It may not sound like work, because I’m lucky enough to combine business and pleasure, but I lecture on Princess Cruises. For a year-end trip through the Panama Canal I was asked to introduce four of my favorite unsung films of 2010, and I was happy to do so. City Island was by far the audience favorite—people thanked me for days after the screening—but Mother and Child was also well received, along with Flipped and The Winning Season. Seasoned film-buff passengers also fared quite well with my session of movie trivia, scoring 17 out of a possible 20.
No movie can properly capture the experience of journeying through the Panama Canal, however. That was a day my family and I will never forget. For the rest of our two week voyage we relaxed and got away from the workaday world, with no e-mails or phone calls. I didn’t think much about movie matters until the latter part of our trip, when a day’s stop in Acapulco brought us into contact with signs of Old Hollywood. Our tour guide took us to El Mirador hotel, famous for breathtaking views of its cliff divers. We got to watch their morning routine from the famous—
—La Perla nightclub, which is normally closed to visitors during daytime hours.
Then, looking around us, we saw evidence of Hollywood’s glamorous past. A vintage 35mm projector is the centerpiece of a room festooned with signatures of Hollywood greats who visited El Mirador over the years, along with such Mexican stars like Cantinflas, Pedro Armendáriz, and Dolores Del Rio. Its long-ago owner and promoter Teddy Stauffer was even married to Hedy Lamarr at one point. It seems as if everyone who was anyone came there, and many had vacation homes in the area.
Then we moved on to the highest point in Acapulco, where Hotel Los Flamingos is nestled into a cliffside perch. In the 1950s it was owned by Johnny Weissmuller and John Wayne, whose pictures are much in evidence. (Scott Eyman, who is working on a Wayne biography, tells me that they shared the same business manager, Bo Roos, which may explain the co-venture. The two stars also shared a fondness for Latin women: all three of Wayne’s wives were Latinas, and Weissmuller was married to Mexican actress Lupe Velez.)
The hotel, painted mostly hot pink, has some of the most incredible views in the city, none better than the outlook from Casa Tarzan, a circular room at the highest point on the property. You can rent this lovely dwelling and sleep where the Olympian champ-turned-actor did.
We honestly didn’t go out of our way to find Hollywood markers on this trip, but in Acapulco they provided highlights I couldn’t resist sharing with you.
(Incidentally, I measure my vacations by how many books I get to read, and this one was great, as I devoured four: an eclectic lot starting with Charles Portis’s True Grit, which is quite wonderful, followed by Vic Damone’s very entertaining autobiography Singing Was the Easy Part, then a scholarly book about vaudeville in New York City called The Voice of the City, and best of all, a magnificent volume that made a number of 2010 ten best lists, Stephen Fried’s Appetite for America, the saga of Fred Harvey and how he civilized the West with fine dining and well-trained waitresses known as Harvey Girls. I’d recommend them all, but the Harvey book is a particular gem.)