letter:
“Last year at this time, I devoted my Letter to a new member of the editorial staff — George Ringwald — who took over the editorial management of the magazine during the fall of 1960. This September, Mr. Ringwald moved up another notch and inherited many of my editorial responsibilities when he was appointed PSL’s editor. In the jargon of the trade, it might be said I’ve been kicked upstairs to make way for the talented Mr. Ringwald.” Brittingham also took the opportunity in that issue to introduce Gloria Greer as “socialife editor.” Several pages later appeared her report on her first interview for Palm Springs Life — with actor Bob Cummings, in a swimming pool. Greer continues covering the social circuit for the magazine.
Oddly, the transition to a new president (R.P. McCulloch), publisher (J.M.F. Taylor), and general manager (M.W. Jones) in March 1962 transpired with no fanfare on the pages of the magazine.
In May 1965, the masthead again changed significantly, listing Donald Cromie as president and Milton W. Jones as publisher and editor. In his letter, Jones stated, “Our goal is simple: to give the residents of the Coachella Valley a comprehensive knowledge of desert life in words and pictures.” Notably, Barbara Wolfe joined the masthead as editorial assistant two months later. Today you’ll find her listed as Bobbie Wolfe, assistant to the publisher.
Aside from the size of the magazine and quality of paper and imagery, the 50 years of publishing mirror the times. For example, the ’50s were certainly less politically correct, as evidenced by a caption under the “Picture of the Week” in issue No. 4: “This Desert Circus Deputy, Judy Howard of Thunderbird C.C., will probably attract more outlaws to the Kangaroo Court precincts than she keeps away. Judy is but one of the many delightful entrees scheduled to be served up during the coming Desert Week, which will feature a salute to the great state of Texas.” And then there was the picture of a woman in a swimsuit standing next to a fur-covered car in front of a Joshua tree in issue No. 16 (Dec. 29, 1958): “Chosen Miss Palm Springs Life for 1959 is curvaceous cinemactress Sandra Giles, a gal who divides her time between Hollywood and the resort capital. Naturally, PSL staffers selected Sandra on the assumption she would be a boon to our ‘circulation’ during the coming year.”
Although the language toned down by the 1970s, pictures — even many cover images — mirrored the free-love, freestyle, sex-sells era. Many of the covers featured women — sometimes with men — in bikinis. We also seemed to have an affinity during that decade for wildflower blossoms, Christmas decor, and saluting locales in all directions (i.e., the coast, Mexico, British Columbia, and France).
True to Brittingham’s original vision, Palm Springs Life still celebrates the lifestyle that sets the desert apart — whether it be golf, celebrities, fashion, luxury homes, dining, culture, or the natural setting. These days, however, the celebration extends beyond the country clubs to embrace all the people who call the Coachella Valley home and welcome visitors coming to share the sunshine and relaxing ambiance.
A LOOK BACK
Photo from the Palm Springs Life Archives
As we salute the trailblazers and movers and shakers of Palm Springs’ past in this issue, it’s only fitting that we also honor the place they bought their magazines, cigarettes, and headache powder: The Milton F. Kreis drugstore. The store was located in the Oasis Office Building at the corner of Tahquitz Canyon Way and Palm Canyon Drive. The building was designed by E. Stewart Williams and built in 1952, and the store opened shortly thereafter. The interior of the store was designed by architect Paul R. Williams, who designed many notable Palm Springs and Los Angeles structures, including The Beverly Hills Hotel. The entrance to MFK (as it was known) was where Starbucks is today. Milton Kreis also owned a bar and restaurant next door called The Signature Room. One might say his drugstore was the Palm Springs version of Schwab’s, where locals and tourists could meet for lunch, buy gifts, and maybe even be discovered as a model for a Palm Springs Life cover.
Neither sleet nor hail nor snow and certainly not a little rain can keep these damp sprites from reading their favorite magazine — Palm Springs Life staffers Tanya Bachwick, Peg Karhan, and Ann Fitzgerald.
Photo from the Palm Springs Life Archives
Quips & Quotes Answers:
A. Dinah Shore, March 1994; B. Dorothy Hamill, Nov. 1989; C. Charlton Heston, July 1990; D. Merv Griffin, on selling Atlantic City’s Taj Mahal casino to Donald Trump for $925 million; Dec. 1991; E. George Hamilton, July 1991; F. Walter Annenberg, Nov. 1991; G. Elizabeth Taylor, Dec. 1992; H. Connie Stevens, Dec. 1994; I. Loretta Young, Dec. 1995; J. Kirk Douglas, Nov. 1988; K. Eva Gabor, June 1988; L. Phyllis Diller, April 1987; M. Sonny Bono, on opening Bono’s restaurant, July 1987; N. Lily Tomlin, Dec. 2003; O. Victoria Principal, Oct. 2003; P. Barry Manilow, Nov. 2000; Q. Bob Hope, Jan. 1999; R. Suzanne Somers, July 1999; S. William Holden, Nov. 1975; T. Mickey Spillane, June 2002; U. k.d. lang, Oct. 2006