At the corner of Tahquitz Canyon Way and famed Palm Canyon Drive, the Forever Marilyn sculpture by artist Seward Johnson soared 26-feet high, instantly marked as a landmark in Palm Springs when it arrived in 2012. The iconic statue then departed in 2014, much to the shock of tourists, and it’s been nearly 6 years before a new Forever Marilyn statue will soon return, bringing once again old Hollywood glamour and celebrity history to Palm Springs.
The Forever Marilyn statue became the face for the destination considering the actresses legendary ties to the desert city (she was “discovered” and owned a home here), but it also shows how strong Hollywood has a home in this desert oasis.
In Palm Springs, there’s a deep history of visiting Golden Era celebrities like Rock Hudson, Judy Garland, Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra, all of whom used Palm Springs as a desert sanctuary.
Old celebrity history in Palm Springs resonates throughout the valley, and a number of attractions still tout the memories. Visitors can visit Elvis Hideaway, the famous home where Elvis and Priscilla spent their honeymoon for a magical moment (nine months after their honeymoon, little Lisa Marie was born). The home is well preserved with its midcentury modern aesthetics, and two Elvis and Priscilla impersonators guide visitors on a nostalgic tour.
In downtown Palm Springs, a Walk of Stars commemorates Hollywood names like Sophia Loren and Mickey Rooney, and many streets are named after celebs who are tied to the desert, like Frank Sinatra Drive and Bob Hope Drive. With such a vast history of superstars, celebrity bus tours are among one of the most popular activities in the desert.
Several hotels even tout a rich celebrity past, including Riviera Palm Springs (now Margaritaville Resort), a resort opened in the late fifties that’s still operating today. Everyone from Elvis Presley to Sonny and Cher (Sonny Bono was once mayor of Palm Springs) to sixties sex symbol Raquel Welch visited the property at the height of their hey day.
While the resort has undergone major overhauls, you can still feel the old glamour within the walls, and staff don’t hold back on Hollywood property facts (for instance, the spa was formerly a lounge where Rat Pack used to perform). Like hotels, various storied restaurants in the desert also boast celeb ties like Copley’s (Cary Grant’s former estate) and Melvyn’s (where any visiting A-lister dined for the glory).
Leonardo DiCaprio made headline news when he bought entertainer Dinah Shore’s former home for $5.2 million, showing celebrity history in Palm Springs can be more recent.
Bob Hayes, co-producer for the film Space Station 76, bought a Palm Springs house in 2007, which happens to be Johnny Mercer’s former estate (Johnny was a lyricist who had a life-long relationship with Judy Garland, star of The Wizard of Oz).
“We were attracted to the Mercer house because of its Hollywood connection and, of course, the location in the Mesa area of Palm Springs,” says Hayes. “Film star of the 1940s Joseph Cotton lived on the corner down the hill. One of the Warner Brothers lived in the house up the hill and his kids would come down and swim with the Mercer kids in our pool. More recently, Barry Manilow and Suzanne Somers have made the Mesa area their home-away-from-home.”
While Golden Era stars may have left their legacy, current A-listers continue to leave their mark with regular jaunts to the desert. Large-scale festivals naturally bring in boldface names, like the annual Palm Springs Film Festival, which celebrates new Hollywood. Some of the world’s most famous faces make appearances throughout the valley, like Bradley Cooper, Sandra Bullock, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Young Hollywood is making appearances at Coachella Music and Arts Festival. Everyone from Robert Pattinson to Katy Perry have danced through the Empire Polo Grounds (where the event is held). And the annual Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards is chockfull of celebrities, from Jesse Tyler Ferguson to Melissa Etheridge. The event itself became famous when Matt Bomer “came out” here several years ago.
While festivals bring in the Hollywood mother load, celebrities are still attracted to Palm Springs as a leisure destination for much-needed vacation time. They sprawl throughout the valley, whether spotted at a trendy restaurant, furniture shopping along famed Palm Canyon Drive or decompressing at one of many stylish resorts.
Game of Thrones’ Lena Heady vacationed at the Sparrow Lodge, Jessica Simpson attended a wedding at the Parker Palm Springs and Zooey Deschanel and Jack Black chilled out by splashing in the pool at Colony Palms after a wedding. “On any day in Palm Springs, you may see the likes of new stars like Ross Matthews (E! TV) or Andrew Rannells (HBO Girls),” says Bob Hayes.
Palm Springs will always have the attention of Hollywood, and the visiting stars are destined to leave legacies like the A-listers decades past. “Old Hollywood is new again,” coins Bob. Only in Palm Springs.
*This story was updated on January 12, 2021.
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