Remember kids, Kennedy isn't a doctor she just plays one on Avondale. Photo: Chris Swainston
On Easter, my friend DJ JORY, who just moved to town from San Francisco, introduced me to his friend Dennis Reynolds. Reynolds and his friend Robin Ballard are the creators of a homemade soap opera called Avondale. Reynolds and Ballard have been friends since around ‘89 and told me they bear striking similarities to Capote and Radzwell. Avondale, which is shot in the old school style of 60s cinema and voice-over, is mainly, as Reynolds puts it, “about people gossiping in hallways.” The show centers around the Crenshaw sisters: Leslie Crenshaw (big red), Gail Crenshaw Gardner and Dr. Crenshaw. The main focus is on Gail Gardner and her best friend, Mrs. Deverose. The plot always revolves around the hospital, Freedom Medical Center, and comes complete with a lot of flirting and tawdry love scenes between Mrs. Gardner and Mr. Stool, the show’s villain. Reynolds said that he pulled much of his inspiration for Avondale from the comic Apartment 3-G. I personally think it is a tall cuppa cuckoo that I can’t get enough of! My interest was sparked when Reynolds told me they were interested in having me appear in an episode—even more so when I was told that they filmed Avondale in the Pleasure Palace.
The Pleasure Palace is a space on South Temple that I’d only heard rumors about from a friend who had attended some legendary parties that owner Pete Ashdown and his wife Ballard throw there. The opulence of the Palace is legendary, but I was not prepared for the gorgeousness I was going to encounter during my tour of the space.
Avondale is set in a mid-century, modern, white building that once housed an insurance agency called (and still called) Western General on South Temple. I was amazed to see that all three floors and roughly 81,000 sq ft, had been turned into different sets for their home-spun telenovela.
Before I go any further, I must tell you about the strange penthouse that was added onto the building in the late 60s. There is way too much detail to get into, even for this wordy tranny. The interior designer who worked on the Pleasure Palace is the same woman who designed Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Shag carpet decorates every room in the penthouse. The walls are covered in flocked and foiled fleur de lis wallpaper. The bathroom features a sunken pink tourmaline faux-ancient Roman bath tub. There is an atrium and an all-chartreuse patent leather dining room. The kitchen is modeled to look like a Tuscan village. The rooftop pool is a replica of the one at Caesar’s Palace. The cherub fountain in the entryway is made of black and white marbled tile to match the marble columns throughout the space. My favorite room is the front room, the celestial room, named as such because of its honeydew colored with hand-painted walls that look like a vineyard in Italy. It has a hand-painted ceiling to mimic the sky that changes with the time of day. Ballard asks if I want a drink before pulling out the corner of the marble coffee table in the celestial room to reveal a bar.
“Do you need music?” she asks, as she pulls out the other corner to display a turntable and 8-track. When I ask where the sound comes from, she chirps and opens all the end tables in the room, which house four corner speakers. I ask, “What is this place?” She tells me it was added on for entertaining in the late 60s. My first thought was that this place had seen some whores. Next I wondered if there was vintage cocaine in the shag carpet.
These rooms act as the homes of the two main characters of the soap opera, Mrs. Deverose and Mrs. Gardner. The apartment is set in the fictional building they show in every episode, which is a real building on South Temple across the street from the Pleasure Palace. The other two floors of the Pleasure Palace are where hospital scenes are filmed. There is a surgical theater, pharmacy, corridors, waiting and exam rooms. The main floor features a candy shop, a full 1960s department store and a secretarial pool that would make any collector of vintage office furniture break that one commandment on not coveting things.
I showed up to my filming not quite sure what to expect. To my surprise, they had wardrobe, wig, makeup and a script all in my dressing room. Yes, they even have dressing rooms in the Pleasure Palace––big, professional, stadium-style ones. It turns out that I was going to be a part of their newest project called “Dreams About My Mother.” Ballard explains: “Our pilot episode of [‘Dreams About My Mother’] features Princess Kennedy and will debut late June or July to coincide with this article. The premise of the show is that viewers write in to tell us about a dream they had in which their mother appears. We re-enact the dream with delicate confidentiality, changing the names and identities to protect the innocent. We encourage readers to write to firstname.lastname@example.org if they wish their dream to be featured in the show,” Ballard told me. In the episode that I starred in, I played a doctor that tells a mother that her fully functional 36-year-old is actually retarded.
With such a decadent playground, I got the sense that this eccentric duo have many other projects up their sleeves. The possibilities are neverending—so many that I could write a book on them. Here are some of my favorites that I’ve shown friends across the world, all of whom were amazed by the artistic brilliance found here in little old Salt Lake City. Enjoy!
Be sure to check out “Tornado Lady,“ with actual footage of the SLC tornado and “White Bread.” A-mazing!
And remember kids, I’m not a Doctor, I just play one on Avondale.