Last week I used a short story from a friend, Stephan Sorrentino, when his dear friend Carrie Fisher passed away. At that time this reporter was concerned about Ms. Fisher’s mother, Debbie Reynolds, who I heard had been ill lately. There is the myth that everything happens in threes: Well this time there was George Michael—a wonderful singer from Great Britain, followed by Carrie Fisher, and now my friend of more than 40 years, her mother, Debbie Reynolds, made it a triple.
The following is a brief story told by a long-time friend of this writer, who over the years has worked with some of the biggest stars in the galaxy, including Ms. Debbie Reynolds, Bob Anderson. I thought it was the best story of those that I have heard or read thus far. It was Debbie as Debbie when not on a stage in those beautiful gowns, entertaining a couple thousand in a Strip showroom. My story regarding my friend will follow Anderson’s story. Here it is as Anderson wrote it:
Carrie Fisher, was a well-known actress whose parents were singer Eddie Fisher and movie star Debbie Reynolds. I knew Carrie, but not well. I had the privilege of doing a couple of fund raisers with her in Las Vegas, and found her a total professional, very nice and, wow, what a talent. She died from a heart problem.
Debbie Reynolds, wow, what a lady. Debbie was married to Eddie Fisher and they produced two children, Carrie Fisher, and Todd Fisher. Losing her daughter on Tuesday, Dec. 27, I would imagine played a big part in her death. I believe Debbie was 84. Debbie and I were great friends, and she definitely was one of the most talented people in show business: She was a singer, actor, impressionist, dancer, comic, and a super nice lady. Debbie was fun to be with after her show, or when she was in town and stopped by my showroom for a visit. There was one night that stands out above many.
This special evening happened at the Desert Inn where I was performing in the Starlight Theater. I had my trio with me; John Nasshan on Drums, Brace Phillips on Bass, and my cousin Billy Stevenson on piano. My trio was the best of the best! They were used to having different artists sit in with us, but this night many of our close show business friends showed up. The cast from Guys and Dolls which included actor Rusty Meyers, the unsurpassable singer Jack Jones, one of the greatest impressionist and entertainers in the world, Frank Gorshin, and lovely vocalist Maureen Mc Govern. Another very close friend, the very personable and classy piano player and singer Frankie Randal was out there, and the best baritone to ever perform on a Broadway stage, Robert Goulet with his wife Vera. A great comic and Frank Sinatra opening act Tom Dreesen was there, as was Debbie, Rip Taylor, my wife Karen, along with a few of our friends. It was like open the stage “‘cause you just lost it to them.” So, naturally the parade to the stage started and it never seemed to end. They would do what-ever amount of time they wanted. Jack sang, Goulet sang, Tom Dreesen did his thing, as did Rip Taylor. Debbie had started the evening sitting at my table with Karen. She began by ordering bottles of Dom Pérignon. Soon Debbie Reynolds was on the stage. We did a couple of songs together, and that’s when she told me to go sit down because, “I feel like really entertaining.” So….I did.
Debbie stayed on for over an hour walking through the audience entertaining everyone, drinking her favorite champagne, Dom Perignon…and at a pretty good pace too. She was really great. She had the place jumping and tore the room apart. Debbie was getting more standing ovations than I had ever seen anyone get before. It was one of those unforgettable evenings that would happen in the old days when Vegas had stars performing in every showroom.
So, after sitting back down at our table, one of the waiters handed Debbie her booze bill and it was for $7,500. I asked her what did he just give you Debbie, she said my bill for being allowed to sing to these people.
The Academy Award actress had just done over an hour in the packed lounge at the Desert Inn, and brought the house down and they give her a bill for $7,500. I grabbed the bill and headed for the casino where I found the President of the Hotel, Burton Cohen. I told Mr. Cohen that they just gave a bill of $7,500 to “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” and he got really pissed off! I mean he was really angry!
Burton Cohen was one of the great guys in Las Vegas and we all loved him. He tore the check up and grabbed Debbie and they started to dance on the stage and everybody started entertaining all over again, including a song from Burton. The drinks were on the house. The party continued into “The Wee Small Hours of the Morning.” Debbie Reynolds owned The Debbie Reynolds Hotel Casino on Convention Center Blvd. I used to meet Tommy Smothers there after my show for a drink.
THOSE WERE THE GOLDEN DAYS ON THE VEGAS STRIP. I’m glad I was a part of it.
NOW MY BRIEF STORY:
Two little tidbits. First one is not much, but shows some of her power in Las Vegas. For a year or so in the late ‘60s and into the ‘70s, Robert Goulet was the highest paid entertainer on the Las Vegas Strip. He was reportedly earning $100,000 a week. When Debbie came on the scene she soon proved her drawing power, and within a few months she was tied with Goulet earning $100,000 per week. The two became great friends and through the years even worked together, which leads to a wee bit of an incident.
Vera Goulet and Robert came up with an idea to combine Robert with Debbie, Donald O’Connor, and comedian Rip Taylor, and take the show into the Performing Arts showroom at the one-time named Aladdin Hotel, where Planet Hollywood now stands. Well, the show was fantastic with a big orchestra, strings and all. You youngsters out there will never really get to feel what it was like to sit and listen to a 32-piece orchestra backing fabulous entertainers like Frank Sinatra (his orchestras were even bigger at times) and the above-mentioned acts. So, one night after the show the four entertainers are relaxing in the green room, knocking back a couple of drinks when one of the invited guests pops in to say hello. (I was there then doing some last-minute publicity for the show at the request of the Goulet’s) This guest was a doctor. Debbie was sitting watching this person knock back one-drink after another. She calmly got up and walked over to him, and asked: “What happens if you’re called to an emergency or something like that and you’ve been drinking like you are now?” The doctor, one of the good guys in town, replied “I would go do what I had to do…in fact, I have a surgery in the morning…” At that very second, she grabbed the drink out of his hands and blasted him right out of the room. He was the talk of the green room for a few minutes. Incidentally that doctor eventually left Las Vegas for better opportunities.
Over the years, I had the privilege of sitting at a bar once or twice with her at her once owned hotel on Convention Center Drive. She was a delight to be with and she held her own very well with everyone. You would never think that here you were sitting with this great, wonderful, outgoing lady who was one of those stars in the Galaxy that MGM Studios bragged about. What a lady! She is missed.
THIS AND THAT QUICKLY:
Enjoy three decades of Elvis Presley’s career on display with spot-on tributes at “One Night with The King,” coming to The Orleans Showroom Jan. 28-29. The show features performances by three acclaimed tribute artists – Victor Trevino, Jr., Ben Thompson, and Ted Torres – and perfectly captures Presley’s sound, moves and more.
Trevino has been recognized in several Elvis tribute artist contests, including a major role in the 2010 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Tour, produced by Elvis Presley Enterprises and Graceland. Thompson has competed internationally in tribute contests, taking first place in Europe’s Tribute to Elvis Championship in 2013. And, just this year, Torres took home the 2016 “Images of the King” world championship.
The show portrays distinctive moments in The King’s career, and includes most of his best-loved hits. Showtime is at 8 p.m. each night. Tickets start at $19.95 plus taxes and fees, and can be purchased by calling Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000; online at www.orleanscasino.com; or in-person at gift shops inside The Orleans, Suncoast, Gold Coast, and Sam’s Town. Tickets may also be purchased the day of the show (depending upon availability) at the venue box office.
Well, gang, I hope you had a great New Year’s Eve. As for me I had a fantastic one, moving into my new abode. Starting off 2017 with a great new residence, and looking forward to my birthday on Valentine’s Day!