Las Vegas In It's "Heyday" - Vintage Vegas
Going back in time to the days of "The Rat Pack"
We recently received some tickets to see a show at the Rio Hotel, at the Crown Theater, a show called "The Rat Pack Is Back." It was such a GOOD show, and really reminiscent of the way Las Vegas probably was back in it's "Heyday"... back in the 1950s, 1960's, and into the 1970s as well. It's a tribute to the four men who made up "The Rat Pack" - Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop and Sammy Davis, Jr. and is really on the caliber of a Broadway musical - these entertainers are that talented!
Seeing this show made me think about and wonder how Las Vegas really WAS back then, back in it's "Heyday." Way back when things were started by guys with connections to "the mob"... guys like Bugsy Siegel, who was known for creating "The Flamingo" hotel and a man from Texas named Benny Binion who created "Binion's Horseshoe Casino". A lot of the hotel's and gambling operations were run by these guys back then, and Las Vegas got a reputation of being a "rough" place, a place you didn't really want to be.
Later, Howard Hughes moved to Las Vegas, and stayed in the "Desert Inn" hotel. The period of time that he was here started the "new" Las Vegas, a time when the city's image was changed from one of being run by mobster's to a more respectable, wholesome image. Howard Hughes was very reclusive, and it was said that since he had been injured in a plane crash years before where just about every bone in his body was broken, he became addicted to painkillers. When he arrived in Vegas, he was on a stretcher, frail and addicted to these drugs, and he stayed enclosed in a room at the Desert Inn for four years. He was extremely wealthy, and soon became Las Vegas' biggest employer, casino owner, property owner, as well as owning mines.
Things changed while Howard Hughes was here, and he was credited with changing Las Vegas' image for the better. After Hughes, corporations moved in, starting the era of "corporate casino's."
Some other important figures in the history of Las Vegas are Herman (Hank) Greenspan, a newspaper man who published positive articles about Las Vegas, and especially about Bugsy Siegel's new hotel, the "Flamingo." Later, he purchased a faltering newspaper that was an offshoot of the "Las Vegas Review Journal."
Another important person was Senator Pat McCarran. McCarran held one of the most powerful position's in Nevada history. He won a senate bid in 1932, and he was referred to as "for the masses, not for the classes." He gained tremendous political power, and in the 1940s he greatly influenced the development of Las Vegas. Even today, the Las Vegas airport is named "Mc Carran Airport" after him.
And we can never forget a female entrepreneur (and in the 1950s, that was a rare thing). Her name is Betty Willis, and she was a "woman in a man's world" back then - the creator of the "Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas" sign. This sign has represented Las Vegas since 1959. While a lot of other neon signs have long been taken down and sent to the neon sign graveyard, her's still remains.
Betty Willis attended school in Los Angeles and returned to Las Vegas to work as a commercial artist. The signs diamond shape made it different from all others, and in a nod to Las Vegas' nickname "The Silver State," there are seven silver dollars backing the seven letters of the word "Welcome." When it was finished in 1959, it was sold to Clark County and placed on an island on the southern tip of the strip, where it remains to this day. She also created the sign for the "Moulin Rouge," the first African American hotel in Las Vegas.
Back in those days, there was segregation in Las Vegas, as there was all over the United States, especially in the south. This policy created quite a dilemma for hotel owners. A lot of the most popular artists back then were African American. Lena Horne, Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington and Sammy Davis Jr. among them! They would be ushered out the door as soon as their performance was over, often through the kitchen, and sent to a far less accommodating room, and were often charged up to four times the price of the other rooms.
Sammy Davis Jr. recalled in an interview "In Vegas for 20 minutes, our skin had no color. Then the second we stepped off the stage, we were colored again...the other acts could gamble or sit in the lounge and have a drink, but we had to leave through the kitchen with the garbage."
In the 1950s, showgirls were the unofficial icons of Las Vegas. Every resort had them, and they were in competition with one another to have the "best" group of showgirls.They starred in what was called "Las Vegas Style Reviews" and wore skimpy outfits with large head pieces. Showgirls were described as "smart business hype that brought in gamblers."
In the 1960s, the "Rat Pack" was in it's heyday. Performing at the Sands hotel to big crowds, the show we attended was meant to be reminiscent of those days. The performers would often have a cigarette and a drink while performing, it was just part of the show back then. A lot of brilliant talent performed on stages back then.
In the late 1960s, a lot of performers had either died or left town, and Las Vegas was suffering from bad press and became known for "tacky entertainment." and then along came Elvis! He performed from 1969 to 1977 in a white sequined jumpsuit and totally changed the belief held by resort owners that their profit came only from gambling. He brought in two million dollars one year! He performed accompanied by more than 50 musicians, exclusively at "The International" hotel. Now that the corporations had taken over, the entertainers were no longer considered to be "bait" to bring gamblers in, they were sources of profit. And to this day, entertainers bring people to the resorts, along with other attractions such as famous restaurants and shopping experiences. And of course, gambling.
When I told people we were moving here, of course we heard the joke about Las Vegas being called "Lost Wages." But, I tried to act like I had never heard it before! I guess it's a GOOD thing that we don't gamble. A person could get in trouble here! Any "gambling" we do is limited to penny slots and not more than $5! What we enjoy is the beautiful year round weather in Las Vegas, and the shows! And so far, it's a wonderful ride!
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