Monday, May 27, 2013


It always pays to check out the rather boring-looking cardboard boxes in the garage or in a closet, at an estate sale.  That's where I found all this great paper "ephemera" someone had brought home from many trips to Las Vegas during the mid-1950s to mid-1960s.

One could argue that this period of time was the city's heyday.  (It was the same era in which Siegfried first met Roy, but those two wouldn't play 'Vegas until 1967.)  What a lineup of stars there was at the Sands, for example -- Nat "King" Cole, Jerry Lewis, Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, Danny Thomas, Dean Martin, Red Skelton, Sammy Davis, Jr., Louis Armstrong and more.

The Las Vegas Sun newspaper archives record that, by 1955, nearly eight million people a year visited Las Vegas, including the people who saved all these paper items.  They got to see many of the greatest American entertainers of the mid-20th century. 

Showgirls made their Las Vegas debut in 1957, in a show called "Minsky's Follies" at the Desert Inn.  That same year, the Tropicana opened and its revue, the Folies Bergere, began an "extended engagement" that lasted nearly 50 years.  In the early 1960s, the music was provided by Ray Sinatra's orchestra (he was Frank's cousin and Mario Lanza's music director too, back in the day).

(Footnote:  Come to think of it, does the girl in the above photo look a bit like Natalie Wood?  This program is dated 1963; the movie Gypsy came out in 1962.  But I digress.)

There were Folies Bergere programs from several years in this estate sale collection.   Looking at the lineups, it appears that the names of the performers and the acts changed, but the "plot" (if there was one) didn't, really.   They remind me of the description of the Folies Bergere in Paris in Patrick Dennis' book Around the World with Auntie Mame:

"...There were the tableaux vivants involving water effects, fountain effects, fire effects, mirror effects, and, of course, girls.

"Girls were lowered from the roof and catapulted up from the cellar.  Girls were suspended precariously from wires or atop swaying columns....  Well, as I said, the Folies Bergere gave the customers an awful lot for their money."

In 1960, "Jim Crow" regulations for hotel guests were lifted in Las Vegas, although African-American performers had been working there for years. 


On the back of a Hotel Tropicana card, the previous owner of these items jotted down some notes about one of her trips to Las Vegas:

Friday PM 
Teresa Brewer
Sahara -- dinner -- American Girls
Thunderbird -- Kismet On Ice
Sing Poliachi  [I'm not sure what that means, but I think she heard someone sing "Vesti la giubba" from the opera 
I Pagliaci]

Sat. AM
Breakfast in bed, sat around pool
Had a health massage
Had martinis
Had hair combed

Desert Inn -- Louis Prima
Stardust -- Lido de Paris
New Frontier -- Oriental holiday smorgasbord at 4 a.m.

Sounds like a good time was had by all.

You can find a timeline of the history of Las Vegas (with a great focus, naturally, on entertainment) here: 

If you'd like to hear Ray Sinatra's orchestra, there are many free audio clips available online, including here:

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