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It’s Still Happening in Vegas

HarperCollins published my first book, Las Vegas Weddings: A Brief History, Celebrity Gossip, Everything Elvis, and the Complete Chapel Guide, several years ago.  But this book review by Betty Jo Tucker from Author’s Den and Movie Addict Headquarters on blogtalkradio is new!

Thank you, Betty Jo.

bigbooksmlLas Vegas Weddings: Book Review

By Betty Jo Tucker

Author Susan Marg deserves kudos for her impressive research in connection with “Las Vegas Weddings: A Brief History, Celebrity Gossip, Everything Elvis, and the Complete Chapel Guide.” It’s an entertaining read packed with fascinating information about how Vegas weddings intertwine with the history of the town itself.

It’s also fun reading for movie addicts like me, mostly because Marg highlights the nuptials of so many film stars who got hitched in Las Vegas. What a treat to find out the revealing facts behind weddings of such glamorous actors and actresses as Angelina Jolie, Michael Caine, Judy Garland, Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Rita Hayworth, Janet Leigh, Tony Curtis, Nelson Eddy, Bette Midler, Joan Crawford, Richard Gere, Cary Grant, Clint Eastwood and Elvis Presley!

And speaking of Elvis, Marg includes an entire chapter titled “What’s a Wedding without Elvis”? She writes, “While there is an impersonator for any celebrity…it is the King that couples clamor for.” There are hundreds of Elvis impersonators in Vegas, of course, and it’s no problem to hire a fake Elvis to escort the bride down the aisle and to serenade the newlyweds after the ceremony. The book also features a chapel guide that helps prospective brides and grooms plan their own wedding festivities in Vegas.

It’s no wonder Vegas and Hollywood seem like a perfect match, so I’m pleased that Marg mentions various films about Las Vegas — including Honeymoon in Vegas, Vegas Vacation, Viva Las Vegas, Fools Rush In, and Ocean’s Eleven. She points out that movies like these have played an important role in making Vegas weddings so popular

Despite the massive amount of information in Las Vegas Weddings, it flows seamlessly. Marg has a breezy, appealing style that draws us in and keeps us interested. Her book also presents some rare photographs of celebrities. I especially love the one of Michael Caine and his beautiful bride as well as the photo of Elvis and Ann-Margret dancing together while filming Viva Las Vegas!

I think this book would make a wonderful holiday gift for movie fans.

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Food, Glorious Food

 

Eat dessert first. Photo by: meerbabykat

In the mood for meatballs?  Dying for dim sum? Craving chicken enchiladas? Mouth watering for something sweet?  The new Bacchanal buffet at Caesars Palace has begun serving up a few of your favorite things.

With 500 food items, many prepared to order at nine different kitchens spread out over the 25,000-square foot restaurant, half the size of a football field, it might be difficult to decide where to start.  There’re Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, and American cuisines, vegetarian, seafood, and grilled meat specialties, as well as designer pizza and gourmet deli.  And save room for dessert.  Oh, heck, life is uncertain: eat dessert first.

All-you-can-eat buffets have been a staple in Las Vegas since the El Rancho Vegas, the original resort casino on the Strip, opened in 1941.  The “Buckaroo Buffet,” so-named in keeping with its Wild West theme, was basically an all-night chuck wagon.  For a dollar or a dollar fifty, a hungry gambler could have his fill of an assortment of cold cuts or a choice of a few hot dishes. Everyone was satisfied, management, especially, as they didn’t have to keep a full staff standing by and good customers never left the premises.

Over time different courses were added to the menu. Steak, lobster, and shrimp have always been popular.  The casino resorts built over the last twenty years, of course, from Atria, Bellagio, and Cosmopolitan to Wynn, have buffets.  None of them are cheap, but they’re all well attended.

Caesars is hoping their new arrangement delivers that something extra exceptional, not just a second, third, or fourth trip for more.  The decor is modern – all glass, wood, and steel.  The view is spectacular; it overlooks the pool complex known as the Garden of the Gods.  And the level of service and quality of the offerings promise to be outstanding. Customers are able to watch their meal being prepared.  Chefs have been trained to relate to the customers and give mini demonstrations of interest to diners.

Shania Twain will be performing in the showroom, but morning, noon, or night, eating is the new entertainment.

© 2012 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

 

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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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Out with the Old; In with the New

Say “I do” with your “Moons over My Hammy.” Photo by: Thomas Hawk

The Candlelight Wedding Chapel once sat on prime real estate on Las Vegas Boulevard.

It was one of an esteemed or, at least, in the eyes of those who married there, beloved group of the town’s renowned freestanding wedding chapels on the Strip.  Michael Caine and Shakira Baksh tied the knot there.  So did Bette Midler and Martin von Haselberg.  Both couples are still together.

In 2004 the property on which the chapel was located was sold out from under it, to be redeveloped into something bigger and better, more glitzy and glamorous. The chapel was abandoned, while the motel and casinos surrounding it were demolished bit by bit.

But now the Candlelight Wedding Chapel is being restored.  In 2007 it was moved to the Clark County Heritage Museum down the road in Henderson.

While Little Church of the West, Wee Kirk Wedding Chapel, and Graceland, among others, still welcome wedding parties, big or small, dressed up or down, with or without an Elvis impersonator, Denny’s apparently felt there was an opportunity to get into the wedding business.

Yes, that Denny’s, the breakfast place, open 24 hours, serving pancakes, eggs, and bacon all day long.

The restaurant chain recently announced it’s building a new Denny’s in the heart of Neonopolis, the indoor mall on Fremont Street downtown to open at the end of the year.  It already has two venues on the Strip.  This one will be different.

The 6,400 square foot facility will be decorated to the hilt with over-the-top Vegas memorabilia. A wedding chapel will be located in the middle of the dining area.

Before (and after) the ceremony the couple, and everyone who happens to be having a happy meal or  late night snack, can imbibe at the full service bar.  To spread the news, the newlyweds can have pictures taken in an interactive photo booth and share them on social media sites.

Grand Slam, anyone?

© 2012 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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Going to the Chapel of the Stars

A popular GI slogan during World War II was “I want a girl just like a girl that married Harry James.”

Here’s looking at you!

That girl was Betty Grable.  Everyone was crazy for her.  Ten million copies of her dressed in a one-piece, backless swimsuit, smiling coyly over her shoulder, were distributed, and the poster was plastered on billboards and barrack walls everywhere.

When the couple met, she was the number one actress at the box office. He was the leader of the country’s hottest band and universally regarded as the greatest trumpet player in the world.  After extricating herself from her relationship with actor George Raft (a public  fist fight he lost to James took care of that) and he got a quickie Mexican divorce from his first wife, they made plans to marry quietly at the Little Church of the West on the grounds of the Frontier Hotel, giving rise to the myth that they were the first celebrity couple to wed there.

But it wasn’t so.

The ardent fans and eager photographers who crowded the grounds so put off the soon-to-be newlyweds that they retreated to their hotel.  A Baptist minister performed the ceremony in their room in the early hours of July 5, 1943.  Despite James’ penchant for drinking, gambling, and philandering, they were married for twenty-two years.

Still, the Little Church of the West does have a roster of famous names who crossed its threshold to marital bliss, if only for a short period of time, giving it the nickname “Chapel of the Stars.”  Here are some of them.

Zsa Zsa Gabor married British actor George Sanders in 1949.  While he was purportedly the love of her life, they divorced in 1954.  By the way, Gabor also married her sixth and seventh husbands in Las Vegas.  As we all know, those marriages didn’t work out either.

Back at you!

Judy Garland took Mark Herron to be her fourth, but not her last, husband in an impromptu, middle of the night ceremony in 1965.  He left her several months later when he learned that he was responsible for half of her debts.

For one of Hollywood’s most glamorous couples, Richard Gere and Cindy Crawford showed up casually dressed in 1991.  Their marriage ended in 1995 due to personality differences.  He was a Buddhist, and she wasn’t.

And there’s Angelina Jolie and Billie Bob Thornton who wed in 2000.  They took up wearing vials of each other’s blood around their necks, purchased joint grave plots, and shared a love of tattoos.  Just over two years after they had gotten together, Billy Bob took off on tour to promote his rock album and Angelina stayed home with baby.

For a Vegas wedding among the stars that didn’t come off exactly as planned, Betty and Harry didn’t do so badly after all.

© 2012 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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To hear Harry James play “The Flight of the Bumblebee,” click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxS7llr8x_4

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70 Years Ago in Las Vegas: Little Church of the West

Roy Rogers would still feel comfortable at the Little Church of the West seventy years after he ushered at the first wedding held there.  Although the buckskins draping the windows have been replaced with lace and brocade curtains, the small chapel still exudes a rustic charm reminiscent of pioneer days on the range.

The historic building was originally part of the Western theme park at the Last Frontier Hotel.  It is an exact, half-size replica of a church built in a California mining town in 1849, right down to its shingled roof, redwood interior walls, and nineteenth century hanging lamps long since converted from gas to electricity.  To the right of the entrance there is an antique Davenport desk circa 1860 atop of which a desk lamp with a green glass shade emits an antique, golden glow.  Across the aisle, as modern needs dictate, there is video recording equipment.  The hardwood benches look just as uncomfortable as they have always been, but Las Vegas wedding ceremonies rarely last long enough for that to make a difference.

As Las Vegas casinos and hotels have gotten bigger and condominiums have taken over any empty space, the Little Church of the West has been forced to move three times. Today it is located past Mandalay Bay, so far south it is almost off the Strip.  Yet this location affords it an attractive setting surrounded by green grass and trees, enough land for an outdoor gazebo, and plenty of guest parking.  Presumably, the traffic on Las Vegas Boulevard fifty feet away can’t be heard when the chapel doors are closed.

It wasn’t the first place to welcome out of town guests looking for a place to tie the knot.  That honor goes to The Wedding Chapel at 513 South Fifth Avenue, before Las Vegas Boulevard was so named, in 1933.  It was the residence of the Reverend J.D. Foster, the man behind the idea.  Offering convenience, Foster promised in an interview, “We [will] never close.”

Today, contrary to popular belief, most chapels are not open 24 hours a day seven days a week. Even on weekends, most of the freestanding ones lock their doors at midnight, if not earlier.  The Little Church of the West is no exception.  Business just isn’t what it used to be.   But the chapel accepts reservations for every half hour from 8 AM to 11:30 PM.   Don’t be late, or you’ll miss the 20-minute ceremony.

To put you in the mood – for fooling around or getting serious – listen to Mark Nevin sing “This Little Church,” on his music video, a collage of wedding scenes, movie clips, and singing nuns.  It’s corny, but classic Vegas: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2IXpeupIbc

© 2012 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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“I do. I do. I do.”

Marry me. Photo by: Thomas Hawk

Was 11-11-11 your lucky day?  Thousands of couples thought it would be as they flocked to Las Vegas to tie the knot.

The Clark County clerk’s office, where those with marriage on their mind have to go to get the requisite license, was swamped on Thursday in preparation for the big day and through the long weekend.

Wedding chapels added ministers, limousine drivers, greeters, photographers, videographers, and florists to accommodate the lovebirds and their friends and families.

Elvis impersonators had been booked for months, but some non-conformists preferred the company of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe or the Blue Brothers.

Kitschy, depressing, funky or fun.  Whatever your impression of Vegas weddings, there are as many reasons to get married in Sin City as there are chapels up and down the Strip, although there aren’t as many chapels as there used to be.

Vegas is inexpensive and hassle-free, especially if you go to a drive-up window.  It’s convenient to combine the wedding with the honeymoon or to party all weekend to celebrate the event.  And Las Vegas is the most romantic city in the world, or the perfect facsimile of the most romantic city in the world, regardless of what your mother thinks.

As the quotes below demonstrate, perceptions have varied for a quite a while.

JJ: Marry you? What’s the joke, Zeke?

Zeke: No joke, man. I’m talking about the real deal, complete with the wedding of your dreams! Imagine us getting hitched in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower! Huh? Huh?

JJ: The Eif…? We’re going to Paris?

Zeke: Uh… No, Vegas. Get real.

–       Garry Trudeau, Doonesbury, 2000

Faster than a Vegas wedding.

–       Ad for Canon cameras, 2004

“It’s going to be simply beautiful. Stars will twinkle. Birds will float on ribbons, and there will be signs everywhere saying: I love you, I want you, I need you – I can’t live without you.”

–       Charlotte Richards, owner of the Little White Wedding Chapel, 1998

Do you both promise and agree… to adopt each other’s hound dogs? To always be each other’s teddy bear? To never wear your blue suede shoes out in the rain?

–       Wedding vows in an Elvis Special at the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel

“Getting married in Vegas used to be a tawdry thing to do. But now people look at a wedding day as fun.”

–       Barbara Tober, editor-in-chief of Bride’s magazine, 1994

“I was in Vegas and, I just, I don’t know… things got out of hand.”

–       Britney Spears, 2004

“We could have had a videotape [of the ceremony], but we declined.”

–       Cindy Crawford on her 1991 Las Vegas wedding to Richard Gere

“Granted that marriage is the most pitiful institution, right now it’s the only game in town, and we’re going to play it.”

–       Warren Beatty to Elizabeth Taylor, in The Only Game in Town, 1970

“Stuart, you know, maybe this isn’t such a hot idea after all. I mean, it didn’t sound so bad in a Beverly Hills restaurant with a half bottle of champagne in me. But…. Here. Look at this place. It’s not exactly the Bel Air Hotel.”

–       Jill Eikenberry to Michael Tucker, in LA Law, 1987

A cool wedding in our completely remodeled and refrigerated air-conditioned chapel. Same price, $10.00 – Same place, 226 South 5th.

–       Advertisement for the Hitching Post Chapel in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, 1954

© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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Celine Dion: She’s Back!

Some people really know how to throw a party.

"I heard Celine is back." Photo by: Adam Jones, Ph.D.

International pop diva Celine Dion, and her longtime manager, René Angélil, married in 1994 in front of five hundred guests at Montreal’s Notre Dame Basilica. At the $500,000 reception at the Hotel Westin, artificial snowflakes drifted to the floor, reminding everyone it was a cold December day.  However, a twenty-one piece orchestra kept everyone movin’ and groovin’.

In 2000 the couple renewed their vows after five years of marriage in a quiet, private ceremony at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.  They were celebrating love and life. Angélil had just recuperated from cancer.  Afterwards they threw a $2 million extravaganza for two hundred friends and family members.

The Moroccan-theme event was part Marrakech street scene and part desert nightlife. The walls of the hotel ballroom housing the event were draped in jewel-toned fabrics, fostering the fantasy of being inside the tent of an Arabian prince. For the five-course meal guests sat on cushy pillows at lowered tables and ate off  China flown in from Morocco.  For entertainment belly dancers danced, snake charmers charmed, and magicians made magic while a camel caravan paraded around the perimeter of the room.

Even for a Las Vegas wedding or renewal of vows ceremony it was over the top.

Three years later Celine returned to Vegas to put on a show.  Collaborating with Franco Dragone, the original director behind the success of Cirque du Soleil, “A New Day” featured world renown choreography for forty-eight dancers, acrobatic interludes, theatrical lighting, dramatic staging, state-of-the-art technology, and Dion singing her heart out at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace on a stage built just for her.  Between 2003 and 2007 she performed more than seven hundred shows for over three million fans.

"Where do we get tickets?" Photo by: jasejc

And now Celine is back, and everyone’s invited.

Critics can’t stop raving. “A magnificent masterpiece,” wrote the Las Vegas Sun.  ”It’s the show of shows,” stated the Las Vegas Review-Journal.  “Dion isn’t here to perform.  She’s here to kill it,” declared USA Today.

Celine sings her biggest hits and covers timeless classics backed up by a full orchestra and band.  An opulent, twinkling chandelier appears against a backdrop of blossoming flowers when she sings, “You are the Reason.”

A circular waterfall surrounds her when performing “My Heart Will Go On.”  It’s romantic.  It’s classy.  From start to finish, it astonishes and delights.

Opening night on March 15, 2011 sold out within minutes, and the crowds have been filling the 4,000 seats at Caesars’ ever since.  She is under contract to perform seventy shows per year for three years.

Celine is going to break records.  There’s no doubt about it.  Elvis Presley, watch your back!  You, too, Frank.

© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

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Ellen, I know what we can do.  We can get remarried.  Right now.  There’s a honeymoon slots tournament over at the Golden Nugget.  And guess what?  Newlyweds get in for free.

— Chevy Chase, in Vegas Vacation, 1997

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Announcing: Donny and Marie in Las Vegas (through October 2012)

Marie Osmond at the Flamingo. Photo by: Susan Marg

Often referred to as “Sin City,” Las Vegas’s claim to the title of “Marriage Capital of the World” has merit, as well.  Over 110,000 marriages take place there each year, plus another 40,000 to 50,000 renewals, commitment ceremonies, and other professions of “till death do us part.”

Everyone has an opinion about such goings on.  It is either oily Elvis impersonators and kitschy decorations or glamour and glitter under the neon lights. There’s no in between, let alone happily ever after.

Marie Osmond’s wedding this past May was an exception to popular attitudes. Then again, she and her husband live in Las Vegas.

Divorced over four years ago from her second husband of twenty years, she remarried her first husband, Stephen Craig, at the Las Vegas Mormon Temple in keeping with their faith.  It was a private, family affair, kept secret from even those closest to her until three days before the event to keep the paparazzi away.  The reception was held at their home.

Afterwards, the bride and groom were pleased to pose for pictures.  She wore the original gown by costumer designer Ret Turner from her first wedding almost thirty years earlier.  Being a Nutrisystem spokesperson really paid off.  “I can’t breathe, but I’m in it,” she declared.  Craig, a former basketball player who filled out over time, went with a black rather than white tuxedo.  They both looked happy.

Marie was back at work less than a week later.  She’s been appearing with her brother Donny at the 750-seat Flamingo Showroom five days a week for thirty-six weeks a year since September 2008.

The siblings put on a variety show.  Does that sound familiar? It’s a high-energy 90-minute multi-media extravaganza that showcases their talents and charm.  She sings a little bit country; he sings some rock ‘n roll. Together they joke around and have fun.  The crowd of all ages loves it.

Now, that sounds like Vegas, the Entertainment Capital of the World.


© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved