I was Entertainment Director at the Thunderbird beginning in 1962, booking such stars as: Judy Garland, Jack Benny, Robert Goulet, Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows, and more.
Beginning in 1989, when the Mirage Hotel opened on the Las Vegas Strip, the title Entertainment Director took on a different meaning as new Entertainment Directors were appointed in the new hotel properties.
As far as I’m concerned, the great hotels that made up the backbone of this city were responsible for causing this city to become the Entertainment Capital of the world. No individual person, Entertainment Director or group of entertainment directors made this town; but rather the hotels themselves and their creative owners who financed everything that took place inside their hotel properties were the ones who caused this city to become what it is today.
The entertainment directors of the 1960s were talented fellows who had a list of production credits to their names that gave them the stature they deserved in that capacity. In addition to that, they also had experience in the entertainment industry that gave them the ability to know exactly what they were doing when they booked acts into the hotel showrooms and lounges — or, for that matter, when they themselves produced a show.
Back in the 1960s there were several unions that governed most of what happened in the showrooms of Las Vegas as far as the performers and musicians were concerned. There was the AGVA (American Guild of Variety Artists) and the Musicians Union that oversaw all that took place in the orchestra pits, or anywhere else any musician would perform. These unions set not only the standards by which their members operated; they also set the fee scales.
Producers found themselves in a position that led them to cooperate with the union scales in all respects. After all, back in the 1960s, most of the musicians and performers were members of either the AGVA or the AFM (American Federation of Musicians), or of AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists).
Of course all members of all unions (guilds or federations) paid dues to their respective organizations, keeping in tune with the good old American way of doing business. In other words, as they say; if you want to hear the music, you’ve got to pay the fiddler!
Back in those days, from time to time, there were strikes by one union or the other, holdouts to increase the pay scales or to change the rules and regulations regarding the time element related to rehearsals of a musical variety show or such.
The entertainment directors held meetings on a monthly basis to discuss the trials and tribulations of the union involvement. They would also discuss entertainment in the city. I can attest to the fact that for the most part, they worked together in harmony trying to achieve the same goal… to turn Las Vegas into a respected destination for tourists all over the world.
Most hotels used the same tricks of the trade in their advertising and publicity.
The shows were essentially the drawing power for the casinos… Bigger more famous stars meant bigger casino drops (winnings in the casino).
Topless showgirls, glitz and glamour was the order of the day with feathers and rhinestones glittering up the stages where musical variety shows took the place of Star policy presentations. The competition therein was fantastic, and the bottom line was… it was great for business.
Big Las Vegas Orchestras were also the order of the day in almost every hotel. Nat Brandywine had the orchestra at Caesars Palace, and on their day off, the relief orchestra of Cee Davidson took their place.
Up and down the Las Vegas Strip show business was alive and kicking in both the showrooms and in the lounges that presented famous musical show groups such as Louie Prima and Keely Smith, The Treniers, The Back Porch Majority, and individual artists including famous comedians.
In the early 1960s, the first afternoon show to ever take place on the Las Vegas Strip was presented in the Thunderbird Hotel’s lounge.
The show was called; Speaking of Girls, and was the forerunner of countless afternoon shows that soon followed.
Over the years the face of the Las Vegas Strip has continually changed, and so has the skyline as many of the famous hotels that were the backbone of Las Vegas were imploded, making way for newer and more modern properties.
Those of us who have lived and worked in Las Vegas since the 1950s are known today as the old-timers. Sadly for most of us old-timers, we saw the demise of such great hotel properties as The Dunes, The Sands, The Desert Inn, The Stardust, The Frontier, The Hacienda, The Thunderbird, The Silver Slipper, The Castaways and the list goes on and on.
Along with the implosions of the great hotels that were responsible for making this city known as the Entertainment Capital of the World, the Gaming Capital, The Marriage Capital, the Divorce Capital, the Number One Tourist Destination in the World, the Number One Convention Destination, and more, came the demise of the Musicians Union, the American Guild of Variety Artists, and then it was goodbye to live music, goodbye to lounge shows, goodbye to dinner shows, and goodbye to the Star Policy in most hotels.
The goodbyes didn’t end there. Just like the names of the hotels that are no longer here, hotels I refer to as “Ghosts of the Desert,” the city also said its goodbyes to the talented entertainment directors whose place has been taken by hotel executives who are moved up from working in other job descriptions inside the new hotels.
The so-called entertainment directors of today for the most part have virtually no production experience, yet they work in the entertainment department as entertainment directors nonetheless. Fortunately, these new types of entertainment directors cannot make a decision on their own. Today, most things in most hotels are decided by a committee, unless of course, an owner like Steve Wynn comes along. The fact of the matter is, Steve Wynn has the talent to find and present
world-class entertainment without the need of assigning any entertainment director.
Today Las Vegas hotels do not rely on their showrooms or show presentations to bring customers into their properties. Today, the additions of nightclubs, along with the addition of shopping malls, attract tourists; and most important of all, it attracts purveyors of all kinds to their properties. Those are the main attractions today!
In reality, nightclubs have, for the most part, taken the place of the Las Vegas lounges of the past. Today hotel nightclubs account for a major part of the hotel’s profits.
As indicated above, together with the nightclubs, the shops and stores and restaurants that pay rent, and in some cases pay a piece of the action too, are the things that in reality, have taken the place of what the hotels used to rely on as far as earning profits were concerned.
Las Vegas casino action is no longer the mainstay for any Las Vegas hotel.
Certainly gaming revenues account for a percentage of the hotels’ profits; but today, unlike days gone by, the casinos are not the attraction they used to be.