ESCAPE TO FREEDOM
35 years old and still at the same school but now with a cabinet full of awards that the literary magazine won on the regional, state and national levels. Teaching was fulfilling my dream
but I felt so empty inside. I had promised myself that I would move away when I had $10K in the bank or when I reached 35. My personal life had taken a backseat to my profession, and I was faced with a very lonely future. I could continue
to live in an empty existence, but I was ready for a change. That change came in the form of a sabbatical. After 10 years teachers could apply for a sabbatical and receive full pay. The only caveat was that they must return after the sabbatical
and teach a minimum of one year or reimburse the school district the salary for the leave. I applied for this opportunity as a means of changing my life . . . and it did, forever!
After more than a decade of teaching at the same school I had a number of acquaintances but few true friends on the staff. One particularly rude and insensitive teacher would greet me the same way each time we met - "Oh, I thought they fired you!" It was only after I started to greet her similarly that she finally ignored me knowing that I was playing her little game. Another teacher would warn me to move out of the country before the race wars started or I would have both sides firing guns at me. His deep southern roots were manifested in his bragging that when he'd go to Miami he had a loaded gun on the seat beside him. Members of the administration considered me to be a thorn in their collective sides. They would threaten me with remedial courses and my creative writing, literature and drama classes would be given to another teacher if I didn't conform to their way of thinking. My department head would come frequently to my aid when faced with the narrow minded individuals. I was constantly being reviewed by them and often called into the principal's office to explain my teaching methods or my style of dress. I was told I dressed too much like a student and that I had to wear a tie. So the next day I walked into his office sporting a tie wrapped around my knee. He was not amused and almost fell out of his chair. After he regained his composure I explained that my clothes should not matter - as long as I am an effective teacher. My three piece suits were a big hit and he finally agreed that I could wear my bellbottoms and boots as long as I included ties and dress shirts in my wardrobe.
Logging my travel and study plans with the school board, I was instructed to send a monthly update to them where upon I would received my monthly checks. My itinerary included visits to west coast museums and theatrical performances. For my sabbatical I stayed with my friends John and Richard in Rancho Palos Verdes, making their home my base from where I would travel. Buried deep in my mind I secretly hoped that this would be the year I would find my soulmate. Ironically, that would mean that the school board would be paying me to find a gay lover. I arrived in California late June of 1979 and hoped my search would be successful. But, month after month, Mr. Right was illusive. Maybe I was too desperate, too intense on finding that one person who would fulfill my dreams. It was soon late April 1980 and upon the urging of John and Richard instructed me to visit Palm Springs and stay a week. I had informed them that I had given up my soulmate search and would be returning to my teaching position in August, marry my profession, and forget my personal life. Upon my return from the desert, I found that I stayed at the wrong hotel and that my wardrobe was not working in my favor. Needless to say, John took me shopping and I prepared for my return to Palm Springs with a new outlook, a new wardrobe, and with only fun in mind. Not only did I stay at the most popular gay desert resort, but I was given an itinerary of the hot spots with instructions on how to dress. Halfway through with my week in the desert, I decided to find other places to dine. His and Hers was owned by Gloria Greene and her business partner Ken. On first meeting Gloria I mistakenly called her "sir" and was promptly told, "I'm a woman!" Her clothes and short hair were deceiving. Having eaten everyday at His & Hers in Cathedral City, I was told to give the Iron Hoof a try . . . and, my life changed forever.
DESTINED TO BE TOGETHER
I walked into the dimly lit bar and restaurant and after my eyes adjusted to the light I noticed that the bartender had been watching me intensly. I explained that I came for dinner and he seated me at a table that faced the bar. All through dinner our eyes kept meeting and upon my departure we spoke and made arrangements to meet at The Party Room, a beer and wine bar. The night was magical! His name was Bill a co-owner of a gay Palm Springs hotel. Bill and Jay had been a couple for 11 years and they shared experiences from San Francisco to the Alaskan oil field. Together they saved their money and in the mid 1970s became hoteliers. The years had changed their status into more of a business agreement than a personal relationship. Jay would parade his latest conquests in front of Bill and that would only strain their partnership. One funny incident happened the very next day after we met. That day, the housekeeper didn’t show and it was dependent on Bill to prepare the rooms for the arriving guests. I volunteered to help and while on my knees cleaning one of the bathrooms, I looked up to see Bill with clipboard checking on my progress. I asked inquisitively, “Is this how you get your housekeepers - by tricking with them the night before?” He was not amused. We found each other only after we decided on cold and loveless futures . . . me teaching in Florida and he in a regrettable business relation. In August I return to teaching due to the agreement that I signed. Of course, I flew to Palm Springs at Christmas and Easter and soon after Bill and I made plans for my move to the desert. He would come to Florida; meet the parents and help drive back to the Coachella Valley where we would run the resort. Jay had a new love interest and his time at the hotel was limited between personal commitments and his bookkeeping job. So the work fell on Bill’s shoulders to oversee the daily duties in preparation for guests. I was more than happy to build a future with him. He was the one man who told me he loved me who I could believe. We fulfilled each other’s hopes of finding that one person with whom you want to live out the rest of your life. That September the hotel sold freeing Bill to build a life with me. We found a little apartment on North Palm Canyon in need of TLC, and with paint and a few plants soon became our private haven. The Little Bar in Cathedral City employed Bill as a bartender and I waited tables at Hank’s Café American. When The Bottom Line magazine came up for sale the next year, we discussed buying it or a beer & wine bar called Harry’s Roundup Room. The publication won out and not only did we purchase our first house together in September of 1982 but finalized the paperwork on the magazine two days later. Talk about cultural shock! Up to that point, my life was mainstream but now I would be writing to and about an unfamiliar community. From that day and for the next 19 years we lived by deadlines. I wrapped myself in my responsibilities knowing that if the business failed there was a good possibility of losing Bill. As editor I was charged with: typesetting; designing ads; photographing local events; all pre-press work, deliveries, and meeting every deadline. Bill took care of office supplies; billing, mailings and distribution. Many times his work interfered with his drinking. Of course, it didn’t help that the person we purchased the magazine from decided to start a competing publication. His name was Tackee David. I found out early on that we attended rival high schools in Fort Lauderdale during the 60’s and that Bill’s friends were pushing Tackee and Bill together . . . until I arrived on the scene. The Bottom Line was a “bar-rag” filled with stories, gossip and rumors about people that you wouldn’t know unless you were a lounge lizard. Tackee had an inside track with the bar crowd since he bartended and knew the inside scoop on people - oftentimes fabricating stories that would embarrass and infuriate people and business owners. But he held a tight leash on his advertisers and threatened them with negative stories if they did not advertise. I called that blackmail advertising.
Through the publication Bill and I hoped to build pride in the desert gay community during its infancy. Formed two years earlier, the Desert Business Association (gay chamber of commerce) was presently recovering from difficulties the previous president created. At the time there were some two dozen gay businesses; AIDS had not yet been recognized, and gays were still subject to police harassment and arrest. Often during my magazine deliveries I would be confronted by the Riverside Sheriff’s officers demanding identification. They would park their cruisers in front of gay establishments to discourage patrons from entering and hold ID checks at midnight in the bars. Conservative Riverside County had a problem with gay people. I found out all too soon that you never walk down Palm Canyon Drive hand-in-hand with your lover unless you wanted to hear jeers and negative comments thrown at you. How Palm Springs has changed!
GAY OLD PALM SPRINGS
The following feature deals with Palm Springs in mid-1950s & the early gay influence
in the desert appearing in the July 8, 1994 edition.
by Bob Canon in collaboration with Daryl James
The sale of the Warm Sands Villas Hotel is one of the major events of the year! It takes us back at least 40 years to the beginning of Palm Springs as the world-renowned gay resort area.
In 1955 Art Linkleletter, then the big TV and radio star of the day, came to my office on Union Square in San Francisco and said that he needed the best man in public relations he could find and that I was he - Canon Associates, Public Relations & Advertising. Art told me that he was going to create the world's largest and wealthiest residential community and that he wanted me to handle it. It was to be located south of Palm Springs - which I had never even heard of. There was no airport in Palm Springs, so we flew his private plane to Los Angeles and his chauffeur drove us over to a dumpy little town with only one major hotel, The El Mirador, which is now the Indian Avenue tower entrance to Desert Hospital. We then drove miles south and saw nothing but sand and rocks. No trees, no water, no views, no stores, homes or service facilities. Parked by the side of the road was a station wagon on which was painted "Rancho Mirage." No people, no roads, no stores, no trees and no water. He had to be crazy and I told him there was no way I could get mixed up in that deal. (I should add that he failed to mention that he already had contracts with Walter Annenberg and Frank Sinatra. For what, one could never guess.)
Palm Springs was a tiny little ghost town with only two hotels and maybe three or four restaurants. Fewer houses than you would bother to count - also no trees. Some of the palm trees were imported from Hawaii and many were transplanted from the Indian Canyons by the McKinney family. One two-lane road leading in from L.A., no railroad trains and no airplanes. He was crazy! In the meantime, one of the most popular Big Band singers of all time, Eadie Adams, who started on fifteen minute radio programs, then a band vocalist and joined the great Kay Kyser Band as its first female singer - began visiting Palm Springs in 1953 to introduce producers and show people to one of the only two luxury resorts then standing, the Desert Inn and the El Mirador. By 1961 Eadie had broken her ties with MGM and had decided to relocate to Palm Springs and enter the real estate field. In the meantime, Charlie Farrell and Ralph Bellamy, two big Hollywood stars had gotten into the habit of driving over to the El Mirador on weekends to play tennis. Soon, however, the fad caught on and the courts were always filled. Charlie and Ralph, in disgust, decided to solve that problem in a big way. They build the world famous Palm Springs Racquet Club with apartments for up to 100 guests.
Well, as the Hollywood celebrities began to discover the Racquet Club, they fell in love with Palm Springs and decided it would be a great place to live. Go and see the "Movie Colony" today. Miles of fabulous estates tucked up against the mountains in the north end of the city. They all wanted to be close to the Racquet Club and more important, close to the hills, because with no trees in the desert, the wind was unbearable.
Eadie Adams, of course, had more business than she could handle. Her earliest clients included: William Holden; Mary Martin; Gloria Swanson and everyone you could think of. Her office staff grew to sixty people. With the movie celebrities in Palm Springs, the tourists now began to come in hordes just to see them. An airport was installed, a railroad station was built and hotels and restaurants sprang up like crazy. it was also the beginning of some gay tourism. Cathedral City was the first destination and it immediately became known as "Cat City." Three or four gay hotels started including: Dave's Villa Capri; Lost World; Desert Palm, etc.
Hotels in the City of Palm Springs were all straight, but there now hundreds of them. All the buildings on Warm Sands for example, were hotels or apartment houses and it was in this relatively quiet end of town that multi-millionaire and world-famous aviator Howard Hughes of Hughes Aircraft Corp. chose to build a home for his girlfriend, himself and all their friends. He called his home "El Mirasol Villas" and it is still the most beautiful place on the street.
Eadie Adams of course, immediately built a beautiful little hotel called the "Desert Knight," which was used by all of her Hollywood clients when they came over to look at property. Hers was not a gay clientele, but did of course include the Hollywood gays. She started the Desert Knight with her lover/companion Pat McGrath who also has been an important Hollywood figure in costume design and selection. Pat still runs the hotel and is just as charming as ever. Eadie, tragically, died in 1983.
Because of Howard Hughes' estate, the entire Warm Sands Drive neighborhood built up to capacity; a few private homes for the wealthy, but mostly hotels and apartment house. The largest resort was called the Warm Sands Villa and that went through a long history of everything from luxury hotel to cathouse, bar and gambling den. In 1975 Daryl James, who now owns the Aruba Hotel, bought the Howard Hughes' estate and turned it into a gay hotel. In 1977 my close friend Eadie Adams, whose Desert Knight Hotel I had been patronizing since 1960, persuaded me to buy the El Mirasol Villas. It was gorgeous and the price was right, so I bought, with the assurance from Eadie that she would help me get a good gay clientele. Having an important advertising/public relations business in San Francisco, it was necessary to hire a hotel manager. Therefore I took on a man named Skerts Moody who had been running the place for Daryl James. I ran the place in absentia from 1977 until 1980 when, because of finances, I had to sell the place. A few years later, in 1983, it sold again - this time to Don Ettinger.
In 1982 my partner, Walter Richardson and I decided to sell our restaurant in Carmel and to make Palm Springs our permanent home. We flew down to discuss the weather with Eadie Adams' wonderful and my close friend Nelda Linsk. She urged me to return to the Warm Sands area and promptly sold me Haciendo en Sueno. The area was now almost all gay with the exception of the Warm Sands Villa and a large hotel called the Golden Palms Villa which is a gorgeous 30 room estate. The street was now all hotels and apartment homes catering to the gay clientele. The Villa, still the largest hotel on the street, was still in operation, but the neighborhood had badly deteriorated. It was now known as the drug center of the city.
Fortunately Bob Mellon and Peter Tangel immediately bought the hotel next door to ours, now known as the Vista Grande, and with their help and the help of El Mirasol, we got rid of the drug business and soon all of the resorts changed ownership, all great new gay ownership! We were left with only one pill and that was the big Villa Hotel. Now, today that too is gone! Palm Springs has a permanent population of some 42,000 with most people consisting of vacationers or second home owners who use the desert only from Christmas to Easter. Its primary clientele is gay and transient with golf, swimming and tennis being the big attractions. With the sale of the Warm Sands Villa, the area between Ramon and Sunny Dunes is now almost exclusive gay. Warm Sands Drive and its side streets have over 25 gay hotels or apartment houses and that's in addition to the 20 or more gay hotels in the adjoining neighborhoods.