A lot of people may not know it, but there has been a crying need for a decent place to stay in Florida. Suzy Knickerbocker, the columnist who is to international society what Walter Lippmann is to international politics, spelled out the problem earlier this year. " Palm Beach," she complained, "is Milwaukee now, and Miami Beach makes Palm Beach look chic. Palm Beach is no fun—just a lot of rusty, dusty people you have not even heard of who have chased the other people away. There's no place the Glitter Group can go. That's where Connie Dinkler is so important."
Cornelia Vandegaer Dinkler, originally out of New Orleans but now of Atlanta, started taking things into her own dainty hands about two years ago. Connie is married to Carling Dinkler Jr., president of the Dinkler hotel chain, whose offices are in Atlanta, but the two of them have been hanging around Miami, golfing and fishing, for years. For a while, they had this 65-foot diesel yacht, but it was more trouble than it was worth. It was too big for fishing, too slow for water skiing and too small for Connie and Carling and their four children and the children's friends. And there was always the problem of a good captain. As Connie says, "The most difficult people in the world are yacht captains, French chefs and English nannies."
With all that in mind, the Dinklers and a bunch of other Glitterbugs were sitting around one day, trying to figure things out. What was needed, they decided, was a club that only the fun people could join. There would be a few tennis courts and a swimming pool and, of course, a marina where you could tie up your yacht.
That is how the Palm Bay Club was conceived. It actually was delivered to the world by Connie Dinkler last Fourth of July weekend on the western shore of Biscayne Bay, 65 miles south of Palm Beach and a couple of light years north of the Fontainebleau. The Glitter Group will not really arrive in force until this winter (in July most of its members were in Southampton and Newport or on somebody's yacht in Turkish waters). Even so, Connie was able to dig up a pretty good collection of fun people for the July sub-opening. Sir Sydney and Lady Oakes cabled from Nassau to hold up the ribbon-cutting ceremonies until they arrived. Bob and Rosemarie Stack jetted in from Hollywood. So did Jacques Bergerac, who has been married to Ginger Rogers and Dorothy Malone but is now between wives. Hugh O'Brian came from wherever he lives. Jock and Brownie McLean sailed their new boat down the inland waterway from Palm Beach and moored nearby, because the Palm Bay Club marina had not been dredged out yet. Pat and Marie Williams flew in from Dayton in their own private jet. Trish and Nicky Hilton would have been there but their invitation went astray, so they were stuck at Nicky's father's hotel in New York with nothing to do.
All that weekend Connie was in an absolute spin. She had eight Lincoln Continentals running back and forth from the airport picking up the latest arrivals.
Saturday night was the big night of the weekend. All day long there had been tennis matches between players like Vic Seixas and Mike Green and Karen Susman and her husband, Rod. Then, about 8:30 that night, Connie came into the main lounge of the club and, as she puts it, "All I could see was people. I thought to myself, this is my downfall. At last I've bitten off more than I can chew."
Chef William Houston served 380 roast-beef dinners that night out of the stainless-steel kitchen that Connie had practically designed herself. The guests danced to the Road Runners rock 'n' roll group out on the terrace by the swimming pool, but you could not say that everything went perfectly. It never does on opening night. Connie, who had been driving herself at flank speed since she awoke some 36 hours earlier, had kept herself going throughout the day by jumping into the swimming pool a couple of times without bothering to take her clothes off, but with the party in full swing she decided a tranquilizer was the only thing that would do her any good. She took one and then told the bartender to make all the drinks doubles. "That way," she muttered, "the guests won't mind the confusion."
The next day was Sunday, and the tennis tournament was still going on, but Connie took a little spin in Carlin' Darlin', the family's 25-foot Bertram, to get away from it all. When she got back to the dock she was herself again and called for some mushroom soup and champagne. Glitterbugs don't even look up at such moments. Later Connie awarded the trophies, and everyone agreed the Palm Bay Club had taken its first hesitant steps in a most promising manner.
So far, hardly a soul outside the Glitter Group would have given a thought to the Palm Bay Club had it not been for a nosy Miami reporter who in the fall of 1964 heard rumors of strange doings on the western shore of Biscayne Bay. The reporter had a look and found Connie standing in a maelstrom of bulldozers, plasterers, carpenters and various types in hard tin hats carrying blueprints and tape measures. Connie paused long enough to explain to the reporter that the fixtures in the ladies' room would be gold-plated and the tennis courts air-conditioned. She added that she had "practically become an alcoholic" testing bar stools in the Miami area before she found the type she wanted.
In a way, it is a pity that the club had to be finished at all, for one of the fascinating sights provided by the International Jet Set this past spring was Connie Dinkler masterminding the building of the club, standing in her Capri pants and Pucci blouse, her silver-blonde tresses waving in the trade winds while the rough-hewn types in the tin hats sweet-talked her through the mysteries of the building trade. "Honey," one of them would say, draping a big hairy arm over her petite shoulders, "d'ya think we ought to run them ducts up through the basement peristands or over on the other side where the caplans break through the overstanchions?"