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.
Note: This is a past column from May 30, 2008
You can find the current column HERE
Las Vegas - May 30, 2008
Here is an example of the old "The show must go on," tradition. Last Saturday, we were scheduled to attend entertainer Sharon McNight's Sophie Tucker tribute at the Starbright Theatre in Sun City Summerlin. We were just about ready to head out to the west part of the city, when we received a call telling us that Ms. McNight had taken ill following her afternoon rehearsal. She suffered some kind of seizure and an ambulance was called to take her to Summerlin Hospital. With just a few hours to go before curtain, producer Michael Chapman went into emergency mode. As he told us on Sunday, "Last night at the Starbright turned out to be quite an event, with me making an announcement in the lobby every 10 minutes to let arriving guests know that Sharon would not be performing the show but that I would be the entertainment. Yes, rather than flatly turning away a sold-out house after everyone showed up despite the rain and colder temperatures, I decided to perform myself, singing and accompanying myself at the piano. A recommendation from Chris Pendleton (a stand-up comedian I represent who is in the last month of her pregnancy) put me in touch with comic Kelly McDonald. Kelly followed my presentation, and did an absolutely great job," says Chapman. "The audience loved him. During my part of the program, in addition to performing some of my favorite oldies, I sang a few of Sophie Tucker's most popular songs, dedicating Some of These Days to Sharon (with the audience singing along with me). I finished up my portion of the show playing a Gershwin medley. Then I introduced Kelly McDonald as ‘... Direct from Jay Leno's Tonight Show, my favorite comedian that I never heard of!' The audience (most of whom decided to stay rather than have their ticket money refunded), were extremely complimentary after the show."
Kelly McDonald, who has lived in Las Vegas (off and on) since the mid-1970s, came to Chapman's rescue. McDonald is a rarity these days...a comedian who does a clean, classy act. In a business filled with "shock comics" who rely on material of questionable taste, Kelly is a refreshing exception. He proves it's possible to create humor without taking cheap shots for easy laughs. A self-confessed "nice boy from a good home," McDonald hails from Genesee, a small town (or as Kelly's Dad describes it, a "sleepy little burg") in the farmlands of Western New York State. In 1970, KELLY left home to study at New York State University, Cortland. Following graduation, he moved to Las Vegas. Here, in America's entertainment and convention capital, he began his career as a humorist (and also worked as a waiter at the old Alpine Village restaurant, across form the Hilton). As his reputation grew, television beckoned and Kelly headed for Los Angeles. A guest shot on The Merv Griffin Show led to a booking with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. Soon after, Kelly began making regular appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, as well as with musical acts such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Steve Winwood. Kelly has also appeared with a host of comedy greatst, from Steve Allen to Jerry Seinfeld. The "nice boy from a good home" is now a permanent Las Vegan where he resides with his wife, Ann, and his two sons, Cody and Spencer. Due to the non-offensive nature of his show, Kelly McDonald is a favorite among convention planners as well as corporations, among them, Ford, GTE, DIAL, FED EX and Bank of America.
For those that know Michael Chapman only as a producer, they might be surprised to learn about his impressive show business background. Michael has been performing professionally since he was seven. He, along with Merryl Jaye and Garry Lynn, had a very successful musical comedy act known as The Curtain Calls. They performed on cruise ships and, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, worked in Las Vegas, opening for stars such as Vic Damone, Shecky Greene, Jerry Vale and Sarah Vaughan. The trio also made TV appearances on Rowan & Martin's Laugh In (co-star Dick Martin passed away this week), The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show, The Mac Davis Show and the Golden Globe Awards. In 1968, The Curtain Calls had a minor hit with a record called Sock It To Me Sunshine. In April of that same year, the group performed the tune on Laugh In (also appearing on that week's show was Kaye Ballard, John Byner, John Wayne, Flip Wilson and James Garner. Chapman was the original producer/director of the long running Forbidden Broadway, a show satirizing the musical theater and the people who write and star in them. Hidden Broadway Showstoppers, featuring the big audience-pleasers on The Great White Way (Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat from Guys and Dolls, Mr. Cellophane from Chicago, If He Walked Into My Life from Mame, I've Got Love from Purlie, and Old Man River from Showboat, could all be considered "showstoppers") was also created by Michael. With his partner, singer/dancer/pianist/actor/choreographer Paul Holmquist, Chapman has created a number of very successful fundraisers, including one sponsored by The Footlighters and held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Chapman moved to Las Vegas in 2001. For the past five years, he has produced many of the shows at the Starbright Theatre.
As for Sharon McNight, she was released from Summerlin Hospital last weekend, and returned to Southern California to be examined by her own physician. Hopefully, she will return to Las Vegas at a later date to perform her Red Hot Mama show.
There was another interruption in last weekend's entertainment lineup, but, in this case, it was due to the weather. The musical duo of More & Grendel, scheduled to perform outdoors at Barley's on Saturday, was canceled because of rain. It's hard to believe that only days before, we were experiencing record high temperatures for May (108 degrees). On Saturday, we were back in the 70s, it was raining, and there was even snow on Mt. Charleston. More & Grendel will be rescheduled for another night at Barley's, possibly on June 21st. Once again, in the spirit of "The show must go on", Fred, the owner of Players Lounge, right across the street from Barley‘s, on the southeast corner of Sunset and Green Valley Parkway in Henderson, came to the rescue, allowing the performers and their fans to move into his establishment. The show lasted from 8 to 11 p.m. Don't you just love these "happy ending" stories? We do.
And speaking of Michael Chapman and ChapQuist Entertainment, on Sunday, June 15th, ChapQuist will present Paul McDonald's Swinging Big Band, with special guest stars, Fifth Avenue. The Big Band features 16 incredible musicians playing a variety of music from the 1940s to today. McDonald is an acclaimed pianist/conductor/musical arranger. His work has been featured worldwide. Fifth Avenue's amazing, tight harmonies are reminiscent of groups like the Four Freshmen, Four Lads, Four Aces, Singers Unlimited, Hi-Lo's, Inkspots and Lettermen. Their afternoon show (2 p.m.) at the Starbright promises to be a winner. Tickets are $18 for Sun City Summerlin residents, and $20 for everyone else. Cousin Claire thinks that the price should be the same for everyone. After all, those driving from other areas of the city are spending nearly $4 a gallon for the gasoline to get there! Hmmm.
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Reading about the death on Monday of 73-year-old director (The Way We Were, Out of Africa, The Firm, Sabrina, and Tootsie among them) Sydney Pollack brings back some fond memories for Cousin Claire. It was the winter of 1978 and, just for the experience, we joined a slew of Las Vegans as extras for the film, The Electric Horseman, directed by Mr. Pollack. We didn't have any pressing obligations that day and decided it might be fun to hang out with Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Willie Nelson and other cast members and "atmosphere performers" (including, among others, local TV personality Gus Guiffre [or is it Giuffre?], Phil Ford and his sister, Treasure) participating in the Pollack directed movie. Our part consisted of spending hours and hours in the Circus Maximus Showroom at Caesars Palace (the room, with lots of Vegas entertainment history, no longer exists) as well as in the Caesars casino. There was lots of waiting around and a bit of unexpected excitement when the "electric" saddle on Redford's horse started smoking. Crew people, who didn't appear to be doing much of anything until then, all of a sudden were quite busy! Through much of the wait around time, Mr. Redford sat in the back of the showroom, playing cards with other team members. We had a camera with us, as we were supposed to be a tourist (and don't they always have a camera?), and thought about trying to take a photo of Robert, but felt he was a little too far away to get anything good. Anyway, after a pretty boring few hours in a dark and smoky showroom, it was announced that there would be a lunch break, with the stars going first and the peons (the rest of us) going about a half-hour later, after the important folks were through and, probably, back in their fancy trailers. We could not wait to breathe in the cold, clean (this was 1978) air, as a migraine was starting. When it was our turn to head for the food tents, set up in the big south parking lot at Caesars (again, this was 1978), all we could think of was aspirin and a quiet, isolated table in a corner. We found a place and sat ourselves down at the empty table. After about 10 minutes of waiting for the aspirin to kick in, we looked around our area. Imagine our surprise to see Mr. Redford sitting at a table about six feet away! He should have been back in his trailer by then, but he wasn't. Now was a great opportunity to get a candid shot of him finishing his lunch. Did we really want one of him with a mouth full of lunch? And besides, he would have known someone (Cousin Claire, to be specific) was taking his picture. Maybe we would have been removed by security and sent home. We certainly wouldn't want that! So, we went to the usually available Plan B. When it appeared that the oh so handsome fellow was just about finished with his leisurely lunch, we went over to him to nicely ASK if we could take his photo. We had heard that some of the extras had asked him for autographs but were politely turned down. Our conversation went something like, "Mr. Redford, we hate to disturb you on your break, but we were wondering if it would be alright to take your picture." With a very stern look, he responded, "No, because you interrupted my break." Yipes! We looked around at the other crew members sitting at his table. They did not seem pleased at the intrusion. Cousin Claire said that she understood, but thought it would be more polite to make the request than just snap an unauthorized picture of him with a mouthful of potato salad. We detected a hint of a smile before he said, "How about if I let you know when I am completely finished with my meal, and you can take the picture then." "Okay," we said, knowing full well that when he was finished, and before the other extras spotted him, he would be out of that tent in a flash. We went back to our table, feeling like we had committed the ultimate sin. Oh well, we tried. A few minutes later, we feel a hand on our shoulder. Yep, it was Mr. Redford's hand. "Where would you like to take the photo?" he asked. "Wherever you would like," we replied. He asked if it would be best to go out into the daylight, rather than do it inside the tent. "That would be great," we replied. As the two of us, alone, walked through the tent, voices were heard asking, "Who is SHE?" Hell, she's just a two-year Las Vegan with a lot of nerve! We tried to act very cool about the whole thing. When we got outside, we just pointed the camera in Redford's direction and pushed the shutter button. The only problem was, this wasn't a point and shoot camera. It was a fancy 35mm that needed to be adjusted for the amount of light and everything else. We blew it! An exclamation like, "Oh crap," was uttered by the pseudo photographer (that would be Cousin Claire), at which point, a smiling Mr. Redford inquired, "Would you like to take another one?" Of course, we said yes, and took a second shot. The two pics of R.R. holding a bottle of orange juice (one a little out of focus) are personal treasures of ours. Can't remember how much the extras got paid for a days work but, whatever it was, THIS extra spent more than whatever it was on long distance phone calls. We had to tell everyone we knew about our one-on-one experience with Robert Redford. Thank you, Sydney Pollack, for a very memorable afternoon. Rest in peace.
Dee Dee Bridgewater
Mr. Redford's accompanying photo taken by Claire Voyant.
And speaking of Sydney Pollack, we wonder why, among all his acting credits listed in the recent news items reporting his death (roles in Tootsie, The Player, Eyes Wide Shut and Michael Clayton) , there was no mention of his recurring role on the TV series, Will & Grace. Between 2000 and 2006, Pollack portrayed Will Truman's father, George, on the award-winning sitcom. In the story line, George's former wife (and Will's mother), Marilyn, was played by Blythe Danner (mother of Gwyneth Paltrow), while his ditzy girlfriend, Tina, was played by Leslie Ann Warren.
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Tomorrow (Saturday, May 31st) the Jazz in the Park series will feature the Woody Woods Orchestra. A native of Los Angeles, Woody Woods is an accomplished author, composer, conductor, lyricist and pianist. He has conducted for and worked with the likes of Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ray Brown, Mel Carter, Ray Charles, The Drifters, Dizzy Gillespie, Skitch Henderson, Linda Hopkins, The Inkspots, Paula Kelly, Chaka Khan, Mabel King, Eartha Kitt, Abbey Lincoln, Barbara McNair, Carmen McRae, The Platters (Sonny Turner, Monroe Powell and Zola Taylor), Billy Preston, Della Reese, Martha Reeves, Mavis Staples, Yma Sumac, The Temptations, Bobby Womack, Stevie Wonder, and many other top-flight performers. Woods has arranged and produced several gospel albums, and has a published poetry collection titled The Wordsmith: Journeys Through Rhythm and Rhyme. Woody's most recent jazz CD is called So Smooth. And speaking of Dee Dee Bridgewater, on Saturday, June 7th, it will be her turn in the spotlight at the same venue. Ms. Bridgewater will light up the night with her "musical kaleidoscope" of everything from vocal jazz to scat. She has been described as unafraid and uninhibited with a versatility in her music and producing skills that makes her a unique and powerful performer. Her latest project, Red Earth a Malian Journey, mixes Malian voices, music and traditional instruments with American jazz music and lyrics. Starting its 18th year, the Jazz in the Park series has become a Las Vegas tradition. Some of the biggest names in jazz have been highlighted in the annual concerts. Picnic baskets, blankets and low back chairs are welcome, but please leave the pets at home. Food and drink will be available for purchase at the Amphitheater. Presented by the Las Vegas Jazz Society in conjunction with Clark County Parks & Recreation, the free concerts begins at 8 p.m. at the Clark County Amphitheater, 500 South Grand Central Parkway, near downtown Las Vegas.
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If you didn't know about this, or had forgotten, let Cousin Claire remind you that Broadway's Linda Eder will be the guest artist at the 50th Anniversary Picnic Pops Concert at UNLV on June 7th. Eder, who last appeared here at the Suncoast, will join the Las Vegas Philharmonic as they perform on the university's grassy outdoor mall, located between the Judy Bayley Theater/Artemus Ham Concert Hall and the Moyer Student Union building. You will be able to see and hear a star in front of you and see millions of stars above you in this setting. Eder, who starred in Frank Wildhorn's (Linda's then husband - they have since divorced) Jekyll & Hyde, is also a noted recording artist. The onetime Star Search competitor has released a number of albums in recent years, including a recent one that pays tribute to her idol, Judy Garland. Tickets for the concert are $45 for reserved seats (boxed meals are available at an additional charge), and $300 for a VIP Champagne Table for four (or $150 for a table for two). Call (702) 895-2787 for reservations. Incidentally, The Hoff (David Hasselhoff, to those who are not in the know) starred as both Jekyll and Hyde in European and American versions of the musical. Mr. Hasselhoff played the role of Roger DeBris during the first three months of The Producers run at Paris Las Vegas. When the Hoff left, Broadway veteran, the inimitable (that's a good thing) Lee Roy Reams, took over the role, portraying the flamboyant DeBris until the show ended its run in February.
Brent Barrett as The Phantom
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One of the city's most popular and successful fundraisers will, once again, take place on Father's Day weekend. This year, Golden Rainbow's 22nd annual Ribbon of Life production will be held in Le Theatre Des Arts at Paris Las Vegas (most recently, the home of Mel Brooks' The Producers). Golden Rainbow's original concept featured cast members from the city's stage productions, recreating musical numbers from Broadway and the movies. Today, in addition to the familiar, hundreds of entertainment professionals gather together to perform original routines, created just for this special weekend. In more recent years, headliners such as Bob Anderson, Charo, Sheena Easton, Loretta Holloway, Clint Holmes, Jimmy Hopper, Kenny Kerr, Frank Marino, Phyllis McGuire, Liza Minnelli, Penn & Teller, Debbie Reynolds, Dana Rogers (Martin), Tim Searcy, Lucy (Lucille) Shropshire, Siegfried & Roy, Rick Springfield, Billy Stritch, Rip Taylor, Tony & Lloyd, George Wallace, Tina Walsh, Wes Winters, and Spamalot star, John O'Hurley (who will return again this year) are among the many who have joined the hard-working production show dancers and singers to lend their names and talent for the cause. You never know who might turn up on the stage of the Ribbon of Life production. Show times are at 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 14th, and Sunday, June 15th. Ticket prices for Ribbon of Life 2008 are $35, $50, $100 and $200 each. Seating, as always, is limited, so make your reservations sooner than later. For reservations and more information, call (702) 384-2899 or check out the Web site at www.goldenrainbow.org. At the age of 22, the Ribbon of Life extravaganza is Las Vegas' longest running major AIDS fundraiser, but it was not the first production put together to generate money for AIDS education and to help those affected by the disease. The first big event was done under the banner of AFAN (Aid for AIDS of Nevada), then the only organization assisting Southern Nevadans dealing with HIV and AIDS. Prior to this event, held in the theater at the Stardust, small amounts of money were being collected via garage and bake sales, and in jars at bars in the "Fruit Loop" (east Paradise Road, between Harmon and Tropicana). We will write more about the first show, as well as the upcoming Golden Rainbow show, next week.
And speaking of John O'Hurley, on Sunday (June 1st), he will play host to the Animal Foundation's Sixth Annual Best In Show animal-lovers event. If you have been thinking about adopting a pet, this is for you. Held at The Orleans Arena this Sunday (June 1st), adoptable dogs will be dressed up for show...and to win your heart. The canines will be competing for your affection beginning at noon. In addition to O'Hurley, Louie Anderson, Robin Leach, Zowie Bowie, and other celebrities, will be lending their assistance for this worthwhile cause. Admission is $12.50 for adults, and $5 for seniors and children 12 and younger. Pet ownership requires responsibility...both emotionally, physically and financially. Don't even consider taking home a cute doggy unless you are willing to make a lifetime commitment (your lifetime or your pet's).
Speaking of John O'Hurley and Spamalot, the Monty Python musical comedy closes out its Las Vegas run in Wynn's Grail Theater on July 13th. For reservations to see the award-winning musical comedy, call Wynn Las Vegas at (702) 770-9966.
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And speaking of charity events...Two weeks ago, we mentioned that a small group of comedians are seeking donations to purchase a few trees to create a special area within Sunset Park where friends can gather to remember fellow comic Bernie Allen. The group is seeking small individual contributions ($20 each) to apply to the purchase of the trees. We have to wonder why the Showbiz Society has not come forward to offer any money to help make this a reality. Bernie Allen was one of the early members of The CAST, the organization that has evolved (or dissolved) into the Showbiz Society. He was a very thoughtful, generous man, always remembering where he came from and striving to assist the poor and the homeless. Contributing just a few bucks, would have shown some good intentions on the part of this ego-driven joke of a charitable organization. To our knowledge, they have offered no help with this project (come on folks, it's only twenty bucks!). Are we surprised that they haven't come forward? Hell, no. Are we going to continue to dog this bunch of pitiful wannabes? As long as this is how they continue to operate, you betcha!
And speaking of this same group, a number of sources inform us that at the recent event honoring Clint Holmes with the Louis Prima Award, gaming and ad man Ron Garrett (Giarratano), onetime marketing/entertainment maven at Circus Circus, the Debbie Reynolds (now the Greek Isles) and, most recently, the Sahara in Las Vegas, as well as Laughlin‘s Colorado Belle, River Palms and Edgewater properties, was treated very disrespectfully by the president/dictator of the above mentioned floundering (dis)organization. Garrett, a 38-year Southern Nevada resident, has just thrown his hat into the local political arena, running for State Assemblyman in District 37. We hope that if Republican Garrett wins this race (or any others he may one day aspire to enter), he remembers who his friends AREN'T.
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It's nice to know that some readers are keeping close watch on Cousin Claire. In the May 16th column, we stated that the talented Mark Giovi had departed The Las Vegas Tenors. Mark, along with Bill Fayne, Bobby Black and Teddy Davey, was one of the original members of the popular four-man singing which, in just a couple of years, has gone from local favorites to a Hilton and Suncoast headlining force to be reckoned with. Two weeks ago, we indicated that we hoped to have more information on this "divorce" in the May 23rd column. On the 23rd, we had not received any explanations from the parties involved. Readers want to know...Is it friendly split, or will it be more like the sagas involving Paul McCartney vs. Heather Mills and/or Charlie Sheen battling Denise Richards? Here is what we know (or don't know) as of today. According to Mr. Giovi, his leaving the Tenors is a business decision and has nothing to do with family or other work-related obligations, as reported elsewhere. We asked Bill Fayne to comment on the split. Here is what he had to say...
Hi Claire Voyant...All I can say about Mark is I'll miss him, I loved working with him on stage, and we will someday work together again. He chose to leave , so I think he's the one to respond. There were some differences in the direction and the business of the Tenors that he didn't agree with and opted to leave. It is a friendly split and we'll all remain friends. Hopefully at some point we'll sing together again, but for now we will be three unless we find a permanent replacement. Meanwhile, for our next dates we'll have guest artists sing with us and hopefully fill the void of Mark's absence. I would also say to our fans who I'm sure have their favorites among us, the quality of our shows will remain highly musical and we'll try not to skip a beat as we continue to grow and move forward.
Best to you, BILL
As for Bill himself, he recently returned from a week cruise to Alaska on Holland America. It was his first stint as a 'celebrity entertainer,' and his first opportunity to do a show on his own. He tells us it was lots of fun and will hopefully lead to more of the same. Of course Bill will continue to perform with the Tenors and to work with his longtime friend and writing partner, Clint Holmes. For those that don‘t know, Bill is also Clint's musical director and accompanist.
For you Las Vegas Tenors followers, the fellows (Bill, Bobby, Teddy and, a guest tenor) will be at the Las Vegas Hilton on Sunday, June 1st, for an early evening show (start time is 6 p.m.). Ticket prices range from $40 to $53.64 (plus tax and service charge). Currently, tickets are 1/2 price for Nevadans with proof of residency. Call the Las Vegas Hilton Box Office at (702) 732-5755 for reservations. The Tenors will also perform at the Suncoast during July 4th weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the 4th through the 6th). As for Mark Giovi, he continues as a principal in Bite, a devilish production at the Stratosphere. However this works out for these talented individuals, we wish them all the best.
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We always welcome the opportunity to mention our Phavorite Phantom, the talented Brent Barrett. In this case, however, the mention doesn't involve only his stage persona, it involves his hometown. Prior to meeting Mr. Barrett, we had never heard of Quinter, Kansas. Last week, the small community of Quinter (in the year 2000, Quinter was home to less than 1,000 people) was the site of a much reported tornado. Luckily, there were no fatalities. Brent, who has played the Phantom since the show opened almost two years ago, will leave the role after his June 6th performance. Among some of the exciting things coming up for Barrett are a June 28th concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Tickets are $45 and may be purchased by calling (800) 444-1324 or (202) 467-4600, and a run (from July 21st through August 2nd) in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, playing at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Massachusetts. Wherever he may be, we will continue to keep readers posted on the career of the talented Brent Barrett.
And speaking of Phantom, Kristen Hertzenberg and her husband Dana Satterwhite are expecting a baby in November. Kristen, who plays Christine in Phantom - The Las Vegas Spectacular, will take maternity leave starting next month, with plans to return to her role sometime after the birth of her first child. One thing we can say for sure, Baby Satterwhite can look forward to some beautifully sung lullabies.
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Although it isn't happening until November 8th, tickets have already gone on sale for Madonna's MGM Grand Garden Arena show. Leave it to 50-year-old Madge to come up with something tasteful, as in this concert's title...the Sticky & Sweet Tour. Apparently the name was chosen to promote Madonna's latest CD, Hard Candy. Tickets are priced from $75, with a limit of four tickets per person. Charge by phone at (702) 474-4000.
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We are not surprised to learn that Toni Braxton's show will not reopen at the Flamingo. Even though "reliable sources" denied it, we heard months ago that she would not return after her health crisis. The big loss is for (1) the rest of the cast of Revealed, and (2) that huge building-size photo of Braxton that covers the front of the Flamingo. (Can we say e-bay?) Not to worry, the Flamingo showroom is expecting new occupants in the fall. Donny and Marie Osmond will be calling the theater home, come September.
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Comic Harvey Korman died yesterday (May 29th). Known primarily as one of the cast members of the Carol Burnett Show, Korman's portrayal of the outrageous Hedley Lamarr in Mel Brooks' classic comedy, Blazing Saddles, created plenty of buzz. Korman, along with Tim Conway and comedian/impressionist Louise DuArt, was a regular headliner at the Stardust for a number of years, prior to the hotel's closing in November of 2006. Harvey Korman was 81.
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Claire Voyant's portrait by Charlie Frye