Not just about Frank: Sinatra love aside, Palm Springs a modern celebrity magnet
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - Frank still rules this golf town. If you need to know the last name, you obviously haven't been to Old Blue Eyes' favorite L.A. getaway. One of the most important streets still bears his name and his grave is one of the biggest tourist attractions around.
Spend any time in the Palm Springs valley and it's easy to become convinced this golfing mecca is still immersed in 1950s and 1960s celebrity worship. Black and white photos of Bob Hope and various Rat Pack members dominate many hotel lobbies and golf course clubhouses.
It's hard to imagine Paris Hilton could ever compete with a dead and buried Frank Sinatra here.
Then again, you might be surprised.
Dennis Rodman certainly was. The former NBA bad boy/Madonna dater/short-lived Carmen Electra husband found himself at a book signing in the middle of Palm Springs' weekly street fair recently. Two strippers approached his table (nothing surprising for Rodman there).
"Cedric was in the other night," the older of the two women said.
"Ceballos?" Rodman asked, drawing laughs from both his manager/bodyguard and high-end cigar supplier at reference to Cedric Ceballos, a bit NBA role player from his days.
The strippers brows furrowed in puzzlement.
"No," they finally said in unison. "Cedric the Entertainer."
Now, it was Rodman's turn to laugh.
Yes, Palm Springs is a little more Hollywood hip than you might expect. The days of the '50s and '60s might be long gone but that doesn't mean all the star power is. Palm Springs still attracts its share of celebrities for its seemingly endless 70 degrees and sunny winter days and it's much more relaxed than Las Vegas vibe.
It's the place where you might run into Pete Sampras and his wife Bridgette Wilson at the California Pizza Kitchen right on the town's main drag, Palm Canyon Dr. That was a recent December sighting.
"He ordered the exact same pizza I always order," said Colleen Parks, who claimed to have witnessed the Sampras meal. "The exact same one."
The celebrity focus is a little more low-key in Palm Springs. Okay, a lot more. Which probably explains why a better than decent roster of A-listers still retreat to the desert.
If you're on a high-end golf vacation, playing courses like the historic Indian Wells Country Club, the new monster length SilverRock and the infamous Pete Dye TPC Stadium, you have a chance to run into a familiar famous face during your playing hours as well.
"That looks like Arnold Palmer," Martin said, pointing to a silver-haired figure talking to a group of in the near distance.
"No way," Martin's buddy said. "Arnold Palmer looks older than that."
Think again. It turned out to be the People's Champion. Palmer was giving a talk to John Deere executives in a paid appearance. Martin would not find out until after his round was over. But he had a story to tell all his buddies back in Fort Worth.
Later that same week, a mostly B-list collection of celebrities including Philadelphia Phillies' second baseman Chase Utley, former supermodel Kathy Ireland and journeyman major league pitcher Scott Erickson played Palmer's daunting SilverRock course in a celebrity charity tournament.
"They mostly talked about how hard it was," SilverRock Assistant Professional Brian Hamilton said. "We moved the back tees a little for them, but they were still talking about how tough the course could be."
Celebrities can relate to the average hacker on at least one thing: scorecard regret.
To see stars who view an 8-iron as foreign as an 8 o'clock wakeup call, your best bet is to frequent the Coachella Valley's better restaurants (California Pizza Kitchen example aside). Claire Danes munched at Sullivan's Steakhouse. Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn ate at Pacifica at the Gardens and Brazilian-cuisine trendsetter Picanha in the same week.
Russell and Hawn also came out to watch the Samsung World Championships at the famed Bighorn Golf Club in October. On that day, the 1980s Hollywood power couple were just more faces in the crowd, trailing Michelle Wie around.
"Michelle Wie," 17-year-old Allie Kraft said without hesitation when asked the biggest star she's seen in the Palm Springs valley.
Salma Hayek's panting fans might disagree. Hayek's a semi-frequent Palm Springs visitor, sometimes spotted browsing some of the more trendy shops on Palm Canyon Dr.
The local paper, The Desert Sun, finds enough of these sightings to run a little daily column on it. Sure, it's often littered with Barry Manilow and Suzanne Somers-type references, and a host of truly arcane supposed celebrities their own mothers have barely heard of, but it still underscores a Palm Springs area that remains capable of surprising.
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie did their first magazine photo shoot together in the Coachella Valley community of Rancho Mirage. Palm Springs offers stars more privacy than they get in the cities that all the magazines are declaring hip these days.
Whether you're looking for a Claire Danes at Sullivans or a Cedric the Entertainer at Pope's Nude Bar or Showgirls, remember that the only thing certain is the uncertain (see Sampras at California Pizza Kitchen). For while many expect all the stars to be staying at places like La Quinta Resort Club, Rodman was kicking back in one of the plush, personal Jacuzzi suits at Palm Springs Rivera Resorts.
The same Rivera that actually has the Rat Pack and Elvis on the front page of its Web site.
"I'm at the best room they give me for free,'' Rodman said, laughing.
Another celebrity rule to keep in mind. Though by all reports, Sampras paid for his own pizza.
What would Frank be thinking?
March 6, 2006