Vegas Used to Be Fancy?

Wow, people used to actually get dressed up to visit the casinos in Las Vegas! This scene from the mid-’50’s may have been staged, but there were a lot more people going to a nice dinner and show back then.

Of course, the dinner show to see Rose Marie, or Jimmy Durante, or Joe Brown, was an under-$10 affair. If you slipped the maître d‘ a couple bucks you got a nice seat. $5 put you up front where the singer or comic might just talk directly to you!

When the Rat Pack was making headlines in the 50’s and early 60’s, you could count on seeing Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin for a reasonable price, and they often hung around with other stars after the show to have a cigarette and a couple shots. Of course, that’s when it was Vegas and the Mob!

When the Moulin Rouge casino opened in 1955 with stars like Count Basie, Pearl Bailey, Harry Belafonte and Louis Armstrong performing, their small showroom filled-up for the end of the second show with other stars like Marlene Dietrick, George Burns, Judy Garland, and Jack Benny, who were playing at other clubs in town. Nobody wanted to miss out on the Class A entertainment and the casino management went so far as to add a third show at 2:30 am, because as Chickie Berman used to say, “Nobody important gets up before noon anyway.”

Life Magazine put the new club on its cover and touted the Moulin Rouge as the first racially integrated casino in Las Vegas, but the casino’s success was also its undoing. Profits were being siphoned from the count room, bills went unpaid, and casinos on the Strip like the Sands pushed their weekly entertainment budget to astronomical levels, paying some stars more than $100,000 a week.

The Sands also slowly began allowing African American entertainers to enter using the front door of the property, and to even stay in some of the hotel bungalows. The change was quick and dramatic, and the Moulin Rouge closed just five months after it opened, but its impact was significant and within a few years all of the casinos in Las Vegas were fully integrated.

Today, you don’t have to put on a coat and tie to enjoy the top stars playing at the Mirage, MGM, or the Luxor, but you can expect to pay $100 to see a big-name on the stage. That price doesn’t get you dinner anymore, but there are a lot more choices in town than there were 50 years ago. Enjoy!

Thanks for reading – Al W Moe

 

 

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