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'Acapulco' brings the storied Mexican resort to a new generation of TV viewers

"All the Hollywood celebrities, the royalty from around the world were there, always, because the parties were really, really, really good," actor and executive producer Eugenio Derbez said.
Eugenio Derbez and Raphael Alejandro in “Acapulco."
Eugenio Derbez and Raphael Alejandro in “Acapulco."Cate Cameron / Apple TV+

Acapulco, Mexico, was once the playground for the world’s elite. At the peak of its fame, this tropical resort attracted big-screen legends like Elizabeth Taylor, Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles and Errol Flynn. It also drew in John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy on their honeymoon in 1953. 

Now, Mexican actors Eugenio Derbez and Enrique Arrizon want to bring the stories of that glamorous place to a new generation of viewers in Apple TV+'s cross-border, bilingual comedy series that premieres Friday.

“All the Hollywood celebrities, the royalty from around the world were there, always, because the parties were really, really, really good,” Derbez, also an executive producer on the show, told NBC News in a video interview.

"Acapulco" tells the coming-of-age story of Máximo Gallardo (played by Arrizon) in Spanish and English. Gallardo is an ambitious 20-something cabana boy at Acapulco’s most popular hotel resort in 1984.

Enrique Arrizon in a scene from the new series "Acapulco." Cate Cameron / Apple TV+

But viewers will first meet a much older and wealthier Gallardo (played by Derbez) in present-day Malibu, California. This rags-to-riches billionaire tells his nephew Hugo (played by Raphael Alejandro) his life-changing story that begins with a dream at Las Colinas (Spanish for “The Hills”) resort.

Off-screen, both Arrizon and Derbez, who grew up going to Acapulco, described the tropical getaway as a “favorite place” that was the zeitgeist, or essence of what was going on culturally and socially, in Mexico and the world from the late 1940s to the 1980s.

The Apple TV+ series pays homage to the diverse cultural influences that transformed Acapulco into a worldwide resort. During a funny encounter in the first episode, a young Gallardo says he learned English with Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones and Danny Zuko from “Grease.”

But the series also takes a deeper look at how Acapulco celebrities changed the perspectives of ordinary Mexicans and Americans.

“On the other hand, you have the employees’ vision of what was happening,” Arrizon said. “Máximo is in his first job, realizing that the whole world is different than what his mother used to tell him since he was a kid.”

This complexity is also part of the allure that makes the Mexican resort interesting on- and off-screen.

“Acapulco has many, many layers,” Derbez said. “And I think you’re going to get engaged as you start listening to all these stories that Máximo is going to tell you.” 

While Acapulco was made popular by Hollywood legends and millionaires of the 1940s and 1950s, the Mexican resort also attracted thousands of tourists from all over the world.

Elizabeth Taylor and Mike Todd on their honeymoon in Acapulco, Mexico, in 1957.Bettmann Archive

“On the beaches one meets, of course, mostly Americans, from Alaska to Maine, from Texas to Florida. But there are Germans, Italians, Dutch from the East Indies, South Americans, French, English, Swedes and South Africans as well,” The New York Times reported on Feb. 4, 1940.

The newspaper in 1948 said the daily rate for two guests during peak winter months between November and June for “luxurious accommodations” cost $21, while a bungalow room could be as cheap as $12. 

Rita Hayworth cuts her birthday cake during an intimate party aboard Errol Flynn's yacht, "Zaca,". on Nov. 19, 1946 in Acapulco, Mexico. Celebrating with her, from left: Errol Flynn and his wife Nora and her husband, Orson Welles.Bettmann Archive

For reference, the Census Bureau in 1950 estimated that the median income for U.S. families in 1948 was $3,200. Yet, Acapulco’s hotel rates were within reach for many tourists. Another article from The New York Times in 1950 said Mexico had attracted roughly 500,000 visitors, an all-time tourist record.

This Mexican destination became even more culturally accessible in the 1960s when Elvis Presley featured the legendary resort in his 1963 film “Fun in Acapulco.” Even the Flintstones hammed it up on vacation in 1964 at “Rockapulco.”

Both actors pointed out fondly that famous Mexicans like comedic Mexican legend Cantinflas and pop culture icon Luis Miguel mingled with international celebrities in Acapulco.

Derbez also said his mom, soap opera star Silvia Derbez, got her first uncredited movie role in the 1948 film “Tarzan and the Mermaids” with another resort celebrity: Hollywood legend Johnny Weissmuller. 

On-screen, Acapulco is presented as a place where the dreams of both celebrities and the working class staff that serves them could come true.

However, the series' first episode also makes it clear that Gallardo and other characters will have to face an ultimate question: What price are you willing to pay for your dreams?

This existential question hangs over both Mexican actors in real life as they reflect on the choices they have made in pursuing their Hollywood dreams.

“I’ve been sacrificing a lot for my career,” Arrizon said in a video interview. “I was almost not going to go to my sister’s wedding. Imagine that, because I was doing a film. These kinds of things happen when you are achieving your goals, and the more you achieve, the more issues you start having.”

Similarly, Derbez said he almost gave up his acting dream because of the price he was paying with his family.

“There was a point in 2011 where I said, ‘I’m quitting the American dream,’ because I’m sacrificing every weekend, and instead of being with my family, with my kids, I come here to the U.S. to try to do a career and nothing is happening,” he said. “But then I think the universe rewarded me, and I did a movie that changed my life again.”

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