Famous Visitors to the Sunshine State

By: Karen Feld

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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 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 stayed in 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 was a lifeguard 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 throughout the 1930s. His house is now a museum. During his presidency, Harry Truman spent 175 days at Quarters A on the Truman Annex in Key West. The Little White House has also been turned into a museum and is Florida's only presidential museum.

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 the Crowne Plaza). This suite was designed by Elvis to meet his needs specifically, from an oversize bathtub with gold fixtures to a four-poster bed with blackout curtains. This suite was always available for him when he was in town. It has since been renovated to a regular suite.

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