Took in a very unique event Monday evening at the Inspire Theater, located in downtown Las Vegas, 107 Las Vegas Blvd., South., called “ENTspeaks.” The theater is a three story building, with a bar on the roof, and the actual theater located on the second floor, with a reception area on the ground floor. The premise of “ENTspeaks” is simple. Andy Walmsley, a very well-known stage producer created the show a few months ago… Invite three to six residents of great interest, to come and tell their story. Each guest speaker is given 15 minutes to talk about anything they desire. And, according to those who have attended the previous events, it usually works quite well.
Walmsley’s guests Monday were a great mixture: Anita Mann, producer, choreographer and owner of the Fantasy Show at the Luxor; Mac King, the comic-magician at Harrah’s; Myron Martin, President and CEO of the Smith Center; Nicole Kaplan, lead singer in the new show at the Wynn, “ShowStopper”; Bob Anderson, creator and star of, “Frank, The Man—The Music,” at the Palazzo, and world famous columnist and television innovator, Robin Leach. The history on that stage was humongous, and very interesting. But forget the 15 minute limit this time. I believe only two out of the six who really tried real hard to end as close as they could, and that was Anita Mann, with Kaplan pretty close. So, gang, here are a few highlights from the more than two hour production.
Anita Mann is a five-time Emmy Award winning choreographer, who has been a resident of Las Vegas for more than 29 years. She started her career as a dancer in her hometown of Detroit, and at the age of 17 decided to move to Hollywood, and give it all to become a professional dancer. Well, gang, she is a shining example of a gal who worked hard, stuck to her guns, and eventually grabbed the golden ring, and never let go.
The year was 1964, and her first audition was for a show named “T.A.M.I,” directed by a young Steve Binder (who was also directing the Steve Allan television show at the same time). The film is best remembered for the unbelievable performance by the late, great James Brown. Anita got the job and never stopped working as an actor, dancer and her first love, designing those marvelous movements that dancers deliver on a stage or film. She landed a spot on “Solid Gold,” where she performed for five years, and on “Shindig.” You might say 1964 was a very good year! Mann has choreographed a ton of shows during her amazing career including: “The Cher Show,” “The Jacksons,” “The Academy Awards,” “Golden Globes,” The Jerry Lewis Telethon,” are just a few of her works in countless live on stage, film and television shows. She’s literally a human dynamo.
The Kentucky born Mac King has been doing his comic-magic show at Harrah’s for more than 15 years. Mac learned his first magic trick at the age of five, when one of his grandfather’s gave him a deck of cards, and taught him his first trick. That’s when it all started for him. King was mesmerized with magic. “That was a big thing for me. I began buying all the books on magic I could find, as I had decided right then that I was going to become a magician.”
He told the “ENTspeaks” audience, how one time his mother, who he was constantly pestering to let him go to a magic gathering at a local YMCA (he was 14 at the time), finally drove him to the location, stopped the car, and told him to get out, and then drove off. “I suddenly became very scared as I entered this huge building, and saw all these men…and I had no idea what I was going to do,” he told the SRO crowd inside the Inspire Theater. “But they welcomed me with open arms and the rest is really history.”
Lance Burton, another well-known magician from Kentucky, attended the same college where Mac was enrolled. The two future stars joined forces during their summer breaks, and worked in the Red Garter Saloon at a nearby western theme park, “Tombstone Junction,” fine tuning a magic act. “I was 18 when we began working there,” he said. “And as you know Lance became a major star on the Strip, and I’ve been a working magician ever since.”
Texas raised, Myron Martin, is the President and CEO of the world famous, Smith Center for the Performing Arts. The first thing he did as he took to the stage was to show a photo on the large screen of him wearing high heeled red boots. The photo was taken when he announced the Broadway hit; “Kinky Boots” would be coming to the Smith Center. Martin then informed the crowd that he had also played three years for the major league baseball team, Texas Rangers (a photo of the team in action appeared), he paused, “Yes, I played…the organ for three years.”
Clint Holmes, who was in the audience, was one of the first entertainers he met when he moved to New York to further his career in the entertainment business. That was where he also met Liberace, who suggested that he move to Las Vegas, and take over managing his businesses. He accepted the offer and moved to our little village. The first thing he noticed was an exorbitant phone bill. “So I found this 800 number which was the culprit. We really didn’t need it, and one day I got a call, and was offered a thousand bucks for the number, which was 1-800-626-2625 and I sold it,” another pause. “When I learned why it was getting so darn many calls, I almost fell off the chair…It was a porn number…and spelled out a certain phrase. I could’ve sold it for a lot more had I known.”
Around 1995 the “Impossible Dream” began to take shape in his mind, and others in Las Vegas. At that time a group, headed up by then Mayor Oscar Goodman began touring various locations where they could see what other cities, and countries, had in the way of Performing Art Centers. One day while looking at a particular Grand Center, Oscar asked if this is what Myron was talking about. Myron said yes, but even more grand. “Holly shit, we have to have one of these,” the outspoken mayor responded.
With a lot of hard work, and some cajoling, donations began to flow in to get the ball rolling. Fred W. Smith and his wife, Mary, donated the first $50 million dollars to the building fund, and then came back with another $100 million to get the building started. “Today the Smith Center for the Performing Arts is a ‘living dream’ come true, and is rated the eighth greatest Performing Arts Center in the United States,” Martin said. Myron went on to point out that while construction was underway, a problem was pointed out to him; Las Vegas has a major pidgin problem here, and they could really cause a problem with the exterior of the center. No one had a clear cut solution, then one just showed up and the problem was solved. A group of Peregrine Falcons decided to make the center their home. “The problem was suddenly no longer a problem,” he smiled.
Pittsburg raised Nicole Kaplan told the group that “she was an overnight success story.” Then Nicole explained “that it only took twenty years, however, to become that overnight success!” She admitted she was scared of doing public speaking, so she went to a hypnotist. “So if I start chirping like a bird you’ll know what happened,” she smiled, as she began to relax. The beautiful blond singer went on to describe her various ways of making it to the top of the ladder. First get hired for a hit television show and make a friend out of the star, which in her case (she showed a photo) it was “Different Strokes” and Gary Coleman.
She told of working as a singing telegram when she first moved to Vegas, and that her first gig was being dressed in a red skinny showgirl costume, and walking through the Wynn Hotel to deliver a singing telegram. She played everyone from a singing waiter, plumber, to a stripper and now she has gone full circle (a split photo goes up showing her in a beautiful red gown and the first outfit). Kaplan was on the road with the Terry Bradshaw Show, and when the show went to Pittsburg, Terry brought her dad on stage and the two men played catch with a football. That has been the biggest highlight of her career…“as dad lives and breathes on Steeler time.”
Bob Anderson was next. Bob showed a film that explained a lot of who and where he has performed since he landed in Las Vegas in 1985, as a long-haired Viet-Nam veteran. He told how a local entertainment writer, the late Mark Tan, introduced him to Nancy Sinatra who had just lost her opening act at the Sahara Hotel. Anderson volunteered to be the opening act, sang a song for her, and was hired. He was rushed down to a tuxedo place, then returned to a suite on the top floor of the Sahara (he had never been in a suite before), and as they say all the time (whoever They are) the rest is history. Nancy introduced him to the world. One funny thing did happen that day: When the Marque went up it had mistakenly put Frank Sinatra as the headliner, with Bob Anderson at the bottom of the sign. A Las Vegas Sun columnist, Joe Delaney, was driving by, saw the mistake and took a photo. The photo made the front page the next morning. Frank had never played the Sahara at that time.
Britain’s gift to America, Robin Leach, was the final guest. He told a few stories of how he got started as a student at Harrow County School for Boy’s located outside London, and how he began sending little weekly stories to the local newspaper. He was 10 at the time. At age 15 he became a general news reporter for the Harrow Observer, where as a cub reporter he was instructed to go find someone interesting to interview at this particular address. So Robin headed for the upper class area of town, knocked on the door, and asked the man who answered if he could interview him for a story. That man was Leslie Bricusse, who was just then collaborating with a singer named, Anthony Newley, to write the 1961 hit, “Stop the World—I Want to Get Off.”
His lifetime hero is Winston Churchill. One of his favorite sayings is: “An unbelievable journey begins with one step.” In 1963 he decided it was time to leave England and go to either Australia or America. Leach flipped a coin and it brought him to the States. Robin became famous for hosting his first show, ”Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” in the mid-1980s, and into the mid-1990s. The show profiled well-known celebrities and their lavish homes, cars, and other materialistic endeavors. Robin resides in Las Vegas and continues to write, produce and appear in numerous endeavors.
Well, gang, that’s definitely it for this week.