Actor William Devane talks about the Western lifestyle of Palm Springs, California.
Much more comfortable on the ranch than on the set, actor William Devane considers the open spaces near Palm Springs, California, his happy place. His lifestyle is part home on the links, part home on the range. You’ll often find him in worn-in jeans and well-scuffed boots at one of his two ranches: a small spread at 7,300 feet in Montana, where he trailers horses for Western pleasure riding in the mountains when it’s 110 degrees in the desert, and his home base in Greater Palm Springs.
In some ways, his true self and his decidedly urban screen characters couldn’t be more different. Highlights from his decades of acting credits include high-profile roles such as secret agency head Peter Janeway in Marathon Man with Dustin Hoffman; John F. Kennedy in the acclaimed The Missiles of October; millionaire playboy Greg Sumner in prime-time soap Knots Landing; and cop turned therapist Dr. Dix, who tries to help Tom Selleck conquer his demons in the Jesse Stone movies. Devane starred as President of the United States James Heller in 24 opposite Kiefer Sutherland, and as Dean Sanderson Sr. in the 2015 – 16 television comedy The Grinder with Rob Lowe.
We caught up with Devane in Montana as he was preparing to head back to Deer Creek, his polo and training farm on the outskirts of Palm Springs.
Cowboys & Indians: What attracted you to the desert, and why did you decide to settle in the Palm Springs area?
William Devane: This was more than 30 years ago, and I fell in love with playing polo and started to play at what was then the Eldorado Polo Club and was soon buying polo ponies. So a group of us bought some land outside of Palm Springs in Thermal and started to develop Deer Creek, one small ranch at a time. We now have 15 small ranches, and the center point is a polo field and training field. We also have a few owners who are cutters and ropers, as well as a few hunter-jumpers.
C&I: There are some grand and luxurious hotels in the area. Do you have a favorite hotel that has some history and legacy, especially given that Palm Springs has been a movie-star playground since silent-film heartthrob Rudolph Valentino put it on Hollywood’s map?
Devane: It would have to be the La Quinta Resort outside of Palm Springs. The place has been around forever. Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich had apartments there. They would get on the train in downtown Los Angeles, and it would stop in Indio and the cars would pick them up and take them to the hotel. La Quinta is [more than] 90 years old and it’s still a great place, with accommodations ranging from luxury rooms and suites to private casitas with small private swimming pools.
C&I: As a former restaurateur in Thermal — you owned a noted Italian restaurant there called, what else, Devane’s — tell us a bit about the restaurant scene there. Do you have a favorite watering hole?
Devane: The food scene is booming here, and without a doubt my favorite place is Cactus Jack’s, a good restaurant with an even better bar. They serve classic fare: steaks, prime rib, and baked potatoes. George, the owner, is a friend of mine. I was there one night when a guy came in and ordered a Jack Daniel’s on the rocks and then said, “Make it a double.” George replied, “Obviously, you’ve never had a drink here before.” I usually order the junior varsity version.
[El] Mexicali [Cafe] is also a really great place; my partner went to school with the owner. When her daughter got married at Deer Creek, Mexicali catered all the food for the rehearsal dinner, and it was really fantastic.
C&I: What are some of your favorite things to do when friends or relatives come to visit?
Devane: When friends come down, it’s all about golf. I’ve been a member of PGA West, which boasts nine courses, ever since I’ve been here. There are a lot of really good courses, including three at La Quinta. Visitors can play at both a Greg Norman and a Jack Nicklaus course among others at PGA West. The Living Desert is also a very big deal, especially for families, with all sorts of exotic animals, including snakes and desert cats as well as colorful landscapes.
C&I: You’ve lived in the Palm Springs area for almost 30 years, so we’re guessing you’ve got several versions of the perfect Palm Springs day. What’s one?
Devane: Where I live in Thermal, we get up every morning and ride at 8 a.m. By October the horses at Deer Creek are in full polo training and there might be a hundred people on our track. Although I’m a bit too old to play competitive polo anymore, I still love to ride and have several horses there.
There are a couple of riding stables in old Palm Springs, such as Crazy Horse Ranch and Smoke Tree Stables, where locals and visitors can take guided rides up into the mountains.
Our afternoons are usually spent playing golf at PGA West, and we might end the day at a great sports bar called Ernie’s — named for PGA great Ernie Vossler — for a beer and maybe a burger. Vossler was also a co-developer of PGA West.
Stagecoach Music Festival 2019
Indio, Coachella, Joshua Tree — there are lots of widely known places in the Greater Palm Springs area. Come late April, it’s all about famous people, as dozens of country music stars come to play the Stagecoach Festival. The 2019 fest takes place April 26 – 28 at the Empire Polo Club in Indio. Find out who’s playing and how to make the scene at stagecoachfestival.com.
C&I: We know there are radical climate changes in the weather in the desert from daytime to evening. What clothing do you suggest visitors pack so they can be comfortable 24/7?
Devane: Everyone needs to bring a heavy sweater — one from Canada is best, but the crazy Canadians will walk about in shorts, even in the wintertime when it can get down to the 30s. I also tell friends to bring a light jacket, hat, and shorts anytime other than December and January, where the temperature may only get up into the 50s during the day. But other than those two months and June through September, which is the heart of the summer, the average temperature is 72 degrees.
C&I: Are there hidden gems in the area that visitors may not know about?
Devane: Most of the hidden gems, especially architecturally, revolve around our upscale gay community, which has a lot of money and great sense of style. Visitors come from all around the world to have fun, buy art, and will stay at the historic boutique hotels between Palm Desert and Palm Springs where the old Hollywood stars used to stay. The Ingleside is one of the desert’s original retreats built in the 1920s; [it] recently went through a property-wide restoration. Sparrows Lodge is a completely restored 1950s retreat, and visitors are welcomed roadside with a simple hand-painted sign with two sparrows.
C&I: The annual Stagecoach Festival is held in your backyard every April with some serious country music talent. This year, the lineup includes the likes of Luke Bryan, Luke Combs, Jason Aldean, and Old Dominion. Have you ever attended?
Devane: I’ve been to every Stagecoach Festival since the beginning and have a great story to tell about one of the music nights there. It was Sunday night, 2011, when we shot Osama bin Laden at 9 p.m. local time. The festival was in full jam and an announcer interrupted the music set to make the announcement. Everyone stood up and started to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It was unbelievable — that night under the stars at the Indio Polo Grounds — the most wanted man in the world was taken out.
Off The Beaten Trail: Thermal
Less than an hour’s drive from downtown Palm Springs, Thermal is home to Devane’s Deer Creek Ranch. It’s also the date capital of the world.
“It’s all about the dates and date shakes in Thermal,” Devane says. “There are date farms all across the area, where you can stop and taste or purchase almost a dozen different kinds of dates. [They’re] said to be good for your ticker. Oasis Date Gardens is one that is mentioned a lot, and known for their shakes.”
There’s also a car racetrack resort, the Thermal Club, almost next door to Deer Creek. “It’s a high-end amateur track, with an 18-foot-high wall to keep out some of the noise. BMW runs a performance center and racing school on club property that is open to the public.”
Photography: courtesy Doug Blumenthal, courtesy Greater Palm Springs CVB/CHRIS miller, courtesy Greater Palm Springs CVB/Scott Baxter, CHRIS miller, courtesy Greater Palm Springs CVB/Part Time Genius
From the February/March 2019 issue.