For a good 30 years, Charlie Farrell, who, with Ralph Bellamy, spent about $6,000 to start the Racquet Club in 1933 (shortly after the opening they sent out invitations to their friends, the Hollywood elite, offering $50 memberships and received exactly four responses; but Charlie got the last laugh when he sold the property in 1959 for $1.2 million) was Mr. Palm Springs. Then in the late ‘70s a faux-hippie named Sonny Bono moved into town, became the mayor, started up the Palm Springs Film Festival, got rid of all the spring break riff-raff (you could attribute that whole scene—thousands of college students cruising up and down Palm Canyon while drinking, puking, and showing their tits–to Troy Donahue and Connie Stevens who got hammered around the pool at the Desert Palms Inn in the 1963 teen flick “Palm Springs Weekend”).
After Bono crashed and burned skiing into a tree at Lake Tahoe in 1998 there really wasn’t a face to Palm Springs. Maybe the only person who has come close to carrying on the Mr. Palm Springs legacy started by Charlie Farrell would be Mel Haber. Mel doesn’t have the star wattage of Farrell or Bono but he’s been running the curiously intriguing Ingleside Inn since 1975 when he bought the rundown property and emptied his bank account to renovate it.
I haven’t stayed at Mel’s place for a few years but it’s always fun to drop in at the bar of his eatery, Melvyn’s, and chat with Mel if he’s around. He’s got so many good stories to tell that, if you’re not careful, you’ll find that hours have gone by and now you need to ask Mel for a table in a restaurant because you’re getting hungry.
When Haber bought the Ingleside Inn, which started out as a private estate built in 1925 by the widow of the man who designed the Pierce Arrow automobile, he discovered fifteen drawers full of index cards containing personal information about former guests.
“I thumbed through some of them and actually got goose pimples,” says Haber. “The names were legendary. I found a registration card for Salvador Dali on which had been penciled, ‘I believe he is a painter.’ There was one for Elizabeth Taylor that said ‘Movie Actress’ with several question marks after it. There was a card for Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Goldwyn of Hollywood, California, and someone had penciled in ‘No Good. They’re Jewish.’ Another card said Earl Martyn and penciled alongside it was ‘Howard Hughes; wants no one to know.’”
Of course, this was all before Haber showed up. But you get a pretty good idea of just who has stayed or dined at the Ingleside Inn since then by checking out the B&W photos hanging on the restaurant walls. There’s Haber with Bob Hope, Haber with John Travolta, Haber with Joan Collins (you get the idea). So many of the women in these photos have puffy faces and towering hair and greatly resemble the Gabor sisters. Or maybe they are the Gabor sisters.
And has Haber been keeping little note cards since he bought the place? He’s not saying. But my guess is absolutely.
Tags: Palm Springs
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