"THE INTERVIEW" PRESENTS: MEL HABER! (PART 1 OF 4)
Owner of The Ingleside Inn & Melvyn's
Palm Springs, California
Mel Haber is my Guest today on "THE INTERVIEW" and he is a celebrity among U.S. presidents, business tycoons and movie stars alike who are frequent guests of The Ingleside Inn and his famed restaurant and bar named Melvyns. Not to worry! I'll be staying there soon after reading his new book.
Now, you've got to admit: my timing is a bit ...different. I mean, posting a new Guest on December 23rd! Am I crazy? Au contraire! Then what's the deal? Well, January, 2009 marks the publication of Mel's book Palm Springs a' la Carte. Built in 1925, The Ingleside Inn fell into a state of disrepair by the 1960's. Then in 1974, after a long career in New York as a garment industry executive, Mel Haber took on the Hospitality Industry armed only with a determination to be successful and to restore the storied hotel that was frequented in the 1940's by the likes of Howard Hughes, Katherine Hepburn and Liz Taylor. Never mind that he can't cook a hamburger! Today, The Ingleside Inn's roster of clientele includes Madonna, Cher, Kurt Russell, Goldie Hawn, Kate Hudson, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver! Unlike the corporate-owned chains of predictable hotels and casinos one finds in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, Mel Haber restored The Ingleside Inn and built Melvyn's with his own blood, sweat and tears. It was (excuse the pun) a roll of the dice. But Mel managed to survive every embarrassing blooper and blunder and emerge with his wit and humor intact.
Can you imagine being in Mel's shoes the night all three of actor Michael Landon's ex wives showed up at Melvyn's? YOW! Or how about seeing a pretty lady on the back of a blue Harley-Davidson motorcycle with a bearded guy and watching Mel in a slightly stressed out state of mind say, "Buddy, it's Opening Night. Please, give me a break!"...only to discover he just sent away Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw! OUCH! And remember the other night, when I wrote about suffering a laughing fit and falling off my couch at home? It was 11 PM and I had just read the opening of Chapter 5 of Mel's book. His description of the kitchen staff he inherited redefined the word "Hysterical"! No, I can't repeat his description here. But believe me...When every thing that could go wrong and did, Mel admits it in this highly entertaining book with nothing held back! Whats more...Little did I know that it was Mel (not that other guy) who first used the term "Palimony". Then there was the night when a dining patron begged Mel to propose for him to his girlfriend while dining at Melvyns! Another time, Frank Sinatra summoned Mel over to his table to discuss a party he was planning. And Frank knew details like no one's business! Sly Stallone filmed Rambo: First Blood Part II at The Ingleside Inn. Oh, I could go on...and I will! And the reason is that many of you read BLOGS on Christmas Week. So, I figured: "Why not?" In that spirit we sat down last weekend to get a take on life among "Caviar Dreams and Champagne Wishes". I separated this visit along 4 days. It is a fun roller coaster ride. Welcome Aboard!
MM: You made a fascinating observation toward the end of your book where you stated that the celebrities of New York (Mel was raised in Brooklyn) were actors, actresses and well known millionaires of the business world. But in Palm Springs, celebrities are more likely to be restaurant owners, bartenders, valets and doormen. Tell us about this. It's a curious take on fame, isn't it?
MH: It's a totally different mentality. When I first came out here in California 34 years ago in 1974, they would tell me that the guy to see was Vidal Sassoon. At that time, he owned a hair salon that did women's hair. The other guy was Mike Silverman. Mike was a realtor, and if you wanted to buy a house, he took your girlfriend or your wife around to show them a house. In New York, to be big you had to be Donald Trump; you had to own twenty-two buildings. In California, a business owner or a store owner was a big shot in Beverly Hills. And they would point these people out to me. I remember when I first came out here, there was a club that I wanted to join called PIPS--it represented the points on a backgammon table. Anyway, it was a very exclusive and private club. When I applied to join they told me I had to be qualified by Stan Herman. Stan Herman was a realtor! He was a very prominent socialite, but again, he was the guy to show you around when you wanted to buy a house. And it was a whole different mentality. You had to get used to that after a while.
MM: Mel, when you arrived in Palm Springs in 1974 what was your first impression of the area before you acquired The Ingleside Inn?
MH: Well, when I first came to Palm Springs, I was interviewed by The New York Times. And nobody could define the magic of Palm Springs. And in the interview, out of my mouth came the word 'Gold'. I realized that was the magic of Palm Springs. Another comment made me the worst outcast in town. I said, 'My first impression was that it had the ugliest mountains I ever saw! They were brown, they were dirty. I come from back East where the mountains are green, there's trees and there's foliage'. So, of course that didn't make me very popular in town. But as I was describing my existence in Palm Springs, I said 'Depending on your personality and your nature, when I was in New York, if I was looking for clothes, maybe there were better clothes in other stores and I'd go and look. If I was in a certain bar, maybe there were prettier ladies somewhere else'. In other words, there were always choices about where I could be or should be, maybe I should be someplace else. If I was staying here, maybe there was more action there? And you were always a little anxious. When I came out to Palm Springs, the magic was that there was nothing happening anywhere. So, if you were staying at The Spa Hotel, or The Riviera or The Canyon Hotel, you didn't say 'I could be or should be' because there were no choices; there was nothing happening. Subsequently, you were totally at peace with yourself. It was serene. If you wanted to sit by the pool and read your book, or go to a bar and have a drink or play tennis whatever you wanted to do in the desert, you knew that there was nothing else going on. There were no theaters, things weren't happening. Wherever you were is where it was happening! And that was the magic of Palm Springs, that you didn't end up missing something. Now of course things are changing--that's called progress. And now you have choices, there are things to do. But still, it's three words. It's Quality of Life. As an ex-New Yorker, if I get caught by a traffic light or I can't park my car in front of a store, I'm annoyed. Everything is relative. When I was in L.A. last week doing an appearance on a TV show, I said to myself, 'I don't understand why people even live there! I am so spoiled living in the desert, it's amazing!'
MM: This is a fascinating story, because the way you and Marshall wrote this book, I literally felt as though I were along with you! When you first drove onto the Ingleside Inn property it sounded dilapidated. It was not in great shape. But you had the vision to really see something beyond what was physically there before you. Not everybody that you brought out there as potential investment partners saw what you did. I guess this goes right to the heart of the magic you spoke about. What were you seeing that others didn't?
-MH: You know Michael, I would like to think that there was some foresight there. When you say that not many people saw it--nobody saw it! But I can't explain it. I'm not into old properties. I'm not into charm. I'm not into that. But there was something that made me want to buy The Ingleside Inn without having the intention of either operating a hotel or a restaurant. I just looked on it as an investment with no downside. Two acres in the middle of Palm Springs at a very inexpensive price. In hindsight, they say that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I didn't know what I was doing! If I knew then what I know now, I could have never done it. I would have been aware of all of the obstacles; I would have been aware of the odds. All of these things I came to learn about! You don't know that you can't accomplish something--we didn't know we couldn't get to the Moon! Some way someone got us to The Moon. For years, we never thought we could get to The Moon, so we never got there! So, there's something to be said for just perseverance and tenacity without knowing what you're doing--just plodding straight ahead. And you wind up getting there somehow. That's my story nonetheless. I'm a lucky beneficiary of lucking out or of succeeding in spite of myself and not because of myself.
Look for part two of this interview soon.
To order a signed copy of Palm Springs a la Carte, visit www.inglesideinn.com.