Palm Springs Gay History Revealed
By Andrew Belonsky
Rock Hudson and George Nader
Why do so many gay and lesbian travelers flock to Palm Springs? Why is it to there that the lesbian Dinah Shore festival holds its annual event every April, and why in the fall do hundreds head to the LGBT Cinema Diverse film festival? And why do so many people keep going back to a town where the summer heat consistently tops 100?
There are valid questions, and almost all can be answered by reading A City Comes Out: How Celebrities Made Palm Springs a Gay and Lesbian Paradise, David Wallace's intimate and affable personable examination of the desert town's gay history.
While architects, landscape designers and Hollywood producers who loved the same sex contributed to Palm Springs's rise in the early-to-mid Twentieth Century, it was movie stars, then a new breed in American popular culture, who came to the desert to escape prying eyes provided the real thrust for Palm Springs's boom. It was here that people like 50s-era star Rock Hudson and lover George Nader, pictured above, could carry on without fear of being outed.
This excerpt, from Wallace's introduction, explains:
Palm Springs, from its very beginnings, has been shaped by Hollywood. If one didn’t know so on first arrival, then driving on the many streets named for stars (such as Dinah Shore Drive, Frank Sinatra Drive, and Gene Autry Trail) hammers home the point pretty effectively. Since the 1920s, Palm Springs has been a playground for Hollywood—both straight and gay—and escape to the desert was fairly easy, rarely more than a two-hour drive on the two-lane blacktops or a ride on the (much missed) trains of the day. It’s about the same today unless freeway traffic is bad.
And it was natural for Hollywood’s stars and power brokers to settle here after their careers faded…the place always has been fairly laid back and the weather—at least for seven or eight months of the year, was so damned nice. Since the film industry has always had a relatively high percentage of homosexual talent by its very nature it was inevitable that many of these new arrivals people were gay or lesbian, and thus by their very presence, they created both a uniquely hip image for the place and, despite occasional efforts of reactionary politicians and monied interests, an environment of tolerance.
First, a few words about the book.
Building a community is about people… the pioneers, the entrepreneurs, the politicians, the artists, the educators, and even the criminals. Put them all in a pot, mix them up over generations, and, for better or worse, you have a community. All this applies even more intensely in the evolution of Palm Springs into a world-famous gay and lesbian paradise, because many of the people who shaped the place — even if only by their presence — were, because of their Hollywood connections, among the best-known celebrities in the world in their time.