Famous Las Vegas entertainers came in all colors

Mar 5, 2002 10:03 AM

During Black History Month, I had a chance to reflect on how it was back in Las Vegas’ Golden Era. I recall the Flamingo Hotel’s marquee glowing with the musical talents of Ella Fitzgerald, Pearl Bailey, Fats Domino, Billy Eckstein and The Mills Brothers, just to name a few.

Down the street, the Sands featured Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt and the great Nat King Cole, who, incidentally, had to sleep in a trailer in back of the hotel!

Across the boulevard at the original Frontier, Dorothy Dandridge was wowing audiences, while at the “new” Frontier next door, The Will Mastin Trio starring a young guy named Sammy Davis, who would often commute back and forth to Los Angeles for filming of his movies.

Some might recall that on one of his commutes, Davis suffered a car accident on old Route 66 between Barstow and Victorville and lost one of his eyes. When he returned to the stage he was wearing an eye patch and never missed a beat!

Up the street at the Dunes, a grand sultan greeted visitors at the door, while Cab Calloway entertained guests in the showroom. Always looking elegant, Cab typically performed in high hat, white tuxedo and tails, and the room was always swinging with his “Heidi-Ho.”

Not to be left out, downtown Las Vegas had its share of stars. The El Cortez had a group called the Black Knights playing in its showroom, whose bar was tended by an affable guy named Arthur, the first African American bartender in Las Vegas. (I think Arthur still works for Jackie Gaughan, at his Plaza hotel.)

A few blocks from downtown on West Bonanza, the Moulin Rouge opened with Joe Louis as the Grand Champion master of ceremonies. The Moulin Rouge was open for just a few months, unfortunately, but during its era it was a great showplace. I hope someone can bring it back, at least to some respectability.

During most of this time, I worked for Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO), and had the privilege of putting a lot of the stars’ names up in lights. It was a nice way to keep up on what was happening.