[To read more history, see Origins of the Ranch: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII, Part IX, Part X, Part XI, Part XII, Part XIII, Part XIV, Part XV, Part XVI, Part XVII, Part XVIII, Part XIX, Part XX, Part XXI and Part XXII]
A question often asked, but impossible to answer completely, is the classic: “What celebrities have been to The Ranch?” Privacy is respected here, and the mood is always egalitarian, so an entire week may pass without you realizing that the delightful woman you met several times at dinner or in the Women’s Health Center is a leading stateswoman, author, entertainer or other luminary whose name is often in the headlines.
However… sometimes, after the passage of many years, it’s fun to look back. Here’s an excerpt from an unpublished book of reminiscences, taken from interviews with Deborah Szekely, circa mid-1980s, and recently rediscovered in the archives:
Rancho La Puerta has seldom been without a visiting VIP. During the Hollywood heyday of the 1960s, Estelle Colvin, an early stockholder in Cinerama and later personal secretary to producer Merian C. Cooper (responsible for many fine films and remembered chiefly for directing, producing and writing King Kong), was at the Ranch and working as an indispensible part-time assistant to me—as well as serving as our resident celebrity scout. She would discreetly identify behind-the-scenes Hollywoodites such as Yip Harburg, lyricist for The Wizard of Oz and its immortal Over The Rainbow, and the musical Finian’s Rainbow.
Harburg’s wife had often been at the Ranch before, but without her husband, a lifetime insomniac.
“If New York specialists can’t help me, what could the Ranch do?” he would say to her back home.
At last she prevailed. Harburg fell asleep during a relaxation session, one of those mental “exercises” in which you are supposed to visualize looking up at a blue sky full of floating clouds. After that, he had no trouble sleeping at night during the rest of his stay with us.
The most dramatic feat of relaxation was that of actor Herschel Bernardi. After four years of singing in Fiddler on the Roof, one year in Zorba, and a delicate throat operation, he had completely lost his voice. He spent a year at Rancho La Puerta, communicating only by written notes on doctor’s orders. At year’s end he had recovered his voice, lost weight, and signed for a movie.
Rancho La Puerta is all things to all people, and some of our most interesting guests made highly interesting use of it.
Fashion designer Calvin Klein found a sojourn at the Ranch was his means of kicking the smoking habit.
Eminent architect William Pereira moved in for the purpose of designing the new University of California campus at Irvine. He would participate in the morning hike, eat breakfast, and work all day. Before dinner he paused for a massage, ate, and worked on late into the night. Yet he stole time to draw many sketches of the Ranch’s rock formations, which especially intrigued him.
Likewise intrigued by the Ranch, friendly Ivan Tors, director of Rhino! (producer of Sea Hunt, Flipper, Science Fiction Theatre, and many other television series) came to Tecate often. He somehow conceived the notion that Rancho La Puerta would make a wonderful rhinoceros preserve.
We passed on that.
Our first taste of drop-dead glamour arrived in the late 1950s when all-time movie queen Gloria Swanson, who was in her late fifties, stayed here. After a lifetime of eating fresh natural foods and exercising sensibly, the great star still looked like a retouched photograph.
A memorable entrance was that made by Paramahansa Yogananda, dressed in Indian robes and riding in a beautiful Cadillac. Yogi Yogananda was the first Indian guru to attract a large U.S. following, and his Self-Realization Fellowship foundation still exists in a beautiful property on the sea in Encinitas, California, about 25 miles north of downtown San Diego. He cast the Professor’s horoscope.
Mrs. Barron Hilton attracted the most attention before registering. She took a helicopter to the international line in Tecate, and walked across.
I grew so accustomed to seeing heiress and art patron Peggy Guggenheim in a sweat suit with a Ranch logo that, when I finally ran into her at a formal event to which she wore emeralds and furs, I blurted, “I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on!”