Dolores del Rio
Mexican film star Dolores del Rio was photographed by jet-set chronicler Slim Aarons in Acapulco in 1952.

This story first appeared in the March 21-28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

While the name still vibrates with the promise of pleasure and excitement, Acapulco has tumbled precipitously from its perch as one of Hollywood’s most glamorous, sun-kissed playgrounds. A victim of Mexico’s drug wars, the Pacific coast seaport regularly makes lists of the world’s most dangerous cities, with 143 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2012 (Los Angeles had eight per 100,000 residents).

Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy in 1971
Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy in 1971. Reagan and wife Nancy visited Acapulco in 1971 while he was governor of California.

But in its heyday, beginning in the late 1940s, it was a preferred getaway for film’s marquee names, a place where Rita Hayworth celebrated her 28th birthday on Errol Flynn‘s yacht, Elizabeth Taylor and producer Mike Todd married (with Debbie Reynolds as matron of honor and Eddie Fisher as best man) and a group of stars including Johnny Weissmuller and John Wayne bought and ran the Los Flamingos hotel as a private club. In 1963, Hollywood promoted Acapulco to the world in Elvis‘ romantic caper Fun in Acapulco. The Flintstones even coveted trips to “Rockapulco.”

On Nov. 19, 1946, Hayworth belatedly celebrated her birthday during a small party aboard the yacht Zacha, owned by Flynn. From left: Flynn; his wife, Nora; Hayworth; the actress’ husband, Orson Welles; and unidentified guests.

Bob Mathias with Debbie Reynolds and Celeste Holm
Bob Mathias with Debbie Reynolds and Celeste Holm Olympic decathlon star Bob Mathias with Reynolds (left) and Holm during a Christmastime vacation in 1952.

In the optimistic years after World War II, Acapulco came to represent the very idea of vacation. According to writer William Norwich, who wrote the introduction to the 2007 book Poolside With Slim Aarons, a photographic tour of resort havens beloved by the jet set, “Recovery, upward mobility, new money and jet-speed air travel meant that the rich could follow the sun.” What appealed about Acapulco was its informality. “Whereas places like Palm Beach were entrenched in tradition, that’s not what the rich wanted in the jet-set heyday,” he says. “In Acapulco, hosts and guests stayed without much worry about goings-on around town. Shopping, yes, but there weren’t the pressures of fundraisers and formal dinner dances, not to mention stuffy private clubs, that could make resort locations like Southampton and Newport feel like Park Avenue.” Norwich cites social chronicler Charlotte Curtis, who observed after a 1968 visit that a typical day consisted of “nothing more than watching the evening sun sink into the Pacific.”

Elizabeth Taylor and husband Mike Todd in Acapulco Honeymoon.

Acapulco’s luster began to fade years before drug violence hit, as cruise lines brought mass tourism. But today, Reynolds has fond memories. She tells THR about going to Mexico City in 1952 with actress Celeste Holm to encourage film production in the country. “After that we went to Acapulco, because we wanted to,” she says. “It was beautiful, glorious — a real party-time place. I was just a kid then and had only done a few small roles. I clung to Celeste, who was really great. She took us off on surfboards, and it was lovely until we saw these fins in the water. She said, ‘Debbie get your whole body up on that board and head for shore!’ It was a close call. So you might say I left my heart in Acapulco, but I didn’t leave my legs!”

Couples' Honeymoon
On Feb. 8, 1956, Rock Hudson and new wife Phyllis Gates, who had been the secretary of the actor’s agent, posed next to marlins they had caught during their honeymoon in Acapulco. (They separated two years later.) Other couples who honeymooned there over the years included John and Jacqueline Kennedy and Bill and Hillary Clinton.