Teddy Stauffer, also known as "Mr. Acapulco" The King of Swing, helped put
that beachside resort on the map.
Chattin' With Mr. Teddy
An exclusive interview with Mr. Acapulco "King of Swing," Teddy Stauffer
by Bob Alvarado
The story of Teddy Stauffer, Mr. Acapulco, or Mr. Teddy, as he preferred to be called, is a story that will probably never be told in any Mexican history book. Yet , his life's contributions to the world of music; as a big band leader, a musician, and as a man of vision, are countless. His Big Band of the thirties, "Teddy Stauffer The Original Teddies," while touring most of Europe at the outset of Hitler's rampage, was amazingly able to record over 300 records. That in itself was a record then, and probably still is to this day. His LPs were released in most of Europe, the US, and Mexico. Oh! ...and by the way, if you happen to run across any of these oldies, well, they're worth perhaps a mother-in-law's ransom. For example, EL SWING DE LOS FABULOSOS TEDDIES, released in Mexico City, 1940, will easily command about 200 dollars.
So why should he be in the annals of Mexico? His legendary name says it all, Mr. Acapulco. For more than four decades, his accomplishments were all firsts, and almost always a success. From his first night clubs in Mexico City, featuring big band swing and dancing, to his biggest creation of all time, the cliff divers of La Quebrada at La Perla Night Club in Acapulco.
When Mr. Teddy arrived for the first time in Acapulco in 1943 to spearhead his newest project, The Casablanca Club, he was instantly enchanted. After that year, he seldom ever left the sleepy fishing village again, and for the remainder of his life went on to accomplish for Acapulco what really makes it today, the world class vacation spot that it is. I too, have been enchanted with Acapulco for a very long time, as it was the traditional family Christmas destination every single winter.
It was during this time, when I was writing for another rag, that brought me to Mr. Teddy. Winter in Acapulco, 1984. Well, Mr Teddy was well into his seventies and he was not seeing anyone. He had, just the month prior, taken a nasty spill from his balcony into the shallow wading pool (depth 2 feet) that surrounds the entire Villa Vera Racket Club, where he resided (another one of his inspirations). Although the fall was well over three and half meters, he actually sustained rather minor injuries.
After continuous prodding, pleading, and cajoling with letters, calls, and even ..."better not say," we were granted our first audience. The interview was only 48 hours away and, hopefully, I had done my homework. While living in Mexico City I had always made it a point to cut out any blurb or article that pertained to this colorful man. He was, after all, indeed my hero. A music man, a playboy, pursued by any number of Hollywood starlets and socialites: Rita Hayworth, Barbara Hutton, Hedy Lamarr, Cati Jurado, Linda Christian, and the list could go on. I know he was married to several, but to quote Mr Teddy, "....but aah,...I was so lucky!"
Teddy came from his homeland Switzerland in the early 1940's on a refuge ship, fleeing Nazi oppression. He was refused a U.S. visa because of the swastika stamps on his passport, acquired through extensive touring around Germany and Europe with his orchestra. From the U.S. he jumped on a bus to Mexico City, to check out the music scene there, with just a few bucks in his pocket. While wandering through the Zona Rosa, he happened past a record shop which featured his latest LP in the window. "Look, dis ist my band, dis ist me!" he told the clerk in his heavy Swiss accent. Mexico was part of Teddy at that moment, and Teddy forever became a part of Mexico. As he later put it, with a big smile, "I'm stuck here."
Mr.Teddy, after all, had long been named by the Governor of the state of Guerrero, the official ambassador to Acapulco. And that he did very well as Mr. Acapulco. Not a bodybuilder, but a builder of goodwill and international attention to an important tourist mecca that for many was their first Mexican experience. Presidents and world dignitaries came to Acapulco, and Mr. Acapulco was always there to greet them. "But aah, ...I was so lucky!" Yes, Acapulco, and Mr. Acapulco, were certainly very lucky.
El antiQuario: You founded the first club in Mexico City of Swing music, in 1942.
Teddy: In Mexico there was not a club that you could go to with your wife. There were pick-up places, you know, for girls. I could see this game and I made a little contribution I guess. I made the "Casanova." That was the first club in Mexico that you could go with your wife, clean-cut dancing nightclub. We had a society band. It was more social music, not uh...Swing music was my problem in Europe. When the Nazis put on the blacklist all the Jewish composers, the songs, I was already on the list one year and a half. With the revolution in Europe, Swing music was forbidden, Swing dancing forbidden. Nobody know what Swing is, they forbid something that is only bad imitation. They didn't have it, we had it. That made us number one. I came to America in 1941. I came on the refugee ship. I am not Jewish, but I was on the blacklist for the music that we made.
El antiQuario: They called it "Jewish Jazz Music."
Teddy: Ya. Terrible.
El antiQuario: After the "Casanova" you came to Acapulco and started the Hotel Casa Blanca?
Teddy: Ya. Acapulco was nothing then, nothing. My partner in Casanova, Bloomie, he say lets make a club there over Christmas, New Year. They came down here and made a Casanova out on the roof, the Marina, it was a downtown hotel. The club last two weeks. Bloomie didn't like the Casa Blanca Hotel, that there was competition, and um, we tried to steal each others lunches. One girl, a colored girl, she was a dancer, Martinique was her name. Bloomie made a big theater opening for her, I was not allowed in, to go there. I go to get a seat, by the dance floor, and I was dressed as a woman! I didn't have a date though! Then we made up, Bloomie and myself. I am a musician, but I work in some hotels in Europe practically all my life. So I had an idea a little bit what people would like. I made it, I made the best hotel in Mexico ever. That was my success. My first client was Barbara Hutton. You know, I knew all the people, I was in music then. They all came. I knew Gary Cooper, he had a girlfriend who was a Texan. She and I had a deep romance for a long time.
El antiQuario: Tell us about your life as a bandleader.
Teddy: My first instrument was a violin. You know, every child learns something. I got a violin, so somebody had to use the violin. My first band, we were a pianist and three drummers. So we let the best drummer be the drummer, and I started to play sax. Sax was new at the time, the saxophone. The other drummer tried to become a trumpet player, but he never made it. So that was the beginning of my orchestra. We always had good rhythm. We were lucky. I picked up songs my agent sent me from New York. Music, sheet music. We have to guess, would this be a hit or not. We made over 300 records. We made more records than anybody else in the 1930's.
El antiQuario: What were the clubs like then?
Teddy: We played at the "Finite," that was the best club in Berlin. An afternoon tea-dance had 1,000 people. At night it would be full of professional dancers, sitting around. There was a telephone on each table with a number. And so, um, we had a secretary, to handle our dates! You call #24, you see them right there before you make a date, so there couldn't be any mistakes! And the Cotton Club, in Harlem. I bring it up because they had six girls in the chorus, one we were crazy about. She was so beautiful. She was 17. I called her and she came with her mother and manager. I said, "Would you like to go with my band to Europe." But they asked for too much money, and a deposit in the bank, and we, we were just young musicians. We had no money, so the deal was off. A few years later, when I came back to New York, I see that name. She was in the Downtown Cafe Society. I go there and it was the same girl, it was Lena Horn. When she sees me now, she say, "Oh! It's my oldest fan!" She's still great. She made it big without me, she didn't need us.
El antiQuario: What was Acapulco like during your heyday?
Teddy: Here, everything I touched became a success. You know, I built the first swimming pool in Acapulco. People thought I was crazy, with the ocean here! When we opened our first swimming pool in the Casa Blanca Hotel, I call this pool,"The Beachcomber," I say we should have some attraction in the water for the opening, no? I used to, at the time, to have lots of native swimmers, divers and swimmers. I show them how to catch a turtle, you must grab them and turn them around. We made a short picture about that, which Errol Flynn sold to Warner Brothers. So, when I put the turtle in the pool, when she is a prisoner, she tries to escape. She dives down, she goes down deep. So in the pool, when I put her in the low end, they dive down to the deep end. So I say, "Let's make a couple of races." These turtles, we had three at the time, saved us a million dollar investment, what I spend to build the Casa Blanca Hotel at the time. We make two races a week, we sell about 100 to 300 tickets for people to come in, see the races, and then they bet. And, um, betting was not allowed here, but we had a special deal with the government. So people can bet and a third of the profit goes to the children's hospital. The children's hospital had not even a towel, they had nothing. It was the poorest in the whole world. That was my first hit I made in Acapulco. The Beachcomber was the number one thing. From there on I was successful. They all came to meet me.
El antiQuario: And the cliff diver's?
Teddy: Ya, well the divers were already here. I organized them and made a contract with them to make a show at night. I had the "Vilavera," (VillaVera) the nightclub. It was also a hit. They all call me, one night Eisenhower, Sukado, every president you can mention. They came to see the divers, not me. But I met them there.
El antiQuario: You and actor Errol Flynn, you two were very close pals, right?
Teddy: Ya, he was a great guy. Very much misunderstood. And the girl troubles and all. He took a young girl to Catalina Island, well anybody would if he had the chance! Before you can be declared a wolf, you know, you have to have the luxury of being one. So, uh, we steal each other's girlfriends so many times. We always took the last shift on the boat. From midnight to four in the morning it was always Flynn and myself. So we try to catch each other. And he makes a crack about my wife, I was married, so there was a little double talk. And I say, you know yours is not so bad either!
El antiQuario: How would you summarize your life?
Teddy: I was lucky. Luck, you can not look for it. You get it or you don't, and it depends how you accept it. I was lucky, I met nice people, I met the right people at the right time.
Teddy Stauffer and Gordon Gilchrist chat about some past adventures in
Teddy Stauffer married actress Hedy Lamarr in 1951, their marrage lasted
nine month. Lamarr claimed that part of the reason for the divorce was based
on the "bad weather" of Acapulco.