PALM SPRINGS CHANGES
During the first seven years of publishing we introduced new writers and columns but it was an uphill battle with many readers hungering for their dose of mean-spirited gossip and character assassinations that the previous owner had fed them regularly. Tackee was back the same year we purchased the magazine, publishing the same dribble in a competing publication even though we had a non-competitive clause. This continued for over a decade with various named magazines that he'd publish. We had defined our publication and believed that the desert gay community would rise above the petty gossip and learn to be more involved and responsible. We knew The Bottom Line was being read when the Cathedral City Police department would call and voice their concern regarding some of the personal ads. Earlier, when the police force was created, I interviewed the new chief, Ron Johnson, and printed the story. I was invited back to speak about the city and the gay community in front of the whole department. Chief Johnson and I even went on a tour of the city's gay bars and bathhouse and were able to meet with a number of owners who were surprised with the unexpected friendly visit. Another indication that the magazine was getting noticed was when a Cathedral City council member tried to censor Bob Hoven's column, The Top Line. He was reporting things that did not sit well with the councilwoman regarding city redevelopment and wanted him to stop. It wasn't that they were false, but that they were true! My response at the next council meeting was to read the First Amendment to the Constitution and reminding them that it had not been repealed.
The biggest impact on the desert gay community was AIDS. The desert had long been regarded as a playground and this disease was threatening the sexual freedom visitors expected. The very first AIDS benefit was organized by Al Anthony in the grand ballroom of the Riviera Resort. Big Al had a history in the entertainment field and was able to bring in great talent to the sell-out crowd. The $52+K that was raised was sent to the Los Angeles AIDS Project. It truly was a community event with everyone pitching in to be a part of the event. Another controversial column was provided by the newly formed Community Counseling Center. The center served people with AIDS and they used a question and answer format in the magazine. I was told by a number of advertisers that visitors do not want to be reminded of the disease, they're here to have fun and let go. Not until they witnessed their friends and employees dying did they change their minds. I questioned the mentality of the desert.
Summers are brutal in the desert with temperatures soaring above 115. Locals would know what to expect along with a definite drop in desert visitors. We would field calls asking if any gay hotels were opened during the summer, since they noticed that desert businesses stopped advertising in southern California gay publications, they assumed that they were seasonal. Why would owners curtail advertising in the summer and then complain about the lack of visitors? Dave Iraci, was co-founder of In Step, a Wisconsin gay publication, recently joined our staff. He and his other half moved to the desert - Dave was typesetting at The Desert Sun and would boast that our computer system was superior to the one at the local newspaper. It was then in the summer of 1987 we offered a "media workshop" that informed and enlightened business owners on how to market the desert year round. We were the creative team behind the magazine's growth and influence - Bill was wrestling demons. Together, we contacted gay publications from around the country requesting rate cards and copies that would be available to attendees. We held the event at Brussels Cafe (now Starbucks) with complimentary buffet and a full house. Magazines received were on display for the taking and welcome folders were prepared with copies of the rate cards. For the first time gay businesses had the tools to plan their campaigns and pool their ads together to make a better impact in print. We even had segments on capitalizing on special events and the use of press releases. Once a teacher, always a teacher. Within weeks of the event Dave, who had recently been diagnosed with AIDS, returns to his Wisconsin family. He introduced me to computers and I had a good grasp of the applications and programs we used. Thank God for desktop publishing! Dave also was one of our press operator - having two tabletop presses with Bill and Dave sharing the duties. With Dave's departure it fell on my shoulders to do all pre-press work - but with determination I met the challenge - I had no other choice. Dave's contribution to the magazine was immeasurable. He not only redesigned the magazine but we were each other's best friend during desperate times. One project I regret shelving was Omega literary arts magazine - with works from local poets, writers, artists and photographers - a labor of love that had to be sacrificed with Dave's departure and my increased responsibilities. Dave helped me compete with Tackee's latest bar rag for a number of years but things would turn ugly occasionally - bar-owner Cal was elected to the DBA board as Community Liaison Officer - Tackee was bartending at his bar - and while delivering a new edition, Bill and I caught Cal tossing the copies in the trash - I was still the outsider in many respects - but the situation was settled when DBA president, Greg Pettis, met with us to discuss our differences - on my insistence! The gay community was growing and self imposed difficulties and misplaced loyalties would only impede progress - a trait that would repeat itself often.
POLITICS & GROWTH
In 1990 our business was outgrowing our home and within months we moved to our new offices on Gene Autry Trail, and offered: ad design; printing services; pre-press work; and marketing advice. We upgraded our presses and added a stat camera and new computers. Jim Hooten was our office manager and manned his post with unequaled diplomacy, integrity and rare humor. He helped me through a number of rough times. When my parents came for a visit my father suffered a stroke and passed away. That summer found mom, niece Jenny and me flying to Florida to place her home on the market and have a moving company take care of everything. My parents were planning to move to the desert and were actively looking for a home - his death necessitated mom moving in with us. I was hoping to bring the family back together again since my sister Martha had moved to Beaumont, some 35 miles away - but it was an unfulfilled dream. Earlier, we weathered the storms that Bill's recall effort brought in 1989.
Bill was involved in the successful city council campaigns of Deyna Hodges, Chuck Murawski, Tuck Broich, and the mayoral run of Sonny Bono. The gay community had grown into a political group that could not be ignored and Bill enjoyed playing "king-maker." Sonny and Mary even hosted a DBA dinner that concluded with dancing in the lower level disco of his restaurant. Sonny launched his mayoral bid when he was unable to have the disco approved by the city. The gay community had changed - we now had friends on the city council. The "good old boys" had dominated and directed the city with a "village mentality" (smaller doesn't mean better). Palm Springs was stagnant. All the growth was heading down valley and the city was faced with vacant storefronts and a decaying downtown. With the new council members, Palm Springs began renovating the downtown mall, streetscape and walkways of the business corredor. Riff Markowitz had recently retired to the desert from the television industry and was looking for something to do. On the urging of councilman Tuck Broich, he created The Palm Springs Follies which would be housed in the vacant Plaza Theatre for the next 23 years. The Follies was unique in that all performers were over 55 with a professional dance history and definitely had a positive impact on the downtown businesses with its matinee and evening sold-out performances. Palm Springs was buzzing with excitement during the early 1990s.
They say that politics makes strange bedfellows - it's true. What follows is the political awakening of the desert gay community. See SPEAKING OUT! for letters & editorials during this time. During the 90's our community lost a number of our humanitarians and pioneers - men and women who helped grow a village & build our community. DESERT HEROES has historical photos & editorials remembering them at the time of their deaths
Mr. Bono was a novice to politics. His executive secretary,
Mary Martin, confided that she wrote his script for each meeting with instructions on how to conduct them and provided him with canned responses. Tempers would often flare between the mayor and the new council members on a variety of subjects.
Mr. Bono had his share of outspoken critics that he would have literally dragged from council meetings on a number of occasions. Anything was possible when the mayor strayed from the script. Deyna had a coalition composed of senior citizens, mobile
home parks and the gay community - and was fighting to save the historic Welwood Murray Memorial Library from the developer's wrecking ball. Bill and I worked on her campaign and was pleased when she was elected. I had been recently appointed to
the Historical Site Preservation Board and served from 1990 to 1994 but my tenure was not without conflict. John Wesssman, a local developer had expressed interest in the library location since he had just completed construction on the building surrounding
the library. Welwood Murray was an early desert pioneer and his family had the library built in his honor and given it to the city with the stipulation that it must remain a public library or revert back to the heirs. When I questioned why discussions
on the downtown library were forbidden at all Historic Site Preservation Board meetings I was threatened with board expulsion - I warned Richard Patenaud, the city employee that his threat was a story in itself - I kept my readers up to date with city
politics. City Hall staff had recently witnessed the replacement of Norm King, the long-serving city manager and it appeared that more house cleaning was necessary. I notified Deyna of the threat and she had the city manager speak with the
offending employee. It's sad to realize that I am the sole surviving member of the original board of directors of the Welwood Murray Memorial Library that councilwoman Deyna Hodges
established in her crusade to save the historic building. Her star can be found at the library entrance at Tahquitz Canyon Drive and Palm Canyon. The desert gay community owes a great debt of gratitude to Deyna Hodges for her years on the Palm
Springs City Council - without her, our voices would have gone unheard at city hall.
It was 1989 and the Desert AIDS Project was
preparing for their first AIDS Walk and concerned that Mr. Bono may not attend - officials from other desert cities would be there to show support of the AIDS Project. Craig Prater was DAP director and I often found him in the front office conversing
with Bill. When I spoke with Bono's secretary she explained that Chastity would be in town that weekend and he wanted to spend the time with her. I pointed out that the walk would pass steps from his house and Chastity, being a lesbian, would want
him to acknowledge the effort being made by the walkers - the walk was in 107 degree weather with many unable to complete the course. Needless to say, he was a no-show and I remember Kirk Douglas stating from the podium his disappointment in Sonny.
President Gerald Ford and Mrs. Ford also attended and walkers were surprised to be offered a bottle of water by the First Lady at the first rest stop during the early years of the Walk.
During this time the mayor was launching the first Palm Springs Film Festival and desperately looking for sponsors - and a recall was hurting his search. Bill had befriended two outspoken critics of the mayor and together they would meet at our office and plan their next move. It was a source of information for me and gave me insight into their reasons for the recall. Mary Martin and I had developed a good rapport and it was normal to visit with her after my board meetings at city hall. Upon explaining the reasons behind the recall, she had me speak with Sonny to scheduled a meeting with Bill. I was serving on the Desert Business Association board and members expressed concern over the recall and didn't want to be drawn into the drama that Bill's involvement presented. As I explained to them - the magazine does not endorse the recall and Bill is acting as an individual - but they were a tough sale. Advertisers threatened to pull their ads unless something was done. Thankfully, the meeting was a great success and the recall effort was abandoned. But the drama was just beginning.
There was no great love between Frank Bogart and Sonny. Early in Sonny's term of office a life-size bronze statue of Bogart astride a horse was placed outside city hall. Stories circulated that it was situated specifically so when Sonny looked out the window of the mayor's office he'd see a horse's ass.
We covered Sonny's mayoral campaign and I would sit near the podium for photographic purposes and often Mary would sit with me and had some great talks. During one of the Film Festival's receptions Mary came up to me and said that Sonny wouldn't admit it but if there is going to be a renaissance of Palm Springs it would be because of the gay community.
In 1992 Governor Pete Wilson was going to review state Assembly Bill 101 that would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. On the Palm Springs council agenda was a proposed letter to be sent to the governor endorsing AB-101 and urging him to sign it into law. Prior to the Palm Springs City Council meeting regarding AB-101, I went to each gay bar on Sunday afternoon and asked to address the crowds on the PA system requesting that they join me at the Wednesday council meeting and to sign a statement asking Sonny Bono and Tuck Broich to endorse AB-101 (Neel was a lost cause and we had Chuck & Deyna's votes). We had printed hundreds of the statements and handed them out - scores were returned. We knew the fax numbers at city hall and for the next three days tied up their lines with the statements that were left with me or dropped off at our office. I had assistance from some businesses that circulated the statement and faxing those forms as well. That evening Sonny Bono enters the council chambers with a stack of transmissions complaining that he received 10,000 sheets and accusing Deyna Hodges of orchestrating the rally. Afterwards, I told Sonny that if you want perfect choreography, you start with a gay production company. I had met weeks earlier with the mayor, Tuck, and city attorney after the second reading of the proposed human rights ordinance. They were surprised when I told them that I was not angry with the meeting's outcome. I couldn't blame them when there were only two gay people speaking in defense of the proposal - where was the outcry from the desert gay community? They provided the roadmap for the rally. In numbers there is strength. A lesson learned and mastered.
In 1989 our offices were located down the street from The Desert Sun building on Gene Autry and when the Bono recall was announced reporters and cameramen were setting up in our front office for interviews and quotes - local TV stations sent out crews, People Magazine mentioned the recall and the Press Enterprise was always sniffing around for the scoop. Bill conveniently disappeared and I was left to deal with the press. My niece Jenny was working with me while I instructed her on computers and publishing - in hopes she would take editorship when I retired - her Goth outfits, make-up and leather diminished the number of interruptions that the recall created!
My last conversation to Sonny Bono's office before the first AIDS Walk was that I would wear one of his promotional mayoral t-shirts if he wears a Walk t-shirt. In preparation for his anticipated no-show appearance I had a local shop create shirts for Bill & me stating "WHERE'S BONO" - giving impetus to question why the mayor didn't appear for a major humanitarian event on the streets of his own city.
One reporter hounded us to shoot pictures for his newspaper, the Press Enterprise. Mary was taking karate lessons at a studio in our complex and it was rumored that she was having an affair with the instructor. I told him that we were not The Inquirer - but I could confirm that her vehicle was parked in the lot early mornings and would soon leave after I arrived. The story I heard had Mary wanting to protect herself from Sonny's explosive temper. Of course, Sonny would have had a major tantrum if he ever met Hans, Mary's tall blond dashing German instructor. Rumors also circulated around Sonny's involvement with local developer John Wessman and the preferential treatment he received. According to one story, Wessman's private jet was at Sonny's disposal - that could explain so much. Another tale had Sonny involved in a romantic affair with city council member Sharon Apfelbaum. Sharon lost her reelection campaign in 1990 to Deyna Hodges who was elected with a coalition composed of senior citizens, mobile home park residents and the gay community. In that campaign cycle, Chuck Murawski unseated another incumbent proving that the gay community had the power to swing any election. The gays finally found their political voice and would influence every local election since then - with openly gay people holding a majority vote on the city council and electing gay candidate Ron Oden in 2003 - the first African American mayor of Palm Springs followed by Steve Pougnet in 2007. Pougnet is currently being investigated regarding a questionable relationship with John Meaney, another developer. If the findings are confirmed, it will only underscore that "Power corrupts!" and gays are not impervious to the devious tactics of conflicts of interest. You cannot serve two masters at the same time!
During the Indian Wells rally in 1992 we had the troops picket on Highway 111 and used the crosswalks to bring traffic to a stop as we vented our disapproval of Republican Gov. Pete Wilson and his veto on AB-101 - a state assembly bill that would prohibit employment based on sexual orientation. Our presence caused the Riverside County Sheriff's department worries since they believed it may turn violent and they would easily be outnumbered. I found out that they had called in reserve officers and state troopers for fear that we would riot. The governor entered through a back entrance but he was aware that the Coachella Valley gays and lesbians had enough of Sneeky Pete - and we're going to stand up to his bigotry and far-right leaning politics.
While on the Historical Site Board we were aware of the changes to the Desert Hospital location, once the site of the legendary El Mirador hotel of early desert days. The blueprints clearly showed that the bell tower of the long demolished resort was a hundred or so feet in the way of the proposed construction details. Within weeks the tower mysteriously burns to the ground but they were able to salvage roof tiles & the weather vane that now adorns the replacement in the proper location. Hmmm!? The original tower was where Amos & Andy would do their popular radio shows many years ago.
Blueprints were presented to the HSPB meeting at the Welwood Library by developer John Wessman and Library Board president Wil Kleindeinst - informing board members that the changes to the library would make it more historical - I questioned the freely used words "renovate," "redesign," "adjust," "remodel" in the presentation. Instead of preserving the library, their plan was to incorporate and change, modify and alter the historical building so that it would fit better with the newly finished development that surrounded it - because there was no consensus the discussion was tabled. Wil was an architect and in our profiles of mayoral candidates we highlighted his achievement in designing numerous floats for the Palm Springs H.S. homecoming parade.
Mr. Kleindeinst had his eyes on the mayor's office and after I reported to the council the findings of the task force created to study & recommend uses for the vacant building he presented his Library Board update stating that the report was a duplicate of one done previously. Since I was sitting next to the podium at the press table, I didn't hesitate to jump to my feet and questioned his lying to the council and challenged him to a debate as he exited the council chamber - followed by the chamber exploding into bedlam & an intermission was called by the mayor - I was invited to present my report directly to the mayor & council at their next meeting. Wil's campaign was derailed that election cycle but he soon would find himself looking out the mayor's window and seeing the horse's ass.
When Tony Miller was campaigning in 1994 for the office of secretary of state we faxed a press release announcing a fundraiser sponsored by our publication to The Desert Sun. No mention was made that it was a gay magazine in fact the word "gay" didn't appear in our copy - yet when it appeared the newspaper's editors changed the wording making it sound as if the reception & fundraiser were only for gays & lesbians. Needless to say I called to object to the unnecessary & unwarranted rewording of my press release and was invited to speak to their editorial board. Editor Joan Behrman offered her seat at the table and I addressed my concerns. It was interesting to hear the Business Editor raise her objection to the use of "straight friendly" appearing in a number of our ads. I explained to her that it was only the mirrored reflection of the use of "gay friendly" that their advertisers used frequently. The next 12 editions had us using the phrase "a local heterosexual newspaper" each time The Desert Sun was mentioned. Ms. Behrman was not amused when I informed her that her newspaper was commonly referred to as The Desert Scum in gay circles & she still didn't find it funny when I attempted to lighten the mood adding, "don't worry, we're known as The Bottom Slime!" and there's MEGA-Scream (Bob Hoven's MEGA-Scene newspaper) and the SCAR (Tackee David's Star magazine). She still thought "Scum" was demeaning!
HUMAN RIGHTS & PALM SPRINGS
The film festival soon arrived with Nortel as the corporate name sponsor and on opening night Palm Canyon Drive was packed with spectators watching all the celebrities walking the red carpet to the Plaza Theatre for the evening's festivities. The historic theatre was now home to the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies and Riff Markowitz and Mary Jardin spared no expense in the high caliber Las Vegas style productions - complete with magnificent costumes and show stopping headliners and sell-out crowds. That second AIDS walk had Sonny and Mary in attendance and we featured them on the cover (one of the last B/W editions). But, soon the drama of the proposed Human Rights Ordinance began. Deyna and Chuck requested city attorney, David Alshire, research and propose a Human Rights Ordinance. The first reading of the ordinance was the night of the first Gulf War with Bono and Neel absent. The second reading was two weeks later but to my surprise there was a bus load of Christian fundamentalists against the proposal - and their histrionics at the podium went on for hours. Only two spoke in favor: myself and activist Andrew Exler (aka Crusader). Later, I was informed that Bono's press secretary had alerted a local church to rally the troops - and the proposal was tabled that night - only to reappear with the election of a new mayor. Sonny had set his sights on Congress and he had to conform to the Republican mindset of House Speaker Newt Gingrich. We endorsed actor Ralph Waite - but Sonny capitalized on the novelty of his celebrity aura and went to Washington. Prior to our local election I interviewed mayoral candidate Lloyd Maryanov and he informed me that there was a way to get such an ordinance passed without much resistance. By forming a task force to study the need and scope of such an ordinance and make recommendations to create a city commission to oversee the ordinance. I soon found myself on the task force that included tribal chair of Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Richard Milanovitch, and social activist Anita Rufus. With the study complete the city council voted to adopt our recommendations and the Human Rights Commission was created. Neighboring Cathedral City had an ordinance in place already and Palm Springs was playing catch-up. After years of printing the magazine ourselves, we decided to go on a web press - offering many more copies and four-color capabilities. This was soon followed by the creation of another magazine, PULP. We had moved the classified ads from TBL and placed them in PULP along with new racier columns and display ads. TBL was now more acceptable to the general population. Its coffee table appearance with slick four color cover gathered attention when we featured the historic Plaza Theatre all aglow in holiday decor. But soon with alternating publications, deadlines now were every week - and there was very little down time for the staff.
REST IN PEACE Mr. BONO
The following eulogy was published January 16, 1998 upon the untimely accidental death of Congressman Sonny Bono at Lake Tahoe.
In 1988, when I first heard that Sonny Bono would be running for Mayor of Palm Springs I laughed. In my estimation, he was far from the image of an elected official. After all, I still remembered the Sonny of the 60s and 70s complete with bell-bottoms, shaggy hair and outlandish clothing. Having been informed by our publisher Bill Gordon that he intended to endorse Bono, I was skeptical. As it was explained to me, "Palm Springs would experience the windfall of a media frenzy - with Bono as mayor" and the results did live up to expectations. Palm Springs and Sonny Bono became synonymous - the subject of numerous television and radio shows, interviews, personal appearances, and fodder for stand-up comics around the globe. The result was a renewed interest in Palm Springs as a destination resort area - attributable to Bono's promotional savvy. His decision to seek elected office was based on the difficulties in procuring necessary permits from City Hall to remodel his home and restaurant. Thus began Sonny's political career.
Early on, during Bono's 4-year mayoral term, members of the desert gay and lesbian community were disturbed by his inaccessibility. He had courted our votes, and we delivered them. His absence at the first Desert AIDS Walk was markedly noticed due in part to the active support of other celebrities and elected valley officials. The recall effort that surfaced around this time, never really did involve the gay community (although Mary Martin, Sonny's administrative assistant, and I did choreograph a meeting with the mayor and a member of the opposition that defused the difficulty). The creation of the Palm Springs International Film Festival - the redeveloped pedestrian-friendly downtown - VillageFest, which continues to brings throngs of people to Palm Canyon Drive every Thursday night - his opposition to a proposed Human Rights Ordinance and his lack of endorsing California State Assembly Bill 101 that would safeguard civil rights, are all just a part of my bittersweet memories of Mayor Bono.
During his two Congressional campaigns, the desert gay and lesbian community's fracture was not singularly along political party lines. Bono's freshman term in Congress revealed a "traditional values" slant and an unswerving adherence to party politics. His vote would often reflect the conservative Republican viewpoint. But, it was in his second term when I noticed Bono maneuvering in a more tactical approach to the party politics of Capitol Hill. He was aware of his "golden boy" status in the Republican Party, and his political future was bright with opportunities. His endeavors, in seeking legislation to address the environmental concerns of the Salton Sea, had found Congressional members on both sides of the aisle in agreement.
Throughout the years Sonny Bono entertained us with his music, charmed us with his wit, baffled us with his words, and perplexed us by his position on civil rights legislation. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Mary and his family. Sonny Bono was no champion of civil rights, but he will long be remembered as the man who rekindled the spirit of Palm Springs . . . and for that, we are grateful.