Palm Springs weekends: Hollywood in the desert

Even Hollywood can be uncomfortable in winter. When the Pacific air grew cold and damp, the stars - including Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and Steve McQueen - would flee inland to the desert oasis of Palm Springs.

In the spring of 1963, at the age of 33 and just a few months before the release of the film 'The Great Escape', Steve McQueen was at the peak of his career - and in that year, he was visited by the photographer John Dominis at his home in Palm Springs for a photoshoot commissed by 'Life' magazine. Out here in the desert, Steve McQueen was in his element: he could allow his relaxed side to come out, and the photographer documented McQueen amusing himself in his modernist house in Rim Road, and around the pool with his wife Neile Adams. Palm Springs, it seems, was the place where Steve McQueen came to rest.

Hollywood's liberal theme park

But other stars were attracted to the desert oasis for its golf and tennis clubs, bars and restaurants - and of course the pastel-coloured bungalows with their pools. In the post-War years, Palm Springs must have seemed like a gigantic, liberal theme park for the rich and famous of Hollywood. In this environment, Frank Sinatra held wild parties, and Ava Gardner threw a champagne bottle at her faithless husband (a crack in the sink still testifies to this act today). 

Paradise in a two-hour radius

But Palm Springs had another advantage: Hollywood actors were often required (it was in their contracts) to be able to arrive on set 'within two hours' - and Palm Springs was close enough to be within the two-hour radius.

And finally, let's not forget that, according to popular legend, Marilyn Monroe - who came to love the desert - was first 'discovered' at the Palm Springs Racquet Club by the William Morris Agency, in 1949.

Photos: Getty Images