The evolution of Dinah Shore Weekend
Published Thursday, 22-Mar-2007 in issue 1004
On Feb. 19, 1916, Dinah Shore was born. Unbeknownst to the singer and actress officially born Frances Rose Shore, her name eventually would become the title for one of the largest lesbian circuit parties on the planet. Her biggest claim to fame in the gay community came not due to her work in the ’40s and ’50s, but in 1972 when she founded the Colgate Dinah Shore Golf Championship (now called the Kraft Nabisco Championship). Sure, Dinah vehemently denied rumors that she was a lesbian, but the fact that golf and lesbians go together like wine and cheese makes her persistent denials more than a little suspect.
One might speculate that the modern day Dinah Shore Weekend was born back in the mid 1980s when a group of friends decided to get together and play a few rounds of golf the same weekend as the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tournament. The founder, Caroline “Lina” Haines, wanted to gather a group of friends to do something separate from the main event and the handful of parties that were popping up in the area that weekend, and the “Lina Shore” amateur golf tournament was born.
Lina with an “L”
What started out as 35 people playing a few rounds of golf has since turned into an event that attracts more than 200 players followed by a dinner and dance that boasts attendance of about 500. What is even more amazing is how the event has grown to its current proportion: completely by word of mouth since it’s never been advertised.
Lina Shore, however, comes with a marked sense of social consciousness. Since 1990, the golf tournament has become a charity event with beneficiaries including the Human Rights Campaign, Susan G. Komen Foundation, Caring for Babies with AIDS, AIDS Service Foundation, Project Newhope and the American Heart Association.
Although the event is in its 19th year, the LPGA has yet to acknowledge Lina Shore as a serious tournament; the LPGA was indignant that the Kraft Nabisco Championship had to play alongside it in 2004 when both shared green at the Mission Hills Country Club. Lina Shore has since moved to the adjacent property, the Westin Mission Hills Resort, which allows its players to still keep an eye on the “main event” after finishing up their round.
“The gay taboo was still extremely prevalent back then and there were a lot of women who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, go to these parties for fear of being outed. I decided I wanted to create an environment where these women could just be themselves.”
The rebirth of Dinah Shore
Although Caroline Haines does a lot, she doesn’t do it alone. Lina Shore works closely with party planner Kathy Miller, who not only helps Lina Shore raise hundreds of thousands for charity but is also credited with throwing the first big Dinah Shore party – all the way back in 1986.
“A lot of women started showing up to Palm Springs in conjunction with the golf tournaments. There were a couple of parties happening at hotels, but they were too packed and poorly planned. Women are notorious for not RSVP-ing and just showing up. I would go out and see women standing in line in a smoke-filled room, waiting for an hour to get a drink, and standing in line for 30 minutes just to use the restroom. I knew I could do something better,” Kathy Miller told the Gay & Lesbian Times.
“The gay taboo was still extremely prevalent back then, and there were a lot of women who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, go to these parties for fear of being outed. I decided I wanted to create an environment where these women could just be themselves,” Miller continued. “I wanted to do it in a space that was clean, safe and had plenty of space. In 1986, I did the first party at the water park and used a surfing/beach theme. Four-hundred people RSVP’d, but over 1,500 showed up. However, I expected it to happen that way. [My staff and I] went out to the truck and just started unloading more tables and chairs and started setting them up.
“The second year, I did a party in an airplane hanger, and over 2,000 women showed up. Everything was big, elaborate and decorated to fit the theme,” she said. “When word started traveling, more and more women started attending. The last party I did was called Neon Nights, which was held at a tennis club. Over 3,200 women showed up. It was great.”
Two years later, enter Los Angeles club promoter Caroline Clone. She, too, saw the potential the weekend had and decided to throw nighttime parties of her own.
“I had been running clubs and promoting events in Los Angeles for quite some time. One weekend, after having been invited down to Palm Springs, I realized there were a lot of women there with nothing to do. That’s when I decided to put on the event. We held our first party in 1988 and it was held at a friend’s uncle’s restaurant. We called it the White Party, which is a name that has carried on for the same party concept through today. It was amazing! People had a great time. And looking around at Palm Springs and even at the party itself, it was the largest group of women I’d seen out in a setting like this. So, I started booking acts.
“The first couple years, I was able to book Chaka Khan, Grace Jones and even Ellen DeGeneres performed one year. It was well before she was out; she didn’t even have her own TV show yet! And if I recall correctly, the only evenly remotely gay reference she made was something to the effect of the security guard being the only man in a room full of women. It was a lot of fun, and I took it upon myself to book really top-notch people” Clone said.
A few years later, the new kids on the block arrived and decided to spice things up: the first being Club Skirt’s promoter, Mariah Hanson, who came onto the scene in 1991.
“I had been out to the desert and saw that there were events going on but nothing was centralized, Hanson said. “I wanted to try to pull all of that together and turn it into a full weekend event. I booked a host hotel and the attendance that first year was roughly 1,200.”
“I first met Sandy Sachs and Robyn Ganz [owners of Los Angeles-based Girl Bar] when I approached them to ask about passing out flyers in their club to promote the event,” she continued. “They wound up deciding to throw their own event in Palm Springs the same Friday night. After that, we decided to partner together and really work to make the weekend amazing. We threw our first co-produced party in 1992.”
Sandy also recalls Girl Bar’s first year in Palm Springs: “It’s a funny story. Our first party was in 1991 and it coincided with the boys’ White Party on Easter weekend, so we ended up splitting the costs and use of their production set-up and it was a spectacular party. We had about 900 [attendees]. It’s a far cry from the 5,000-plus girls from around the world we get now, but it was a great start.”
The “D” is for drama
Since then, the event has exploded – it now draws more than 20,000 women from all over the world. In the beginning, the lesbian presence seemed to ruffle a few feathers, and the ever-increasing association between Dinah Shore weekend, lesbians and the accompanying golf tournament did not come without controversy. In 1994, it was rumored that Nabisco, who at that time had been sponsoring the event, had threatened to withdraw its sponsorship because the tournament had become so closely associated with lesbians. Nabisco vehemently denied the insinuations, yet many people still wondered if the overwhelming GLBT presence was starting to make the LPGA uncomfortable.
In the March, 1996, issue of Sports Illustrated, professional golfer Muffin Spencer-Devlin came out, sharing that there were many closeted lesbians with whom she played. She also added that her coach advised her not to come out for fear she’d lose current and/or future endorsements.
One year later, golf equipment manufacturer Titleist pulled $1 million in advertising from Sports Illustrated in response to the magazine’s dedicating four pages to the weekend’s lesbian social activities and only three to the LPGA tournament. Spokespeople for both Sports Illustrated and Titleist declined to comment on the incident.
Corporate ambivalence or not, Palm Springs businesses have welcomed these women with open arms since day one.
“The [Dinah Shore] party is probably one of the most enjoyable events we have here at the Wyndham,” said Jim Lopez, director of sales and marketing at the Wyndham Hotel and Resort. “Our associates all enjoy working during the events – especially the pool parties – and it’s an exciting thing for them to be a part of because it’s so big. The promoters throw an amazing event, and the women who attend have a really great time. Everyone is well-behaved, or at least 99.9 percent are well-behaved.”
That still leaves out .01 percent.
In 2003, during an after-hours party in adjoining suites on the hotel’s third floor, an unknown woman set off the fire sprinkler system by holding a lighter up to one of the sensors. The incident flooded both rooms and caused an undisclosed amount of damage.
While this was going on, there was also a quieter conflagration among the party planners and promoters themselves. The controversy dated back to the early ’90s when Kathy Miller and Caroline Clone chose to step back and let Girl Bar and Club Skirts officially take over the event.
“I just wanted to step back and start focusing on other things,” Miller said. “All the parties I did, I did for cost. I was never in it to make any money. It was really hard for me when I came out, and back then it was a lot different then it is today. I just wanted to create a safe, comfortable community for women to get together without worrying about who might see them or who might out them. A couple years into things, [Hanson, Sachs and Ganz] showed up and turned it into a commercial thing.”
Although entirely removed from more mainstream events of the weekend, Miller still puts together one party all her own, which parallels the Lina Shore amateur golf tournament. Like the tournament, ProSuzy’s Dinah Shore Weekend also focuses its efforts to create a weekend for women 35 and older. This year, it’s being held at the Del Marcos Hotel Desert Oasis, a smaller upscale hotel in downtown Palm Springs. It, too, has afternoon pool parties and nightly cocktails (although they’re a far cry from the “lesbians gone wild” parties that will be taking place just blocks away). But unlike the Club Skirts- or Girl Bar-hosted hotels, admission to ProSuzy events is free for those staying at the Del Marcos (admission for non-hotel guests is $45 per person).
“I think the other parties are way overpriced for what people get, but it’s also a whole different audience,” Miller said.
Clone also had her reasons for stepping aside.
“After a few years of doing it, Club Skirts and Girl Bar came in and started throwing parties. We had overlapping events for a couple years but never did things together. Within a year or two, I decided to move on. I’d already done it. I’d booked the people I wanted to book. I threw the events I wanted to throw and stopped because I wasn’t interested anymore.”
Shortly thereafter, Clone relocated to Miami to pursue other ventures and has since gotten out of promoting. She has most recently been credited as having worked as the associate producer for the 2006 documentary For the Love of Dolly.
But there may be other reasons why Clone, a woman whose competitors had touted as “the queen of L.A.’s promotion scene,” suddenly decide to walk away from an event she helped create. In an article printed in the Miami New Times in October of 1993 entitled “The Great Lesbian Club Wars,” Sachs is quoted as calling Clone “vicious.” When Clone told the Miami New Times that she was “crazy about South Beach and was there to stay,” the article quoted Gantz as responding, “The statement pleases some women in Los Angeles. ‘We’re very, very happy that Caroline likes Miami so much,’ Robin Ganz laughs.”
In 2006, the next split came. Although this time both sides decided to stay right where they were. Girl Bar and Club Skirts announced they were, for the first time in 14 years, going to throw their own, separate events.
“Quite honestly, I didn’t know anything about the split until I received a letter from [Sachs and Ganz’s] attorney informing me that the partnership had been dissolved. But I was like, “OK. I’m cool with that.” It was a phenomenal year, especially since I was going solo all of a sudden. It was a whole new playing field,” Hanson said in an interview earlier this week.
When asked the same question, Sachs said, “Like any relationship in life, people find each other and a partnership is formed. And also, after many years, people grow apart and go their separate ways. Robin and I felt we wanted to take The Dinah Shore Weekend in a new creative direction and could best accomplish that independently. For us, it has meant tremendous event growth and great visibility around the world and a continued sense of community participation by the city of Palm Springs. We only work that much harder and the benefits are being realized by our loyal patrons that attend not only the Girl Bar Dinah Shore Week but Girl Bar events nationwide.”
It seemed that everyone had something to say about the split, but many agreed that the new competition would force both sides to “up the ante” as an effort to attract attendees.
“I personally thought it was a great thing,” Clone said. “Last year was the first time in over 10 years that I went to Dinah Shore. It had started out really big in the beginning but for a long time there were no really big acts booked. I was really impressed last year when Mariah booked the Pussycat Dolls.”
“Last year was a lot of fun because I was really able to experiment with different levels of entertainment. Booking the Pussycat Dolls was absolutely incredible. It was really serendipitous. At the time I booked them they had one hit and by the time they performed they had three or four. Things turned out far beyond what I ever could have anticipated,” Hanson said. “I really wanted the event to stand out. I’m so happy that it came together the way it did.”
However, the Club Skirts party didn’t come without a few small fires that needed to be extinguished. Last year, Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney put on The Kathy and Mo Show. The hotel was completely sold out, and the room that it was to be held in hadn’t been completely set up before starting. “I thought that there was no way they were going to be able to get another 300-500 chairs set up by the time everyone arrived. So a friend and I started setting up chairs. Lots and lots of chairs,” Clone said, laughing.
When asked about the night, Hanson laughed as well. “I didn’t even know that happened. That night was crazy because the hotel was at capacity and there weren’t as many extra hands around to help with things. At the same time Caroline was helping set up chairs, I was bartending. I thought the lines were getting too long, so I hopped behind the bar and started making drinks.”
Fires or not, the Club Skirts party turned out to be a huge success, having far outperformed levels which had been attained in previous years.
The split also proved to be advantageous for Girl Bar: “Last year was our most successful year ever. Carmen Electra delivered a knock-out live performance. I feel we exceeded the expectations of our patrons, and that’s what matters most,” Sachs said.
Regardless of the surrounding circumstance, for the second year in a row both sides have seemingly managed to outdo each other. The parties, events, shows and celebrities are all top-shelf. Katherine Moennig, Leisha Hailey, Sandra Bernhard, Jane Lynch, Crystal Waters, Carmen Electra, Betty, Lucy Lawless, Caroline Rhea, and CeCe Peniston are all slated to perform.
For more information about Girl Bar Dinah Shore Week, visit www.dinahshoreweekend.com. For Club Skirts info, visit www.thedinah.com.