For the Las Vegas reader who wrote to say she felt Cousin Claire was being "unkind" to Jerry Lewis in last week’s column, here is our public response ... along with a pat on the back for the man who has played host to the most successful telethon on any continent. First, rest assured that Mr. Lewis will NOT be mentioned in every column (but around Labor Day, how can you ignore his presence?). Here are our last words on this subject ... at least for this year. Folks at UNLV report that on a recent afternoon, Jerry spent some time on the campus. Was he trying to pick up some pointers for The Nutty Professor VIII movie? Don’t be silly. Lewis and crew were at the university to rehearse with the 80-piece Las Vegas Philharmonic as they performed Leonard Bernstein’s Candide. The musicians will be seen in all their finery as they perform in front of Caesars Palace on the Strip, closed off for four hours in the wee small hours of the morning for the shooting. For the upcoming September 3 and 4 Jerry Lewis Telethon opening, those tuning in will see our fabulous city showcased in all of its splendor and glory. This should be a spectacular promo piece for Las Vegas. It has been 12 years since the telethon (in existence since 1966) was broadcast from here. In 41 years, the hard-working cast and crew has succeeded in inspiring the public to contribute more than $2 billion (that’s with a "B") for "Jerry’s kids." In 21½ hours on the air, last year’s effort netted almost $55 million for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Let’s see, that works out to about ... Well, you do the math.
And continuing on the subject of the aforementioned telethon, the senior talent consultant for all of this is one Eddie Foy III. Mr. Foy, the grandson of Eddie Foy, vaudeville actor/comedian, and son of Eddie Foy Jr., probably best remembered for his role as "Hines," in both the 1954-56 Broadway musical (with Janis Paige and John Raitt) and 1957 movie (Doris Day and Raitt - and, yes, he‘s Bonnie‘s late daddy) version of The Pajama Game. Eddie No. 3 has earned his own reputation in show business ... mostly behind the scenes. A onetime Las Vegas resident, Mr. Foy III served as entertainment director for both the Hacienda and Sahara hotels. It was during his reign at the Sahara that Cary LaSpina’s From the Top played in the Congo Room. It was a clever but short-lived dance revue that featured a number of terrific specialty acts, among them Charlie Frye & Co (Charlie is the talented artist who is responsible for Cousin Claire’s portrait at the top of this column), comedy magician Fielding West and wife Pam, adagio dance team Spin & Ludo (Bill Spinning and Ludo Vika), she is now a standup comic appearing most recently in the Headlights & Tailpipes production at the Stardust), the comedy team of Roger & Roger (Behr & Peltz), and trampoline artist Perry Genovese. An interesting side note about From the Top: One of the dancers in the revue, Malika Kinison, was the wife of comic Sam Kinison. Malika and Sam had been married for only five days when he was killed in a car accident on the highway outside of Laughlin, Nevada. Known primarily as a Hollywood casting agent, Eddie recently retired from Dick Clark Productions. He continues to lend his expertise to the telethon after more than 30 years. Some might call Eddie Foy III a glutton for punishment. Cousin Claire calls him a trouper ... and a friend.
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Longtime Las Vegas resident Bob Flanigan, the onetime lead tenor for the popular vocal group, The Four Freshmen, celebrated his 80th birthday on August 22. That might make him one of the world’s oldest freshmen. The musical quartet was formed in 1948, while all were students at Indiana’s Butler University. In 1952, the Freshmen, teamed with the Stan Kenton Band, recorded It’s a Blue World. It became an instant favorite. The close four-part harmony, combined with horns, resulted in a string of winners for the foursome, mostly in the 1950s and ’60s. The Freshmen charted their first major hit, Graduation Day, in 1956. Mood Indigo, Day by Day, In This Whole Wide World, The Day Isn’t Long Enough and Poinciana still bring back fond memories for old folks like Cousin Claire. Although Bob stopped singing with the group in 1992, he is still involved behind the scenes. With four younger members, the Four Freshmen continue to tour and record. Close your eyes and you would think it was the original fellows singing the familiar tunes. You can do that in Las Vegas when the new Freshmen perform at the Suncoast a couple of times a year. Many happy returns of the day, Mr. Flanigan.
And also celebrating a recent birthday, Bill Moore. Bill and his late partner, George Arnold, produced some of the most spectacular ice revues in the country, many of them right here in Las Vegas. Those who have lived around these parts for a number of years, as well as longtime visitors, will surely remember Playgirls On Ice (at the old Silverbird), Spice On Ice (Hacienda), Razzle Dazzle and City Lites (both at the Flamingo, where City Lites ran for 14 years). It would be difficult to come up with a show title that has generated more press than Bill Moore & George Arnold’s Nudes On Ice. The show played at the downtown Plaza in the early ’90s, and it’s STILL referred to on television and in movies and has been mentioned by more than one late-night talk show host over the years. Incidentally, as Mr. Moore’s birthday gift, Cousin Claire would like to point out that he is much younger than Mr. Flanigan ... although he’s working hard to catch up.
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Don Storer, who, as a young man in South Africa, was a premier musician, passed away here on August 21 at the age of 77. Don was a featured drummer on the popular "Oh Boy" TV series in England, performing with his partner, high-energy Hammond B3 organist Cherry Wainer. The couple moved to Las Vegas in 1968 and, billed as Cherry & Don, performed at the old Bonanza (where Bally’s now stands), the Frontier, and the center Strip Holiday Casino (now Harrah’s). Known for his cooking and wonderful sense of humor, Don spent his later years driving a limo for the Golden Nugget and Mirage. He is survived by his wife Cherry of Las Vegas, daughter Diane, and musician grandsons, Shai and Wayne Hirschon of the popular South Africa band, Fahrenheit. A memorial service for Don Storer will be held on October 1.
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In response to our mention of Boyd Gaming’s soon-to-close Strip property in last week’s column, reader Pete C. from Pensacola, Florida, e-mails to say "We’re big fans of the Stardust and hate to see the old girl go." Pete goes on to say that he saw Don Rickles there in May and would like to be in the audience as Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme bid farewell to the room and the 48-year-old hotel/casino, but his work schedule won‘t permit it. (We say, come anyway, Pete. You can always get another job!) Like Pete, Cousin Claire will also miss the Stardust. She loves the place and, in recent years, has been spotted in the showroom enjoying performances by stars such as Mr. Rickles, Lorna Luft, Bob Newhart, Little Peggy March, Roseanne Barr (yes, she’s Barr again), the band Chicago, Jackie Mason, Tim Conway, Harvey Korman, Louise DuArt, and even Kevin Spacey, who played the room following the release of his Bobby Darin bio-pic, Beyond the Sea. Rumor has it that Claire (who never gives up on her attempts to "beat the house") has also spent many, many, many hours in front of her favorite video poker machine, sometimes winning a little and other times losing a lot (you‘re welcome, Boyd Gaming). Ah yes. Memories are made of this. And as reader Pete requested, Cousin Claire will continue to report on the final days of the Stardust.
And speaking of the Stardust, on September 10, hundreds of former cast members of that hotel’s three major production shows - Lido de Paris, Enter the Night and Havana Night Club - will gather in the Stardust Ballroom to bid farewell to their onetime home- away-from-home. There will be a buffet supper and entertainment with plenty of surprises guaranteed. Among those expected to be present are Kenny Mazlow (Lido), now artistic director of San Francisco’s longest-running and favorite entertainment destination, Beach Blanket Babylon. There will probably be lots of hugs, lots of laughs, lots of picture-taking and more than a few tears shed during the festivities. Civilians (non-entertainers) are also welcome to attend. Expected to be noticeably absent, Bobby Berosini and his menagerie of primates. We will report details of this gathering, after the fact.
Here’s another bit of Stardust trivia. On a Sunday afternoon in June of1987, before there was Golden Rainbow, the hotel played host to this city’s first major AIDS fundraiser. When a group of concerned citizens decided to take advantage of the big-name entertainers who were regularly performing around the city, with plans to use their talent to raise some money, securing a hotel showroom to house the production was the next step on the agenda. Every major hotel in the city was contacted. Every major hotel said "no thanks." AIDS and a tourist destination were not a good match. As if this "new plague," taking its toll in cities and towns around the world, wasn’t having an impact on Las Vegas? Who were they kidding? The last hotel approached was the Stardust, then undergoing major and extensive remodeling. Thanks to Gary Golbart (who at the time was Director of the Lido and is now the rabbi at Adat Ami in Las Vegas), along with other corporate decision-makers, that hotel became the host for the star-filled show.
With maitre d’ Bob Van Dura and a crew of friendly and efficient captains taking care of business, the theater, then called the Lido Showroom, was filled with an enthusiastic audience who paid $25 each to see Las Vegas headliners that included, among others, Lola Falana, Mickey Gilley, Robert Goulet, the McGuire Sisters, Guy Mitchell, Roberta Sherwood, the Smothers Brothers and Suzanne Somers. The event, inspired by AIDS victim, ventriloquist Stu Scott, collected about $10,000 for Aid For AIDS of Nevada (AFAN). Up until that time, garage and bake sales, individual donations and bar-top "tip" jars with coins, checks and a few folded bills inside, was how monies were raised to assist people living (and dying) with AIDS. The organizers, along with the Stardust, were local pioneers when it came to putting a face on AIDS.
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San Juan, Puerto Rico-native Papote Varet is a much in demand choreographer. Varet studied with the famed Ballet de San Juan and has worked with Betsy Haug, Peter Jackson, and the institute of Le Danse, Barcelona, Spain. Stage performances have taken him from Broadway to Spain and Italy, where he added his creativity to Cabaret, Sarava, and Fiddler on the Roof. He has directed a number of night club acts, including Viva Viva Lissette and Sandy Colon Peltyn. He's done TV specials for Showtime, Nevada Opera Theatre and many others. Papote, a longtime Las Vegas resident, directed and choreographed Kenny Kerr’s Boy-lesque for many years, and was responsible for the outstanding choreography on the 1990 Miss Nevada USA Pageant, the 1990 Miss Nevada Teen USA Pageant, and the highly acclaimed 1991 Miss Nevada USA Pageant. Papote and his partner, Howard Jochsberger, produced the highly successful Divine Divas for Main Street Station. The revue played at the downtown property for almost two years. Currently Varet is working with the Tihany Circus (touring throughout Mexico) and directing and choreographing Maria Conchita Alonso in Los Angeles. Some folks might be surprised to learn that Ms. Alonso, known primarily as a film actress, starred on Broadway in the Tony-winning musical, Kiss of the Spider Woman. She has a CD in the works and, with the help of Papote Varet, is putting together a tour. Watch for her to appear in a neighborhood near you.
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Internationally-known jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, who had been scheduled to perform at the Santa Fe on September 7, passed away in a California hospital on August 23. The Canadian-born musician got his first big break with Stan Kenton before forming his own band in 1957. Ferguson, whose biggest hit was the theme from Rocky, "Gonna Fly Now," continued to tour nine months out of the year, and released his last album in March. Over the years, Maynard Ferguson had made numerous appearances in Las Vegas. He was 78 at the time of his death. A tribute concert is planned in St. Louis on September 20.
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Anyone remember the popular lounge performers, Hudson & Saleeby? The talented musical duo (two voices, two pianos) performed at the old Marina (now buried somewhere under the MGM Grand), Riviera, Flamingo, Tropicana and Caesars Palace before moving to Memphis in 1982 to go to work for game-show host Wink Martindale in his lovely Overton Square supper club/lounge. Although Martindale’s is no longer in existence, and Elvis has permanently left the building, Chris and Doug are still there performing regularly at places like Pat O’Brien’s, located on Beale Street, across from the Hard Rock Café. The guys are also a top act with corporate clients around the country.
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And speaking of "Beale," Cousin Claire ran into old friend Robert Beal (he without the second "e" in Beal) recently (we won’t say where they were lest we damage any squeaky-clean reputations). Robert, who has an extensive background in show business, is currently the CEO for Shagged Productions, handling everything from ground transportation to theatrical productions for conventions, meetings, conferences and special events. In his "other life," Texas-born Beal (without the second "e") has been a singer/dancer/comic in the centuries-old burlesque-style revue, Bottom’s Up, performed lead roles in the Tropicana’s Folies Bergere, City Lites at the Flamingo, and appeared with Charo and Jim Nabors in the Sahara’s Congo Room. Robert has also been a production manager, working with stars such as George Clooney (be still my heart), and was a stunt double and stand-in for John Hurt in a number of movies, including 1982‘s "Partners," with Ryan O’Neal. The Vietnam vet has been a Las Vegan since 1970, when he arrived here as an embryo.
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In the year 2000, Steve Wynn was quoted as saying "What I love the most about this town is the terrific opportunity it presents to those with the imagination and daring to build new must-see properties. Where else could you find a pyramid next to Camelot, next to the Statue of Liberty and Monte Carlo, an Italian lake next to the Roman Empire. Here this madness is okay. Any place else they'd lock you up. The best is yet to come. The next five years will see a renaissance of entertainment here." For those who know nothing about Las Vegas (is there anyone out there who meets that description?), Steve Wynn is the onetime owner of the downtown Golden Nugget and the creator of The Mirage, Treasure Island, Bellagio and Wynn Las Vegas.
If so, drop an e-mail and ask.
Cousin Claire will do her best to find the answer for you.