Agua Caliente — The Playground of the Stars (1930) 🇺🇸

Agua Caliente — The Playground of the Stars (1930) |

February 15, 2023

The stars have found a place to play. Below the Mexican border, just south of San Diego, in an arid waste close to a desert, a little Monte Carlo has come into existence.

by A. L. Wooldridge

They call it Agua Caliente. Which means "hot water."

I spent a week-end there not long ago. I probably shall never resort to such extravagance again.

But what a playground!

The racing season was open at Tiajuana, just two miles away. The ponies, for that day, had been led back to their stalls. A gay crowd was gathering in the restaurant of the casino. At the mahogany bar beverages were being served to an orderly throng, all in dinner dress. In a great salon hung with Italian paintings and laid with Bavarian marble, the little, white balls clicked in roulette wheels. The dice rattled on green-felted tables, and croupiers dealt cards in silence to players who took chances at écarte and chemin-de-fer.

Outside a great, white moon was shining, while parrots and bright mackaws chattered in the live-oak trees. Airplanes had zoomed in from the north bringing members of filmdom's elite. It was twilight and the air was soft. The boom of the surf a few distant scarcely could be heard.

But guests in the hotel and casino did not care about the boom of the surf. The music, the glitter of lights and the play at the tables held greater attraction.

I filled my lungs with air perfumed by the fragrance of many flowers, and went in to find my party.

"Check your hat, sir," came the dulcet voice of the girl in the check room.

I glanced about, but saw no one for whom I was looking. "I'll wait here in the foyer a moment," I decided.

"Check your hat, sir!" came the voice again, this time a bit sharply.

I held my hat and made no move to relinquish it. Then the girl let me have it — right on the chin.

"Check your hat!" she cried, in the tone of a traffic cop who wants to know why you are in such a hurry to get to the fire. "You can't go in there carrying your hat!"

I walked back to my room in the hotel to hide my bonnet, before again venturing inside the casino. I feared the check-room girl might throw acid on that piece of my apparel, or take it away and keep it.

It costs money to visit this beautiful playground. Silver seems exceedingly vulgar there, except at the gaming table, where it serves as chips. It isn't in keeping, either, with the hauteur of the waiters who serve you. Undoubtedly it would make their pockets baggy and be noisy in proximity to greenbacks. Bandits held up the company's car bearing one week-end's receipts to the bank not long ago. They got $85,000 in cash and checks.

The stars frolic when they visit Agua Caliente. They do not go with the expectation of winning. It's the thrill of playing which lures. Their stakes are not high. Raoul Walsh, the director, did take $18,000 away last year. Eleven bets at roulette netted him $16,000, and fourteen passes with the dice added $2,000 more. That's the record killing of the picture clan to date. It is estimated that players who enter the casino leave an average of $45 behind.

Tom Mix seems to have more fun than any one when he visits the resort, so the colony says. If that old welkin isn't ringing when he arrives, he rings it himself.

He sauntered to a table in the casino not long ago, tossed out a bill, let it ride till it doubled and redoubled, then said, "All that money mine?"

"All yours."

"Too much. I don't want it."

He picked up a handful of currency to distribute among the musicians, and told the dealer to keep the rest.

"I have a suspicion it's a gambling game," said Tom, "and I don't like gambling games."

Clara Bow took a fling at roulette, but no dealer's day was ruined as a result of her winnings. Lupe Velez found out what it was all about and the lesson cost very little. Bebe Daniels and Lilyan Tashman fared better. Norma TalmadgeMargaret LivingstonLaura La PlanteDorothy Mackaill, and a score of others played for small stakes, but did not get very far. Miss Livingston did manage to salvage about $300 from the game.

Carol Lombard followed a system. Sauntering up to the table, she found two men making heavy bets. The dealer was all attention. His cards were carefully watched. The players were losing. Time after time the deal went against them. Carol got out her money and started betting the way they didn't. Pretty soon she had a neat pile before her. Then she beat it — right out into the open air. One friend said she won seventy-five dollars. Another said it was seven dollars or five dollars, he didn't know which.

Al Jolson visits Agua Caliente at every opportunity. Joseph M. Schenck gives parties there. Jack Dempsey is a regular visitor when he is on the West Coast. Each Sunday morning sees a dozen or more stars on the golf links or tennis courts. There is a swimming pool, horses to ride, and greyhound races on a quarter-mile track.

Decorum is maintained rigidly in the hotel and casino. Evening dress is de rigeur. Excessive drinking is not permitted, nor is an intoxicated person allowed to play at the tables.

Just outside the casino is a wishing well — a cute, little fountain where you throw in money and make a wish. That is, you throw in money unless you have stayed too long in the casino, in which case there may not be any to throw. A wish never, never can come true, if it isn't accompanied by the splash of a coin in the well. It's a snooty little well. It will not work for nothing.

Tom Mix and Raquel Torres are the two most popular players who visit Tiajuana and Agua Caliente. Tom usually carries a pocket full of nickels and pennies when he goes to Tiajuana, and his advent is like the coming of a circus to the Mexican children. They swarm all over his car, scramble for the pennies he tosses, and they chatter to him as though he were some rich uncle.

Raquel Torres will play on the street with the urchins, and to them she is the most beautiful girl in the world. They do not care for Lupe Velez or Dolores del Rio, the two other most widely known Mexican actresses. Lupe, they think, has gone Hollywood, and Miss del Rio is coldly aristocratic.

Agua Caliente promises to be the Gretna Green of the film folk. The luxurious hotel, with its beautiful gardens, affords a lovely avenue along the road to romance. Raoul Walsh was the first to be married there. Jacqueline Logan was next, although the marriage did not seem to take. Priscilla Dean became the bride of Lieutenant Leslie P. Arnold by the side of the wishing well. Evelyn Brent was married to Harry P. Edwards in the governor's suite.

With the ponies running, the casino housing gay parties, sobriety enforced at the bar, cool days and nights close to the ocean, it is little wonder that the stars climb into airplanes and say to the pilot, "Agua Caliente, Jeems!"

Though the casino at Agua Caliente is devoted to games of chance, the strictest decorum prevails and rules are hard and fast against making whoopee.

Photo by: Tunnell

Collection: Picture Play Magazine, January 1930