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 February 15, 2008
You can find the current column HERE

Las Vegas - February 15, 2008

Freddie Bell

Fred Astaire & Cyd Charisse

Jahna Steele

In less than three months, another bright light has gone out on the Las Vegas entertainment scene. On November 27th, dancer/entertainer Clem Zeleski died unexpectedly at the age of 45. On December 15th, Marvin "Sweet Louie" Smith of The Checkmates died at 68. Nine days after the loss of Sweet Louie, on Christmas Eve, comedienne Beverly Wines Cardella, better known as Pudgy! (with the well-earned exclamation mark) was gone. Exactly one month later, the talented Jahna Steele was dead at 49. Then on Sunday, lounge legend Freddie Bell (real name Ferdinando Dominico Bello) died, following a valiant battle with lung cancer. When he attended the F.I.O.R.E. holiday luncheon in early December, Bell was in his element - surrounded by friends, singing, joking and having a good time. He seemed indestructible. About the Philadelphia native, the Associated Press had this to say...

Freddie Bell, a forerunner in the 1950s rock 'n' roll era whose toe-tapping versions of "Giddy Up A Ding Dong" and "Hound Dog" inspired Elvis Presley to cover the songs, has died. He was 76. Bell died late Sunday in a Las Vegas hospital of complications from cancer, said his publicist Norm Johnson. Bell was performing at the Sands casino-hotel on the Las Vegas Strip in the mid-1950s when Presley was just an opening act across the street at the New Frontier. Bell's upbeat covers, and perhaps his knee-wiggling dance moves, inspired Presley, Johnson said. "He loved Freddie's version," Johnson said. "He added new words and a better beat." Bell went to Las Vegas in 1953 from his hometown of Philadelphia and was considered one of the great lounge acts of the time, alongside the trio of Sam Butera, Louis Prima and Keely Smith, Johnson said. He was good friends with some of the most popular performers of the era. "They remained friends throughout Elvis' lifetime," Johnson said. "Freddie was very, very close to Frank Sinatra. That was one of his compadres. Whenever they were in any town performing, Frank would show up, or Freddie would go to see him." Bell also appeared in a number of films, including 1956's "Rock Around the Clock," starring Bill Haley. Bell is survived by wife Angela Bell and children Freddie Bell, Jr., Angela Bello, Marianna, Andrew, Lisa, Debbie and stepson Jonathan.

Services for Bell will be held at Palm Mortuary, 7600 South Eastern, on Sunday, the 17th.

Viewing will take place from noon to 2 p.m. Chapel services are at 2, followed by graveside services. A Celebration of Life will take place at the Italian American Club, 2333 East Sahara, beginning at around 4 p.m. It was Freddie's wish that everyone party because he'd made it into heaven!

Last Saturday, a Celebration of Life was held at the Clark County Flamingo Library, in honor of Clem Zeleski. There were very well-edited videos of Clem from the time he was a young boy, through scenes of him with Debbie Reynolds and dancing with Cyd Charisse while her husband, Tony Martin, sang in the background. A beautiful four-color memento, with great photos of Clem was available for the friends and fans who turned out for the occasion. Bill Moore, James "Gypsy" Haake, Larry Edwards, Blair Farrington and Jeanne Brie were among those in attendance. Brei, who has attended many services of this kind, ranked this beautifully put together offering of love as No. 2 in professionalism...right behind that of songwriter (Over the Rainbow) Harold Arlen. Quite a compliment to the creative Kenny Mazlow, responsible for much of the afternoon.

Last night, TV's The Insider did a segment on the late Jahna Steele. As a reminder, the 49-year-old Vegas entertainer, who died of an accidental drug overdose on January 24th, will be celebrated at the second of two services held in her memory. This musical one takes place at the E-String Grill, 2031 W. Sunset (at Mountain Vista), on Friday, the 29th, beginning at 9 p.m. The public is welcome to attend.

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Ben Ardito's Take 1, at Fremont and 7th in downtown Vegas, was the place to be on Monday night and Tuesday afternoon this week (but only if you were invited). Nancy Barr hosted a 75th birthday party for author, artist, PR man, and in one person's mini-mind, a "washed up journalist," Norm Johnson, on Monday, the 11th (Norm's actual birthday is on Valentine's Day), with help from Norm‘s daughters, Robin and Lisa. Among the guests helping Norm celebrate his three-quarters-of-a-century special day were Vera Goulet, Dennis Bono and Lorraine Hunt Bono, Sean Grady, Genevieve Dew, Mark Giovi, Nelson Sardelli, Mike Christ, Linda Glynn, Carme Pitrello, Tom and Margaret Kurtz, Jackie Brett, Mel Carter, Debbie Marcus, Mike and Anne Merrick, Edwin Cook, Brenda Weems, Denny Denman, Jeanine Hefflin, Mel and Marilyn Larson, Elizabeth Foyt, Barry and Louise Berlin, Cathy Bittinger, Shelly Stepanek, Dr. Tali Arik, Brenda Bouchard, Fred Kiser, Janice Marie, Carla Masterson, and Norm's cutie pie grandson, Mathew. The celebrant took some good-natured ribbing and a good time was had by all.

* * * * * *

Norm Johnson

Nancy Barr

Carme Pitrello & Jeanne Brei

Tuesday, many of the same folks returned to Take 1 for F.I.O.R.E.'s (Fun Italians Organizing Ridiculous Events) Valentine's Day (one day early) luncheon. Cousin Claire can't be everywhere, especially when allergies are wreaking havoc on her respiratory system, so "Unofficial Assistant" Jeanne Brei reports about this event. According to Jeanne, it was a great party. The room was full, the food was good and the music was great. Nelson Sardelli and Carme Pitrello (in from Florida until Tuesday) served as co-hosts. As Jeanne asks, "How could you go wrong?" Nelson and Carme handled the raffle portion of the afternoon and, according to Jeanne, "It was like a well-rehearsed comedy team. They were a blast!" Nelson brought a bag full of groceries, so each time the raffle gifts were boring, he'd add a can of tuna, a can of beans or a can of beer to go with the prize. The crowd loved it. Carme did his John Wayne impersonation to raffle off a calendar and video featuring The Duke. It was a riot! The Gary Olds Ensemble provided music - with Joe Darro on piano, Gary on drums, Chuck Kovacs on bass and Dr. George Ritter (the chiropractor) on sax. Among those who got up to sing were Nick Mastrangelo (plugging his February 29th gig at that Italian joint on the south end of Las Vegas Blvd. that we don't mention anymore), and Genevieve Dew, who sang At Last and L-O-V-E and informed that she would be performing at Just Jazz tonight. Loretta St. John sang My Shining Hour and Here's that Rainy Day. The fabulous baritone, Don Gloude from New Orleans, sang Misty (he is headed to Australia for a month). Jeanne Brei (plugging her upcoming CD) sang I Don't Know Why I Love You Like I Do, and Paul Xavier Campanella sang Moondance and announced that he would be performing his show at Sun City Anthem's Freedom Hall in the Independence Building (second Clubhouse) on March 9th. A F.I.O.R.E. newcomer, CeCe, was invited up to sing by Nelson. CeCe, who performs with a band at the Ice House on Monday nights, sang The Carpenters hit, Close To You. For the finale, Gary Olds urged Nelson to sing Quando, Quando, Quando, and Carme joined him. Gary then insisted that everyone do a tribute to Freddie Bell by closing out with a rousing rendition of When The Saints Go Marchin' In. Nelson, Carme, Nick, the Dons (Hill and Gloude) and Jeanne all sang choruses, with former Treniers player Hill singing, "I don't know the words - I'm a sax man." He then preceded to scat the rest of his chorus - it was quite the hit! Carme did a chorus with a British accent that was fabulous, and Jeanne did a Sophie Tucker-style chorus. When it came time to draw the raffle numbers for the $50, $70 and $150 winners - two of the three winners donated their money back to the Freddie Bell funeral and medical expenses fund. (Norm Johnson who won the grand prize, and the person who won the $70 prize (Robert Ensler?), both donated their winnings to Freddie's fund. During the earlier raffle prize awards (while the musicians took their break), Carme auctioned off a set of golf clubs. The $60 raised also goes help cover Freddie's final medical expenses.

Larry Taylor plugged his upcoming gig at the Railroad Pass - first dance was Valentine's night and will be followed up by every Tuesday for three months (he explained that his retirement lasted all of 9 days). Nelson plugged the Sunday jazz afternoons at Take 1 and asked everyone to come down to support Ben Ardito's club since he's been so good to the F.I.O.R.E. group. Thanks for the report, Jeanne!

* * * * * *

As we have mentioned a number of times in the past few weeks, one of our favorite entertainers, Jimmy Hopper, will be making his second appearance at the Suncoast, March 28th, 29th and 30th. As he did for his two-day engagement at the Suncoast last Mother's Day weekend, Jimmy will perform his Journey of the Heart show, with his full group of musicians. For you diehard Hopper fans, we have great news! We have just learned that he will be returning to Las Vegas...on a permanent basis. When Jimmy originally began working here, it was in the sky-high Voo Doo Lounge at the Rio. That was followed by more than four years in the Bellagio's Fontana Room. He left Vegas to perform around the country and most recently had been a regular at The Island in Newport Beach, California. Like Cousin Claire has said for years, just about everyone who moves away from Las Vegas, eventually finds their way back. Hopper is no exception. Once again, he has decided to hang his hat in The Entertainment Capital of the World and, once again, he returns to play another room with a view. Beginning this Thursday, February 21st, Hopper becomes a four-night-a-week regular in the Lava Room at Planet Hollywood's Trader Vic's. Jimmy will perform Thursdays through Sundays, with performance times anticipated to be from 9 to 10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. to midnight on Thursdays and Sundays, and from 9:30 to 11 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. There will be a $20 cover charge. For additional information, call Trader Vic‘s at (702) 405-4700.

Jimmy Hopper

Anthony Rapp

* * * * * *

On Wednesday, Mamma Mia! celebrated its 5th anniversary with many media people attending the show at Mandalay Bay, followed by an invited guests party in the hotel/casinos House of Blues Music Hall. The production, using the music of ABBA to tell its tale, has been a Las Vegas success, in spite of the fact it runs as long as its Broadway counterpart...even with an intermission. It has been the tradition in Las Vegas to edit popular musicals down to a "manageable" casino approved length, lest folks are too tired to gamble or eat or drink after the curtain goes down and the house lights go up following a Broadway length production. We found it quite interesting that the very entertaining Avenue Q had some songs cut from the show after its opening at Wynn Las Vegas. Our feeling is that the length of the show had nothing to do with its abbreviated run here. We seriously doubt that anyone who saw the production in its entirety left the theater saying, "It would have been great with three less songs." What we DO think is that if the show had been marketed correctly (taxi cabs covered in orange shag carpeting isn't marketing), it might still be running...same with The Producers (Phantom - The Las Vegas Spectacular, Spamalot and Mamma Mia! all have TV spots airing). We loved the sign that hung near the Wynn box office stating, Parental Warning: Avenue Q contains puppet nudity. And so it goes.

* * * * * *

The UNLV Performing Arts Center presents An Evening of Words and Music with Anthony Rapp at 8 p.m. on Saturday, February 23rd as part of the New York Stage & Beyond Series. Rapp will sing and talk about his life in the theatre in this very special evening. Originating the role of Mark in Rent, Rapp has performed on Broadway (Six Degrees of Separation), television (Law and Order: Special Victims Unit), and film, where he reprised his most famous role. Additional Broadway roles include Precious Sons (for which he received the Outer Critics Circle Award), and the revival of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. His big-screen credits include, Adventures in Babysitting, School Ties, Dazed and Confused, Road Trip and A Beautiful Mind, among others. Tickets to Anthony Rapp are $35, $50, and $80 and can be purchased at the Performing Arts Center Box Office at 895-ARTS (2787) or by visiting Student rush tickets are $13 each and available one hour prior to each event, based on availability and with valid student I.D. UNLV faculty and staff discounts also are available. A $1 facilities fee, in addition to the ticket price, is charged on all Performing Arts Center tickets. The box office is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. Information about all of the season's performances can be found on the Performing Arts Center Web site, located at

* * * * * *

There will be lots of excitement and surprises on Sunday, February 24th, and they won't all be taking place at the evening's Academy Awards ceremony. Bill Nolte, who until its closing at Paris Las Vegas on February 9th, portrayed the Nazi/playwright, Franz Liebkind, in The Producers, gets a chance to display another side of his talents in his one-man show at the Clark County Flamingo Library Theater at 2 p.m. on the 24th. Prior to joining the cast of The Producers, Bill's only Las Vegas experience was spending the night in a large casino, dining at a buffet, and doing a little gambling. He never ventured past the Strip to explore the rest of the community. After joining The Producers nine months ago, Nolte has not only gotten to know this city, but to love it as well. He purchased a townhouse here, and plans to make Las Vegas his home. After 30-years of being an actor in New York City - the Broadway companies of Cats, Me and My Girl, The Secret Garden, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, A Christmas Carol, King David, 1776, Jane Eyre, Amour and The Producers, plus regional productions of Evita, Oliver, Man of La Mancha, South Pacific, The Marriage of Figaro, and Jekyll & Hyde among others - this is a major change for Bill, but one he very much looks forward to. The weather and lifestyle all agree with him, and, as an artist, the desert is inspirational. He plans to capture the beauty of the area in some of his future watercolors. There is much more to Bill Nolte than "Franz Liebkind" raising pigeons on a New York rooftop. See for yourself, as he makes his solo act debut in the city he now calls home. The show, titled All of Me, is directed by Mark Waldrop, who wrote and directed When Pigs Fly in NYC. Pam Drew Phillips, a jazz virtuoso who currently makes her home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is serving as Bill's musical director. Pam was one of the first of the Liberace scholarship winners. All of Me will feature standards by songwriters such as Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, Fats Waller, Anthony Newley and Stephen Sondheim. There will also be some special material, along with a nod to the Las Vegas lounge shows from the '50s and '60s. All of Me is being presented by the Performing Arts Society of Nevada. Tickets are a reasonable $15. For reservations or additional show information, please call PASNV at (702) 658-6741.

Bill Nolte

Bette Midler

Freda Payne

* * * * * *

Bette Midler debuts her much-anticipated Vegas show at Caesars Palace Colosseum on Wednesday. Needless to say, opening night is sold-out and many celebrities are expected to walk the VIP Red Carpet. In addition to Midler and her cast and crew, some of the notable names who will be here for the Divine One's launch are Paula Abdul, Lance Bass, Joey Fatone, Kathy Griffin, Rita Wilson, Alan Thicke, Ricki Lake, Siegfried & Roy, George Wallace, Gladys Knight, Rita Rudner, Toni Braxton, and others. Known for her incomparable humor, over-the-top imagination and captivating charisma, the Divine Miss M. is throwing her sequins and feathers on stage for her new Las Vegas extravaganza, The Showgirl Must Go On. Bette will perform approximately 100 shows a year, five nights per week at 7:30 p.m. The show will be dark on Mondays and Thursdays. Ticket prices are $95, $140, $175, and $250. For more information, visit or

* * * * * *

Here is the latest CAST-off news making the rounds. Via the Internet, this was passed on to us from a number of readers (and, as is our tradition, we are leaving the misspells and other errors intact, exactly as received)...

I am the Membership Director for a fine organization "The ShowBiz Society"

Taka a look at the site, click. and let me know if you would like to join. Dues are only $100 a year and where else can you get reorganization and tell others what you do. ($100 for a years advertising)

Get involved helping others less fortunate.

Thanks for your time,

Denny Jones

If you want to take the time to look at the "new" site, you will find lots of old CAST names, appearing to be members of The Show Biz Society (who dreamed up THAT name?). Many of them have had nothing to do with this pile of leftovers for many months...and, in some cases, maybe even years.

Here is one man's reaction to the latest news...

The "Players" section of their Web site lists Carme (Pitrello), Artie (Schroeck), Linda November), and a few others that I think have departed the CAST. Methinks maybe it's time to threaten (the group's current leader) with a nasty letter from a "REAL" attorney and to institute a class action lawsuit for the repayment of those who put down 1K for a "lifetime" membership in the CAST. (The group leader) must be the one doing the spelling on the Web site. There are a jillion errors as well as a lot of improper usage. This must be his main source of income as he sure is tenacious (a BIG word) about retaining (yet ANOTHER big word) control of the organization and keeping it under his aegis (Is THAT a word?). In any event, his missive through his attorney is indicative of his tenuous position and fear of further exposure. This moron has had ample opportunity to tame his vitriolic outbursts upon REAL stars and entertainers, but, he insists on keeping his match to the fuse of the bomb that's going to blast him to wannabe heaven. Too bad I don't know any attorneys who would like to chop his legs off at the knees with a countersuit against the little *%#@. One might do it "pro-bono" ( I said PRO, not Dennis) in order to gain a heap of free publicity. He could kill two stones with one bird by making an ass out of the alleged attorney who wrote the cease and desist letter in the first place. It's Vegas baby!

P.S. I've needed to get re-organized...I think this group can help....Amazingly, I actually wanted recognition rather than re-organization. I mean telling others that I'm re-organized would be admitting that I was short a few pencils in my drawer. But, then again recognition is really important for my humongous ego. It would be neat to have all these other people who have reorganized for recognition to recognize me for my re-organization...Really.


Mike Christ

Claire Voyant thinks they would be damn lucky to have you, Mike.

We agree with Mr. Christ on his insightful observations, especially when it comes to returning membership money (Lifetime or otherwise) to those that paid to join the CAST and what it stood for. Claiming that "Only the name has changed" is a bunch of crap. The Show Biz Society? What a joke...although it is one way, and the ONLY way, certain people can claim to be in show biz. EVERYTHING has changed from what the original CAST started out to do. Those that are still shown on the new site as being members, are not. Hopefully those that choose not to have any involvement in this "Only the name has changed" group, should rally and insist on having their names and photos removed from the site. We feel that The Show Biz Society (we can hardly utter or write the name without having a sudden urge to grab an airsick bag) should start out the way the CAST did...with NO members and NO bank account. They should have to TRY and build their own (dis)organization the way the CAST pioneers did - one person, one dollar and one event at a time.

Here is a little story about the compassionate, thoughtful person who currently rules whatever the organization is called. When onetime CAST member Larry Taylor's wife passed away last summer, Taylor went to the board (the current president was not even a board member at the time) asking for a LOAN to pay for Kaileen Amador-Taylor's funeral...until the money from a burial insurance policy came through. (It might be mentioned that it wasn't typical for the CAST to loan money for funeral expenses, but to DONATE it with no expectations of being repaid.) The loan by the CAST was willingly approved. A few months later, Mr. Humanitarian approached Larry Taylor at a CAST function at the Italian American Club honoring the Society of Seven. He did not offer his sympathy or even extend a hand in friendship, instead he said to Taylor, "By the way, did you ever pay back the CAST for the loan?" As it happens, the money had been paid back some weeks earlier. We ask, is this the kind of person who should be heading up something remotely like the old CAST? The current leader does not do anything for anyone, without a motive...and the motive always involves self-promotion. We wonder how our city mayor might feel about declaring this no-talent blowhard an "Entertainment Ambassador," if he knew this is the kind of man who carries that undeserved, unearned title.

We have not forgotten our promise to respond to the Libelous Statement Regarding Tony Sacca lawyer letter we received, published in last week's column. We are following advice to respond in the right way at the right time. As we said before, and this we promise...THERE WILL BE NO RETRACTIONS regarding anything we have written. Stay tuned.

* * * * * *

Freda Payne played to a sold-out house at the Charleston Heights Arts Center last Sunday. This lady is ageless and still beautiful, 38 years after her Grammy-winning version of Band of Gold hit the charts. In her recent appearance, Freda paid tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, singing songs such as A Tisket, A Tasket, Mr. Paganini, You've Changed, Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most, Someone to Watch Over Me, and My Buddy. Freda was backed by Rahn Coleman on piano, Joey Malone on drums, Phil Wigfall on saxophone and Hilliard Wilson on bass. Spotted at the meet-and-greet after the show were Jeanne Brei, Bob Kaz, and from Phantom - The Las Vegas Spectacular, Doug Carfrae and our Phavorite Phantom, Brent Barrett. We will soon have information about an upcoming performance by Brent, separate and away from The Venetian.

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