THE EARLY YEARS
Gay business owners were content with keeping a low profile in the desert during the 80s. They feared people would throw bricks through their windows or picket their shops. My first introduction to the Desert Business Association was in 1982 at a dinner at the gay resort New Lost World in Rancho Mirage with guest speaker Frank Bogart. Mr. Bogart was mayor of Palm Springs and I found it strange that he preferred not to sit with the group during dinner. He sat alone, in another part of the restaurant and when it came to speak was ushered in, spoke, and left (more on the mayor later). At the time, the DBA was headed by president, Linda Decker whose job it was to keep the organization together since the previous president caused a turmoil that membership was on the decline. In those days it was called the Desert Businessmen’s Association. I found it strange that Linda, being the only woman in the DBA, was president of a men's group. As it was explained to me, everyone liked Linda and she was the only one who could keep the fledgling group together. That night I was expected to say a few words since we had just purchased the publication. Seconds before I was announced, my cigarette fell into my lap leaving a large hole in my polyester pants. Luckily, we were given name tags when we walked in, mine ended up covering the hole and became a topic of lively discussion for the DBA members - an instant ice breaker!
The majority of our advertisers were bars and hotels. The magazine was created in 1981 to be "just another bar-rag" and it was our hope that we would change that image by including a broader scope of articles: editorials; interviews; reviews and guest columnists. Bill and I took our responsibilities - as publishers for a large, diverse and yet unrecognized community - seriously and realized that we had direct access to them. "The pen is mightier than the sword," and we would use our platform to wake a sleeping force in the desert with our political endorsements, the community would finally realize the power of their numbers. The Bottom Line's slogan was, "Dedicated to the positive image of the gay community!" and appeared everytime we needed fillers during the lay-out period starting with our first edition of September 1982. Back then "cut and paste" meant exactly that. My first encounter at selling ad space was at C.C. Construction Co. on Perez Road in Cathedral City – a high energy warehouse setting of leathermen, cowboys and tool belts – where I was instructed on how to dress by owner Cal Willis. He told me to return when I’m dressed like him, jeans and flannel shirt . . . three piece suits were not regulation. Very soon I realized there was something called “bar wars” and Cathedral City was ground zero. Located in the area were: Buns; GAF; Double Bar; Rocks; C.C. Construction; Daddy Warbucks; and Sundance Saloon. Owners would do anything to bring in and keep the locals and visitors - bartenders would often play dumb when asked directions to another gay bar or give misinformation in hopes the customer would stay longer. Bar owners were cut-throat in their tactics and often held competing events or midnight shows that would insure they would have a full bar at closing. Shows were often with great disco performers. My first photo shoot was with Mary Wells at the GAF - located on the corner of Cathedral Canyon Drive and Ramon Road, currently the site of Gentry Plaza. The GAF was the one bar gay women frequented. I remember Sylvester performing in the C.C. Construction parking lot, and Pamala Stanley at Rocks. Sundays Daddy Warbucks featured whipped cream wrestling with hunky men. During Dinah Shore weekend women wrestled. The best parts were creaming them up and washing them down. Rocks had the popular Full Moon parties that would feature a theme. One was “Walk Like an Egyptian”. I remember Cleopatra being carried in on a decorated liter complete with hunky toga clad bearers. That was one of the best parties! The owners of Rocks were Lloyd Beardsley and Lane D’Amore. Lloyd appeared as a Playgirl centerfold in 1973 - need I say more. I would often get tongue tied each time I worked with him on his ads. He had a definite effect on me.
Drag shows were always a hit and each bar tried to outdo the others with their theme parties. You could always catch Byron the Big or Clyde Sioux on stage - both were bartenders and each had their own band of groupies. Byron was a trained Shakespearean actor and Clyde just liked being in the spotlight. Their job was to make people laugh and have a good time while emceeing the festivities. Most often the parties would be held during the week and starting by midnight. This had a definite effect on me since I was expected to attend and photograph highlights of the evening - this after a long day at the office - but I did endure. I took pride in my photos and would work hours in the darkroom to get the best shots developed and prepared for press. My first meeting with Clyde was on a Long Beach bar crawl sponsored by the DBA. A rented bus with a gay driver was an orgy on wheels. Clyde ends up lying on the dance floor at Long Beach Ripples Bar screaming, “Does anyone want to fuck a fat fairy?”. The bus ride back found me sitting next to Clyde. I was warned to stay away from his caustic tongue but I soon realized that Clyde used his bitchiness to hide his vulnerable side. So much pain, so little love. He and I shared an understanding that few people knew.
During the 1980s the DBA sponsored their annual lusty and provocative
Progressive Dinner where attendees were shuttled from location to location for each course. Double decker buses were used and the open air top deck was the place to be when motoring down Palm Canyon Drive so as to attract as much attention. The
evening would start with a cocktail party and the revelers would then board the buses and head for the next course. Needless to say wine was served with each course and the DBA bar was always available - even enroute. The stops would include: appetizers;
salad course; fish course; main course; and then dessert. The last stop was Pines West Guesthouse on Indian Canyon Drive - always. Owner Fred Hardt, one of the founders of the DBA, served the same dessert – a naked man covered with
whipped cream topped with cherries and strawberries. Linda and her girlfriend Rhea, would excuse themselves so that festivities could begin uninhibited as the male members would romp through the grounds and indulge themselves. I told Bill that
the DBA should stand for Desert Boozers Association. That came during a mid-80s DBA monthly general membership meeting held at C.C. Construction with representatives from the Golden State Gay Rodeo Association to discuss bringing the rodeo to the desert.
The meeting degenerated from a bitch fight into a brawl complete with punches thrown and people rolling around on the disco floor. There were two opposing forces; some wanted the rodeo in the fall; and, others wanted it in the spring. So, with
the main event happening on the disco floor the visitors from Phoenix walked out telling me, “Call me when they’ve made a decision.” No decision was made and the point was moot. Tempers were often just a hair trigger away from
total chaos induced by the alcohol consumed before and during the meeting. That first year in the DBA one member felt that the organization was more interested in drinking and socializing than business affairs. So he started a new group that focused
more on business. It soon degenerated into a dining club than business organization and ceased a few months later. I soon was invited onto the DBA board of directors. That lasted a few months when my suggestions and ideas were met with scowls,
ridicule and negative feedback. Suggestions included: ribbon cutting ceremonies at new businesses; press releases in The Desert Sun; business seminars and voter registration drives. The board felt that it would be detrimental to the gay community
if they tried anything as radical. They didn’t want to call attention to themselves. So they settled for meetings in bars and hotels with lots of alcohol. The local Metropolitan Community Church published the DBA Directory as a fundraiser
for the church. Rev. Debby Jeandron was one of the DBA founders and had a vested interested in both groups. Her replacement, Rev. Ron Gee, was a soft spoken gentleman who, I think, was stunned by the viciousness of the gay community. Soon
after Rev. Debbie left the desert the DBA took back control of the directory. Much to Rev. Ron’s objections since it was their largest yearly fundraiser. During the ensuing years I attended events but kept a low profile. Their events
slowly changed and started to have a business focus including: a larger business directory; monthly dinner meetings, a business expo; and, business mixers . . . steps in the right direction. The DBA traveling bar was finally retired from service.
APRIL 30, 1993
This editorial reminds readers that Palm Springs wasn't all that friendly in the 1980s.
When the first AIDS cases were reported over 10 years, the general feelings in the gay and lesbian community nationwide were puzzlement, fear, and apprehension. We gay men felt threatened - not only from the disease but threatened that AIDS would be viewed as some plague that was being used to cleanse the world, and bigots would capitalize on the health risks to discredit and derail the gay rights movement.
Ten years ago, the Coachella Valley and the rest of the world, did not understand the health crisis that was crawling over the horizon. At that time, Palm Springs Mayor Frank Bogart was vehemently opposed to having a gay resort called Pines West openly welcome people with AIDS to live in the city. Our local newspaper, The Desert Sun, would not accept any advertisement with the word gay or lesbian contained in the copy, and city officials were seemingly ignorant of the fact that the Palm Springs area was home to thousands of men and women, whose sexual orientation was gay and lesbian.
In the years that followed, the atmosphere rapidly changed. Gay men and women slowly began to mobilize. Their efforts resulted in the following: a Human Rights Ordinance in Cathedral City; gay and lesbians appointed to city commissions and boards; a Human Rights Commission in Palm Springs, as well as the passage of the Human Rights Ordinance, and The Desert Sun now publishes the official program for our Desert AIDS Walk.
This weekend, on Sunday, May 2nd, the 5th Annual Desert AIDS Walk will take to the streets of Palm Springs. Each year, the Walk has increased in attendance to the point that it is now commonplace to see men, women and children - of all ages, sexual orientations, and beliefs; coming forward and helping to raise the level of consciousness in our community - our new recognized heroes and heroines. Through their efforts and involvement, they are making a difference. Please join your brothers and sisters on May 2nd at Sunrise Park for the Desert AIDS Walk. In doing so, you will continue to raise the level of compassion, love and caring in our valley.
LONG GONE MEMORIES
Hardt in the early 1980s owned the popular Pines West Guesthouse on Indian Canyon Drive. Due to its proximity to Desert Hospital he openly welcomed people with AIDS to his hotel much to the objections of Mayor Frank Bogart who publicly stated that Palm
Springs was not a place for sick people. He invited a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence from San Francisco to appear in an ad campaign he was creating with the white-faced comical nun in flowing robes being kicked with the caption reading "Kick Bad Habits!"
On his return trip back to the city by the bay said nun wore religious garb and outlandish make-up that caused quite a stir at the airport when boarding his flight - I can only imagine what antics went on in the jet as it winged its way north.
The last ad Lloyd of Rocks placed was for their New Year's Eve party. Months earlier he had been diagnosed with full blown AIDS and was a shadow of the man I once knew. The meeting
was emotional when he realized that it would be his last New Year's celebration and started to cry. Hugging him was all I could do to express my compassion and love.
The Rhinoceros Cafe (owners Don Redman & Dave) located at Dave's Villa (behind Target) in Cathedral City, was popular to have lunch and watch the action in the spa just outside your window - it was the "Anything Goes" days in the desert - the resort had more of a bathhouse aura than hotel. In the evening the orleander bushes and date palm grove between The Villa and Desert Palms Inn were popular cruising spots and increased substantially after last call at the bars. I was informed that those ground are exceptionally fertile! When it changed ownership the orgy room became their dining room and the new owners (Don and Richard) created a cafe with a beautiful garden setting poolside featuring Sunday afternoon shows with hunky male dancers and local entertainers.
During our visit in 1984 to Club Palm Springs bathhouse, I introduced Police Chief Johnson to Clyde Sioux in a towel. Clyde in all his nakedness, curtsied and announced that he was the Queen of England. Owners Paul King and Richard built a second floor to accommodate their many patrons. They later had to dismantle it because city permits were not filed and the addition was deamed unsafe. During the late 90s the bathhouse was the death scene of a Clinton appointed health official. Presently the location is now occupied by a tile company. C.C. Construction Co. was located in the same strip mall.
GAF - is FAG spelled backwards but also stands for Gentry And Fillet the L.A. doctors who owned the popular Cathedral City bar. Somewhere in my collection is a photo I captured when the Queen of England & hubby Phillip were motoring from the Annenberg estate & passing the GAF - her silhouette in her highness' limo complete with the royal wave! - in the background GAF employees were assembled outside waving as her majesty passed on the way to the airport! Priceless photo!
When I attended DBA dinner meetings was always approached to buy 50/50 Raffle tickets - I had a problem with their fundraiser since it went into the general fund and told them that it should be for something special - like a scholarship program. That year the DBA was able to offer a $500 scholarship. It was a start. Soon the Desert Rainbow Foundation was formed to address the scholarship program and assist in other charitable and humanitarian causes. The Desert Business Association (DBA) helped establish a number of desert organizations that included: the Desert Women's Association (DWA) the Desert AIDS Project (DAP), Desert Community Outreach (DCO) and the AIDS Assistance Program (AAP). My tenure on the DBA board in the 1990s was an exciting time (DBA presidents include: Jack Prey; Jim Allen; Dick Haskamp and Don Keating) to be involved in an organization that was progressive and active was very rewarding. I had fun planning the DBA dinner and luncheon meetings - my favorite was "Dinner & a Movie" in honor of the Palm Springs Film Festival - my contact at the Film Festival, Craig Prater, helped coordinate the evenings festivities and have members of the sponsored film in attendance to speak with the collected audience. I had diverse speakers ranging from political activitist, Anita Rufus to conservative radio talk show host, Marshall Gilbert.
We joined the Desert Press Club in the late 80's and made a few ripples when my staff and I attended a reception for the visiting White House Press Corps when President Reagan was in town at the Annenberg Estate, Sunnyland in Rancho Mirage - his annual New Year's Eve tradition. It was at the Rancho Las Palmas Marriott and featured carving, pasta, and dessert stations - what a spread! Soon, the word spread that we were from a local gay magazine and people who we had been speaking with began to keep their distance - I guess that they were afraid of being labeled "gay" - guilt by association. It didn't matter the buffet was still fabulous!
When Wayland Flowers & Madame appeared at Jezebel's Cabaret in 1985 I scheduled an interview that would appear during his run at the North Palm Canyon location. Rather than interviewing Wayland, I chose to interview Madame and have her share views on a variety of subjects. Mr. Flowers at the conclusion of the interview remarked, "That has to be the strangest interview I ever gave!"
The Alligator Grill was one of those greasy spoon type local diners with limited menu of hamburgers, hot dogs & chicken with an occasional salad and special of the day. In 1982 Sebastian was the proud owner of the establishment that would feed the hungry huddled masses on their way home from a night on the town - the perfect after hours place. Located across the street from His & Hers restaurant - they were early desert eateries catering to gay people (the gay answer to Cheers). He soon joined the New Lost World staff as chef of that resort's restaurant - bearing his name. Sebastian later moved to L.A. and started a film career with his husky Samoan physic. Sebastian catered the seven days of celebration in each of the gay bars on our first anniversary. By hosting a party complete with tray-passed hors d'oeuvres and cake in each bar, we wouldn't show favoritism. Each cake was prepared by David of Just Desserts in Palm Desert on El Paseo - now long gone.
The Chrysalis Resort (Your Place in the Sun, Le Petite Chateau, Desert Stars, The Citadel, La Dulce Vita) was Bill's hotel located on Via Soledad & would play host to the Christopher Street West - Los Angeles Gay Pride (CSW) directors when they caucused in the desert. We'd set out a Sunday brunch buffet complete with baskets made from watermelons brimming with fresh fruits and serving freshly baked croissants & gourmet brewed coffee. We were able to meet some of the gay & lesbian L.A. shakers & movers in an informal setting poolside - Bob Craig, Jerry Hyde, Greg Carmack - names that may not mean anything to you but they were the people behind the early CSW festivals and founders of L.A.'s Frontiers magazine. TBL is a few months older than her sister publication in L.A. and they were interested in getting desert businesses to advertise in the newly created publication - once they became publishers.
Bill & I loved to dance & frequented the clubs regularly before we purchased the publication. Rocks and C.C. Construction were great for dancing but one evening at Aunt Hatties (Hwy. 111 & Date Palm Drive - home to Oil Can Harry's in the 70s, Hatties and Daddy Warbucks in the 80s & 90s) we both were threatened with expulsion if we didn't put our shirts back on - it was summer & dancing shirtless was cooler - I told Helen the manager that I wouldn't mind if the women went topless since that was the reason why we had to cover-up. Helen was a tall and imposing person - not quite a woman - and served as a fighter pilot in Korea - her change had not been physically completed and was quite a shock, I'm sure, at the coroner's office when she crashed her plane into the desert floor.
You could always find Lady Di at a number of bar stools or oleander bushes in Cathedral City during the 80s. She would wear her
hair in a large bee hive with makeup for days & a nasally streetwise attitude. Once when delivering magazines to Daddy Warbucks she orders, "Take me home!" I explained to her that I had a lover & he just wouldn't understand - she then clarified
slurringly, "no, no. . .my home!" I obliged & got to meet her hairy trucker male companion. Lady Di was no lady! - I didn't recognize him when she appeared wearing men's clothes but that voice was a dead give-away.
Spring Breaks in the desert during the early 90s was a zoo. Crowds would cross the street en masse bringing traffic to a stand-still while pranksters made their way from car to car spraying the baffled drivers & passengers with water guns and cannons! Soon Mayor Bono would be caught chasing young girls in thongs hanging off the backs of bullet bikes speeding through the heart of Palm Springs - his motor bike skills were something to behold - I wondered what he'd say once he was able to get them to stop? The main drag usually was a loop using Palm Canyon & Indian Canyon with Alejo & Tahquitz the turning points. I would usually avoid that area when I worked at Hank's Cafe American located at Tahquitz & Belardo. Barbara the hostess would seat gay people upstairs at the five tables - overlooking the dance floor - that I would attend & serve. Often gay & lesbian couples expressed their desire to go downstairs & join the others moving to the live music. Knowing the difficulties their dancing would cause I explained - why dance in a crowd when you can dance under the stars - with that I opened the French doors leading to the balcony overlooking the resort's pool & gardens - and we had dancing - alfresco in 1981.
Roy Dean had the brightest blue eyes and frequently held court at Streetbar - he appeared in a number of movies but recalled one in particular when he played the young butler in "My Fair Lady" - and reveled us with stories about the making of the movie - and tales regarding the stars Rex Harrison & Audrey Hepburn. He also was a noted photographer and published author.
The desert was a gentleman's playground - the women only felt welcome at the GAF. The first test of the Cathedral City Human Rights Ordinance was Daddy Warbucks' policy on women requiring
3 picture IDs brought on by an L.A. attorney (my sister didn't have to when she accompanied me on deliveries). The Dinah Shore Golf Tournament has been a magnet for thousands of gay women throughout the world for years luring them to the desert in the
spring. Historically, an L.A. caterer would rent a large estate and invite her women clients and friends for a weekend in Palm Springs. One year we were approached by Hali Rosen who wanted to advertise her women's parties and events but was afraid
they would get lost with all the other ads in TBL. That was the birth of our yearly sister publication "Shore Patrol". We had been receiving press packets from the tournament due to our membership in the Desert Press Club and used many of the articles
and photos in the new publication. Early editions featured Dinah on the cover - but we were told that she wasn't pleased to have her photo in such a prominent spot - inside, yes - cover, no. The magazine was released one month before the tournament
and shipments went out enticing the women to the desert for a spring fling. Soon Shore Patrol was the place to advertise if you're planning a women's party in the spring. It contained all of our regular charts and maps for tourist information.
We invited them to the desert with open arms. Local businesses started to cater to women and planned for their yearly visit with special parties and events.
We included women in our magazine with interviews, articles and stories - we knew that the lesbian community was as large as the gay men's numbers - and we needed to include them as readers. Besides, we each had gay sisters and lesbians are not dating competition to a gay man. I met Bill's sister, Connie when we were driving cross country to Palm Springs. It was great to be accepted into her home. My sister came out to me right after I announced that I was gay. I remember looking at her and telling her, "No, I'm the gay, you're the straight!" Martha had divorced Bob and became a single parent to her daughter, Jenny. She had moved to Eureka and was now looking to move closer to me. Needless to say my sister came out in Inland Empire gay bars since her girlfriends resided there. Within three years she had a number of affairs but never settled down with someone.
MEMORIES OF THE SHORE
I always seem to attract attention. While delivering Shore Patrol magazines at one the ladies events I was surprised that my presence caused: the music to stop, the lights to come on and the party's host tell me that I had to leave because I was a man! The same thing happened years ago when I was a freshman in college and I attended a dance with friends from Pompano Beach High School - but that time it was because of my skin color.
Probably the best event was hosted by Caroline Clone when she had Grace Jones in concert at the Riviera in 1991. The first night was for men and women, but the second night was strictly for women while Grace performed topless.
The Museum Event one year caused problems when some of the exhibits were disturbed. One involved the soft sculpture of a cowboy whose hat was used as a latrine.
Our press passes for
the tournament were given to members of the Desert Women's Association with the stipulation that they had to photograph the event that would be used for publication. With passes they had access to the press tent affording ringside seats for the ongoing
interviews with the golfing stars and past champions of the tournament.