Vegas ‘characters’ on TV as well as onstage

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When asked about the great characters of the Golden Era of
entertainment in Las Vegas (the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s), it’s not always
the Rat Pack or Liberace that comes to mind. Some of the greatest Vegas
characters were found on late-night TV, not on stage.

Those characters were the hosts of late-night movies,
who’ve long since been replaced by psychic con artists, strip club come-ons
and get-rich-quick quacks.

The late-night TV characters didn’t do the usual
30-second TV ads nor did they have their own TV shows. They hosted movies as the
spokesperson for the business or casino that sponsored the movie and filled the
two-minute commercial breaks with some of the most sublimely ridiculous sales
babble one could imagine.

They came from all walks of life in Vegas, but were
anything but trained or experienced TV performers. (They got their ­­experience
at the expense of our insomnia.)

Nonetheless, they were given the same celebrity status as
many headliners, VIPs and the press. They were invited to ­­every important
gathering and “comped” into shows and meals, at will. Everyone knew their
faces, their names and their modus operundi.

 In 1977 if you
saw Gus Guiffre with his thin little black moustache, pattern-splattered sports
jacket and pinky ring on TV, you knew you were in Vegas. Regardless of the
products, casinos or restaurants the beloved Gus ever pitched, they were ALL
“sumptuous, gorgeous, elegant, delicious and an experience I wouldn’t soon
forget.”

His off-camera pal, Jack Kogan, hosted a movie from a
different casino every week, until he ran out of places that would let him chat
with the young waitresses at the pool.

Robin Timm gained more renown hosting the Silver
Slipper’s entry in the late-night flick bracket, then as the lead singer in
the then-MGM Grand (now Bally’s) production show “Hallelujah Holly­­wood.”
That may have been because she offered a great-looking, channel-surfing
break from the males of her ilk.           

Elvira, the ghoulie girlie, was Las Vegas dancer Cassandra
Lee. She was one who had actually made a real TV commercial, as well. In fact,
more than as Elvira, she may be fondly remembered here, posing atop the Maxim
Hotel, in full showgirl regalia, as a helicopter circled the building to the
catchy tune “The New Toast of the Town.”

The Brothers, Tommy and Donny, who were not really
brothers, were the most outrageous. One looked like every cartoonist’s ­­impression
of a middle-aged hippie; the other like the 98th-place finisher (of 97) in the
annual Elvis look-alike contest.

Once, they hosted an entire movie behind a desk that was
about waist high. What the audience did not know was that ­­below the desk, they
were wearing nothing but their English Leather cologne.

The goofiest of the bunch was G. L. Vitto, the epitome of
the genre. Though his brother Ron was a serious sportscaster, G. L.’s TV
persona was anything-but-serious.

G. L. (who some say stands for “groan loudly”) did his
schtick, arms always flailing, on the movie breaks for the old Castaways on the
Strip in a striped shirt that he either borrowed from a soccer referee or, more
likely, a prison inmate.

He was the originator of the “intentional” malaprop
that he used to insult the object of the jibe within his delirious two-minute
diatribes, like the New York Little Ants instead of Giants.

As a colleague once wrote: “Nobody ever received an Emmy
for hosting a late-night flick. A rubber chicken, perhaps, but not much more.”
That’s OK, because G. L. would’ve had much more fun with the rubber chicken.

To the outsider, the Sheckys and Louie Primas were the
memorable Vegas characters. But to many who’ve been here awhile, also included
are those late-night TV pitchmen, who were never as obnoxious as today’s
late-night infomercials.

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