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


60 Years Ago in Pop Culture: A Pie in the Face

In 1951 on a local Cleveland television show, Soupy Sales took his first pie in the face.

"I'm ready." Photo by: John McNab


It is generally recognized that this occurred on Soupy’s On, his late night variety series, although some news articles indicate it happened during a children’s show he hosted.  Regardless, kids and adults loved Soupy Sales.

“I’ll probably be remembered for the pies, and that’s all right,” Soupy once acknowledged.  They were certainly his trademark.  He claimed that he and his guests launched more than 20,000 pies at each other during his career.


In the following decades it was a mark of distinction to be so disrespected.  Frank Sinatra was first in line.   “I want to come on your show on one condition,” the singer told him, “I get hit with a pie.”  Such popular entertainers as Tony Curtis, Jerry Lewis, and Shirley MacLaine followed.

Of course, Soupy did it better than anyone, whether he was throwing straight to the face, on top of the head, or a pie to each ear.  When he was on the receiving end, his eyes got round, his mouth opened, and he never ever flinched.


His career almost ended in 1964 when he closed his show telling his young viewers to “take some of those green pieces of paper with pictures of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Lincoln and Jefferson on them” from their parents’ wallets and send them to him.  He was ad-libbing.  It was a joke.  And he returned the money.  But Mom and Dad didn’t think it was very funny, and the station suspended him for a week.

Soupy was hip.  He was cool.  He was never out of the public eye.  In the 1970s Saturday Night Live paid homage to the man by beseeching its audience to mail them their joints.

Until 1975, he was a panelist on the syndicated revival of What’s My Line?  In later years he appeared regularly on other game shows, including To Tell the Truth, Match Game, and Hollywood Squares, and the musical variety program Sha Na Na.


In the mid 80s he hosted a radio show on WNBC (AM) filling in the hours between shock jocks Don Imus in the Morning and Howard Stern during afternoon drive time with comedy, games, and talk.  Stern, by the way, was a big fan when he was growing up, although they had an acrimonious working relationship.

This Thanksgiving as we eat dessert, whether it is apple with run and raisins, chocolate cream, or pumpkin pie, let’s remember the late, great comedian who turned pie-throwing into an art form and made us laugh.  And be thankful it isn’t made of shaving cream.


© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved