The monsoon season is upon us in Las Vegas. Expect to see evening news footage this month of a stranded motorist waving for help after having tried to drive through four feet of water somewhere in the valley, only to abandon his or her car as it floats away.
It happens nearly every year, because flash floods happen so suddenly you almost expect to see pairs of animals looking for Noah’s ark for refuge.
My most memorable monsoon moment happened in August of 1984, near the intersection of Desert Inn Road and Valley View Drive. In my car at the time of the downpour were veteran film actress Terry Moore and her agent/boyfriend Jerry Rivers. I was driving them to a photo shoot at the studio of Robert Scott Hooper, a Playboy magazine photographer-extraordinaire, who was scheduled to capture Ms. Moore for the cover of our magazine, Las Vegan.
That same month the actress was on the cover of Playboy and featured sans clothing in an eight-page pictorial celebrating her grace and beauty at age 55.
For those who don’t remember Terry Moore, she was a talented starlet and femme fatale in the 1950s and 60s. She starred in the movies Peyton Place and Come Back Little Sheba and received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for the latter film.
She was also famous for claiming to have married billionaire Howard Hughes in Mexican waters in 1949, when she was just 20 years old. He was 43 and at the height of his powers as an industrial titan and movie producer. Although paperwork from the marriage didn’t survive, it is known she received a generous eight-figure settlement from the Hughes estate in the years following his death in 1976. She told me in our interview that she could live off the interest of that payment for the rest of her life.
When I picked up Moore and Rivers from Caesars Palace around noon that day and headed west, the skies were grey. By the time we reached Desert Inn, they were turning black, and thunder was rattling the skies above us. Then the rains began. I was driving my trusty ’75 Ford Granada, probably the least glamorous car the actress had ever been in.
When the flooding rose to over the tires, I stopped the car and we waited. Within another couple minutes the water was halfway up the windows. The actress started softly sobbing in the backseat.
I wouldn’t describe my passengers or myself as fully panicked, but we were damn worried. We had gone from pleasant conversation to full-on pucker mode in minutes. This was happening in the years when deep washes and low places in the Valley filled up in minutes. Long-time residents recall how the Caesars Palace parking lot flooded on the Fourth of July weekend in 1975, and cars were stacked like Legos before the water subsided. It was the closest you can get to a tsunami in the desert.
It was no more than another 15 minutes before the rain had stopped and the rushing water descended from our stationary position to lower areas to the east. The mood in the car improved markedly when I was able to start the engine and proceed slowly to the studio.
Once there, Ms. Moore turned on the charm and posed patiently for an hour of photographs. She was back in her comfort zone. Later that afternoon she gave me an insightful interview about the seven years she spent as Hughes’ main squeeze. She couldn’t have been more warm and giving.
“Howard Hughes was a charming, brilliant man who had a profound impact on my life,” she said. “He just wasn’t a one-woman man. I was always saddened when I would read about his troubles in the later years of his life.”
The thought has crossed my mind that if I had died that day with Terry Moore in the car, I would be a footnote in the Associated Press report.
Headline: “Famous actress/boyfriend drown.”
Subhead: “Unknown driver also perishes.”