Vintage Palm Springs Blog

McQueen in Palm Springs: The Place to Be


McQueen in Palm Springs: The Place to Be

By Diana Castellanos 


Palm Springs seems to have a common theme. That theme is a capital location for celebrities to center their plans to get away from the buzzing city life of Los Angeles, but more significantly for people who seemed to be the most active and well-known in either film or music.

It's understandable though.

Why wouldn't you want to get away from all the razzmatazz of the hard celebrity life in a quaint, but still modern, bungalow? Where the air is crisp and the sky looks beautiful at sunset with the shades of purple and pink that fill the sky when the sun sets?

You would think that people like Steve McQueen would have the LEAST influence on the city, but even the bad-ass himself hung his 'King of Cool' panties in his Palm Springs home to unwind, which played a very important role during his life.

The 1974 highest paid movie star could be found constantly racing with buddies in Palm Springs, either for enjoyment or for his next major action-packed role. Because you know, being a bad-ass is exhausting and a lot of work.

Image by John Domini via Time Magazine

To begin to understand why Palm Springs seemed ironic for a guy like Steve McQueen, who was most notorious for his roles in The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape, it is important to know that he came from a delinquent childhood and rugged upbringing to begin with. One can say that it was the counterculture feel that led to his delinquent persona, but that still wouldn't explain why he would be conformant with joining the United States Marine Corps, becoming a Corporal rank. This military and counter-culture upbringing was a sure indicator that the actor was going to be the combination of being nature-driven and a rugged all-or-nothing guy that loved to engage in thrill and ultimately make a living off of it. McQueen loved thrill, driving cars and motorcycles for as long as he could remember, even if it meant street-racing, which is totes illegal, yo. This is ultimately the catch-action that allowed him to partake such roles in the aforementioned movies.

It wasn't until a TIME photographer, John Dominis, was hired to follow the actor around in his Palm Springs abode (that goes for an approximate $4.2 million today) to get a feel of the actioned-filled living situation of Steve McQueen and his love of Palm Springs and his wife, Neile Adams. Dominis was fortunate enough to get the couple's intimate moments and was able to show that McQueen was more than just a hyper-masculine icon that did stunts in cars and motorcycles for a living. That this actor has a heart, a soft place in it at that. Dominis was especially fortunate to be able to catch the essence of their marriage. Amongst that essence, Dominis was able to take a couple of photos of them that was featured in the 1963 article where they are walking amidst the California Desert and one where they are shooting their pistols together in a playful tone; an image that encapsulated the tone of their almost-decade marriage forever.

Image by John Domini via Time Magazine.

Dominis stepped into the four-bed and four-bath house, which was noticeably smaller than most vacation rental and purchased homes for a celebrity in Palm Springs, Typically, we think of a Palm Springs celebrity mansion to almost hit the 10,000 square feet mark, but just like McQueen's personality, it was relatively simple. The McQueen home features, according to Maxim, a glass room that gives a fantastic view of the San Jacintos, and more importantly a bar that led to the patio door out to the pool, which was McQueen's favorite room/section in the house. The pool is famous in and of itself, inclusive of a sign that read, "Anyone caught in here better have a damned good reason." There was an infamous picture taken by Dominis, where McQueen is readying himself to jump in his Palm Springs pool butt-naked with the notorious sign behind him. No one is more heart broken than us that we don't have a copy of that one.

The ambiance of the bungalow was later known to become and correlate with the term vintage, with deep consideration to the then interior style trends of the time; but with a McQueen touch. McQueen's bungalow had several hunting trophies, and guns hung up in presentation style; as well bearskin rugs lining the floor. A true desert modernist without even knowing that he was a desert modernist! However decorated signed, it was still conformant to the continuously common theme of Palm Springs: looks small but really isn't.

The current estate that lays today was purchased at a rough $4.2 million, but keeps most of the original style that became affiliated with McQueen's personality and sense of trend of the time. Per the Palm Springs Life website, Adams recalled in her memoir that McQueen hired an interior designer, Peter Shore, to ensure that the bungalow remained as masculine as possible; or as McQueen put it, "no feminine stuff." The bungalow was the result, and became a staple to the McQueen life for him and Adams. Although the hyper-masculine mask of McQueen was the most apparent to most of his watching him on-screen, the man was truly affectionate and took care of his bungalow and the people that he resided within it.

Photo by John Dominis via Time Magazine

One of the rolls that Dominis luckily selected within the Palm Springs bungalow included an image of McQueen practicing his aim with his pistol before going shooting in the desert. According to Dominis, McQueen was a rugged man, one that was "playful and open" and that had a deep and fond appreciation for the ambiance of the desert. McQueen even told LIFE, "This is it, man. I'd rather be in the middle of nowhere than in the city." Although the pictures off of the rolls of Dominis displayed the vintage nature of the Palm Springs home, they showed the matching intimacy of McQueen away from the hustle and bustle of his stunt-filled life.

Not only was he in the tradition of being a sought-after celebrity purchasing a home in Palm Springs, but he was well aware of the culture that predeceased him in the town. In his Palm Springs bungalow, there are images of McQueen that are found to have him looking through records of the beloved classics (and previous Palm Springs residents) of Frank Sinatra and Sonny Rollins. Later on, another picture follows that one with one of him dancing with his wife to one of those records, showing that the bad-ass had a soft spot after all; as they always and usually do.

Photo by John Dominis via Time Magazine

McQueen ultimately was the confirmation of the style that we see today of vintage desert modernism within Palm Springs. The combination of the rugged man with the caress of femininity was an inspiration in most homes in Palm Springs into following the eras of the 70s and the 80s. Although other celebrities predeceased the actor with their own abodes in a style ahead of its time, one would have never thought that as with any other developing city, the style would be one that would remain as Palm Springs most popular living themes, continuing to have America's biggest names in film and television wanting to establish secondary lives their for their well-being and time to unwind. Although McQueen loved his wives and his ability to indulge in the desert nature, he made sure to let TIME, and the rest of America know, that Palm Springs was the place to be. ________________________________________________________________________


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