I was being that person — a creeper.
I usually avoid being that person, especially when it comes to celebrities. Yet here I was walking around with my purple camera snapping furtive pictures of people’s homes.
But the houses I was hunting didn’t belong to Britney Spears or Brad Pitt, and I wasn’t high in the Hollywood Hills. I was in the California desert searching for low-profile bungalows once owned by some of Old Hollywood’s biggest icons.
Sinatra, Presley, Monroe, you name it. They all owned homes set against the San Jacinto Mountains in Palm Springs – which is just the sort of thing I can get into.
So I decided to indulge the giggling schoolgirl in me that only gets to play on rare occasion and procured a self-guided tour map from the Ace Hotel, where I was staying, which highlighted the former homes of 15 stars from the golden age of Hollywood. The hotel also provides guests free access to its fleet of beach cruisers, so I steeled myself for a toasty bike ride in the 110-degree heat and took off.
I pedaled and snapped my way through what is known as “The Old Movie Colony,” holding my breath whenever I saw a car drive by or a person coming toward me on the street. I couldn’t help but feel like a sleazy paparazzo as I stood on tip-toe poking my camera over fences and around tall hedges to try to get a shot of each house.
But when no one was around, I got wrapped up in imagining these larger-than-life legends doing the simple things — enjoying a glass of lemonade on their porch, making dinner, watering their roses.
I’ve always found the phenomenon of celebrity to be a strange thing.
I read that when we see pictures of celebrities, the neural response in our brain is similar to the response we have when we’re shown pictures of our friends and family. This, according to researchers, indicates that we feel as if we know celebrities personally, even though they have no idea who we are.
It was true. There was something familiar and nostalgic about picturing these icons I’d seen on TV and in the movies going about their daily routines.
That’s when I came to Marilyn Monroe’s old house. I immediately thought of the giant statue I had seen the night before.
“Forever Marilyn,” the provocative 26-foot tall statue, recently relocated from Chicago (where it had caused some controversy), towered over Palm Springs’ main drag in an intimidating yet seductive way, her skirt blowing up around her in a nod to the star’s iconic scene in The Seven Year Itch.
As I took a few pictures of the statue, I noticed that men and women alike couldn’t resist standing between her legs and looking up her skirt. I admit, I wanted to do it, too.
“It’s rumored she got her start here,” another on-looker taking pictures said to me.
“I wonder if she’d be proud of this thing or disgusted by it?” I asked, my eyes still trained on the men posing under her skirt. The guy shrugged his shoulders and walked off towards Marilyn’s giant legs.
Now, in front of her house this morning, I thought about how she had (probably) ended her life so early and wondered if she’d been happy here in this home — at least for a little while.
“Guess you’ll just never know,” I answered myself aloud and decided it was about time to call it a day.
So I rounded out my tour, taking in covert views of Elvis and Priscilla’s Honeymoon Hideaway and Casa de Liberace, then returned to my own desert oasis at the Ace, with thoughts of Old Hollywood still humming in my head.
Follow Shannon’s adventures on Twitter @CuriousTraveler and on Instagram @ShannonSwitzer
Shannon is photographing with an Olympus PEN E-PM1 and an Olympus Tough TG-820.