Dateland: The Smell of Lilac
When I was in Palm Springs recently, I met a lesbian in her 70’s from Los Angeles. We were staying at the same resort, which happens to be the former estate of Sonja Henie. Now, for you kids out there, Henie was a Norwegian figure skater and film star, who was Adolf Hitler’s famous movie star. She was also, weirdly, one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood in the 1930s and ‘40s.
Quick quiz: without looking at Wikipedia, name one Sonja Henie movie. Ha! Neither could I.
But this column isn’t about Sonja Henie. It’s about another movie star. And that star’s ironing board.
Now, my Palm Springs isn’t the sleazy hunting ground of the annual Dinah Shore golf tourney. As many of you know, that’s the weekend when lesbians of the world descend on this desert town and have sex with each other. It’s the only lesbian “circuit party” but it’s really much more of a “circus party.” All the girls slather themselves in oil, cram into a pool at a low-rent motel and do acrobatics. Oh, and there’s always a lot of weeping. Too much sun + too many lite beers + too many sloppy makeout sessions = a lot of tears.
When I come to Palm Springs, I prefer to swan about at luxury resorts that used to play host to the disgusting sexcapades of the big stars of yesteryear. Why? Because I’ve got class!
Palm Springs is 99 miles from the big film studios of yore, so it became the Gomorrah for stars whose contracts said they weren’t allowed to travel more than 100 miles from Hollywood while filming. It was an escape for actors who wanted to get as far away from Louis B. Mayer and the other big bosses as their leashes would allow.
It was in Palm Springs that some of old Hollywood’s most delicious scandals took place. Even Doris Day kept a cabana here! And if you’ve read Doris Day’s autobiography—and if you haven’t you should do so immediately—you know how much she loved sex.
During my recent stay, I found myself chatting with a lovely lady in the chaise next to me. She was sporting a large sunbonnet and wearing a cheerful Lilly Pulitzer caftan. As I finished my glass of wine, I rose and began to excuse myself. It was time to prepare for dinner and I needed to iron my clothes, I explained.
She looked up wistfully and said, “I once had sex on Natalie Wood’s ironing board.”
I sat back down.
“You had sex with Natalie Wood on an ironing board?” I asked in delight and amazement.
“No, dear,” she said, spearing a cocktail olive. “I had sex with another woman. But it was on Natalie Wood’s ironing board.”
“But why an ironing board? And why Natalie Wood’s ironing board?”
“I was much more spry back then,” she said. This was the perfect explanation even though it in no way answered my question.
“Where was Natalie Wood during all this?” I asked.
“In her bedroom. With someone else,” she said.
“Man or woman?” I demanded.
The lady took a sip from her martini and studied me. “Can I trust you to be discrete?”
“Absolutely not!” I exclaimed. “If you tell me that Natalie Wood slept with a woman I will tell everyone. I will stop strangers in the street and tell them the news.”
“Well, then, let’s just say it was the 1960’s and it was Palm Springs. And to quote Tallulah Bankhead on the fluidity of sexuality: ‘It’s not the cock. And it’s not the twat. It’s the eyes, don’t you know. And sometimes the smell of lilac.’”