Travel

Famous Visitors to the Sunshine State

  • VisitFlorida.com
  • |
  • March 06, 2008

by Karen Feld

Elvis may have left the building, but he’s hardly forgotten in Florida. The Sunshine State has seen its fair share of famous visitors and residents.

“And awa-aa-ay we go!” was the phrase popularized by entertainer and Honeymooner Jackie Gleason, who was among the hundreds of stars associated with the Sunshine State. It seems almost too obvious to say, but just about every celebrity of the 20th century visited Florida. They still do. Here are but a few:

Nightlife used to be centered around famous supper clubs at elegant Miami Beach resorts. The Latin Club on Palm Island was one of the most popular. It was owned by impresario Lou Walters. His daughter, ABC-TV’s Barbara Walters, spent much of her youth there and now vacations in Palm Beach. The glamorous Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach attracted the top stars of the ‘50s and ‘60s: Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and Joey Bishop.

When Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz shot episodes of I Love Lucy in the mid-1950s in Miami Beach, the couple slept in Room 919 of the Eden Roc Hotel. Two decades earlier, Arnaz popularized the rumba craze in the Clay Hotel, which also housed Al Capone’s casino.

Stand-up comics Jackie Mason, Buddy Hackett, Don Rickles and Shecky Greene felt right at home on Collins Avenue in old Miami Beach, where they could kibitz with fans in delis or hotel coffee shops.

Esther Williams performed at the Biltmore in Coral Gables. Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller broke a swimming record there.

Sally Jessy Raphael began her television career in 1969 hosting a local talk show in Miami. Judy Garland and Cary Grant stayed at the Brazilian Court Hotel in Palm Beach. Crooner Perry Como died in Jupiter in 2001.

Ernest Hemingway lived and wrote in Key West. His house is now a museum. During his presidency, Harry Truman spent 175 days at Quarters A on the Truman Naval Station in Key West. The Little White House has also been turned into a museum.

Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richards composed “Satisfaction” late one night in 1965 in his room at the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater. No longer a hotel, it’s now owned by the Church of Scientology. Also in the ‘60s, Guy Lombardo opened the Port O’ Call Resort in Tierra Verde. His big band performed there, as did top draws Frank Sinatra, Liberace, Mel Torme and Marlene Dietrich.

St. Pete Beach was a favorite vacation spot of both F. Scott Fitzgerald and Lou Gehrig. The former Tampa Bay Hotel, now part of the University of Tampa, is where Teddy Roosevelt, Stephen Crane and Frederic Remington waited before sailing to Cuba for the Spanish-American War.

Beat Generation icon and author Jack Kerouac lived in a small house outside Orlando. “The King,” Elvis Presley, stayed in the Jacksonville Hilton’s Room 1010 (now Crowne Plaza).

The Beatles televised their second appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show from the Deauville Hotel ballroom in Miami Beach on February 14, 1964. During that crazed weekend, fans tried to get at the Fab Four, who were staying on the hotel’s 11th floor. Author Bruce Spizer uncovered a trove of information on the event for his recent book The Beatles are Coming: The Birth of Beatlemania in America.