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The Q & A on Las Vegas 1956-1973 with Lynn Zook

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The Q & A on Las Vegas 1956-1973 with Lynn Zook

Postby moira finnie » November 3rd, 2017, 10:14 am

The Silver Screen Oasis is pleased to announce that Lynn Zook will participate in an online visit on Sat., Nov. 4th & Sun., Nov. 5th at the message board to discuss GAMBLING ON A DREAM; The Classic Las Vegas Strip 1956-1973. For two days she will be answering our questions about her examination of Las Vegas's place in The American Dream. Lynn, an archivist, film editor and longtime member of the SSO and the TCM Forums, also regards Las Vegas as her hometown.

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Lynn Zook's dynamic examination of Las Vegas history--including its relevance to film--continues with the release of her second volume of GAMBLING ON A DREAM; The Classic Las Vegas Strip 1956-1973. This engaging ebook tells the story of corporate and individual achievement in the fabulous desert resort city, illustrating this ever-changing story with nearly 30 videos that can be played in the book featuring the men and women who worked, played and entertained on the glamorous stages and behind the scenes. Maps of the area of casino development in the latter part of the era, and touch-screen galleries that feature rare and historical images have also been added to this volume.. The book, which also touches on how the neon-lit city affected the author as she grew up there is a heady blend of show business, adults at work and play, as well as the changing nature of American society in a remarkably tumultuous period.

In-depth histories of the Aladdin Hotel, Caesars Palace, Circus Circus, The Hacienda, Tropicana, Stardust, Landmark, and International Hotels as well as the singular, original MGM Grand Hotel enrich the tales told in these pages as well.

More can be learned by joining us here for this event.
viewforum.php?f=127

A video glimpse of the history of this entertainment mecca found in GAMBLING ON A DREAM 1930-1956 can be seen in this brief video as well:

phpBB [video]


Lynn's blog, Classic Las Vegas website can be seen here:
http://classiclasvegas.squarespace.com/

Please join us on Sat., Nov. 4th & Sun.,Nov. 5th at the Silver Screen Oasis for the Q & A with Lynn Zook. All registrants are welcome:

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Re: The Q & A on Las Vegas 1956-1973 with Lynn Zook

Postby moira finnie » November 4th, 2017, 7:28 am

Good morning to all & welcome to our virtual tour of the desert city, Las Vegas between the years of 1956-1973 as chronicled by Lynn Zook in her new book.

Lynn writes a more personal history in this volume as she focuses on the flesh and blood people, the innovative design, and the upheavals that occurred in this contradictory branch of the entertainment industry that was also a home for many individuals.

To get us started I would like to ask three questions:

1.) What changed the most in LV in the years between the '50s & the '70s?

2.) Growing up in Vegas, how were you affected by the city's growth?

3.) What would people discover about the differences between the public and private worlds there in that time & place?
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Re: The Q & A on Las Vegas 1956-1973 with Lynn Zook

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » November 4th, 2017, 9:39 am

We are so excited to be discussing your new book here at the SSO, Lynn. Your detailed histories of each hotel reveal so much about the development of Las Vegas, the entertainment industry influence, and how certain factions of the mob held on tightly to the reigns of power until it was no longer able to maintain a viable, visible connection to management of the properties.

I keep wondering if you had a chance to stay in one of the hotels and money was no object, which hotel would you have chosen for a 3 or 4 day holiday in the late 1950s? In the 1960s? In the 1970s?

I'd love to know which ones and why.
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Re: The Q & A on Las Vegas 1956-1973 with Lynn Zook

Postby Lzcutter » November 4th, 2017, 11:50 am

Good morning from the fall like west coast! It's great to be back at the Oasis! I appreciate being asked back.

Let's get started-

Moira asked:

1.) What changed the most in LV in the years between the '50s & the '70s?

By the mid-1970s, the Classic era was coming to an end. The performers were getting older and the stereotype of Las Vegas was Saturday Night Live's lounge lizard. What had been a heady mixture of glamour, glitz and gaming in the Rat Pack era was all but gone. People still dressed up to go to a hotel (it was mandatory in my house) but it all just felt different.

The other big change was gaming. Since 1931, Nevada had been the only state where gambling was legal. Gamblers could go there without having to worry about the Feds raiding the place and for many years, Las Vegas, especially, had reaped the rewards of legalized gaming. But in 1976, the city and state took a major body blow when New Jersey legalized gambling. Las Vegas (and to a lesser extent Reno) was no longer the only game in town, so to speak. Gamblers now had choices.

2.) Growing up in Vegas, how were you affected by the city's growth?

When we arrived in 1961, Las Vegas was still very much a small town. Downtown Las Vegas, where we first lived, was where you went to shop, eat and have fun. The Strip was for a night on the town, downtown was everyday living. The suburbs were just coming into being, there were no malls and only four movie theaters.

By, the 1970s, it started to change. The small town was becoming a city. Downtown was no longer the hub of commerce and the suburbs were taking over.

And it stayed that way for about twenty years. It wasn't until the 1990s that the population exploded and Las Vegas quickly grew from a city to the sprawling metropolis it is today.

I left in 1977 but went back frequently to visit my family and friends. So, in that regard, I had a front seat to the changing landscape. And after all those people started arriving, the city began changing rapidly to accommodate those new folks. Guys like Steve Wynn replaced visionaries like Jay Sarno and Wynn is not a fan of neon.

I am not a fan of the sprawl but I understand that Las Vegas had to change, to grow up.

I think the biggest change was the move away from neon. When I was a kid, those huge, glowing neon signs were a thing of beauty. From the galaxy splashed across the front of the Stardust facade to the neon windmill of the El Rancho to animated Sands and Dunes signs, neon was king in Las Vegas. And neon wasn't just on the Strip, it dotted the entire landscape.

Image

From the neon canyon (Glitter Gulch) on Fremont Street to the little motels on Boulder Highway and throughout the suburbs, the town glowed with neon light.

Now it's all LED lighting and video screens and it's just not the same.


3.) What would people discover about the differences between the public and private worlds there in that time & place?

When I came to LA to go to college and people asked me where I was from, I told them Las Vegas. Their first response was always "which hotel did you live in?" The idea that people actually lived in houses in Las Vegas was a completely foreign concept to them. But we did. We had typical American homes and I had your typical American childhood (with the added benefit of getting to see some great performers including Elvis Presley thanks to my mom being a showroom waitress back in those days).

While my mother was a showroom waitress on the Strip, in the early 1970s she hung up her tray and went into real estate. So, not everyone worked in the casinos or knew a mob boss or gangster.

The Strip was the glitzy hip place to go, Fremont Street and downtown was where the locals hung out and the only difference between growing up there and growing up anywhere else, was the fact that we had legalized gambling.

When Fremont Street and Downtown were the hub of commerce (before the Boulevard Mall opened in the mid-1960s), we did all our shopping (school clothes, shoes, groceries, etc) on the same street where the Golden Nugget, the Horseshoe and other gambling establishments sat. The Sears store was across the street from the El Cortez and the Coronet Five and Dime was right in the heart of Fremont Street. My parents, like most Las Vegans, never gave it a second thought. That's probably the biggest difference between my childhood and anyone else's.

Hope that helps shed some light on the bright light city.
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Re: The Q & A on Las Vegas 1956-1973 with Lynn Zook

Postby Lzcutter » November 4th, 2017, 12:32 pm

Christy asked:


I keep wondering if you had a chance to stay in one of the hotels and money was no object, which hotel would you have chosen for a 3 or 4 day holiday in the late 1950s? In the 1960s? In the 1970s?

That's a great question, Christy!

If money was no object, hmmmm.

Well in the late 1950s, I would have loved to stay at the Tropicana. Back then, architecturally speaking, it was like Miami Beach had come to Las Vegas.
It had that great fountain out front and inside it just sounds like it was a paradise.

By the time, I actually got to visit the Tropicana, it had been remodeled was now advertising itself as the Island of Las Vegas which was a very far cry from Miami Beach. I still miss that fountain.

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In the 1960s, Caesars Palace would have been the place to stay. All opulence and it glowed turquoise at night. It had the Bacchanal Room where wine goddesses served you wine from a shoulder carafe. And it had great entertainment from the lounge, Nero's Nook, where the Checkmates played to the main showroom, the Circus Maximus, Jay Sarno spared no expense.

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In 1973, my favorite hotel opened-the Original MGM Grand Hotel. Located across Las Vegas Boulevard from Caesars and the Dunes, this hotel was the most of everything. On the outside, the facade barely hinted at the beauty inside. Built by Kirk Kerkorian, who owned MGM Studios back then, this hotel was a movie lovers paradise.

The walls were adorned with oil paintings of famous MGM stars such as Vivien Leigh from "Gone with the Wind", Leslie Caron from "Gigi" and many, many more. The restaurants had names like Barrymores, Tracey's, Gigi's and Caruso's.

Along the hallway to the ballrooms and meeting rooms, were make-up masks of famous stars and directors, all couched in boxes lined with red velvet.

You rode an elevator down to the shopping mezzanine where some of the toniest shops in town were. At the end of the mezzanine was a movie theater. They showed studio prints of MGM films and the bill changed every week. Before the film, there was a newsreel, cartoon and coming attractions. All for $2.50. You got a printed program that included the cast and a short synopsis of the film.

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Instead of movie theater seating, they had these incredible comfortable love seats. Some sat two, some sat four but either way, you fell back into this plush leather. In front of each love seat was a small table with a button on the front. If you pressed that button a cocktail waitress would come take your order. We were all underage so we would order cokes but adults could order liquor. And she would bring you the drinks.

I loved that theater and saw some great classic MGM films there. (I still have all my old programs).

Across from the theater was the Memorabilia Shop. They had MGM costumes (that hadn't been sold in that stupid, infamous auction) on display, lobby cards (not just from MGM but all the other studios as well) and posters and tons of stuff. I could spend (and did) spend hours in there.

The rooms were all decorated with huge pictures of MGM stars. Today, it is Bally's but the foyers on the various floors are still adorned with some of those pictures.

It was a beautiful, beautiful hotel. You were greeted upon arrival by a gentleman in a waistcoat and top hat. And from there, you entered a lavish hotel/casino. There has never been another hotel built on the Strip that had all that glamour under one roof.

Hope that helps!
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Re: The Q & A on Las Vegas 1956-1973 with Lynn Zook

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » November 4th, 2017, 1:29 pm

Thanks for these great responses! I love reading all about your own personal experiences in the shadow of neon and the excitement of Las Vegas in its heyday. I made my first trip to the MGM in 1980, and remember the MGM Theatre still being open, but unfortunately didn't make it to that fabulous gift shop. A portrait of Elizabeth Taylor hung right across the hall from our hotel room door and it was an exciting, luxurious hotel.

I love the photos you've added!

I have more questions:

1. What do you remember about seeing Elvis perform?

2. How much has the mob influence changed since the 60s? The large-scale skimming operation exposed at the Stardust is a topic you detail in your book, and I'm wondering is there more to the story now? Did you find anything interesting concerning the way operations have changed since then? Or any interesting details you weren't able to add in the book?

So glad you are here for a visit!
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Re: The Q & A on Las Vegas 1956-1973 with Lynn Zook

Postby Lzcutter » November 4th, 2017, 3:10 pm

Glad you are enjoying my responses!

Christy asked:

1. What do you remember about seeing Elvis perform?

The International Hotel (today the Westgate) opened July 4th weekend, 1969. Kirk Kerkorian had hired Bill Miller to be the Entertainment Director. Miller was a big name in Las Vegas. He had revolutionized the lounge scene on the Strip in the mid-1950s when he brought Louis Prima and Keely Smith to the Sahara (they, in turn, brought Sam Butera and the Witnesses- a story recounted in Vol. 1), so Kerkorian knew Miller was up to the task.

Miller had approached Colonel Parker, Elvis' manager about a return visit to the Strip. Elvis had performed at the New Frontier in 1956 and bombed big time (a story also recounted in Vol. 1).

Since then, Elvis had been drafted, returned and embarked on musical film career that had its high points and low points. But in 1968, clad in leather and with a just a guitar, he had wowed television viewers with his now-famous "Comeback Special". Elvis proved in that one hour that he still had it.

Miller wanted Elvis to be the opening act in the International's new showroom. Parker was intrigued but took a pass. He knew Miller was also chasing Barbra Streisand. Parker suggested La Barbra open the hotel and Elvis would follow her, opening in August, 1969. Miller jumped at the deal.

Streisand opened the hotel and the response was muted at best.

Over the summer, Parker and Miller had announced that Elvis was coming and the town went wild. As soon as the dates were announced (four weeks in August, yes performers used to do that on the Strip, not these two to three day stays they do now), the phone lines lit up.

My folks were big fans of Elvis'. We had all his albums and they had even shared cocktails with Elvis one night at the lounge in the Flamingo where they were all listening to Fats Domino perform. As luck would have it, my mom's birthday was in August. My dad began saving any extra money so he could take us all to Elvis. He tried to get a reservation but it was having no luck. The shows were quickly selling out.

Luckily, my mom was still working at Caesars at that time. She asked her showroom captain, Jesse Kirk, for help in getting a reservation for the 3 of us. Don't know how he did it, but he secured a reservation for the dinner show on a date near my mom's birthday. (That's what we called "having juice" back in the day)

On the night of the show, we got all dressed up and went to the hotel. My dad tipped the maitre'd and we got a great table, not in King's Row (center stage seating) or that area but directly behind in a booth.

The dinner was great and from the moment he hit the stage, Elvis gave his all. He sang, he chatted with the audience, he threw scarves. The crowd went wild.

All total, the evening probably cost my dad (with the tip to the maitre'd, dinner and drinks) about $100 but he said it was well worth it.

Here's a link to a video in the book where my folks and others talk about seeing Elvis:

phpBB [video]
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Re: The Q & A on Las Vegas 1956-1973 with Lynn Zook

Postby Lzcutter » November 4th, 2017, 3:32 pm

Christy also asked:

2. How much has the mob influence changed since the 60s? The large-scale skimming operation exposed at the Stardust is a topic you detail in your book, and I'm wondering is there more to the story now? Did you find anything interesting concerning the way operations have changed since then? Or any interesting details you weren't able to add in the book?

The idea that Howard Hughes was brought in to get the mob out is basically a myth. Hughes bought a number of the then mob-controlled hotels but because he and his team had little to no experience in gaming or hotel running, he hired the same guys to run the hotels. So the skimming continued.

It was finally in the late 1970s through the early 1980s, that there was concerted effort on the local, state and federal level to get the mob out. Mahlon Brown was the US Attorney for the state and came from a Las Vegas pioneer family. He was one of the guys pushing to get the mob out.

It all came to a head with Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal and Tony Spilotro and the Stardust. Rosenthal got into a running argument with the Nevada Gaming Commission and specifically Harry Reid. Reid's car was almost blown up in 1981.

Spilotro also had a burglary ring called the Hole in the Wall gang and they burglarized the homes of wealthy Las Vegans and often beat them up if they were unlucky enough to be home at the time.

The whole town was on edge and everyone was clamoring for something to be done. Even the godfathers back east, who were unaccustomed to this type of publicity in Las Vegas were getting nervous.

Rosenthal was dining one evening at the Tony Romo's on East Sahara not far from the Strip. When he came out, he got in his car and turned the ignition switch. The Cadillac blew up. Miraculously, Rosenthal survived.

It took a few years but once they found the skim in the slot machines in the Stardust (7 million dollars in just that casino alone), the case seemed to break wide open. Martin Scorsese's film "Casino" depicts this era and events quite well.

During those years, the Aladdin was targeted as well as the Dunes and the Tropicana.

By the time it all came to an end, Rosenthal was banned for live from entering a casino in Nevada (he and Spilotro were both in the Black Book) and Spilotro and his brother were found murdered in an Iowa cornfield.

But the effort to get the mob out was successful.

Here's a video from the book on the Rosenthal car bombing:

phpBB [video]
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Re: The Q & A on Las Vegas 1956-1973 with Lynn Zook

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » November 4th, 2017, 5:14 pm

Thanks for sharing these wonderful videos! I enjoyed hearing your parents and other Elvis fans share their memories of his Vegas performances.

It was also great to watch firsthand accounts of the bombing of Frank Rosenthal's Cadillac.
Are all these videos in your new book?

I've always wondered about the mystique of the Aladdin and how Wayne Newton became involved in its management. Can you tell us some information on how it all came about?
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Re: The Q & A on Las Vegas 1956-1973 with Lynn Zook

Postby moira finnie » November 4th, 2017, 5:32 pm

Thanks for the detailed responses, Lynn. I love the pictures and videos too, and got a kick out of the image of the pineapple top fountain from The Tropicana.

Of the many movies that used Las Vegas as a setting, from about the time of Roy Rogers' Heldorado (1946) to The Hangover Part III (2013), are there 5 films that you think captured something of your own experiences there?

My 2 personal favorites when it comes to Vegas flicks:

1.) For the raffish, frontier edges of the setting and the presence of the great Hoagy Carmichael, who narrates the movie:
The Las Vegas Story (1952)
2.) As someone who's never been to Clark County but who was a teenage girl once upon a time and is fascinated by the atomic aspect of the story:
Desert Bloom (1986)
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Re: The Q & A on Las Vegas 1956-1973 with Lynn Zook

Postby Lzcutter » November 4th, 2017, 6:25 pm

It was also great to watch firsthand accounts of the bombing of Frank Rosenthal's Cadillac.

Are all these videos in your new book?

Yes, there are over 40 videos in Volume 1 and almost 40 in Volume 2.

They were culled from all the video oral histories I did about twelve years ago.

So, if you have an Ipad, an Iphone or a Mac Computer, a Kindle or a Fire Tablet from Amazon or a Nook from Barnes and Noble, both books are compatible for those devices. Plus, there are rarely seen images scattered throughout both books.
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Re: The Q & A on Las Vegas 1956-1973 with Lynn Zook

Postby Lzcutter » November 4th, 2017, 6:32 pm

Sue Sue Applegate wrote:I've always wondered about the mystique of the Aladdin and how Wayne Newton became involved in its management. Can you tell us some information on how it all came about?



After the Feds closed the Aladdin in the wake of the skim being uncovered at that hotel as well, Wayne Newton had the opportunity to buy the hotel. The Gaming Commission was likely relieved to have a buyer that didn't come with strings attached.

Newton had teamed with former Riviera president Ed Torres to bid on the property. Also bidding was famed late-night host, Johnny Carson.  Carson already had ties to Las Vegas in that he co-owned a local independent television station, KVVU, Channel 5. The bidding got ugly with rumors of Newton being tied to the mob. But Newton and Torres prevailed and bought the hotel for $85 million.

While Newton and Torres may have been good friends, they weren't good business partners and they fought constantly. The entertainment policy shifted from the big-name acts to revues. Newton argued against the new policy saying it would only hurt the hotel. Torres finally had enough of the arguing and bought Newton out in 1982.

But Newton had been right. The change in entertainment policy along with other problems left Torres and his crew fighting off creditors, banks and unions. Within a year, Torres was trying to sell the property back to Newton.

In February 1984, the Teamsters called their loan. Torres was unable to pay and sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The resort was $3.5 million in debt. Newton didn’t have the financing to buy the property back.

Thus, the property went back on the market.
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Re: The Q & A on Las Vegas 1956-1973 with Lynn Zook

Postby Lzcutter » November 4th, 2017, 6:44 pm

moira finnie wrote:Thanks for the detailed responses, Lynn. I love the pictures and videos too, and got a kick out of the image of the pineapple top fountain from The Tropicana.

Of the many movies that used Las Vegas as a setting, from about the time of Roy Rogers' Heldorado (1946) to The Hangover Part III (2013), are there 5 films that you think captured something of your own experiences there?

My 2 personal favorites when it comes to Vegas flicks:

1.) For the raffish, frontier edges of the setting and the presence of the great Hoagy Carmichael, who narrates the movie:
The Las Vegas Story (1952)
2.) As someone who's never been to Clark County but who was a teenage girl once upon a time and is fascinated by the atomic aspect of the story:
Desert Bloom (1986)


Moira,

You definitely picked two good ones!

My choices:

1. Ocean's Eleven: Most of the film was shot on location and you get a real sense of what the various hotels looked like back in the early 1960s. You watch the film today and they seem quaint compared to the Las Vegas of today. It also captures the chemistry between the Rat Pack and gives you an idea of what seeing them perform at the Sands must have been like. They would shoot the film during the day, retire to the steam room at the Sands for a steam and drinks and then hit the Copa stage at 8:00 pm for the dinner show.

2. Viva Las Vegas: I think it is Elvis' best musical but I'm probably a bit biased. I love all the location footage of the Strip and downtown and it definitely captures the magic of those 1960s years.

3. Casino: This film portrays the mob side of Las Vegas in the Rosenthal/Spilotro years and does it again with great location shooting (a film about the Stardust which was shot at the Riviera) and terrific acting.

4. The Las Vegas Story: I'm with you on this one. Victor Mature, Jane Russell, Vincent Price, and Hoagy Carmichael how great is that! Plus you get some terrific early 1950s location shots.

5. One From the Heart: A major guilty pleasure of mine. It's a terrific ode to neon! And you get Tom Waits music, can't beat that.
Lynn in Lake Balboa

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Re: The Q & A on Las Vegas 1956-1973 with Lynn Zook

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » November 4th, 2017, 7:12 pm

Thanks for all these film picks, Moira and Lynn. I think I'm partial to Viva Las Vegas and Ocean's 11. I also enjoy The Las Vegas Story.

I love hearing about how your experiences reflect the changing times in Las Vegas.


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I remember during the film of Diamonds Are Forever that part of it was filmed in Circus Circus, and Jimmy Dean (the singer and sausage king) played the part of a millionaire recluse like Howard Hughes.

What can you tell us about how Circus Circus evolved as a venue? I enjoyed going there in the 1980's.
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Re: The Q & A on Las Vegas 1956-1973 with Lynn Zook

Postby Lzcutter » November 4th, 2017, 7:58 pm

Sue Sue Applegate wrote:Thanks for all these film picks, Moira and Lynn. I think I'm partial to Viva Las Vegas and Ocean's 11. I also enjoy The Las Vegas Story.

I love hearing about how your experiences reflect the changing times in Las Vegas.


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I remember during the film of Diamonds Are Forever that part of it was filmed in Circus Circus, and Jimmy Dean (the singer and sausage king) played the part of a millionaire recluse like Howard Hughes.

What can you tell us about how Circus Circus evolved as a venue? I enjoyed going there in the 1980's.


The connection with Jimmy Dean gets even wilder, Christy.

At the time, Hughes owned the Landmark Hotel and Jimmy Dean was a headlining performer there. So the connections run deep.

Circus Circus opened in 1968. It was the brain child of Jay Sarno. Sarno had built Caesars Palace, where every one is Caesars-that's why there is no apostrophe in the name- and was living in the high life as Caesars was wildly successful. Eventually, Sarno started thinking of another hotel to build. He thought a family friendly one would be just the ticket. He sold Caesars to the Perlman brothers who owned Lum's restaurant and set about building Circus Circus.

The casino would be the attraction, there would be no hotel rooms. Guests would enter through the second floor entrance and get down to the casino either by a giant slide or stairs. High above them, circus performers would fly on the trapeze with no safety nets.

As you can guess, the casino struggled from the day it opened. Sarno was arrested a few years later for trying to bribe a Federal agent. As the trial got closer, the Gaming Board put pressure on Sarno to sell Circus Circus. He leased the hotel to Bill Bennett and ultimately sold the property to him.

The first thing Bennett did was build a hotel tower and put an entrance on the ground floor to enter the casino. Revenue sky-rocketed.

Circus Circus still stands today.

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Lynn in Lake Balboa

"Film is history. With every foot of film lost, we lose a link to our culture, to the world around us, to each other and to ourselves."

"For me, John Wayne has only become more impressive over time." Marty Scorsese

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