CELEBRITIES IN HIDING
Celebrity watching has never been a hobby of mine. Oh, sure, I’ve had my moments. When I lived in Newport Beach, I once stood in line at the Balboa Island post office with Buddy Ebsen from the Beverly Hillbillies. I felt a small stab of excitement to be that close to someone I’d become so familiar with on the TV screen.
And, yes, I’d craned my neck to see if it was truly John Wayne in the group gathered on the dock of his home on Newport Bay as my husband and I sailed past on our Hobie catamaran one Sunday afternoon.
When a friend pointed out Joseph Waumbaugh’s elegant copper-trimmed home on Newport Coast, I felt a vague wave of interest, but not enough to make it worth jotting down the address.
Tennis fans sometimes reminded me we’d purchased our home in tennis star, Rod Laver’s, old neighborhood. But it took several reminders before I actually remembered that piece of information and made it my own.
Honestly, I simply didn’t care enough about the lives of the famous to be more than casually interested. Catching a small glimpse or hearing a bit of news about a well-known personality just didn’t seem to be anything I was interested in.
When we moved away from the Newport Beach community on the California coast and settled in a small, sleepy, desert town north of Palm Springs, I assumed any casual celebrity sightings were over. Palm Springs was a celebrity magnet, but not Desert Hot Springs where we lived. That is until one evening at dinner in the picturesque dining room of Two Bunch Palms Spa and Resort.
As my husband and I, along with another couple, sat at our table for four, chatting and catching up on times past, our friend to my right, nudged me gently with his elbow and said, “Don’t look now, but guess who’s sitting at the table next to us?”
Of course, with my curiosity aroused, I immediately glanced to my left at the tiny table for two nestled against the wall. I found myself looking directly at Barbra Streisand who was conversing animatedly with a gentleman whom I did not recognize. I quickly turned back to our table, feeling guilty for having stared.
I was aware that Two Bunch Palms fiercely guards its guests from public scrutiny. Several months earlier on a tour with the manager, we had been instructed to never approach, speak to, stare at or ask any celebrity for an autograph. At the time, the warnings seemed almost ludicrous, but now I understood the need for being forewarned.
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When we left the dining room that evening after lingering over dessert and coffee, I managed one more tiny sideways peek at Streisand. Then I pushed my chair out and passed within a few feet of her, still pretending I didn’t even notice. The incident impressed our out-of-town friends and we talked about it in the car driving back to our house. “Where else,” I said, “could she have had dinner out and remained totally undisturbed?”
Several years later on a Sunday morning while having breakfast at the Sidewinder, a restaurant frequented by locals in Desert Hot Springs, and one which has remained unchanged for over forty years, who should walk in but Martha Stewart accompanied by three young people. They were seated in a corner booth and the restaurant owner, with obvious pleasure, served them herself. This was after Stewart had served her jail sentence for lying about a stock transaction and had returned to running her TV show and magazine, Martha Stewart Living. So here was another celebrity in a totally unexpected place.
After that sighting, I couldn’t help but wonder why celebrities would appear in this small desert town as far away as I could imagine from where I thought famous people might be attracted.
Upscale restaurants, elite homes and expensive boutiques simply did not exist in Desert Hot Springs. When I dug into the issue, I realized the attraction is precisely because it “is” an unlikely place for celebrities and therefore it serves as a hideaway for those seeking privacy. The thought, newly planted in my mind, sat like a seed in the ground waiting for the right circumstances to cause it to sprout.
Once I began focusing on celebrities who had been seen in Desert Hot Springs, stories about movie stars and famous people exploded like popcorn in a microwave: Marilyn Monroe, Gary Cooper, Jennifer Jones, John Travolta, Frank Sinatra, Mamie Eisenhower. An endless cavalcade of well-known personalities emerged along with those whom I wouldn’t recognize in person, like the director, Robert Altman, whose name and innovative movie work are celebrated world wide.
As long time Desert Hot Springs residents learned I was interested in their celebrity experiences, they began sharing stories from as far back as the 1940’s when popular dude ranches in Seven Palms Valley (an early name for the Desert Hot Springs area) drew the Hollywood elite as well as business and industrial giants. In these interviews, fresh and fascinating anecdotes surfaced. Glimpses into the true character of a celebrity became a common theme throughout. Woven into their stories are threads of the history and spirit of the times.
During this period when possibilities were endless and dreams complemented reality, tales of people and history patched together in a quilt of desert living provide a colorful picture. These are the never before told stories in Celebrities In Hiding.
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