Well, gang, like you I’m sure, I’m hunkered down in my apartment. It’s a strange feeling not going out to cover an entertainment venue, or to drop by the Laugh Factory to visit with a few of my friends. It was a tough decision by our Governor to order the closing of all the casinos, and all non-essential businesses, but I do believe it was necessary for our survival. Our local restaurants, the ones that are independent like a few of my favorites: Casa D’ Amore, Bootlegger Bistro, Ichabod’s, and those inside casinos are facing tough times too. I feel for all the men and women who have been laid off from jobs they may have held for more years than they can remember. Let’s just hope this thing gets over soon with very low death counts. My thoughts go out to each of you. And I miss our gatherings at Lazy Dog, Bonefish, and The Dispensary Restaurants.
John Katsilometes quoted me on our loss of a friend in his column this Sunday. Yep, Kenny Rogers passed away at his home Friday night of natural causes. Yes, I first met him when I was working for Steve Wynn at the Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas. He was a super neat guy and one who always gave a hundred-and-ten percent when he was on stage, and would hang around after his show in the Nugget Lounge and sign autographs, etc. Those years, between 1973 and 1976 were amazing, as was my boss Mr. Wynn.
I was hired by Steve to work with the new entertainment director, James Dean (not the entertainer or Sausage King) who he had just hired away from the Sahara Hotel to assist him in getting the best country entertainment and to let the public know about them. Dean and I knew each other from my days with the Del Webb Corporation when I worked at the Mint Hotel and the old Thunderbird Hotel on the Strip doing publicity. James called me and asked me if I would be interested in coming back to work with him at the Nugget. At the time I was burned out with working for a corporation and quit doing Publicity. So, I went to work selling new cars—Lincolns and Mercurys for a new car dealership on Sahara Blvd. I even sold a few Lincolns to another old friend, Elvis Presley, when he would gift a new car to someone locally (that’s another story for another day).
But back to the early years at the Nugget. It was a different time and a different style of thinking by the owners of hotels and casinos, downtown and on the Strip. They thought that entertainment was very important and were willing to pay them good wages to help get people into the casino. The owners and operators cared about one thing—making money in the casino. The restaurants, lounge entertainment and showroom entertainment always ran at a loss. The bottom line was if they had a profit at the end of the month they were happy (and that profit did not include what was supposedly skimmed off the top). At the time the Nugget didn’t have a hotel. So, when we booked an entertainer to work at the Nugget we would book them at either the Mint or the Fremont Hotel and we paid for the rooms. Can tell you a few stories about that situation also, but again for another day.
The first entertainer we (Steve, James and myself) hired was a guy who played Las Vegas once-in-awhile at a country nightclub at the end of Fremont street (can’t remember the name right now), and who had played the Golden Nugget a few times, Waylon Jennings. Well we did a huge advertising and publicity campaign and it all paid off big-time. So, Waylon was signed to a long-term contract. I believe we paid him something like $3,000 a week to start with, and that called for at least three-shows per night, six-nights a week in the lounge.
And, Steve being Steve (during those early years) decided to make a gift of a special chrome plated, engraved, six-shooter pistol and leather holster to Waylon. Well, to be honest with you, Jennings also touted a whole list of country entertainers who would like to work at the Nugget, for which we were very glad for his help in that department.
The first one, I personally touted to Mr. Wynn, was a local gal who worked for me at the Mint Hotel—Miss Judy Lynn (She had worked at the Golden Nugget back in the early ‘60s and other casinos) and was a member of The Grand Ole Opry. Judy and her husband (also her manager) had purchased a home in Vegas and they enjoyed working where she could go home every night. Judy was one of the great local country entertainers, who worked all the time. She was also a beautiful person and had a heart of gold.
The next entertainer hired by us was a young up-and-coming singer who had just had a major hit, Barbara Mandrell. When we hired her, she came with her own band (like almost every country singer did in those days) which was comprised of Irby (her dad), Mary Ellen (Mom), and sisters Thelma Louise and Irlene, and a drummer. Each of them, as I remember, played a variety of instruments with Barbara famous for her talents on the steel guitar. I remember one night between shows, sitting in the coffee shop with Barbara and she was all excited–Wayne Newton had called her and invited her to visit his ranch. She stands out on my list as one of the sweetest and most down-to-earth lady singers I had the pleasure of knowing—along with another great entertainer Crystal Gayle.
To sorta wrap up this edition of my time downtown I will be writing more of this stuff in future columns since there is nothing much else happening. Stories like how we hired Willie Nelson at the Nugget, or a story about some famous movie stars who tried to kill a famous Neon Sign downtown. I’ll also be writing little episodes of my life in Las Vegas, growing up in Los Angeles, returning to Los Angeles after the Korean War, where I became a hard news reporter, then a sports reporter for the Copley News Service, and my career of working as a publicist beginning in L.A. with the former Heavyweight Champion of the World Joe Louis and still going on to this day. I will also be telling a few short stories about some of the famous people I met, hung out with, traveled with and who became friends—from Robert Goulet to Frank Sinatra to the lovely Deana Martin (daughter of Dean Martin), to the most talented Bob Anderson, and all those between.
Might be pretty interesting, who knows. Everyone has been telling me for years to write my life story—that it’s sorta like a Forrest Gump story. Well, if you like this little story let me know. I would love some feed-back as it’s hard remembering these stories and then actually putting them down on paper.
THIS AND THAT QUICKLY:
There honestly is nothing happening that I can write about. I can repeat what you already know from listening or watching the news or reading the newspapers. And I don’t like that idea. So, this is it for right now. Like I said, I will be publishing some interesting little stories as long as this thing lasts. No schedule for me. Just know I think of you guys out there as family—and where I come from, families stick together no matter what!
Well, gang, that’s about it for this week.