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The Q & A with Lynn Zook on Nov. 12 & 13

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The Q & A with Lynn Zook on Nov. 12 & 13

Postby moira finnie » November 6th, 2016, 10:16 am

"…But most of all, there was neon--everywhere."

- Lynn Zook, Gambling on a Dream: The Classic Las Vegas Strip 1930-1955

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They were all there once. Dreamers, drifters, scoundrels, and sweethearts--whether working the crowd or keeping the back of the house stocked, everyone--from cowboys, innkeepers, movie stars, working stiffs and lucky bums as well as rule-breaking architects and artists who painted the night sky using neon once gathered there and come alive again in the story of the Las Vegas strip during its first 25 years and beyond in a fascinating, very American intersection of show biz & commerce.

The Silver Screen Oasis is pleased to announce that one of our own--Lynn Zook (aka lzcutter)--will be joining us for a Q & A about her new book, Gambling on a Dream: The Classic Las Vegas Strip 1930-1955 on November 12th and 13th. Our guest author was among the people who stood out a dozen years ago when first encountered online at the Turner Classic Movies forum. Gradually getting to know her online--and in person for a lucky few in attendance at the TCM Classic Film Festivals--has been revelatory.

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As an admin here at the SSO and a contributor to the TCM website, the knowledgeable Lynn has been consistently friendly, observant, and, fortunately for us when life (and technology) goes awry, she is also blessed with a wry humor tempered with a kindness and patience that has never flagged.

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Lynn rarely talks about herself, but she is quite an accomplished person as well as a passionate lover of classic film. She is a graduate of the USC School of Cinema and Television Masters of Fine Arts program who is also a digital archivist, and an accomplished award-winning producer and editor. She is also the author of Las Vegas 1905-1965 and the just released e-book, Gambling on a Dream: The Classic Las Vegas Strip 1930-1955 as well as producer of the documentary, The Story of Classic Las Vegas.

One subject Lynn does talk about is her love of her hometown and appreciation for the men and women who wrote this vivid chapter in American cultural life.

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As she does regularly on the Classic Las Vegas site, Lynn documents an earlier Las Vegas that hummed with neon as well as the work of imaginative pioneers, Americans on the move (and often on the make). Just as the movie industry was growing and changing, so did Las Vegas, affecting her residents and the country as a whole.

If you would like to learn more about this topic, please join us for our journey with Lynn through a vivid chapter in American cultural life next weekend, November 12th and 13th. You can be part of the conversation at The Silver Screen Oasis Message Board below:


The Q & A with Lynn Zook about Gambling on a Dream: viewtopic.php?f=126&t=6969&p=164302#p164302

Gambling on a Dream: The Classic Las Vegas Strip 1930-1955 is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iTunes.
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Re: The Q & A with Lynn Zook on Nov. 12 & 13

Postby moira finnie » November 12th, 2016, 10:57 am

Here's the spot to post questions for Lynn to answer about her e-book, Gambling on a Dream: The Classic Las Vegas Strip 1930-1955
. I'll kick things off with a few questions--but please bear in mind that our guest author is on Pacific Time so there may be a lag time between queries and answers.

Thanks to Lynn and all visitors and members for being here for this event.

1.) When and why did gambling become inextricably linked to Las Vegas?

2.) What technological and lifestyle changes made the development of Vegas's distinctive architecture possible?

3.) What was Bugsy Siegel's role in all this growth? Myth or mystery?
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Re: The Q & A with Lynn Zook on Nov. 12 & 13

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » November 12th, 2016, 11:30 am

So thrilling to be discussing you're new book here at The Silver Screen Oasis, Lynn!

One aspect of your book is how it focuses on the development of archtectural style through the decades, in Las Vegas, and in America. How much of the design of the Vegas landscape actually affected architecture here and how much of it was a reflection of the architectural movements prevalent for the times?

Whom do you feel had the most lasting effect on the Las Vegas look? I was wondering out of all the interviews that you conducted for the book, whom do you feel had some of the most intesting stories about the actual design of the city itself?

I am back from running errands and eager to answer more questions!

Christy,

Thanks so much!!

Architect Wayne McAllister designed the original El Rancho Vegas in a Spanish motif, was the original architect on Wilbur Clark's Desert Inn before being replaced by Hugh Taylor and he designed the original Sands Hotel, which is probably the most iconic Strip hotel in our collective memory. The original Sands had a very mid-century modern look to it, both inside and out.

In addition, he created the 35-foot original sign.

We talked to over 100 interviewees and the majority agreed that the Las Vegas of the 1950s was the best era for architecture.

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Re: The Q & A with Lynn Zook on Nov. 12 & 13

Postby Lzcutter » November 12th, 2016, 1:50 pm

moira finnie wrote:Here's the spot to post questions for Lynn to answer about her e-book, Gambling on a Dream: The Classic Las Vegas Strip 1930-1955
. I'll kick things off with a few questions--but please bear in mind that our guest author is on Pacific Time so there may be a lag time between queries and answers.

Thanks to Lynn and all visitors and members for being here for this event.

1.) When and why did gambling become inextricably linked to Las Vegas?

2.) What technological and lifestyle changes made the development of Vegas's distinctive architecture possible?

3.) What was Bugsy Siegel's role in all this growth? Myth or mystery?


Good morning Moira!

It's great to be back here at the Oasis and as a guest author! Who thought that would ever happen!

I've missed everyone very much! I wrote the book mainly on weekends and holidays for the last year so that took up most of the free time I used to have for watching television shows, movies and chatting online. And I have to get started on Part 2 very soon.

But to your questions-

1.) When and why did gambling become inextricably linked to Las Vegas?

The state of Nevada and Las Vegas in particular had a very rough patch in the mid-1920s through the Depression. The town was founded in 1905 mainly because of the railroad and the railroad provided the majority of the jobs for the small but hearty community. There was a devastating national rail strike in 1922 and that pitted the community against the railroad. Strikers were replaced with scabs and when the ordeal was over, the railroad moved operations out of Las Vegas permanently. It was a major blow to the community and followed by the Crash of 1929 which ushered in the Depression.

The whole state was in bad economic shape when the legislature came upon the idea of legalized gambling to help lure tourists to Reno. Reno at the time was the largest city in the state. The governor signed the bill that made gambling legal throughout the Nevada and the dye, as they say, was cast.

At first, Reno flourished more than Las Vegas did but by the end of World War II, the odds changed and the scrappy little desert town began to find its footing. The first hotel on the Strip had opened in 1941 and by 1952, they were six hotels on the two-lane blacktop highway that brought visitors from southern California. By 1955, there were ten hotels and the Strip was on its way to becoming the Entertainment Capital of the World.

2.) What technological and lifestyle changes made the development of Vegas's distinctive architecture possible?

The biggest lifestyle change occurred after the War. The city and county fathers quickly realized that with the end of rationing and the troops returning home, people would be in the mood to travel. So the Las Vegas News Bureau was created to help sell the idea of vacationing in Las Vegas. The photographers of the News Bureau played an essential role in creating the myth of Las Vegas being America's Playground. With first-class entertainers like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich, Sammy Davis, and many others playing gigs that often lasted two weeks, two shows a night (sometimes three on a Friday or Saturday night), America responded by saying , "We're going to Las Vegas".

Directly after the War, there was still a hold on a building material but once that was lifted, many of the technologies developed during the war found their way into construction and the hotels that were built after the War, while quaint by today's behemoth standards, were lavish, and considered the top of the line in providing customers a gold standard in surroundings and treatment.

3.) What was Bugsy Siegel's role in all this growth? Myth or mystery?

Benjamin Siegel did not create Las Vegas. That is a myth. As I mentioned earlier, there already was a community that had been there sine 1905. He also did not build the first hotel on the Strip. He built the third hotel. Tommy Hull had opened the El Rancho Vegas in 1941 and R.E. Griffiths and William Moore had opened the Hotel Last Frontier in 1942.

Ben Siegel also did not have that fever dream as depicted in the movie, Bugsy.. He didn't drive up the highway into downtown Las Vegas, be repulsed by the desert rats in saloons and gambling halls with sawdust floors, get in his car and start driving back to Los Angeles, pull off the highway and dream up The Flamingo.

The Flamingo was already well under construction by the time Ben Siegel turned his eye to the Las Vegas Strip. It had been the dream of Hollywood Reporter founder, Billy Wilkerson, who owned Ciro's, the Trocadero and other Hollywood nightclubs. He dreamed of having a hotel/casino that his friends in Hollywood could come to. Unfortunately, he was an inveterate gambler and he lost his nest egg playing craps one night. That's when Ben Siegel entered the picture and became partners with Wilkerson. In my book I go into detail about this.

Ben Siegel ultimately muscled Wilkerson out an finished the hotel. It's claim to fame was that it was the first non-Western themed hotel that was built on the highway. It was swanky, the staff was dressed to the nines and the clientele was expected to dress as well.

Siegel managed to make Wilkerson's dream of bringing the Hollywood crowd to the hotel because Siegel had many Hollywood friends who visited "Bugsy's joint".

Siegel should be best remembered for introducing swank and class to the Las Vegas Strip but his role as "father of the Las Vegas Strip" or "creator of Las Vegas" is very overblown!

I have to run out and do some errands but I won't be long! I'll be back this afternoon to answer more questions!
Lynn in Lake Balboa

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Re: The Q & A with Lynn Zook on Nov. 12 & 13

Postby moira finnie » November 12th, 2016, 5:41 pm

Lynn, one of the engaging features of your book was the cast of characters such as Guy McAfee, a former vice squad captain from LA to Jack Entratter, who oversaw many joints with a deft understanding of show biz. Could you please describe some of your favorites among the innkeepers as well as the rascals who helped to inspire and finance Las Vegas?
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Re: The Q & A with Lynn Zook on Nov. 12 & 13

Postby Lzcutter » November 12th, 2016, 6:16 pm

moira finnie wrote:Lynn, one of the engaging features of your book was the cast of characters such as Guy McAfee, a former vice squad captain from LA to Jack Entratter, who oversaw many joints with a deft understanding of show biz. Could you please describe some of your favorites among the innkeepers as well as the rascals who helped to inspire and finance Las Vegas?


Well, there was Guy McAfee as you mentioned and, of course, Benjamin Siegel both who had shady connections but my favorites were the guys like Billy Wilkerson and Wilbur Clark who bucked the odds but still came up short.

Where as Billy Wilkerson was an inveterate gambler and had no one to blame but himself for the bad choices he made such as gambling away his nest egg it was in hopes that he would win enough to keep building his hotel. Lady Luck was not so kind to Wilkerson that night and he lost everything forcin him to turn to Arnold Rothstein and the likes of Meyer Lansky and Ben Siegel. Wilkerson ended up fleeing to Paris but was grateful to get out with his life. Ben Siegel, not so lucky.

Wilbur Clark was a man with a great sense of branding. Of all the original visionaries, he was the only one to put his name on the building. Growing up, we always called it, Wilbur Clark's Desert Inn. Long after Clark was gone, many of the locals still called it that. Wilbur had a dream but didn't have the funds. Unlike Wilkerson, he didn't gamble but he had a hard time raising money. This led him to go into business with Moe Dalitz and his colleagues from his old Purple Road gang. They knew gamblers and how to run to casinos and they allowed Clark to remain the face of the hotel and keep his name on it all for a hefty split of the profits.

Another favorite was Jack Entratter. Entratter had run the Copacabana Club in New York when he got a call from Sands Hotel owner, Jake Freedman, to come work for him. Having booked the Copa, Entratter had connections with all the entertainers on the old night-club circuit. This proved invaluable when he started booking acts for the Sands Hotel. Entratter lured Sinatra over from the Desert Inn and that ultimately set the stage for the hotel to be base camp for the filming of the original Ocean's 11. It was during that filming that Sinatra's so-called Rat Pack (Sinatra, Martin, Davis, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop) took the stage nightly for two weeks. The bar cart was rolled on stage and the audience never knew if all the Pack would show up or just a few. It became the hottest ticket in town and still remains a very fond memory of those who were lucky enough to have been there.

Because of Entratter, the Sands became the hotel most associated with the Las Vegas Strip of that era.
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Re: The Q & A with Lynn Zook on Nov. 12 & 13

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » November 12th, 2016, 8:19 pm

Thanks for your response. It's so exciting to be talking about your book!

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Lynn, can you explain the importance of neon signage in the development of the strip? What's happened to some of the iconic images we've come to know from films and sdvertisements?
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What signs have you determined were the most influential? Which seemed more popular?

Everytime I've been to Las Vegas, I was always mesmerized by the colors and the bands of light in the night.
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Re: The Q & A with Lynn Zook on Nov. 12 & 13

Postby Lzcutter » November 12th, 2016, 8:48 pm

Sue Sue Applegate wrote:Thanks for your response. It's so exciting to be talking about your book!

Lynn, can you explain the importance of neon signage in the development of the strip? What's happened to some of the iconic images we've come to know from films and sdvertisements?

What signs have you determined were the most influential? Which seemed more popular?

Everytime I've been to Las Vegas, I was always mesmerized by the colors and the bands of light in the night.


Christy,


Neon first came to Las Vegas in the mid-1930s when sign designer Thomas Young was traveling through the small community. Back then, Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas, was the center of the town. There were homes, businesses, restaurants up and down the street as well as a few saloons, clubs and hotels.

Young convinced the owners of the Boulder Club that what they needed was a neon sign for the front of their club. And, within a few years, neon was an important part of any club, hotel, casino or business.

In the early days of the Las Vegas Strip, it was not much more than wide open desert with little surrounding it. A two-lane blacktop highway (Highway 91) cut through the desert and was the main connection to Southern California drivers. So neon signage had little competition back then and because the Strip was not built up the way it is now, neon signage could be seen for miles before you ever reached it.

Tommy Hull, who built the El Rancho Vegas, had a large windmill outlined in neon placed atop the main building and one of the catch phrases of the hotel was "Stop at the Sign of the Windmill".

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When the Hotel Last Frontier opened it was during the War and they didn't have much neon on their property. But they had a Texaco gas station on the property and after the War, they put up an animated sign that included horses pulling an old-fashioned fire truck.

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The Flamingo had a pylon sign with lettering that was replaced in the 1950s with the giant script letters that spelled out Flamingo across the front of the hotel.

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The Sands had that 35-foot sign that spelled Sands in script across the front and night alternated between white and red lettering.

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As you drove down the Strip, because in those days you never walked because of the large swatches of desert. the moving neon signs told you who was appearing where and the colors seemed to be all the colors of the rainbow.

As more hotels were built, the neon signage got larger and more elaborate. Neon signage was everywhere. The taller the better as hotels, gas stations, motels and bars began to fill the highway in place of all that desert.

We had a a neon Leaning Tower of Pizza at a pizza joint on the boulevard that was one of my favorites.

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Driving up Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas was like driving into a neon canyon.

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Unfortunately for most of the iconic signs, you have to remember how big they were, they were destroyed either when the hotels went through various updates and renovations and/or demolition.

The El Rancho Vegas windmill was destroyed in the 1961 fire that destroyed the hotel. The beloved Sands sign was torn down and replaced with more 1960s appropriate script sign (though anyone who saw that original sign either in person or in the movies) remembers it more vividly than what replaced it.

The Stardust sign, one of the most iconic of all time, was at one time the tallest neon sign in the world. When they imploded the Stardust, the sign was too big to save but they were able to save the space-age script letters. The same thing happened to the Sahara's pylon sign. All the letters now reside in the Neon Museum boneyard in Las Vegas with other neon signs from various businesses.

Las Vegas used to neon to advertise dry cleaners, motels, restaurants, movie theaters, you name it, neon advertised in Las Vegas.

All of that has been changing for the last 25 years as LED lighting has taken over as the premier light of the Strip. It is brighter and they incorporate video displays today to catch the eye.

The problem I have (and I doubt I am alone) is that with the Strip of today being so built up, it gets overwhelming very quickly with all that white bright light and video displays. Your eye does not where to go.

I truly miss the Las Vegas I grew up with when neon was King.
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Re: The Q & A with Lynn Zook on Nov. 12 & 13

Postby moira finnie » November 12th, 2016, 9:19 pm

Could you please explain how life differed for people who lived in Vegas and those
who visited the city in those days between '30 & '55?

Was the gulf huge between the average gambler and citizen? Were differences defined by economics, type of work or race, etc? Was the city pretty egalitarian in some says compared to the outside world?

Thanks in advance for any reply (and I love those pictures you're posting).
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Re: The Q & A with Lynn Zook on Nov. 12 & 13

Postby Lzcutter » November 12th, 2016, 11:17 pm

moira finnie wrote:Could you please explain how life differed for people who lived in Vegas and those
who visited the city in those days between '30 & '55?

Was the gulf huge between the average gambler and citizen? Were differences defined by economics, type of work or race, etc? Was the city pretty egalitarian in some says compared to the outside world?

Thanks in advance for any reply (and I love those pictures you're posting).


Moira,
After Boulder/Hoover Dam was finished in 1933, the majority of tourists who came to Las Vegas came to visit the Dam. Fremont Street thrived mostly from local and railroad stops. Men would get off the train during a stop, run into the first saloon/casino they could find and order a drink. They'd gulp it down and jump back on the train.

The locals pretty much turned a blind eye to drinking during Prohibition and Las Vegas was a small enough community that it didn't raise much interest from the Feds. They were struggling to survive the Depression. Back then Las Vegas was a more diverse town. It only became segregated following the war but that's another topic (which I'm glad to talk about).

Out on the Strip, there were only two nightclubs, the Pair-O-Dice Club and the Red Rooster. The Pair-O-Dice was run by an associate of Al Capone's, had a still under the chicken coop out in back and never got busted by the Feds.

The Red Rooster got busted and lost their liquor license for a period of time.

It was after World War II, when the Feds turned their attention to illegal gambling instead of tracking down spies and espionage. You have to remember that throughout most of the 20th Century, gambling was illegal everywhere except Nevada. It wasn't until 1974, that it finally became legal outside Nevada and that was in Atlantic City.

So after the War, the high rollers throughout the country began to feel the heat as the Feds began raiding illegal gambling joints. So the high rollers decided to start traveling to Las Vegas where the Feds would leave them alone.

They brought their wives, girl friends, mistresses (though hopefully not all at the same time) and with them came the glamour. They were used to dressing up to go out to a nightclub where sometime during the evening, the man would leave and go gamble in the back room (after facing scrutiny to make sure he was a legit invitee) and the woman would stay behind and listen to the music.

So, they brought those wardrobes to Las Vegas.

Added to the high rollers trying to escape the scrutiny of the Feds, were your average Americans who wanted to travel after years of war, rationing and living without. With Las Vegas being marketed as America's Playground and their favorite entertainers gracing the stages of various hotels, they poured into Las Vegas for vacations.

Back then, you have to remember, people didn't wear jeans, shorts, flip flops and fanny packs. They dressed up even to go to the store.

That's why there are pictures of women with gloves in their pockets playing slots.

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And following the lead of the glamourous women who accompanied the dapper high rollers, they upped their wardrobes.

As one of my interviewees, Don Payne, the former manager of the Las Vegas News Bureau, told me in an interview:

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The locals at first thought the swanky "carpet joints", called that because they offered carpet instead of sawdust floors, would never last but changes in American tastes, culture and the end of the War changed all that!

I hope everyone is finding this conversation interesting. If you visited Las Vegas, only know it from the movies or have been fascinated by it, please feel free to ask questions!

I have errands to run in the morning but will answer any and all questions! I promise.

It's great to be back here!
Lynn in Lake Balboa

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Re: The Q & A with Lynn Zook on Nov. 12 & 13

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » November 13th, 2016, 12:10 am

Thanks so much for your in-depth responses.

Do you mind sharing with us the more intriguing or difficult aspects of your research? How did you connect with so many of the people you intviewed? And if you could interview anyone of the major figures who developed Las Vegas, who would it be?
I'm also curious to know if you could have chosen to see any entertainer during the 40s or 50s, who would it have been?
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Re: The Q & A with Lynn Zook on Nov. 12 & 13

Postby Vienna » November 13th, 2016, 10:16 am

I love hearing about the history of Las Vegas and hope to visit some day.
An RKO film I like is THE LAS VEGAS STORY, with Jane Russell and Victor Mature. Do you know if much location filming was done in the city?

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Re: The Q & A with Lynn Zook on Nov. 12 & 13

Postby Mrs. Osborne » November 13th, 2016, 11:48 am

Lynn:


I am so proud AND excited for you.
There is nothing better than good accurate research, and you obviously did yours with this book and before that with your documentary about Las Vegas. Which did you enjoy most - writing the book or making the documentary?

Best,
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Re: The Q & A with Lynn Zook on Nov. 12 & 13

Postby Lzcutter » November 13th, 2016, 12:25 pm

Hey guys,

i have to run some errands this morning that I forgot about but I promise I'll return this afternoon and answer everybody's questions!

See you soon!
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Re: The Q & A with Lynn Zook on Nov. 12 & 13

Postby moira finnie » November 13th, 2016, 1:26 pm

Vienna, I am so glad you brought up that Victor Mature film (Love Vic in anything)!

Lynn, in addition to discussing The Las Vegas Story (1952) could you please name your top choices for the best of the Vegas-themed stories on film?

Are there ones that you find ring a false note and why?

Thanks for your answers & many thanks to those posting their questions.
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