6:35 p.m. Oct 24, 2006
The idea of the swinging Mexican hideaway was born at the Hotel Los Flamingos in Acapulco, Mexico. That idea sounds good about now. Its cold in Chicago and I'm thinking of returning to Acapulco, where during the 1950s and 60s the hip went to sip and flip.
In the 1950s Johnny "Tarzan" Weissmuller and a bunch of his Hollywood cronies bought Los Flamingos, a shocking pink 45-room shangrila atop a 450-foot cliff, one of the highest points of Acapulco.
Weissmuller died in in 1984 in Acapulco. He spent the last four years of his life in a secluded two-bedroom roundhouse that still stands at Los Flamingos. Its still affordable to rent out Tarzan's home and if I ever get married again, this is high on my list of honeymoon locations. There's a quiet mountainside pool surrounded by banana trees and an outdoors bar and gazebo. Current hotel owner Adolfo Santiago was a Los Flamingos bus boy in the 1950s and he recalls Weissmuller yelling his "Tarzan Cry" late at night in the roundhouse while fighting the advancing stages of dementia.
AAAAAhhhhh as in Acapulco..............
Acapulco (Indian for place where the reeds were destroyed) developed in the late 1940s as a seaside getaway for Mexico City residents. A highway between Mexico City and Acapulco was built in 1945, which made the trip between the two cities only six hours. Now, on the new Auto Pista, you can do the road trip in less than three hours. Direct international air service began in 1964, and Acapulco took off as a jet-set destination. Howard Hughes lived here and died in Acapulco. Elvis Presley, Johnny Carson and Frank Sinatra vacationed in Acapulco. Faded photographs of Red Skeleton and John Wayne still hangs in the outdoor lobby of the Los Flamingos, so you know the place isn't exactly cutting edge.
The magnet for these stars was late Swedish bandleader Teddy Stauffer, known as "Mr. Acapulco." Considering what a big shooter Stauffer was, there are few people around Acapulco who can speak in depth about him. Stauffer died in 1991 at the age of 84. He remains a guarded mystery.
Stauffer organized and promoted the legendary La Quebrada cliff divers off the Pacific Ocean. He led a swing band in the La Perla nightclub at the Hotel El Mirador at the cliff. During the 1930s, Stauffer cut nearly 300 records with his big band the Original Teddies, which were a popular touring act in Europe. The El anti Quario Magazine reported that a copy of 1940's "El Swing De Los Fabulosos Teddies" (released in Mexico City) can fetch up to $200.
Stauffer left his homeland in 1941 on a refugee ship escaping Nazi oppression. He was denied entry into the United States. Stauffer had swastika stamps on his passport, which he acquired during his tours with the Original Teddies. Stauffer was booted out of America on a bus heading for Mexico City. He opened a nightclub in Mexico City before relocating to Acapulco in 1943, where he managed the Casablanca Hotel. In January 1965, Stauffer opened Acapulco's first discotheque, which was called Tequila A Go-Go, a favorite stomping ground of Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr.
Stauffer was married five times, although his sexuality is of debate in Acapulco. His first wife was Faith "Chula" Domergue. Stauffer married her in 1946 while she was dating Howard Hughes. The newlyweds spent several months in a lavish home in Beverly Hills -- which belonged to Hughes. One time Hughes called home when the conversation swung over to "Mr. Acapulco." Hughes told Domergue that Stauffer was a bum and never worked a day in his life. Stauffer married actress Hedy Lamarr in 1951, but their union lasted only nine months.
Lamarr wanted out, in part, because of "the bad weather in Acapulco."
I say, "Hmn."
Common sense dictates those in search of all things Teddy head to the Villa Vera Hotel, Lomas del Mar No. 35, Club Deportivo (888-554-2361), which was developed by Stauffer and Nebraska businessman Carl Renstrom. Stauffer decorated Renstrom's first bungalow on the property, called "The Lana Turner" suite. Liz Taylor married Mike Todd in what was originally the Renstrom family home (Villa No. 6). Renstrom named the property after his oldest daughter, Vera.
Pat and Richard Nixon celebrated their 25th anniversary at the Villa Vera, and Elvis stayed on the compound in 1963 when he was shooting snippets of the movie "Fun in Acapulco." Stauffer played tennis on the hotel grounds. I've visited the Villa Vera twice trying to find someone who connected with Stauffer. A couple winters ago I met German Figaredo, bartender of the villa's Palma Real Restaurant. Figaredo has worked at Villa Vera for nearly 30 years. His father was a popular radio announcer in Acapulco.
"Teddy loved to play the violin," Figaredo said over lunch a couple years ago. "He even played the violin in the pool. He was a very close friend of Erroll Flynn. Did you know Erroll Flynn built the first tennis courts in Acapulco?" Stauffer was an accomplished tennis player, but he liked to throw the matches in his favor in order to impress women.
I was able to track down Stauffer's 1976 autobiography "Forever Is a Hell of a Long Time "(Henry Regenery Co., Chicago, $9.95). The 303-page tome is a hell of a read. Stauffer ends his colorful memoir by teaching a 10-year-old boy how to play "Cada Noche un Amor (Every Night in Love)" on the kid's new violin. Stauffer writes that he was shacked up with a "semi-nude" woman, showing her Europe on an atlas, when the boy came knocking on his door -- at 3 in the afternoon. Stauffer hears the young voice and writes: "I light a cigarette, curse again as I spill a half glass of tequila on the tile floor, and go to the door. I open it slightly, smoke drifts out, and I see a dark-skinned, wide-eyed boy, well-dressed, neat, the image of a young Benito Juarez."
Now, this is what I call passing the torch.
Stauffer's spirit still defines the Villa Vera. Today the newly remodeled resort includes suites with shaded pools, villas with private pools and and small homes on a hilly 15 acres that overlook Acapulco Bay. The complex consists of 67 rooms, 20 swimming pools (11 of which are private), two professional tennis courts where Stauffer fixed his games, a spa and gymnasium. It is a fitting tribute to free thinking.
In his memoir Stauffer writes: "I've never operated a funeral home. I write, paint, create.
"And should a lovely lady come way by chance, I love.
"If this is what some people call being a playboy, then perhaps I am.
"I just look out over the softly moving palm trees and the azure-blue Acapulco Bay and say to myself every morning, 'Another goddamned day in paradise!'"