Believe it or not, what has heretofore been known as the “Golden Era” of Las Vegas entertainment turns 55! She officially becomes a senior citizen. We’ll call her “Goldie.”
It was back in 1947, after the Flamingo opened, that Goldie was born and “headlining” entertainment became a main attraction in Las Vegas. The few spot appearances by people like Sophie Tucker and Harry Richman in the mid-1940s, we’ll credit with influencing the “conception.” The actual birth, however, of the Golden Era started in ’47, when stars like Jimmy Durante, Xavier Cugat and Lena Horne, all at the Flamingo, convinced others that it was OK to play the desert.
The term headliner is used in the context it was intended””referring to those “stars” known via recording, radio, stage, legitimate theater, nightclub, television or film success, who could fill a showroom or nightclub anywhere, at any time.
Through the late Forties and the decade of the 1950s, Goldie was just growing up. Names like Martin and Lewis, Abbott and Costello, Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Burns and Allen, Red Skelton, The Mills Brothers, Nat Cole, Rosie Clooney, Peggy Lee, et al, lit up hotel marquees. Fun was the operative word.
With the onset of the “Rat Pack” era of the Sixties and the hip cats, she entered her teens and early adulthood. The spicy production show, with its fabled and scantily-clad showgirls, kicked into high gear after the Lido and Les Folies Bergere opened the doors in the late Fifties for many more saucy “French-style” revues in the 1960s. Party was the name of the game and cool was in.
In the 1970s, Goldie was in her prime, lavishly living in the fast lane. Hotel building slowed, with the MGM Grand being the only huge new hotel built in the decade. The focus was on Goldie like never before. TV shows came in to film the stars in every showroom, onstage and off, and motion picture crews came in to shoot on location in waves. The town even had its own major TV show, “Vega$.”
In the 1980s, when she reached her 40s, middle-age set in, as well as the proverbial “mid-life crisis” that comes with it.
The nightclub era that took off during the Roaring Twenties faded throughout the nation in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as booze, smoking and girlie shows become more and more politically incorrect and “out.” With it went the fate of the lounge and headliner room era in Vegas.
Goldie’s Vegas in the 1990s started living on the bottom line on all levels. The renting of showrooms, removal of lounges, addition of shops and restaurants, and attractions and thrill rides, all economically safe, obliterated the free-spending lifestyle Goldie once enjoyed. Buffets and slot giveaways even began replacing her name on the marquees.
With the passing of Ol’ Blue Eyes in 1998, Goldie officially retired with perhaps her only legacy being the new Vegas headliner””the performer whose star status started, and for the most part remains, in this city.
As she turns 55, Goldie’s hard partying days are over and she’s reluctantly passing the torch to the new generation that knows little of nightclubs, lounges and revues and wants one-night concerts, eye and ear-bending shows and thrill attractions. We’ll call the new gal “Connie.”
Connie wants to party in dance clubs, shop ’til she drops, let it all hang out at a one-night concert and suck up the excitement of an adrenaline-rush thrill ride. Robotic exhibitions, computerized simulators, 1,000-foot high roller coasters, discos and themed-restaurants are Connie’s “thing.”
The last of the red hot mammas, Louie Prima and the original Rat Pack and their ilk, are for the most part, relics of the past to Connie, as well as to most talent agents and entertainment buyers.
So, as the year 2002 arrives, we lift a glass to Goldie: “Happy 55th Birthday! We loved you in your prime and will remember you fondly as you retire to the world of the senior citizen, while Connie’s reveling rings in the New Year.”