Not knowing Bambi is sign of aging

Apr 2, 2002 9:53 AM

In most of the world, you know when you’re getting older when kids say “who?” when you mention The Jetsons, Barry Goldwater, or the Beatles.

In Las Vegas, you know it, when they react that way to the names Ralph Lamb, Tony Spilotro, Ned Day, or Bambi Jr.

Recently, I told a young colleague how, upon first coming to town, I’d hang around the old Aladdin until the $2.49 lunch buffet opened to “fill up” for the day. There I met a very nice “21” dealer named Toni. I never got to know her too well. One of the guys who worked there told me she was Sheriff Ralph Lamb’s ex and I would be wise “not to go there.” The young colleague’s reaction: “Isn’t (Jerry) Keller the sheriff?”

Tony “The Ant” Spilotro was a wise guy (Joe Pesci’s character in the movie “Casino”), who supposedly had more than a few “unsavory” dealings here. 

Ned Day was the reporter determined to be the annoying mosquito on the elephANT’s back! Ned, whose Dad was Hall of Fame pro bowler Ned Day Sr., used to take almost suicidal pot-shots at the mob boys in his column. When I parked next to him at the old Valley Times, I had my personalized license plate changed to NOTNDAY, so I didn’t have to worry about any explosions when I started my car.

BOTH Ned and Spilotro died under mysterious circumstances while only in their 40s; one under water, the other ­­under a cornfield.

OK, so the younger set never heard of the cowboy sheriff and his family “Dynasty” here in Nevada. And, they don’t know about Vegas’s psycho mobster. Or, the Damon Runyon-esque journalist, who broke virtually every major story in the city for 13 years. That all may be forgivable.

But, not knowing whom the Sweetheart of Las Vegas was?!

When Bambi Jr. left town in the early ’90s, there were contests to see who would replace her as the Sweetheart of Vegas. (No one ever won the title, but I think “La Cage’s” Frank Marino got the most votes!)

Now she’s known as Grace Morley Williams, the ex-Mrs. Montel Williams. But, for a decade here in Vegas, she was Bambi Jr. and the most innocently infamous beauty who ever befriended Steve Wynn”¦and ticked off Paul Lowden. (Uh-oh, there’s another “who’s he?” coming on. Lowden went from musician to original boy-wonder hotel owner of several casinos.)

Bambi Jr. was a star of production shows (not a stripper, as many erroneously thought because of the sexy persona her publicity photos portrayed). Her mom, Dori Kotzan, used the moniker Bambi (Sr.) in her days onstage, thus Bambi “Jr.” Gracie was a legitimate theater performer, as well, starring in several local musical comedies.

Once, when she was working in a show at the Hacienda, she refused to be pressured into signing a new contract until she got a raise. The brouhaha was splashed all over the media. As Bambi told it, she got her raise, then quit, just to make a point.

Bambi also posed for a poster for UNLV basketball supporters that had “Final Four or Bust!” written right across her top. A furor arose over the poster, among some holier-than-thou types. When she showed up at a basketball game to approving hoots and hollers from the crowd, security tried to remove her. But, hotel mogul Wynn stood up for her and she was ­­allowed to remain. That’s the kind of “juice” she had.

In the late 80s, Bambi Jr. was as much a part of the Vegas celeb scene as Wayne Newton, appearing onstage, as well as at every charitable or VIP function, offstage. She was something of a cult figure in these parts until she left for New York. And many would say these parts were never the same after she took her parts to the Big Apple.