For Hotels, Scandals Add to Lodging's Allure

The Biltmore, Coral Gables, Fla.: The Biltmore in Coral Gables opened in 1926 as a fashionable hotel that attracted the likes of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Cornelius Vanderbilt. During World War II, it was converted into an army hospital, and ghosts of dead soldiers supposedly haunt the building. But one ghost is more enduring — the legend of Al Capone.

The mob gangster is rumored to have stayed at the hotel at the height of his power, and the top floor Everglades Suite is known as The Al Capone Suite. In true mobster fashion, the suite has rotating walls that reveal gambling tables and a secret stairway for quick getaways. The rotating walls have been sealed off, though, so guests have to take the hotel's word that they do exist. Hmmm… The ominous sounding 13th floor was once a speakeasy, and one Capone crony, Fats Walsh, was murdered there. Some guests swear the elevator will occasionally stop on the 13th floor without the button being pushed. Today, Al Capone's suite rents for $2,850 a night.

Copacabana Palace, Rio de Janeiro: Her name wasn't Lola…it was Orson. Long before it was fashionable to trash hotel rooms (think Johnny Depp in the Mark Hotel), Orson Welles threw furniture out of his room here in 1942. The filmmaker came to Rio at the urging of Nelson Rockefeller, to film a documentary about Brazil called It's All True. He stayed for eight months at the Copacabana, Brazil's first luxury hotel, which looks like an enormous wedding cake and faces out on the famous Copacabana beach.

By this time, the Copacabana had already achieved legendary status, as its first guest was King Albert I of Belgium. In 1931, the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, once scooped goldfish out of the hotel aquarium with his bare hands and later jumped into the pool.

Welles never finished the documentary, and when his girlfriend Delores Del Rio broke up with him, he threw his furniture out of his bedroom. (Some accounts have him throwing the furniture into the pool.) This being Brazil, there was also lots of nakedness at the hotel. In 1939, Errol Flynn pranced naked around the hallways, and Jayne Mansfield caused a stir by tanning topless by the pool in the '60s.

The Peabody, Little Rock, Ark.: Little Rock isn't known for its hotels, but everybody knows about the Peabody, formerly and infamously known as Hotel Excelsior, thanks to Paula Jones. She claims that on May 8, 1991, she agreed to meet up with then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton "because she thought it might lead to an enhanced employment opportunity with the state," as stated in her 20-page complaint.

In her sexual harassment suit, Jones alleged that Clinton exposed himself and asked for sex. Her case was thrown out of court in 1998. The Hotel Excelsior was bought by the Peabody group two years ago and reopened in January as the Peabody Little Rock. The hotel underwent a complete makeover, just like Paula Jones. But we think the hotel looks a heck of a lot better.

The Phoenician, Scottsdale, Ariz.: Banker Charles H. Keating Jr. should have stuck with real estate development. Keating built the sprawling, over-the-top Phoenican resort and would rather be known as the man who masterminded planned communities (complete with fake lakes.) However, the man once nicknamed "C-note Charlie" for his $100 tips will forever be associated with the savings and loan scandals of the '80s.

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