On Location: ‘Palm Royale’ Is a Fabulously Nostalgic Depiction of 1960s Palm Beach

Palm Royale

“Attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places.”

That’s how Slim Aarons—social photographer and much-loved socialite himself—described the iconic images he captured around the world from the 1940s-1980s. It’s that glamour that inspired Palm Royale, a new 10-part show set in Palm Beach, 1969. Think palm trees, fringed pool parasols and a color palette of avocado, canary yellow, and bubblegum pink. Lots and lots of pink.

The story follows social outcast Maxine Simmons (played by Kristen Wiig) who’ll do whatever it takes to gain acceptance into Palm Beach’s upper echelons, where life revolves around country clubs, charity balls and stiff cocktails. It may be 1969 in the rest of the country—a “powder keg” year that witnessed Vietnam war protests, Nixon’s election, and Woodstock—but in vacuum-sealed Palm Beach, the only politics in play are who is on the guest list and who is sleeping with whose tennis coach.

Palm Royale was created by Abe Sylvia who consciously tried to replicate the “romance of Slim Aarons’ photography in Palm Beach, but also the gallivanting travels his subjects took, from Capri to Acapulco”. We spoke to Jon Carlos (production designer) and Ellen Reede (set decorator) about Palm Royale and how they managed to bring these big ambitions to the small screen.

The Palm Royale and its interiors are inspired by real-life places such as The Breakers and The Everglades Club.
The Palm Royale and its interiors are inspired by real-life places such as The Breakers and The Everglades Club.
Palm Royale

Where is the real Palm Royale Country Club?
Jon Carlos: The idea of the Palm Royale is an amalgam of real-life places in Palm Beach—The Breakers, The Everglades Club, The Bath & Tennis Club—but we needed to create a fictional version for our story. Our Palm Royale is a mixture of locations and stage builds, with many exteriors shot at The Ebell of Los Angeles [an historic 1927 arts venue off Wilshire Boulevard.] The more intimate spaces such as the steam room and women’s powder room were built on stage, though there was a second unit that went out to Palm Beach to shoot aerials and wide establishers.

We were fortunate that much of the development of Los Angeles in the 1920s and 30s was occurring around the same time as Palm Beach, so there is a nice mirroring of architectural style. We felt there wasn’t anywhere better that we could “cheat” than Los Angeles.

Was that necessary, because Palm Beach council rejects many filming proposals?

JC: No, it was a choice. We had a big team already here in Los Angeles. Plus, even if we went to Palm Beach, a lot of it has changed since ’69 so we were going to have to augment or change it back. We had heard that Palm Beach is not like Hollywood—it’s not widely filmed in—but it didn’t come into our conversations anyway. I do love the idea of filming there in the future; I think season two would be amazing.

What's the personal connection to Palm Beach—who wrote this love letter?
JC: It was a great writers’ room, though Abe Sylvia was the showrunner. Abe and director Tate Taylor both have a love affair with Palm Beach. But really, it’s the women of the time that this love letter was written for. These women were larger than life; Palm Beach was merely the envelope for them to prance upon.

Kristen Wiig stars in the series as a woman attempting to make her way up in Palm Beach society whilst living in adjacent West Palm.
Kristen Wiig stars in the series as a woman attempting to make her way up in Palm Beach society whilst living in adjacent West Palm.
Palm Royale

Hard-up Maxine lives in the Saga Motor Inn, which is very different to Palm Royale. Is it real?Ellen Reede: Her motel is supposed to be in West Palm [which was considered downmarket in 1969] but we shot it here in L.A.—it’s a motel that is really called the Saga Motor Hotel Inn in Pasadena. The owner will love this! We used a room there and completely changed it to the 1969 version—we took away the fabrics, drapery, bedding, everything and had replacements custom-made using our palette. Motels had these very specific quilted coverlets back then; I found the pattern in an old Sears catalogue and our quilter used that to replicate them. We also had to completely wipe all the pool furniture and bring in our own period pieces—we wanted some well-used, mismatched furniture because this is an older motel that she’s living in. It’s not pristine by any means.

JC: We loved Saga because a lot of the architecture in the show was rooted more in the 1920s and '30s—you know, the mansions, the estate, the club—so in West Palm Beach we could infuse more of this 1950s mid-century style. In March, 2022 before filming, Tate Taylor and I drove down South Dixie Highway in Palm Beach and earmarked a handful of hotels that felt “of the era” and this Pasadena motel could definitely stand in for them.

There are some scenes that I felt I could step inside, such as Dinah and Maxine's Martini Bar. Is that a real venue?
JC: It’s a bar called The Prince in Koreatown.

ER: That space looks almost identical to what you see in the show. We changed out the art works—because we had to for clearance purposes—but your readers will actually get that feel when they go there.

JC: We were also very inspired by The Breakers—one party takes place there in the plot—so we shot many interior scenes at The Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, which has the same feel. Similarly, we referenced The Colony—our Palm Royale pool looks like theirs, very feminine and pink. Historically, The Colony Hotel held a lot of fashion shows poolside—Slim Aarons photographed them—so we picked up on the dominance of fashion in that space in the show.

How did you differentiate between West Palm and Palm Beach proper?

JC: It’s San Fernando Boulevard in San Fernando, just outside L.A.—it’s a jewel of a street that is mostly period-correct. We did build facades over real shopfronts for the Cuban restaurant and the Va-va Voom nail salon but that’s all. That street has the right foliage and the architectural style to match West Palm Beach in the 1960s.

Equally, the driving scenes. When Maxine is driving in West Palm Beach, we shot in areas of residential L.A. such as Mar Vista; it has the Ain Tract—a couple of blocks where the 1940s houses are all designed by Gregory Ain.

Despite the titular amalgamation, one grand party does take place at The Breakers.

Mrs. American pie

Despite the titular amalgamation, one grand party does take place at The Breakers.
Erica Parise/Palm Royale

What's your favorite scene?

ER: It’s a toss-up between Norma’s smoking room and—in the final episode—the Beach Ball [the climactic charity ball.] It was a stage and a half!

JC: It was kind of insane. But my favorite scene is Norma’s assisted-living apartment. I grew up in a midcentury ranch and there were a lot of architectural elements from my childhood house that I put into it. In fact, the exterior was genuinely shot in Palm Beach—it’s a condominium tower called The President of Palm Beach. There was a certain nostalgia when I went into that scene that felt right.

Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler