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If They Build It… You Will Come

Any history of Las Vegas is incomplete without the story of Benjamin Siegel. He was called “Bugsy,” but never to his face because he hated the nickname. He thought it made him sound crazy, dangerous, too, but mostly crazy. He was credited with founding Las Vegas. Some believed he was mayor. Neither was true. He wanted a career in the movies, but had to settle for creating the Las Vegas of the movies.

Standing guard at Caesars Palace. Photo by: Susan Marg

The Flamingo, the casino in the desert named after Bugsy’s girlfriend Virginia Hill’s long, birdlike legs, was his vision, creation, and extravagance. We don’t know whether he was murdered for overspending on its construction or for claiming some of the investors’ monies as his own.  It doesn’t matter. When the Flamingo opened ceremoniously on December 26, 1946, it was obvious that every penny that had gone into the place had been well spent.

Bugsy had replaced the atmosphere of the cowboy casinos found down the road  with an ambience of sophisticated luxury throughout the resort. On the first night and every night thereafter, first class entertainers, such as Jimmy Durante, Xavier Cougat, and Rose Marie, performed in the showroom.

Since that time entertainment has always been a big part of the Las Vegas scene.  Edgar Bergen with sidekick Charlie McCarthy on his lap kicked off the festivities at The Desert Inn in 1950.  Ray Bolger, the famous scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz, launched the Sahara Hotel and Casino in 1952.  Liberace starred in a musical comedy revue that included a “candelabra ballet” at the Hotel Riviera’s gala on opening night in 1955.  And Andy Williams headlined at Caesars Palace’s Circus Maximus in 1966.

For decades Caesars’ 800-seat showroom hosted such celebrities as Judy Garland, Shirley MacLaine, Freddie Prinz, Petula Clark, Diana Ross, George Burns, Julio Iglesias, Tom Jones, Wynonna, Ann-Margret, Natalie Cole, Eddie Fisher, David Copperfield, Tony Bennett, and Sammy Davis Jr., to name a few of the famous names.

When Frank Sinatra left the Sands (drunkenly cursing, fighting and driving a golf cart through a front window after his credit was cut off by new owner Howard Hughes), he signed with Caesars.  In 1981 he was appointed its Vice President of Entertainment.

In 2000 Circus Maximus closed down and reopened as The Colosseum two years later.  The new 4,000-seat showroom reportedly cost $65 million, but like The Flamingo, it was worth every cent.  Sell-out crowds turned out for Celine Dion and later Cher, Bette Midler, and Elton John, before Dion returned for an encore.   In December Shania Twain, “the best-selling female country artist of all time” states the publicity, will take her turn.

If past performances dictate future success, Caesars Palace is “Still the One.”

© 2012 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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