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 April 27, 2007
You can find the current column HERE

Las Vegas - April 27, 2007

Gladys Knight Norm Johnson Bela Lugosi

Mary Wilson (she, formerly of Diana Ross and the Supremes) and company attracted an enthusiastic crowd for last Friday’s opening at the Golden Nugget. We have to admit, we were pleasantly surprised that we enjoyed the show as much as we did. In addition to seeing former Las Vegan Lucy Shropshire singing on stage with Ms. Wilson, we got a real kick out of the audience volunteers who became backup "Supremes" to Mary's role as top diva. The six "performers" consisted of one woman and five gentlemen, one of who couldn't decide if he was doing choreography to Stop In The Name Of Love or was one of The Village People doing choreography to YMCA (arms up in the air, boys)! It was quite amusing. We had the opportunity to meet the very personable Bubba Knight and his lovely wife, Kate that night. Bubba (real name, Merald), if you don't know, was/is a real PIP. He, along with cousins William Guest and Edward Patten, were the "Pips" part of Gladys Knight & The ..., well, you know. Moving and singing with Gladys, the foursome had a string of hits, beginning with Every Beat of My Heart in 1961. Tunes such as I Heard It Through The Grapevine, If I Were Your Woman, Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye), Midnight Train To Georgia, I've Got To Use My Imagination and The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me, were also chart toppers. Bubba continued to perform with Gladys during her almost four year headlining engagement at the Flamingo (the theater is now home to singer Toni Braxton and comic George Wallace, in separate shows), and in February, the siblings performed together at Universal City's Gibson Amphitheater (that's in Southern California). Gladys Knight & The Pips were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.

On April 17th, it was announced that Gladys Knight would receive the 16th annual ELLA Award from the Society of Singers. The honor, named after its first recipient, jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald, salutes entertainers for their musical successes and dedication to charitable and humanitarian causes. In addition to Fitzgerald (who earned her honor in 1989), past winners include Frank Sinatra (1990), Tony Martin (1992), Peggy Lee (1994), Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme (1995), Lena Horne (1997), Rosemary Clooney (1998), Joe Williams (1999), Tony Bennett (2000), Julie Andrews (2001), Placido Domingo (2002), Barry Manilow (2003), Celine Dion (2004), Elton John (2005) and Johnny Mathis (2006). Knight, who began performing at the age of four, will be presented with her award on September 10th during a ceremony at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. "Gladys Knight has one of the greatest and most distinctive voices of our time," Jerry F. Sharell, the Society of Singers' president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. The Southern Nevada resident has won seven Grammy Awards over her career, with hits that include the group anthem, That's What Friends Are For. The Society of Singers, established by Ginny Mancini and Gilda Maiken Anderson in 1984, is a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization, offering services to meet the emergency financial needs of professional singers worldwide. At one time, there was a Las Vegas chapter. Today, there are two offices. In addition to the one in Los Angeles, there is also an SOS office in New York.

The above mentioned 2006 ELLA Award recipient, Johnny Mathis, returns to the Las Vegas Hilton on May 11th and 12th. It's hard to believe that Johnny has been making beautiful music for more than half-a-century. His first big hit, Wonderful, Wonderful landed on the Billboard charts in May of 1957. That was followed by a string of Top 10s, including It's Not For Me To Say, Chances Are, The Twelfth of Never, A Certain Smile, Misty and, in a duet with Deniece Williams, Too Much, Too Little, Too Late. In the late '70s, Johnny and chanteuse, Jane Olivor, had an Oscar-nominated tune called The Last Time I Felt Like This, the theme song from the 1978 Alan Alda/Ellen Burstyn film Same Time, Next Year. Johnny and Jane (she lived in Las Vegas for a brief period of time a number of years ago) sang the song during the televised Oscar ceremony. Even after all these years, Mathis is still one of the top selling album artists EVER.

And speaking of Mary Wilson, her publicist, Norm Johnson, underwent major heart surgery last week. As a result, he missed Mary's Golden Nugget gig and a few other media-type events. Norm has been a Las Vegan since the mid-1960s. He worked as a sports writer and columnist for the Las Vegas Sun before taking a position in public relations at Del Webb's downtown Mint Hotel (now Binion's). It was there that the world famous Mint 400 Off-Road Race was initiated. Soon after, Johnson formed his own public relations company where he worked with a number of celebrities. In addition to Ms. Wilson, his clients have included Robert Goulet, Al Martino, Lola Falana, Johnnie Ray, Matt Monro, Joe Louis, Barbara Mandrell, Redd Foxx, Johnny Paycheck, Steve Wynn, Fred Travalena, Pat Cooper and Ray Romano. His featured articles, on subjects such as auto racing, nostalgia and reviews of various shows and the many stars who perform in Las Vegas, have appeared in numerous regional and national magazines. Norm has authored a couple of books, with his most recent effort called Magellan's of the Sky. In his spare time, Johnson enjoys sculpting and open-road racing. We know that Johnson, a longtime friend, will soon be back up and competing in life's big race again. We wish him a speedy recovery.

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And speaking of columnists, last Friday (the 20th), former Las Vegas Sun entertainment columnist Timothy McDarrah learned what his punishment would be for using the Internet to try and solicit sex from a young teen. Although local news was limited, New York papers covered the sordid details extensively. Here is the Reuters story, exactly as published...A former editor at the entertainment magazine Us Weekly was sentenced on Friday to six years in prison for attempting to seduce an undercover FBI agent posing as a minor on the Internet. Timothy McDarrah, 43, who was convicted in December in U.S. District Court in New York, must register as a sex offender after his release, Judge Paul Crotty said. "Why is it that I only seem to know where the line is when I cross it?" McDarrah said in court. He acknowledged battling a heroin addiction more than a decade ago while working for the New York Post newspaper's Page Six gossip page. In 2005 McDarrah responded to an ad on an Internet Web site that offered the "freshest, youngest" girls available in New York. The ad had been posted by the FBI to catch pedophiles. McDarrah replied that he was interested in a "white 14-year-old girl with a pony tail" and said he was willing to pay for sex, according to prosecutors.

McDarrah was put in contact with "Julie," an agent posing as a 13-year-old girl, and over 2-1/2 months, they communicated via the Internet and spoke by telephone. At one point, McDarrah sent a newspaper article about a man arrested after he pursued an undercover officer posing as a 13-year-old in a chat room. "Hope this never happens to me!!!" he wrote, according to prosecutors. McDarrah was arrested in September, close to where he and the undercover agent had agreed to meet. He was sentenced to 72 months in prison for using a computer and the Internet to attempt to entice, induce, coerce and persuade a minor to engage in sexual activity. Crotty said the sentence was severe because it involved the Internet, which "encourages this kind of behavior."

Us Weekly is published by Wenner Media.

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And speaking of monsters, here's an item about one of the most famous of them all, Bela Lugosi. What connection does Lugosi have with Las Vegas? He was the headliner in a burlesque show here. Who knew? Author Gary D. Rhodes did...and does. His new book, Bela Lugosi - Dreams and Nightmares, the second one he has penned on filmdom's most famous Count Dracula, is available through Collectables Records Corp. in Narberth, Pennsylvania. Rhodes, who makes his home in Belfast, Northern Ireland, did a lot of research on this project, including delving into Lugosi's career as a Vegas act. The year was 1954. The place was the Silver Slipper Saloon at the Last Frontier Village. Along with the Hungarian actor himself, The Bela Lugosi Revue starred Hank Henry, Sparky Kaye, Jimmy Cavanaugh, Virginia Dew, Joan White, Terre Sheehan (The Girl In The Champagne Glass) and our dear friend, the late actor/artist/writer (he wrote for Variety using the name Wil), Bill Willard. Rhodes, a lecturer at the Queen's University at Belfast, as well as a filmmaker and film historian, is also the author of 1997's Lugosi and White Zombie: Anatomy of a Horror Film from 2001. If you are a Vegas historian or a Lugosi fan, we urge you to read Gary Rhodes' book.

Kevin Spirtas Linda Eder Robbie Howard

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Reminder...Kevin Spirtas will be performing his one-man song and dance revue on Sunday at the Charleston Heights Arts Center (one of our favorite theaters in this city). If you are a longtime fan of TV's Days Of Our Lives, and you enjoy cabaret-style performances, we suggest checking out Spirtas. He was a regular on the popular daytime soap, playing bad boy, Dr. Craig Wesley, for seven years. There is much more to Spirtas than melodrama. He spent a year on Broadway as standby for leading man Hugh Jackman during Jackman's run as Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz. The good news for Jackman, and the bad news for Spirtas, is Hugh was in exceptionally good health during his stint as the Australian songwriter/performer (and onetime husband of Liza Minnelli). The results? Kevin never had the opportunity to play Allen on a New York stage. Fear not. He includes a medley of Peter Allen songs, and gets to shake his booty, in this tour de force performance in Night and Days. If you haven't made your reservations for Sunday's 3 p.m. matinee, there may still be a few seats available. Call (702) 229-6383. Tickets are a more than reasonable $10 and $15.

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Exciting things are happening at the Suncoast. As we mentioned previously, Las Vegas favorite Jimmy Hopper returns to the city that embraced him during the years he spent at the Rio's Voodoo Lounge and Bellagio's Fontana Room, when he performs at the Suncoast on May 12th and 13th. This show would make a great gift for any Mother's Day celebrant who loves music (Mother's Day is on the 13th). In August, from the 17th through the 19th, onetime Star Search (for you young readers, TV's Star Search came two decades before American Idol) winner Linda Eder will be making her Las Vegas showroom debut at the Boyd Gaming property. The Broadway star (Jekyll & Hyde) has thrilled fans with performances as part of UNLV's New York Stage & Beyond series and last summer's appearance with Michael Feinstein at Lake Las Vegas. Both of Hopper and Eder should be sellouts.

If you have never seen the above mentioned Jimmy Hopper perform, and you are going to be anywhere within a 50-mile radius of Las Vegas, do yourselves a favor and make reservations for his upcoming engagement at the Suncoast. Backed by his band, Jimmy sings everything from Paul McCartney, Sting and Kansas, to Andrea Bocelli classics and dramatic selections from Broadway's most popular musicals. Tickets are $19.95 plus tax. Call (702) 636-7075 soon, to guarantee seating.

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From entertainer Robbie Howard comes this reaction to our story regarding magician Steve Wyrick's claim of having sex with the late Anna Nicole Smith. Howard states, "Ya know that whole Wyrick thing makes my stomach churn. (Ours too.) Is he that desperate for press??? (We think the answer to that question is, YES.) What a crock. If it were Lance (Burton) or (David) Copperfield I would believe it, but then again they'd never tell anyone." Robbie goes on to say, "On my next show, for extra press, I'm gonna let it leak out that I was sleeping with Lady Di and Jackie O. There used to be a guy at the Westward Ho, Lamar Harris, King of the BSers. He used to say, ‘Here's a song by Ricky Nelson. I knew Ricky Nelson. He and I used to...blah, blah, blah.' And the next night, 'Here's a song by John Denver. John and I were friends,‘ you get the drift. Anybody that was dead, he knew. People used to believe him. I remember when Frank Sinatra died. I told my musical director, ‘Don't be surprised if you hear Come Fly With Me tonight from Lamar. If he says he knew Frank, I'm gonna pour a beer on his keyboard. That reminds me of a guy I worked with in California who had an autographed picture of Errol Flynn. (The photo) was inscribed ‘To Peter good luck Errol Flynn.' Errol Flynn died 20 years before Peter was born." When he isn't chuckling over the thought of Wyrick and Anna Nicole having any kind of sex, or occasionally portraying Dean Martin in The Rat Pack Is Back! - A Tribute To Frank, Sammy, Joey and Dean at the Greek Isles on Convention Center Drive, singer/comic/ impressionist Robbie keeps very busy. He and his band are favorites of Harrah's, Golden Nugget, Bellagio, Green Valley Ranch, Monte Carlo and Boyd Gaming for corporate and special events.

As far as people claiming to know (or be related to) celebrities, over the three decades she has resided in Las Vegas, Cousin Claire has run into situations similar to the ones described by the talented Mr. Howard (and, no, he is not related to Ronnie Howard). Of course there is the now infamous Freddie Eckstine story. In case you missed it, Freddie (birth name Freddie House) claims to be the son of the late Billy Eckstine and has, in the last few years, made a portion of his living doing a musical tribute show to "his father." Mr. House/Eckstine recently had his name legally changed in order to be more convincing in his outlandish claims. Although the REAL Eckstine children (there are seven of them) have been asking Freddie to take a DNA test to prove (or disprove) his story, the Las Vegas resident has refused to do so. Many years ago, a character claiming to be musician (and sperm donor) David Crosby of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, fooled a number of local headliners and hotel execs for a couple of weeks. He was able to get comped (that means free) rooms and meals, hang out backstage with Las Vegas elite, and even be introduced as someone he wasn't while in the audience at shows starring Siegfried and Roy and Murray "The Unknown Comic" Langston. This phony had a young female entertainer convinced that he could make her a star. Lucky for her, some smart cookie warned her that she was being scammed by a character that had no influence with anyone that could help her. The scoundrel was finally exposed and escorted out of the city.

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Last night, those frequently mentioned media-types gathered in the redone theater at the Gold Coast on West Flamingo to enjoy the timeless antics of bushy-haired funnyman Marty Allen and his comic foil, music-making bride, Karon Kate. Allen is probably best remembered as one half of the comedy/music team, Allen & Rossi. These days, Marty has a partner who is much prettier than Steve Rossi, his multi-talented wife, Karon. Plans are for Marty and Karon to entertain Gold Coast audiences through mid-July. If they are up to it, if the crowd counts are good, and if the critics are kind, these two could and should have a permanent Vegas home for quite some time. Marty, who celebrated his 85th birthday on March 23rd, and his wife of 23 years, have been a top attraction on the cruise ship circuit for a number of years. They would both like to give up the stress of travel, stop living out of suitcases for a while and throw away the Dramamine. An enthusiastic group, including movie actor Ernest Borgnine, gave the duo a number of well-deserved standing ovations on the night we saw Hello Dere! (Marty's decades old signature greeting). Watching Marty and Karon work the crowd is like a master class in live entertainment. We will give more details on the show in next Friday's column. Show times are Wednesdays through Sundays at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $29.95 plus taxes. Call (702) 251-3574.

Ernest Borgnine Louie Anderson Pamela Anderson

And speaking of birthdays, today good guy Howard Jochsberger, Director of Player Development at Boyd Gaming's Suncoast property, chalks up one of his own. It was multi-talented Jochsberger who helped put together Hello Dere!, the Gold Coast's variety revue featuring Mr. and Mrs. Allen.

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Although she has apologized for her choice of words when discussing the political thinking of many gays and lesbians (indicating that the gay community was primarily concerned about issues that effected them, as opposed to countywide and international issues) on her KCAA radio show, Roseanne Barr is still taking some heat. Cousin Claire wants to speak out on Roseanne's behalf. With the number of gay fans that Roseanne has, and the fact that she also has gay family members, it is ludicrous to think the occasional Domestic Goddess would intentionally do or say anything to offend an entire population. She was not, as a local columnist suggested, a "no show" at the Strip's alternative nightclub, Krave, for any reason other than the fact she was not feeling well and needed her rest. Roseanne's plans on that late Saturday night was to introduce her New York-New York co-star, female impersonator/comic Jackie Beat, before Beat's guest appearance at the Harmon Avenue club. The fact Roseanne couldn‘t be there, had no bearing on Jackie Beat's special performance. Now that we have had our say, let Roseanne speak for herself. "I deeply regret that I have offended gay people. I said things that I do not really mean, before I had thought them through... I was wrong and I seriously apologize! I will apologize and try to make clear what I really meant to say.. which was that everybody needs to unite right now, and step outside of their own neighborhoods, groups, races and classes to stop Bush's war on our country and our people. I love gays and I hate division. I am just a big idiot with a big mouth sometimes. I will learn to be more careful! Please forgive me, I am so sorry!!!!" Apology accepted, least as far as we're concerned. You can see Roseanne Barr's All You Can Eat Comedy at New York-New York. Call (866) 606-7111 for show times and reservations.

And speaking of Roseanne, she and fellow comedians, George Wallace and Carrot Top, surprised funnyman Louie Anderson with a cake on stage at the Excalibur where Louie is headlining. The occasion was Anderson's one year anniversary at the Castle on the Corner, combined with his March 24th birthday (he turned 54). Cousin Claire remembers vividly when newcomers, Roseanne and Louie, co-headlined in the Crystal Room at the Desert Inn. In 1987, it was unique to (1) have two comics as stars and (2) for them to be relative unknowns in Las Vegas. We remember trying to explain to an audience member exactly who Roseanne Barr was. The only frame of reference we could come up with at the time was Roseanne's then TV commercial for Pizza Hut. What a difference 20 years can make.

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News flash! This just in. Pamela Anderson. Yep. Pamela is in and Carmen Electra is out. Electra was scheduled to be the assistant for Hans Klok as well as window dressing for the Strip's latest magic show. The production, called The Beauty of Magic, was originally scheduled to start previews in mid-April as one of Planet Hollywood's offerings. There will be a slight delay while Pamela practices disappearing. By the time you are reading this, Electra will have already perfected that illusion as she disappears as a semi-permanent Vegas co-headliner. For information on Hans Klok's opening dates, and to purchase tickets, call (702) 474-4000.

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Claire Voyant's portrait by Charlie Frye