Sunday, March 17, 2013

Frank Capra’s Writing Retreat

Famous stars of the silver screen enjoyed winter vacations in and around Palm Springs. Although the desert valley is only 120 miles from Hollywood, it is warmer and the winters are more dry and sunny. 

Painting of Mount San Jacinto near Palm Springs, California, by John Frost, 1926
In the same year John Frost painted Mountain San Jacinto, the hotel called La Quinta opened its rustic doors. Crafted of adobe and tile, the desert hideaway began to attract stars like Katherine Hepburn, Joan Crawford, and Errol Flynn. They swam, golfed and played tennis, just as the resort’s guests do today.

The movie director Frank Capra, however, came to work.  He had read a short story, “Night Bus,” while he was in a Palm Springs barbershop, and he thought it would make a great movie.    

Capra lawn with its mountain view
While a hotel guest at La Quinta, he turned the short story into a script which became the romantic comedy “It Happened One Night.” It was released in 1934 and won the five most important Academy Awards, including director and co-producer Oscars for Capra. Robert Riskin took home a statuette for the witty screenplay, and Claudette Colbert won Best Actress. Best Actor was awarded to Clark Gable, who later enjoyed visiting the La Quinta Hotel with his wife Carole Lombard.

A plaque on La Quinta Resort’s Capra Lawn states that he became superstitious about La Quinta after this. After all, this was the first Oscar sweep of the five major categories (it would not happen again for forty years). He made the resort his writing retreat, returning for many winters with his wife Lucille. Among the movies he penned in these rooms are “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and the Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” 

La Quinta guest rooms and porch

Pamela Tartaglio, Past-President of Women Writing the West, has been visiting La Quinta for almost thirty years and happened upon the plaque and its story of Frank Capra. She is writing a novel set in the 1890s, and is currently Chair of WWW's WILLA Literary Awards. Her blog, Past and Present with Pamela, on the arts, history, and places to visit, includes film clips from “It Happened One Night” and more photos and facts about La Quinta.


Anonymous said...

This is a great story about story-making. Too bad it doesn't have a "writer's retreat" component, perhaps supported by the movie industry!

Irene Bennett Brown said...

I enjoyed this look into a famous retreat very much. You're fortunate, Pam, to spend time at such a beautiful location.

Anonymous said...

It's quiet and relaxing at the La Quinta Resort. It would be good for writing if someone else were paying the bill. But I pay, so I always use the weekend to refresh.

You can get a feeling of Old Hollywood there.

-- Pam Tartaglio

Anonymous said...

What wonderful heartfelt stories he wrote at the hotel.

Frank Capra and his wife retired to the city of La Quinta, which was named after the resort there.

He spent the rest of his days in this desert city.

brenda said...

Makes you wonder what he was thinking as he watched the sunrise, set, and in between. I often wonder what are fore fathers/mothers writers would think of blogging and how we are inspired.

Heidiwriter said...

Interesting, Pam! Great post. This must have been a wonderful experience.

Anonymous said...

I love to find something unexpected when traveling, like when I stumbled upon this plaque about Capra and discovered his story. Has anyone else had a good surprise they'd like to share, something that enriched your trip?