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The Story Behind Slim Aaron's Poolside Gossip

If you’ve ever explored mid-century modern architecture, or found yourself fascinated with the laissez faire lifestyle of 1960s Mad Men era business elites, you’ve likely came across Slim Aarons’ iconic photograph, “Poolside Gossip.” The shot features Nelda Linsk in a popping sunflower yellow outfit chatting with her friend Helen Dzo Dzo, whose stark white lace pants and top bring the photo together. The two are unabashedly lounging in the middle of the day next to Nelda’s crisp aqua blue swimming pool in Palm Springs, as Lita Barron approaches in the background. Though everything about this scene screams summer, amazingly, it’s the middle of winter, January 1970. Nelda definitely isn’t missing her old apartment in New York.
While this image truly captures the quintessence of ‘60s opulence transitioning into the first month of the new decade, it is just a sliver of the story Aarons was able to capture on that glorious winter day in Palm Springs.

To get the full picture of this iconic scene, let's first look at the home itself

This photo, “Poolside Loungers,” with Nelda and friends in the background, not hogging the limelight for once, gives us a chance to admire the midcentury architectural marvel that is the Kauffman Desert House. Just after World War II, Pittsburg business mogul Edgar J. Kauffman commissioned renown architect Richard Neutra to design the home, which was built in 1946. Kauffman had a keen eye for the modernist aesthetic, having already commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design his other home in the beautiful Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania. In 1955 Kauffman passed away, and the home went through a series of owners.

Poolside Loungers
Now, let’s fast forward to 1964, when successful art collector Joseph Linsk, along with his wife Nelda, enter the scene. After a series of visits to Palm Springs to escape the harsh East Coast winters, they decide to leave their place in New York, purchasing the Kauffman Home in Palm Springs for $149,000. By 1970, Nelda had fully embraced the Palm Springs lifestyle and became a regular desert socialite.

Nelda certainly didn't need the help of her husband to have a good time, as we see Joe is nowhere to be found in the below photo "Poolside Gathering"

Now that we know a bit of the backstory of the house and the owners, let’s see how Slim Aarons was even able to capture these moments. The Linsk couple and Aarons were neighbors back in New York, and had known each other long before these photos were taken.

In an interview with magazine Palm Springs Life, Nelda recalls how the whole thing came together: 

“He [Slim Aarons] happened to be in Palm Springs and called me up one morning and said he wanted to do some swimming pool shots. I said,
‘OK, come on over.” He told me to call up a few of my friends. I called up Helen, of course, and a couple of other friends. Slim came over about an hour later with a tripod and his camera.”

Nelda & Friends

The day starts with our ladies catching up before festivities fully kick in. A time to get out the best gossip and latest news between old friends. Like most high class socialites in Palm Springs, these women knew each other through The Racquet Club. Nelda recalls:

“We were all at The Racquet Club together all the time. I didn’t know how to play tennis very well but I’d watch Dinah Shore or Barbara (Marx Sinatra) play and then we’d all have lunch together. Mousie Powell used to stage fashion shows around The Racquet Club pool and I started modeling along with Barbara and Helen Dzo Dzo (Kaptur), the other gal in the ‘Poolside Gossip’ photo. It was just a smaller world back then.”

As we get closer to showtime, our guests start making their way to the other end of the pool, to allow the waiter to set the table full of snacks and endless bubbles in “Poolside Waiting.”

While the above collection certainly looks like another one of Helen and Nelda’s swimming pool fashion shows, the whole thing was spontaneous. According to Nelda:

“There were no assistants, no make up artists, no hair-stylist, nothing. We just put on the clothes we had in our closets. Very casual. In fact, if I’d known then what I know today, I might have dressed up a little more.”

These images make it particularly hard to believe no stylists were involved -

It didn’t take long for the party to pick up as we see below in “Party Preparations.” After the ladies are all settled in, the gents finally arrive, along with a cocktail waiter and a poodle. What a time!
From the looks of the above photos, the Champaign was already flowing well before Slim’s request, as we see the men brazenly take the ladies’ seats to sip the finest bubbly from their traditional French coupe glasses.

Finally, we see three brave young girls break the still glass surface of the pool, even getting poolside service in “Poolside Entertaining.” Unlike the adults at the party, they’re not afraid of tarnishing their perfect hair and taking a dip in January. These are the same girls we can see frolicking in white in the background of “Poolside Gossip.”