TWO BUNCH PALMS GETAWAY WITH KATHRYN JORDAN
By Angela Miyuki Mackintosh
Ever since I saw Robert Altman's award-winning movie, “The Player,” back in 1992, I've wanted to go to Two Bunch Palms Resort & Spa. In the film, Tim Robbins and Greta Scacchi slip off their clothes and dive into a the clear mineral waters of The Grotto-a warm pool surrounded by lush, tropical foliage-dine in a cozy five-star restaurant, and soak in a relaxing mud bath. She looks into his eyes and says, “Do places like this really exist?” Well, I've always wondered the same thing... and now I have discovered the truth for myself.
When WOW! learned that Kathryn Jordan, author of the bestselling novel Hot Water, was speaking at Two Bunch Palms, we had to go. What better excuse to meet Kathryn and hear about her forthcoming book, Gladys and Capone, while soaking up the ambiance of this desert hideaway.
Kathryn and John Walton present the story of John's mother, Gladys Walton, silent screen star and Al Capone's girlfriend. Gladys met Capone on the set of her movie, “The Untamable,” in 1923 and partied at Two Bunch Palms with such Roaring Twenties stars as Charlie Chaplin, Valentino, and Gloria Swanson.
Meeting Kathryn Jordan in the setting of Two Bunch Palms lived up to my expectations, and then some. Join us in an adventure with Kathryn as she shares her riveting stories, and discover with us that this snug oasis, nestled in the town of Desert Hot Springs, really does exist, and is the place of dreams.
We pulled off the highway onto a two-lane road, surrounded by a sea of windmills, our tires screeching on hot pavement. I could already feel the dry heat coming in through the barely cracked window.
“We're almost half-an-hour late.” I looked over at Beryl and stepped on the gas. She was still fiddling with the digital camera; she'd just taken a crash course on the drive up. Steadying the lens against the glass, she snapped another picture.
“They look so small,” she said. “See?” She cupped the viewfinder in her hands to shade it from the glare.
They did look small, but they weren't. They were several story-high pinwheels that continually pumped the air, slowly generating electricity for surrounding cities.
I returned my gaze to the road and saw that the once distant rumpled brown foothills were moving closer. Just as I thought we must be getting near, Bam! We passed the entrance, just like Julia did in the beginning of Kathryn's novel Hot Water.
“Hold on!” Dust sprayed from under the tires as I flipped a u-turn over the double yellow line. (If only I had a Ferrari like Julia!)
The entrance wasn't like anything you'd expect for such a lavish resort. There was a small guard gate nestled in a tall wall of bushes and trees, one car lane for entrance, one for exit. A slim strawberry-haired blonde greeted us at the gate. I rolled down the window and the hot desert air wafted in. “Are you looking for Two Bunch Palms?” she asked.
“Um... yes.” Oh no, we went to the wrong place...
“Well... You found it!” She broke into a wide smile.
I pushed on the ancient door of the Casino Dining Room and felt the cool air expel against my cheeks. As I held it open, I noticed a petite blond in an elaborate jacket, the color of a deep-sea green, sitting at a draped table. The translucent aquamarine stones from her earrings flung sideways as she turned her head towards the door. Without even seeing or meeting her, I knew it was Kathryn Jordan.
“Kathryn?” I asked.
“Hi!” She stood up and greeted us warmly. She motioned towards the table. “I ordered a sandwich-”
“I'm so sorry we're late, did you get our messages? We called you on your cell...” I suddenly remembered the wooden sign as we entered, 'No cell phones please, no talking above a whisper'.
“Oh, I turned my cell phone off,” Kathryn said.
Duh! It made perfect sense. We were new to the rules of Two Bunch Palms.
“I hope you don't mind that I ordered,” she continued.
“Not at all.”
A young waitress with jet-black hair walked up to the table and provided us with extra menus. She looked over at Kathryn and asked, “Would you like to wait?”
Kathryn paused for a moment and folded her napkin, “Yes,” she said, and then turned to us. “If you want to see the Al Capone suite, we have to go now... there's a guest checking into the room this afternoon.”
Of course, we nodded in agreement! We were dying to see the Capone suite!
The gift shop smelled of fragrant candles, oils, and bath salts, soft robes and boutique tops cascaded from metal racks on the walls. Kathryn talked to the clerk as though he were an old friend, catching up on the latest news. She walked to the back of the boutique and introduced us to the owner, who was warm and friendly, and as they talked, I noticed a bookshelf with Kathryn's novel Hot Water prominently displayed. I picked one up and leafed through its contents, mesmerized. What a beautiful book! Smaller than I'd pictured, but the perfect size to slip into your purse and read on any occasion.
The sound of jangling keys startled me. Kathryn had a brass ring in her hand. One more goodbye and another longing look at the fragrant lotions and oils, then we set out on our anticipated journey to the Capone Suite.
“Feel the water,” Kathryn said. She was standing by the creek that snaked its way down from the grotto. She ran her fingers through it. “It's naturally hot.”
Beryl and I bent down and swept the rushing mineral waters.
“That's really hot!” I yelped.
“It's the natural spring... the vortex,” Kathryn said.
“The vortex?” I searched my inner dictionary for the meaning of 'vortex'.
“There's something special here... unexplained... an energy.”
I paused for a moment, breathing the air in, feeling the calm. There was something incredibly relaxing about this place. Something serene, unequivocal.
Kathryn looked at me with a slight smile as though she knew what I was feeling. I could tell she was remembering the first time she'd experienced the vortex. I felt it too. It's something rare that one doesn't forget.
We crossed a squat wooden bridge and down a few steps to the submerged cobblestone cabins. Two of them, right next to each other, with a narrow hallway in between. Kathryn pointed at a slatted basement door planted firmly in the ground. “Legend has it there are a maze of tunnels under this very spot.”
I stared at the doorway and pictured what lay underneath.
Kathryn went on, “Al was inspired to build a desert hideaway so he could meet Gladys... Well, that, and he needed a good place to store the booze he smuggled in through the L.A. harbor.”
“Is that what's stored in the tunnels?” I asked.
“John thinks so...” Kathryn continued to walk to the entrance. “It was really their relationship that attracted me to the story...”
John's father, Al Capone, had met the beautiful silent screen star, Gladys Walton, on the set of “The Untamable.” At the time, Gladys was twenty and Capone twenty-four, both at the height of their careers. He made Gladys his “Queen of Two Bunch Palms,” where they played long card games and swam in the grotto pool, or went fishing off the coast, always returning to their dream hideaway and the calm so rare in Al's gangster life. Of course, “One Arm,” his trusted and ruthless bodyguard was always on duty in the gun turret nest above.
Beside the doorway to the suite was a beautiful stained glass window. I sat mesmerized by the tropical scene and the hints of sunlight that glimmered with shades of green, blues, and yellows. Kathryn startled me by jangling the key into the tumbler.
Inside, everything was just as it was a hundred years ago... except for the flat screen in the corner. There was a card table beneath the window with 'A.C.' studded into the leather cover, an enormous claw foot bar, and an antique chest that served as a coffee table. A fireplace made from the original stone sat directly across from the bar, and on the walls, old photographs and show posters of Gladys transported me to a different era. There was a dusky feel to the room, a comforting uneasiness, something hidden but so desired. I could tell this would make the perfect setting for an amazing story, and from the way Kathryn lit up as she talked about it, I knew she felt the same... even more.
Kathryn led us into the bedroom and switched on the light. Next to the lofty bed was a beveled mirror with an old washbasin sitting upon it, a bullet hole denting the glass. “See this?” she pointed.
“Whoa...” I peered at the cracked wound in the mirror, splintering like a spider's web, a marked record of a marked man. “What happened?”
“Gladys was sleeping beside Al when a gunshot startled her.” Kathryn said and pointed across the room to a side door. “She rolled out of bed against the legs of the would-be assassin just as he fired.”
I gasped, my hand drawn to my lips.
“The bullet hit the mirror instead of Al, who quickly grabbed his .38 and took the guy out in one clean shot.”
“He killed him?”
Beryl snapped a picture.
For a moment there was silence as we let the scene sink in. I pictured it in my head, felt the moment. I looked over at Beryl and I could tell what she was thinking... she wouldn't be one to spend the night in a bed with such history... but I would.
“This is what it looked like...back then,” Kathryn said. She pointed at an old black and white framed on the wall. “See the two bunches of palms?”
I stared at the picture; the place was nothing like it was today.
“You can see the parking lot, and the old cars,” she continued. “There's where we are, and there's the Casino Dining Room. And look. It was before Palm Springs, before all the telephone polls-”
I gasped, “There's nothing! Only desert, long strips of desert.”
Kathryn led us down into the spa under the Casino restaurant. It was hotter down there from the sauna. She showed us the old vault that Gladys had access to whenever she pleased. We chatted with the spa manager and one of the masseuses. Another legend was that the underground spa used to be a brothel, although we can't say whether or not that is true.
A tour of the grounds proved enchanting. Nestled in the wind-swept trees were picnic tables carved from trunks and chairs made of branches; a lake with warm mineral water housed fish and snap turtles. It was amazing the fish could live in such waters! Admittedly, the lake was degrees cooler than up above, but still quite warm.
Down the path we previewed an enormous palapa with an iron frame in the midst of construction. Kathryn said it was probably a future yoga facility. An iron weathervane squeaked and several birds squawked in unison. It seemed rare to hear so many nature sounds in the barren desert. But then again, Two Bunch Palms wasn't like anything I've ever experienced.
We slipped into the grotto, submerging ourselves in the hot mineral water up to our necks, our bellies full from the wonderful meal at the Casino restaurant. Kathryn had told us about the various areas of the grotto: one side for very hot, one side for warm. We tried both and relaxed near a waterfall. Time slipped away with the sound of wind whooshing through the palms up above. A perfect overcast day with hints of sun and breeze to even us out. It had been a long time since we both felt this relaxed. The pressures of running a business all melted away and time stood still as we submerged into the vortex.
Just as we'd forgotten our stresses of meetings, our business, traffic, and our daily lives, I happened to glance at the clock mounted high upon a palm tree above the grotto. “Oh no!”
I looked over at Beryl, her legs afloat in the water, head slightly submerged, her brow, utterly relaxed. “Huh?” she mumbled.
“5 minutes past!” It was Two Bunch Palms time... slow and serene... wake up!
Beryl came out of her coma, “Oh, we have to go!”
We entered the back room of the Casino, now called the 'Gladys Room', just as they were playing a video news special that featured John Walton and his exploration of his father's tunnels. It was John's dream to find the tunnels that his late mother Gladys told him about. The video was fascinating and showed clips of Gladys in various roles as a leading lady. She did all her own stunts! From circus performer to parachuting from a plane at sixteen-years-old. In fact, Gladys Walton's whole life was an amazing saga: from her childhood debut as the first Dorothy in a Wizard Of Oz play broadcast on radio in 1910, to becoming a West Coast Champion Diver two years in a row, and a tough party-girl to boot.
At one of these parties, Gladys was aboard Randolph Hearst's yacht, “The Oneida,” with Charlie Chaplin, Marion Davies, Theda Barra and others the night director Thomas Ince mysteriously “took ill” and died. Ince had been flirting with Marion Davies, Hearst's girlfriend. Two gunshots were heard by the party, but the body was removed and cremated before an investigation could take place.
In less than a decade, Gladys made thirty-eight silent films and gloried in her glamorous life. When she became pregnant, Universal arranged a marriage to one of their top east coast executives. And who bought the rings? Al Capone! Al also visited Gladys in the hospital, and the baby, John Walton, was born in Chicago.
Gladys said her goodbyes to Capone at Alcatraz in 1934. She took him a box of homemade cookies. He looked older, pale, and ill. “Go home, Gladys,” he said. “I'll be fine and so will you. And take care of the boy.”
A hush came over the room as John announced that Kathryn would read the first chapter from Gladys and Capone. “It's true, and graphic,” John added as Kathryn stood up.
Kathryn began by telling the crowd how she met John. She was at Two Bunch Palms and was bringing books for the gift shop when John approached her and asked if she'd write this book. “At first I hesitated until he said find me another writer and I said no-”
John interrupted, “No Kathryn, I gave you an offer you couldn't refuse-”
“Well the story was an offer I couldn't refuse!” Kathryn smiled at us and paused. “Writers need to know where to start, and when he told this story, I knew it was where to start the novel. And it is a novel, but it's based on true events. So here goes...”
Kathryn began with an immediate hook. “Gladys Walton was ninety-years old when Crazy Eddie broke into her home in the little coastal town of Morro Bay...”
After hearing Kathryn read the first chapter of Gladys and Capone, the words 'powerful', 'riveting', and 'extraordinary' come to mind.
It isn't surprising that John Walton is completely dedicated to telling his parent's story. John says, “A bestselling novel and a major movie.” And from Kathryn's first chapter, I know it will be just that.
We thank Two Bunch Palms Resort & Spa for letting us spy the infamous Al Capone suite, and for all the hospitality they imparted. We can't thank you enough for making our dreams come true...
If you are in California, come see Kathryn Jordan speak at Two Bunch Palms Resort & Spa on Fridays at 5:00 PM. Contact WOW! or Kathryn Jordan for exclusive passes! Adults Only. Passes are limited. First come, first serve.
Kathryn Jordan is the author of Hot Water A novel, published by Berkley/Penguin. She has written for many magazines and has a regular column, “Women Changing the World,” in The Desert Woman. Set at a lush spa resort much like... okay it is Two Bunch Palms, Hot Water is the sexy, fun story of a woman who escapes for a weekend to live out a fantasy and gets into hot water, more ways than one. It's in bookstores and spa gift shops nationwide, and of course, at Two Bunch.
Busy writing the sequel, STEAM, and promoting her steadily selling first novel, Kathryn was reluctant to take on another project. But the more she heard and read, the more she was drawn to the Gladys spirit. Having lived her own adventures teaching in countries around the world, the story of this fiery independent woman was right up her alley. Throw in the silent screen and Al Capone, it was irresistible!
Ms. Jordan is now at work on the novel, GLADYS AND CAPONE.
“In dedication to the woman whose spirit still dances on warm nights beneath the stars and palms, and always in our hearts. From those intent on sharing her story with the world. We know Gladys and Al wish you well.”
This month on WOW! Kathryn Jordan is a double feature! Find out her secrets as she shares her MARKETING MADNESS.