Many prominent Texans have found their fortune in Hollywood, both on-screen and off. Enter Travis Banton of Waco, who set the silver screen ablaze with his costume design talents when movies glamorously reflected our nation’s hopes, dreams, and aspirations during the Golden Age of Hollywood, according to our fashion arbiter, Lance Avery Morgan.

Photography courtesy of Archival


Imagine this: you were born in Waco, and you find yourself entering the hallowed gates of Paramount Pictures in 1924 to design for some of the Golden Age of Hollywood’s greatest stars of the era. The talented Texan, Travis Banton, would be one of the most sparkling things to come from Waco, beyond Dr. Pepper, by becoming one of the most legendary designers in Tinseltown’s heyday. Influences of his work can be seen in Netflix series Hollywood, Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and around-the-clock class films on Turner Classic Movies.


Banton had arrived at the fabled studio armed with a coterie of both learned and practical experience, drive, taste, and an immeasurable amount of talent. Plus, an Ivy League education from Columbia University. He’d designed for the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway and also created Mary Pickford’s wedding gown that created an international stir at the time. From there, it was onto scaling the heights of the wildly competitive City of Angels.

At the time when sound pictures came into wide acceptance in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Banton rode to the rescue of many a director by making loud costumes…well, quiet. Or, at least, quieter. Ever the pro, he used crepe, satin, and silk chiffon, since the previously used taffeta and stiff moiré silk were literally too noisy for the new medium’s finicky microphones. With sound as a major technical issue, Cary Grant was hired on the spot from his screen test at Paramount…because he not only filled out a tuxedo nicely, but also  could walk across the room keeping an iced-filled cocktail noiselessly steady. That’s showbiz, kids. 


By 1929, Banton was chief designer at Paramount, a role he would fulfill until 1938, and where he would become well-known for supplying The Paramount Look of sophistication. His success can be partly attributed to the masses of movie fans who saw his creations. In 1930, an average of 80 million viewers attended movies every week in the United States. The population at the time was 123 million, so well over half of Americans made it a ritual to visit their local dream palaces weekly to see their favorite stars.

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In that pivotal style decade of the 1930s, Banton’s impact was felt from Hollywood Boulevard to Main Streets across the country and beyond, and even around the globe, thanks to the hunger for American films in lands abroad. He designed for the studio’s biggest box office stars, movie goddesses Marlene Dietrich, Carole Lombard, Claudette Colbert, Anna May Wong, and Mae West, to name a few. Banton’s epitome of elegance appears in the designs for Dietrich’s renowned vehicles, such as The Scarlet Empress (1934) and Angel (1937). For the latter film, it’s reported that Banton’s staff labored for weeks on one hand-sewn garment that was an opulent Fabergé-inspired gown of chiffon lavished with beading and bordered with Russian sable at a reported cost of $8,000 (about $150,000 in 2021 dollars).


To offset Dietrich’s conservative acting style, Banton loaded on feathers, sparkling beads, and lush furs for her over-the-top costuming so she would dominate any scene over her co-stars, even with scene-stealers like Gary Cooper and Cesar Romero. These stunning creations were magnetic to not only the camera, but also to the silver screen. They exuded strength, sexiness, and style that fans hungered to see. Dietrich, always the consummate professional when it came to her personal publicity, was a strictly self-disciplined actress and Paramount star. She reportedly had no problem standing for fittings in her wardrobe-dependent films for at least 120 hours per film. It was a creative match made in heaven for both designer and his movie star muse. They also gave the world a sexy, tailored trouser suit that still resonates today with fashionistas. Of all the stars, Carole Lombard (whose life tragically ended in a plane crash in 1942 while selling war bonds) was his most prolific muse since she also hired him to dress her off-screen. Her long, languid figure was ideal for the bias-cut dresses that especially flattered her, a Banton specialty. In fact, his designs were so loved by Carole Lombard that she demanded he design her costumes for My Man Godfrey and Love Before Breakfast (1936), Nothing Sacred (1937), and Fools for Scandal (1938), which were made by other studios, beyond Paramount Pictures. Now that is star power at its zenith, and his work with both Lombard and Dietrich is still referenced by today’s leading designers.


Life on the lot wasn’t always rosy with his clients, nor was every movie star a dream costume collaboration. One studio crisis that Banton recalled required studio chief Adolph Zukor to negotiate a feud brought on by Claudette Colbert, a longtime Banton admirer, and his costuming for Cleopatra. After rejecting two sets of costume sketches for the picture, she supposedly streaked Banton’s third set of beautifully painted drawings with blood deliberately drawn from her finger to emphasize her displeasure.

Legendary costume designer Bob Mackie felt otherwise about Banton and Colbert’s teaming. ”I recall seeing a revival showing of the pre-code Cleopatra (1934) at a theater in Englewood (Los Angeles) at the age of 14. I was in awe and mesmerized by the costumes. So, I thought to myself, ‘one day I’ll remember all these clothes.’” He continued, “Little did I know that I’d be designing similar sorts of beaded numbers for Cher on The Sonny & Cher Show in the 70s. They were so scant and skin-baring that I recall it being an issue with the CBS censors at the time.” It was an example of how Banton’s creative legacy would carry on. Another conflict involved a fitting with Banton and an ungrateful actress of the era, Nancy Carroll, who ripped a beaded garment from her body while Banton and his staff stared in disbelief. Sometimes, there’s just no pleasing a client, as any designer can attest.

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While Banton designed costumes for many of the gorgeous icons still remembered today in films, part and parcel that came with ruling the Paramount costume territory was designing for B-movies that were also popular with the American public. Making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, almost literally, he designed for forgettable potboiler films with titles like Accent On Youth (1935), Wives Never Know (1936), I Met Him In Paris (1937), to name a few of the many dozens, yet Banton still made every leading actress look every inch the lady. While at Paramount, Travis Banton designed for over 160 films, a tremendous outpouring of talent. In that era, studios released a new movie every week of the year, so his fingerprint on so many films can still be seen by cinephiles.


Part of that success and household name recognition was due to the studio’s public relations machine that was always honed and humming, offering up the major movie lots’ designers as trustworthy authorities in style. When a fashionable fad swept the country, like broad shoulders or over-accessorizing, Hollywood was usually blamed for it in the film and women’s interest publications. Travis Banton complained about this once in a 1937 film magazine when he was quoted saying, “Hollywood was given undeserved credit for eccentric styles frowned upon by Paris designers. I admit that the movies sometimes began disturbing vogues—like going hatless. Perhaps the hatless fad started in Hollywood generally because of its great weather and the healthy hair of its stars.”


It’s hard to imagine now in the overly image-conscious Hollywood that the Academy AwardÒ for Best Costume category didn’t even exist before 1948. But designers became household names, thanks to the incessant barrage of movie magazines that kept their readership informed of the film stars and teams who helped them uphold their glamorous perch high atop Mount Hollywood. An example from a screen magazine of the day offered Banton’s advice: “Don’t copy the screen costume you see exactly, because they are often too “stagey” for the average women’s wear. Our styles for picture purposes are many times the expression of the “mood” of the star in that sequence—and not the expression of the style of the moment—so don’t be led astray, and if you copy screen styles, do so in moderation and use the idea more than the exact gown or suit you admire.”



With his high outpouring of design talent, by 1939, Banton was ready for a change when his contract at Paramount ended. He pulled up stakes and moved to 20th Century-Fox studios, where he dressed stars Loretta Young, Betty Grable, Gene Tierney, Carmen Miranda, fellow native Texan Linda Darnell, and others until 1941. From the early-to-late 1940s, he was the designer at Columbia Pictures and RKO Studios before becoming the chief designer at Universal Studios, dressing actresses Deanna Durbin, Merle Oberon, Susan Hayward, and Rosalind Russell. Banton definitively proved that during the 1940s, Hollywood’s American design talent could surpass that seen in Paris.


Banton’s excessive drinking was the primary reason for his knocking about several studios. Yet, his talent was matched by only a few designers of the era, such as Edith Head, Walter Plunkett, and Helen Rose, all in a rarified circle of talent. His friendship and close professional relationship with leading lady Rosalind Russell were cemented with her films Sister Kenny (1946) and The Velvet Touch (1948). After Banton’s final motion picture assignment, the biopic Valentino (1951) for Columbia Pictures, he exited the film business. Instead, he returned to work for his former Paramount boss, Howard Greer of Greer, Inc., to design clothing for private clients. He then returned to Hollywood once more in 1956 to open a fashion salon with Russian designer Maruisa Toumanoff Sassi, then entered stage left to collaborate in designing the extravagant gowns worn by his old pal Rosalind Russell in the 1956 triumphant Broadway production of Auntie Mame


Late in life, Banton recalled that in Hollywood, he had “loathed those endless barbecue things, deadly-dull afternoons spent staring at people wallowing in swimming pools…in a place where even the French champagne went flat as soon as it was poured.” He admitted, however, to a certain ambivalence, for he needed the studio earnings that supplied the art, antiques, and extravagant lifestyle compatible with his curated tastes. Merle Oberon summarized the feelings of their mutual loyalty when she insisted that Banton dress her in the 1945 film, A Song to Remember. She said that Banton “not only knew what the character ought to look like, but also understood what an actress was the happiest wearing, which is very rare for a costume designer. As a result, I never found it necessary to make a single change on any of his drawings.” Travis Banton died in 1958, designing for television and variety programs like The Dinah Shore Show. Yet, Texans will always be able to claim him as one of its most talented native-born sons whose creativity can always be seen any time in vintage films on Turner Classic Movies.


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The South of France is always a favorite for visiting Texans. Especially, Monaco. Join our intrepid traveler Gordon Kendall as he jets to the French Riviera and reports on why the French and Texans love having a quality-filled vacation there.

If it has not been a year of travel, it has been a year of dreams…of travel. Where has your imagination, if not your passport, taken you? For some, the adventurous out-of-doors lures, while others seek to rediscover personal favorite haunts. Then, there are those who want to splurge. In recounting recent trips of pre-pandemic times, one delightful but too brief day trip to Monaco and the international luxury hub of Monte Carlo should inspire those sybarites. Yachts? Yes. High fashion? Of course. All the man-made luxury available set against a backdrop of incredibly natural scenic beauty. A sudden, impromptu glimpse of a genuine prince certainly wasn’t a detraction from the excitement. 



Visitors to this famed Principality arrive as best they can: yacht tenders streak in and around Port Hercule, depositing the nautically endowed, and the heliport and helipads atop many a building welcome those who descend from the skies. Many a luxury car, often sporting custom colors and trims, huddle at hotel front doors like elegant dogs waiting for their owners to take them out for perambulations. Or, you can take the train and enjoy the breathtaking scenery it affords, as you travel, from either Menton or Villefranche-sur-Mer depending on your direction. On a clear, bright (if a bit hot) summer day, whether you look to the hills or along the stunning coast, it would be difficult to imagine a more beautiful setting.


Our own journey into Monaco that day began in a manner appropriate for a venue known for gambling. From our starting location lay the Italian attraction of Cinq Terre with Monaco in the opposite direction. As gambling has for so long determined Monaco’s fate, a coin toss, not a hand of Baccarat, settled Monte Carlo as our choice, and we set out from the station at Ventimiglia.


Our guide, an affable Brit named Paul Thompson, who makes it his business to squire visitors through this remarkable place, met us at Monaco’s modernist train station, and we were soon walking the sundrenched Quai Albert along the Grand Prix course. If ever there was a place with stories to tell, it would be Monaco. There are many recounts of famous cars, drivers, and races for car buffs, and related tours focused on those aspects of the place can be had. Of course, for movie fans, there are walking tours of the many locations used in films, such as Hitchcock’s 1955 classic, To Catch a Thief, and, to cover both cars and films in one go, Frankenheimer’s 1966 equally classic Grand Prix. What would tours of these kinds be without a bit of gossip? Our guide shared tib-bits about the apartments looming above us, all with price tags that would make those who spell money in any language with a “B” think twice. Interesting though were, our guide’s recount of the tiny country’s history, heroics of various car drivers, and its astronomical costs, still we slipped away in thought. How to describe a place about which you have always heard but are now actually there? For it was easy to see there were two faces to the Monaco we then encountered.


First, Monaco’s breathtakingly scenic side, a dramatic coastline outlined with beautiful cliffs and gardens, the majestic port laden with yachts of surreal proportions and designs, like creatures from name your Sci-Fi film waiting to return to their aquatic galaxies. Turn the other direction, however. There, towards the hills above where there are…buildings…and more buildings. Like so many boxes from Lawrence Graff, all stacked together, hurriedly, on top of each other, some seeming to tumble onto others. Each, precious and expensive, perhaps beautiful in its own way. How to know with each visually on top of the other? This chock-a-block image stood, in contrast, to the vista just a head turn away. Our guide had the answer to clear from our minds what he called these contrasting Legoland visions. Visit a palace. Specifically, “Le Palais Princier,” to see the changing of the guards at noon. Rediscover, in other words, that unique magic surrounding Monaco, no matter which way you look.

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At the palace, in a throng a few minutes later, we stood, waiting, to watch as centuries of ceremony would be carried out for another day in front of the palace gates. Our experienced guide, however, sensed unfamiliar activity. The guards, as he put it, “are up to something.” Barricades suddenly appeared, lines of white-suited men formed, and around the corner appeared a phalanx. “Oh, good! We’ll maybe get to see Prince Albert,” he exclaimed. Then, in a brief flash, the princely coach out of the group went past.  With a quick nod of his head, one man in back turned and acknowledged the crowd as the processional streaked by and through suddenly opened palace gates. Were he mounted on a white steed, such a princely image would have made the scene most fairy-tale-like, indeed. All of us, however, standing in the Monaco noon sun, envied the air-conditioned practicality of this modern-day prince: a white Lexus 460 sedan.


The palace secured for another day, we set off inside on a tour of its for-your-eyes-not-cameras-only treasures. Since the group of us were not privy to invitations to the apartments we had passed earlier, the ornate palace of gilt and silk would be the closest we would come to experiencing similar ambiances. That said, who could not think the palace a perfect setting for such a style icon as whom we know as Grace Kelly, but was Princess Consort of Monaco, or, simply, Grace de Monaco?


One story of the fabled palace and its inhabitants is from fine art photographer Gray Hawn. She photographed Princess Grace’s last portrait before her untimely death in 1982. “Of course, Princess Grace was gracious and lovely and definitely a princess. Prince Rainier was funny and intelligent,” shares Hawn. “As a photographer, I’ve always had a dreamy love affair with France, and especially at the thought of photographing Princess Grace. The first time I went to Monaco, I stayed on the French Riviera, and when my room overlooked the Mediterranean Sea, with all of its lavish yachts, how could I not be in love with such a beautiful sight?”


Another Texan, Houstonian philanthropist Lynn Wyatt, has many fond memories about the south of France, especially since Princess Grace was a close friend. “I was there every summer for a long time, and I always enjoyed entertaining guests who would come visit,” she says. “Nancy Reagan invited me the first time. Then, I got a villa–I didn’t want to buy since home to me is Texas. I was fortunate to have met so many fabulous people while there–they stayed with me, and I stayed with them. How lucky I was to be able to do those things. Of course, Oscar would be there between his business in Houston and the Middle East.” In fact, so popular was Lynn Wyatt that her annual birthday parties, during the high summer season, became a legendary and coveted invitation.


Onward, we knew lunch was in order. Over Monaco’s own beer…a full-tasting malty brew with perhaps a hint of rose, we contemplated what lay ahead. Our bank balances prevented a full-on assault of the gaming tables, but visiting the casinos, at least their lobbies were gratis, as was wandering past the shops. Those shops. All your favorite brands present and accounted for, and a few that even give the most ardent fashion followers pause. As to their offerings? Fur coats in July to wear on chilly yacht evenings? A parure of diamonds in time for this evening? That handbag? Your credit card, please, and it was a business to do your shopping pleasure in this luxury-laden metropolis.


We sought another respite… from the sun in the lobby of The Fairmont Monte Carlo, complete with a frothy cocktail. More stores awaited our examination. Venetian shoes scattered with crystals in every style imaginable lured those ladies so interested in Rene Caovilla. The sartorial delights of Stefano Ricci promised to transform any man into being mistaken for an Italian count or, perhaps just as well, extremely rich. Across the way, another place caught our eye. “Pawn Shop” would be too lowly a description. No matter such comparisons, how could such a place not attract with its outrageous display of still shiny yet slightly faded luxuries? What we saw there, the once riches of others were now their costly cast-offs. Thus, they were all the more intriguing, n’est-ce pas? Their mystique being their own stories, indeed, as much as any image conjured by their brand. But what might these tales be? Were the many hubcap-sized gold Rolexes sold to pay off that one unlucky poker hand? The (very) many more Hermes Birkin bags deaccessioned in order to cover unexpected “expenses”? Or, were their former owners simply bored and burdened by yet another purse in their closets? The shopkeeper would just shrug if asked, so we didn’t.  Such stories may never be known, perhaps for the best. Isn’t it fun to wonder how the coveted become the commoditized in such a place as Monaco?


Had we stayed for dinner, of course, Le Louis XV, Alain Ducasse’s many Michelin starred outposts in the Hotel de Paris would be a draw. We heard from one lucky source that even the breadbasket with accompanying pots of hand-made butter was exquisite. Other intelligence revealed Marcel Ravin’s Blue Bay (with merely one Michelin star) at the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel and Resort is a wonderful choice for fine dining in an atmosphere slightly more contemporary and much less ornate than Chez Ducasse. We look forward to our next visit, or, perhaps, the one you will take there, to inform us better.


Our time running out, we made it past the beach to the cement steps near the Grimaldi Forum. Walking back to the station, we watched the bathers diving into the sapphire waters, truly sans souci. Back on the train to Italy, the brochure of the current exhibit, Histoire d’ Une Rencontre, which we saw at the palace, again intrigued us. As this was our first trip to Monaco, so, too, was the show about the first time then-Grace Kelly met always-Prince Renier III May 6, 1955.  From that “first date,” complete with meeting not only the Prince but also his pet tiger, came forth the engagement leading to her becoming the iconic Princess Grace of Monaco.


Upon reflection, something more came about from that meeting, did it not? Monaco’s image emerged and remains as being the place for dreams like never before and forever and eternal. Anything at all. A place where it’s possible to make your own dreams come true. Then at the altar for Princess Grace, or now at the gaming tables, for us all.  Show the world from the palace throne room or the yacht deck your own dreams did come true. Even icons have dreams, and in Monaco, those dreams remain for us all, and unlike almost everything else, there: no charge.    


Show the world from the palace throne room or the yacht deck that your own dreams did come true. Even icons have dreams, and in Monaco, those dreams remain for us all, and unlike almost everything else, there: no charge.

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A favorite destination of the rich and famous, the Jet Set, was always Acapulco. Just a quick hop from Texas, it offered an oasis of an exotic stay for those who sought the new and different. Join our vintage travel expert Lori Duran, as she whisks us back to the glory days of the Latin destination of many prominent Texans.


Glamorous Acapulco has, without exception, always been attractive, as not only Mexico’s oldest seaside resort but also because of its ties to the Jet Set of yesteryear. It was famous for its breath-taking topography, nearly flawless year-round weather, and its horseshoe-shaped bay with azure waters. So much so, that by the middle of the last century it was a regular destination for celebrities and the wealthy. It was also a dream vacation for many others. Hollywood immortalized it with the Elvis Presley 1963 film, Fun in Acapulco, 1965s potboiler Love Has Many Faces starring Lana Turner, and License To Kill, the 1989 James Bond caper. Besides the beautiful natural attractions the region offered, visitors could look forward to La Quebrada cliff divers, luxury hotels, cosmopolitan discotheques and swanky parties.

By the middle of the last century it was a regular destination for celebrities and the wealthy. It was also a dream vacation for many others.

Coincidentally, Acapulco helped introduce the Margarita cocktail, the Acapulco Chair, and trend-setting residential architecture that worked closely with the landscape and local nature. Braniff Airlines, with its flight attendants outfitted in colorfully bright Pucci uniforms, recruited a socialite party concierge, Sloane Simpson, for the destination…and Howard Hughes spent the last few weeks of his life in a penthouse at an Acapulco hotel.

Film star Merle Oberon was known to host legendary parties at her Acapulco home and often frequented the Las Brisas beach club. According to Slim Aarons, the famed mid–century photographer, Oberon was a popular hostess, and her tasteful villa was considered to be one of the most beautiful resort houses anywhere in the world. In 1979, Oberon became world news after the deposed Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, found temporary refuge in Mexico following intervention from former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger. The Shah was one of the wealthiest men on the planet and a target for revenge-minded Islamic revolutionaries. Reportedly, he was considering exile residence in Acapulco and possibly at the home that had been built for Oberon and her then husband, Bruno Pagliai. Despite all the speculation, the Shah ended up residing in a Cuernavaca mansion during his time in Mexico. San Antonio businessman John Agather spent a considerable amount of his youth in Acapulco and remembered Oberon as being especially gracious.

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Nearby and at the same time, Villa Arabesque was being built for Houstonian Baron Enrico “Ricky” and Baroness di Portanova. Villa Arabesque was a spectacular sight with Moorish arches along with other grand features. According to guests, the villa seemed to rise out of the water like the Taj Mahal. It was built with 32 bedrooms, 26 bathrooms, four kitchens, and two indoor waterfalls. A few years later it was featured in the Bond film, License to Kill. Baron Ricky Portanova was an heir of Texas oil magnate Hugh Cullen. Ricky’s father was said to be an Italian playboy who called himself a baron, and he passed on that title to his son and Cullen’s daughter, Lillie. For the scion, jetting from Houston down to Laredo’s Cadillac Bar for lunch was a way of life, so a jaunt to Acapulco was a natural extension of his love of the Latin culture.

When Braniff Airlines teamed up with the Dallas-born socialite Sloane Simpson, it was a match made in heaven. Braniff hired her as its Acapulco spokeswoman and hostess, with the catchy slogan Call Sloane, while the airline provided transportation to Acapulco.

Acapulco’s guest registry read like a Who’s Who of pop-cultural icons including Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, Gregory Peck, Rock Hudson, George Hamilton, Lynda Bird Johnson, and many other well-known people who vacationed there. Elizabeth Taylor married one of her husbands, Michael Todd, there. John and Jackie Kennedy and Henry and Nancy Kissinger all honeymooned in the town’s luxury accommodations when the resort city was at its zenith. Besides the hotels, Acapulco was also built-up with a proliferation of palatial homes constructed atop the rocky cliffs for such notables as Dolores Del Rio, Orson Welles, Johnny Weissmuller, and many others. And it’s still possible to rent Dallasite-turned-New York socialite Sloane Simpson’s expansive villa through a website home rental.

Elvis’s Fun in Acapulco celebrated the glamorous vacation site in 1963. Co-starring bombshell Ursula Andress, the film featured two things of note: Acapulco cliff diving and the Top 10 Billboard hit Bossa Nova Baby, sung by Presley, which reached #8 on the Billboard Pop Charts. The film would be Presley’s last release before the arrival of Beatlemania…and it was the top-grossing movie musical of 1963. Acapulco is also where Rita Hayworth filmed The Lady from Shanghai in 1947 with then husband Orson Welles, as the seaside resort was really catching on after WWII. The broad appeal of a Mexican beach vacation was even reflected in the cartoon animation in 1964 when the Flintstones coveted a trip to Rockapulco.


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Acapulco helped introduce a tequila-based Margarita. In fact, that drink may have actually been created by Dallas resident Margaret Sames who concocted the cocktail for her guests at her Acapulco vacation home in 1948. Hotel heir Tommy Hilton was in attendance, and he later brought what would soon be a ubiquitous drink to his family’s chain of hotels. The Acapulco chair is a stylish patio chair that was also popularized there. Cecilia Leon de la Barra, a Mexican designer, has made claims that she gave the chair its name. Meanwhile, the illustrious Guadalajara architect, Marco Aldaco, collaborated with nature for his designs when he built houses for Loel and Gloria Guinness and others. Loel served in the British parliament, and Gloria was a native-born aristocrat from Mexico who was considered to be one of the most beautiful and stylish women of her era, always landing on the International Best Dressed List.

John Agather remembers John Wayne in Acapulco with his “converted WW II former minesweeper, the Wild Goose.” He fondly recalls that the Duke was kind, showed interest even in kids he met, and  remembered names.

When Braniff Airlines teamed up with the Dallas-born socialite Sloane Simpson, it was a match made in heaven. Braniff hired her as its Acapulco spokeswoman and hostess, with the catchy slogan Call Sloane,  while the airline provided transportation to Acapulco. Simpson was the one to call to find out about what parties were taking place, where to go and where to be seen. According to San Antonio-based author and former Braniff employee, William Jack Sibley, if Simpson didn’t make an appearance at your Acapulco party, it never happened, baby.

Some of the world’s first discos were in Acapulco. Agather recalls the rise of the discos and the first real hotspot as being Armando’s LeClub. The sophisticated dance clubs are still a prominent feature of the seaside resort, and the Acapulco nightlife was chronicled in the media then as sometimes decadent. By the late 1970s, Acapulco purportedly may have become a little more depraved. Grace Jones is said to have put on an especially racy show for a New Year’s Eve celebration decades ago.

The signature tourist attraction, The La Quebrada cliff divers, began in the mid–1930s and this spectacle includes divers that first climb to precarious bases on steep cliffs before diving approximately the height of an 11–story building into a channel only four meters wide at high tide. La Quebrada divers thrill spectators with their dangerous descent into the narrow and shallow foamy waters of The Quebrada.

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Hotel Los Flamingos was the former private hideaway resort of John Wayne and his gang, which included Cary Grant, Richard Widmark, Johnny Weissmuller, and many others. Built in 1930, Los Flamingos was small and unpretentious when John Wayne and partners bought it in 1954 (why buy an avocado ranch in the San Fernando valley when you can buy something much more fun and exotic down Mexico way?).  The resort was known for its remarkable location with ocean waves smashing up against the cliffs below and some of the best sunsets in the area. For the next few years, it remained a private club of movie stars who came there to lounge by day and party by night. Agather remembers John Wayne in Acapulco with his “converted WW II former minesweeper, the Wild Goose.” He fondly recalls that the Duke was kind, showed interest even in kids he met, and  remembered names. So did Cary Grant. The Agather family got to know quite a few celebrities in Acapulco, along with the Apollo 11 astronauts, who were relaxing there with their families after coming out of quarantine from their trip to the moon.

Las Brisas was a favored hotel for luminaries like Frank Sinatra and Sylvester Stallone…and John and Jackie Kennedy honeymooned there. Las Brisas is known for exemplary customer service, clean white, and pink décor, all on a sprawling and lushly landscaped property with private pools for its visitors. The resort has deep roots in Acapulco’s Golden Era, having been built in 1957 at the dawn of the development of the Diamante area and lured the affluent and powerful to the city’s beaches, restaurants, and discothèques. The property has multiple terraced levels and a pink signature color that was worked into everything seemingly possible. They whisked customers up the hill in one of the pink and white jeeps, later named after Hollywood’s renown, to their private casita, a little house, with a pink and white striped roof where their customers could get settled. The property is designed to highlight its stunning hillside views over the surrounding bay and ocean, and Las Brisas remains to this day one of the top places to stay in Acapulco.

The Acapulco Princess has been an Aztec pyramid-shaped luxury hotel since 1971, with a unique design that included 15-stories and 1,011 rooms. The billionaire Howard Hughes, who always had a fondness for hotel living, left the Bahamas in February 1976 and moved into an entire floor at the Princess. Unconfirmed reports said that Hughes was in search of a readily available supply of narcotic pain medications, which he used daily to counter his agony from injuries sustained in a plane crash years earlier. While he was able to obtain the medicine he needed, the unfamiliar food and finicky air conditioning system further exacerbated Hughes’ anxiety. Already in declining health, Hughes nearly died at the Mexican resort hotel. On April 5, 1976, Hughes was carried out of his penthouse suite unconscious, and onto a chartered jet. He had stopped eating by the time he was loaded onto the plane, destined for Houston, and he weighed just 93 pounds. Hughes passed away while on that final flight. The Princess operates today as Hotel Princess Mundo Imperial.

Despite all the beautiful and interesting attractions, sunny Acapulco eventually lost its cool. It had become less alluringly exclusive over the years. Braniff and other airlines had made it more accessible as did the highway, built in 1955, that connected Mexico City to Acapulco. In the 1980s, Cancun became the new destination resort city where mega-hotels sprang up seemingly overnight. Cancun and other new resorts provided stiff competition as Americans headed to these new resorts for sun-soaked and value-filled vacations. Also, in 1982, Mexico devalued its Peso and the financial issues and instability that followed influenced foreign residents like Dallas socialite Sloane Simpson, who pulled up stakes altogether and abandoned living in Mexico. But, the final death blow to Acapulco’s international status as the place to go, has been the recent drug cartel fighting there with often deadly results. The fighting has spilled into all areas, and the U.S. State Department continues to warn Americans against travel to the region. Hopefully, this violence can someday be abated, and as the new generation of affluent travelers seek hot spots, they will rediscover the Acapulco that so many still look back on with fondness of the memorable times during the Jet Set era of years past.