Vegas ‘characters’ on
TV as well as onstage

Feb 19, 2002 7:39 AM

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Those characters were the hosts of late-night movies, who’ve long since been replaced by psychic con artists, strip club come-ons and get-rich-quick quacks.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