Acapulco in those days

The stars still shine on and in Acapulco. Legends lie baking in the sun and snooze in its crumbling facades, from John Wayne to Cantinflas, the young Liz Taylor to the sultry Dolores del Rio, Pedro Infante to Frank Sinatra …

The list mingles Hollywood with Los Pinos, Hugh Heffner’s bunnies with Charles de Gaulle, the White House (the Kennedys and the Clintons honeymooned here, Nixon and the Reagans were part of the scene) with Tito of Yugoslavia, Miss Universe and the Shah of Iran.

The glitterati’s philanthropy and private planes, masculine jaws, drunken antics and overflowing bosoms thrive in the living memory of hundreds of clavadistas, meseros, boleros, lancheros, hoteleros, y empleados de centros nocturnos.

“I’ve been beside presidents of various countries,” reminisces veteran diver Antonio Velázquez. “I met Tin Tan, James Caan and Brigitte Bardot.”

The dapper 60-something year old plays it cool but admits he did get a kick out of those days “when, as a Clavadista de La Quebrada, the artistas asked me for my autograph!”

The stars also live on in Acapulco’s unique mix of paradise – it is one of the five most beautiful bays of the world – chaos, good will and debauchery.

Playboy and promoter Teddy Stauffer, who made La Perla nighclub and the elegant Villa Vera Hotel the places to be seen, was christened Mr. Acapulco for his role in creating the image we both cherish and chafe at. His autobiography, “Forever is a Hell of a Long Time” (referring to his opinion of the marriage vow) has to be one of the worst books ever written, but its superficial, dilettante appeal encapsulates the seductive and frivolous air of the town.

At last Acapulco is acknowledging that these great names and faces make the overpopulated port city a cultural as well as a recreational tourist destination. The Villa Vera has recently inaugurated a “museum”, with sleek black and white photos and texts on its glamorous clients, such as Rita Hayworth and Lana Taylor. In the restaurant of the Hotel Mirador in La Quebrada you can see the faces and signatures of some great screen vixens, from Maria Felix to Joan Collins.

And a moving photographic nostalgia fest has long been on display at the historic Hotel Flamingo, near Caleta, showcasing “la pandilla de Hollywood,” centered around Wayne and Johnny Weismuller. The Olympic swimmer and actor is still referred to by Acapulqueños simply as “Tarzan,” granting his role as the Lord of the Jungle the same fantastic reality as Hollywood myth, and the endless, sunny present.