Claire Voyant's Las Vegas Gossip Column

Displaying keen perception and great insight.  
She's a little bit naughty. She’s a little bit nice.  
She calls ‘em like she sees (and hears) ‘em.  

Claire Voyant  

Note: This is a past column from January 12, 2007
You can find the current column HERE

Las Vegas - January 12, 2007

Could we make this sh_t up? Well, maybe we could, but, thanks to the Riviera's Publicity Manager, John Neeland, we don't have to. It seems that, from today (the 12th) through the 14th, the hotel is planning to host the Association of Professional Animal Waste Specialists (also known as aPaws). We think this sounds like a stinking idea but, hey, the pooper scoopers' money is as green as anybody else's (at least we hope it‘s green). Would you believe a Turd Herding Contest is among the planned activities for this bunch of tourists? Don't know what it entails and don't care. We're not asking. It might interest you to know that professional poop scooping is a growing industry.  Not interested? Neither are we, but this is our job, folks. It is our duty to keep you apprised of all things Las Vegas, and we're afraid, that for a few days anyway, this is part of our fair city. The American Pet Association estimates that there are more than 71 million dogs in the United States, and those pets produce around 4.4 billion pounds of you-know-what every year. That‘s enough to cover 900 football fields with 12 inches of dog waste.  Would we really want to do that? For inquiries, call aPaws representative Jeff Morgan at (303) 669-0943, or the above mentioned Mr. Neeland at (702) 794-9425. Don't blame us for this kind of crappy information. All we do is report the stuff. And by the way, in this case, we hope that what happens in Vegas DOESN'T stay in Vegas.

And on the subject of "crap," this item is the kind of material that the gossip tabloids love...

It seems that singer "Freddie Eckstine," who performs a musical tribute to his "father," Billy Eckstine, is not an Eckstine at all. He is really Freddie House, although he apparently is in the process of legally changing his last name. And if his name isn't Eckstine, you probably won't be shocked to learn that he is NOT the son of the musical icon. The story goes that, a couple of years ago, a local musician told Mr. House that he resembled Mr. Eckstine, who died in 1993, and suggested that he should do a tribute show featuring Mr. B's music. Freddie disappeared from the Las Vegas scene for a while, only to come back here with a new act and a new name. Until confronted by a member of the Eckstine family, his current show had Freddie the Phony playing his act to photos of "his father" and sharing stories about the family he is not a member of. Talk about balls! His tales of how he found out about his true heritage, range from learning the "truth" when he was a teenager (quoted in a February 2005 article in the Review-Journal‘s Summerlin View), to someone's (his mother, who is still very much alive?) deathbed confession. Whatever Freddie's explanation/explanations, and there have been many, until now, they have been convincing enough to fool a lot of people (including Cousin Claire) and win this scoundrel friendships with a number of producers, agents, entertainment buyers and well-known people, including Gladys Knight, Dionne Warwick, the late Ruth Brown, the Sahara's Entertainment and Marketing Director Ron Garrett, International Promoter Eric Floyd, and even Billy Eckstine's 84-year-old widow (not ex-wife, as House has referred to her), Carolle Drake, who sadly suffers from dementia. Perhaps Mr. House Eckstine, also suffers from some sort of delusions or dementia, not caused by old age or disease but by greed and desperation. The REAL offspring of Billy - Guy Eckstine, Ed Eckstine, Ken Eckstine, Ron Eckstine, Gina Eckstine, CC Eckstine and Billy Eckstine, Jr. - are outraged and are taking legal action to stop Freddie from continuing to capitalize on their father's good name. The Eckstine children would have had no problem if Mr. House had done a musical tribute to their father, without claiming a non-existent blood relationship. In a move of generosity, they have offered to pay for a DNA test for Mr. House. So far, the suspected phony has refused to submit to the family's request. We would have loved to have been present when Guy Eckstine confronted Freddie during his current engagement at Resorts Atlantic City. Guy told Freddie that he had to immediately stop the false claims and use of onstage videos or the show would be shut down. The only reason that the Eckstine's didn't have the show closed immediately was they didn't want to put the apparently innocent musicians out of work. The Sentimental Journey show (hopefully this will be Freddie's last journey as the son of...) is scheduled to run through January 18th, sans the special effects and claims of a blood relationship.

Here is an e-mail that Cousin Claire received earlier this week. It comes from the much respected entertainer, Cushney Roberts... I see that you have made reference to Freddie "Eckstine" as Billy Eckstine's son in two of your recent columns so I'll share this with you. I placed quotes around Eckstine because when I met Freddie in 2000 his name was Freddie House. He was struggling to get solo work and I and others told him he looked like Billy Eckstine and that he should see about Legends In Concert's possible interest. At the time he didn't seem very knowledgeable about who Billy Eckstine was. He later told me he approached Legends and there was little interest. I hired Freddie to perform with my group Spectrum in 2001 and he was with us into early 2004, always as Freddie House. Toward the end of his tenure with Spectrum he told us (the members of Spectrum), that his mother recently told him that she had an affair with Billy Eckstine and that Eckstine was his biological father. He then requested that I introduce him as Freddie Eckstine. I told him that I wouldn't because I didn't want to associate the positive image Spectrum had built with a claim or implication I thought was questionable at best and fraudulent at worst. Interestingly enough someone just e-mailed our Web site a few days before Christmas '06 inquiring if Freddie House was still with Spectrum. Shortly after he left Spectrum, he began using Eckstine as his last name and promoting himself as Billy Eckstine's son.

Yesterday (Thursday, the 11th), in a phone call between Mr. House in Atlantic City and promoter (and House's recent manager) Eric Floyd in Las Vegas, the Eckstine wannabe suggested that Floyd "distance himself from the sinking ship," as House now describes himself. House, sounding quite desperate, also spoke of leaving Las Vegas and show business. We have to wonder what Mr. House was thinking when he started all of this. There was no way he could get away with the sham indefinitely. One of the saddest parts of all of this is Mr. House taking advantage of Carolle Drake Eckstine. What a cruel thing to do to a woman who, today, finds most of her best memories from the past. We have word that both a national publication and a TV tabloid-type show are interested in this story of deception. We have to wonder how all of this will affect Mr. Freddie House Eckstine's February booking at the Sahara...or anywhere else, for that matter? We suggest that Mr. House immediately cancel any plans to legally change his name to Eckstine and get a life...preferably his own. This has gotten really ugly.

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The REAL Mr. Eckstine Eric Michael Gillett

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It seems The Producers, the musical creation from the mind of the whacky genius, Mel Brooks, wants to keep us folks in the dark, at least as far as cast members go. With the show set to open at Paris Las Vegas the end of this month, up until Friday, the only actor announced to play a role in this inside-show-business-story, was David Hasselhoff. That's right, dear readers, Snapper Foster (from The Young and The Restless), Michael Knight (of Knight Rider fame), Mitch Bucannon (can you say Baywatch?), and most recently the judge on the right (facing the screen) on America's Got Talent, will play the very flamboyant (as in gay) Roger DiBris in the Las Vegas version of the Tony-winning production. Last Friday, it was announced that someone with an Oscar association will play the Max Bialystock role, wonderfully portrayed by the one and only Nathan Lane when the Broadway production opened in 2001 (Lane was Bialystock in the film as well), here. Oh, yeah. That Oscar thing? It's the last name of the actor who will head up the Vegas cast...Brad Oscar to be specific. Mr. Oscar comes to Paris Las Vegas with an impressive background. He took over for Nathan Lane role when the actor left the show in 2002 and played Bialystock for more than three years, both on Broadway and in London.

Singer/actor Eric Michael Gillett, a onetime Vegas performer with principal roles in Donn Arden's Hallelujah Hollywood (at the MGM Grand, now Bally's) and Bill Moore and George Arnold's Bal du Moulin Rouge at the Las Vegas Hilton, had a part in The Producers movie. Eric was one of the accountants in the I Wanna Be a Producer number with Matthew Broderick. If you blinked, you might have missed him, but he was there! Eric lives in New York these days, where he does cabaret work and has also appeared in a number of Broadway and off-Broadway productions, including Kiss Me Kate, La Cage aux Folles, The Frogs and Sweet Smell of Success. From 1988 to 1997, Gillett was the Singing Ringmaster for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. He has recorded a couple of solo CDs, Cast of Thousands (the music of Craig Carnelia) and Sing a Rainbow, and also performs on some compilation albums. You never know when this information might come in handy.

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We have learned that entertainer Earl Turner will be leaving his Palace Station gig at the end of this month. We have to give Earl an "E" for effort. After being blown out of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, Turner packed up his family and returned to Southern Nevada where he had earlier success both in Las Vegas and Laughlin. The options for performers have dwindled in recent years. These days, many hotel/casinos don't see entertainment (especially lounge entertainment) as an important part of their business. Gone are the days, and nights, of Louis Prima and Keely Smith, the Mary Kaye Trio, Freddie Bell, the Treniers and other pioneers in the field. Now, for many acts that want to work here, instead of being hired by the hotel to keep their customers happy, the performers rent the room in what is called a two-wall or four-wall situation. In order to succeed at this the entertainer has to have very deep pockets or a very strong and loyal built in following. More than likely, this was the kind of arrangement that Earl Turner had with the Palace Station. Like many other things in Las Vegas, it's a gamble. No one asked us, but we think Turner would have had a better chance of success if he had kept his ticket prices in line with other acts currently playing the Station Casinos. You can see well-known recording artists such as Gary Puckett, Michael Franks, BJ Thomas, the Marshall Tucker Band, Diane Schuur, Raul Malo, Kenny Rankin and Smokey Robinson, from between $9.95 and $25 plus tax, while the relatively unknown-by-the-masses Earl Turner‘s ticket price is $34.95 plus tax. Even with a $10 discount for locals, this is proportionately too high when compared to nationally known and recognizable names. Hopefully, Turner will find himself another Vegas room where he can display his talents.

A good example of how the lounge scene has changed can be seen in properties like Mirage, Treasure Island, Bellagio and Wynn Las Vegas. When Steve Wynn owned the Mirage, Treasure Island and Bellagio, there were multiple live music venues throughout the properties, and there still are. Bellagio, for example has the Fontana Room, the Baccarat Bar, Caramel Lounge, and Petrossian, all providing real entertainers creating real music. Today, although there was live music for the first six months of its life, Steve's newest Southern Nevada property, Wynn Las Vegas, offers only DJ-played music. Wynn is a smart man. We have to wonder what prompted his decision to eliminate the excitement of live music in his luxurious Strip hotel casino.

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According to the Las Vegas Sun's Fabulous Las Vegas columnist, John Katsilometes, another John, O'Hurley, will play King Arthur in Spamalot when it comes in to the above mentioned Wynn Las Vegas in a couple of months. Mr. O'Hurley recently displayed some pretty fancy footwork as one of the competitors on TV's Dancing With the Stars. He also has credits as the shady lawyer, Billy Flynn, in the musical, Chicago. Based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Eric Idle's Spamalot opened for previews on Broadway, Valentine's Day of 2005. At that time, it was Tim Curry in the role of Arthur. Spamalot is still doing good business at New York's Shubert Theatre almost two years after its debut. Does that guarantee success here? Based on the much shorter runs of Avenue Q and Hairspray on the Great Bright Way (Las Vegas), we know it doesn't. To quote one of the songs from Spamalot, Always Look On The Bright Side of Life...and Las Vegas entertainment.

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We read elsewhere (yes, we do read other people's gossip items) that one of our city's most recent celebrity residents, the King of Whatever, Michael Jackson, has been meeting around town with choreographer Kenny Ortega. In addition to working with the Jacksons for many years, the talented Ortega has a list of other well-known clients in his history, among them, Cher, Madonna, Gloria Estefan, Bette Midler, Elton John, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross and the Pointer Sisters. Not bad, eh? Kenny also has some movie credits under his belt. His fancy footwork has been displayed in films such as Dirty Dancing, Newsies, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, One From the Heart, Hocus Pocus, Pretty In Pink, Xanadu and St. Elmo's Fire. The High School Musical and The Boy From Oz also feature Ortega's creativity. In the 1980s, a really good revue called Latin Quarter was one of the entertainment offerings at the Riviera. It was Ortega who created the dance sequences. When the hotel held its media party, Katherine Jackson (that would be the matriarch of the nine sibling family) was in attendance along with her then naturally pretty daughter, LaToya (can you say cosmetic surgeon family plan?). Since Cousin Claire had told a number of locals that she was friends with some members of the Jackson family when she lived in Southern California, a number of those "friends" were ready to put her claims to the test. What might have put us in an embarrassing situation turned out fine when both of the Jackson ladies remembered you-know-who, even though it had been more than a dozen year since we had seen each other. Whew! Oh, yes, Kenny Ortega also gets credit for the current version of the Sirens of TI show in front of Treasure Island.

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You don't have to go out of town, or even Downtown, to see and hear Petula Clark these days. I Know a Place where you can see her right here in Las Vegas. The pop singer/actress, with more than 15 Top 40 hits to her credit in the 1960s, will be appearing at the Suncoast, February 9 through 11. Anyone beside old Cousin Claire remember her co-starring with Peter O'Toole in the film, Goodbye, Mr. Chips? Pet also had a lead role, co-starring with Fred Astaire and Tommy Steele, in Finian's Rainbow. Welcome back, Petula.

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One of the most talented female vocalists in these parts, Darcus, is currently singing, late nights at the popular Maggiano's Little Italy in the Fashion Show Mall. This could be a match made in heaven. Combining a terrific singer with a great eatery (offering a spectacular Strip view from its large windows) sounds like a winning hand. Darcus, who over her years in Las Vegas, has played many of the city's great room and was also was one of the stars of Dream Street, an excellent musical that played both the Dunes and the Desert Inn in the 1980s. Although both the Dunes and the DI are history, Darcus is still here, singing and looking better than ever. You can see and hear for yourself on Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. If you have been looking for a romantic place to hear some great music, have some delicious food and toast your friends (like the good old days in this city), the beautiful Maggiano's restaurant and bar is the perfect spot. Valet parking is available. Call Maggiano‘s at (702) 732-2550 for additional information and/or reservations. See you there.

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Darcus Picasso's Le Reve

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As promised (or threatened), we continue with our New Year's wish list for some of the members of the entertainment community

We knew we had seen Denise Clemente in that atrocious getup more recently than 2004, as mentioned in last week's column. It was July of 2005, not 2004, when we saw the singer open for Bob Newhart at the Stardust, wearing what looked like a black plastic (pleather?) mini-skirt and a sleeveless tank top. You don't wear an ensemble like that when you're old enough to be getting mail from AARP, my dear.

For casino mogul Steve Wynn, we wish for him a better aim. If memory serves us correctly, in 1991, he accidentally shot himself in the finger. In October of last year, he accidentally put his elbow through his $139 million Picasso painting. The 1932 portrait, which was about to be sold, like Wynn's casino's Cirque show, is called Le Reve. For all of you who don‘t speak French (and that includes Cousin Claire), it means The Dream. We think, after that little OOOPS by Mr. Wynn, it might better be called Le Cauchemar, meaning The Nightmare. Oh yes, the sale of the now repaired artwork is on hold.

Due to the length of the Freddie House Eckstine story, we will continue with our 2007 wishes for others in next week's column...and in columns after that as well. Stay tuned.

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Cousin Claire has a request for you dear readers. YOU know who you are, but she doesn't. She would like to know. Are you a Las Vegan? A regular Las Vegas visitor? Or, are you just someone interested in knowing what is going on in this city? Do you live in the United States? Another country? We would be very interested in knowing who reads this column and who checks these sites and would very much appreciate your taking a few minutes from your busy lives to let us know. You can respond via the Link at the bottom of this column. Thank you.

Have a question about Las Vegas? Want to make a comment (be nice, now)?
If so, drop an e-mail and ask. Click Here
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Claire Voyant's portrait by Charlie Frye