1969 was an incredibly momentous year. In the words of author of the new book ELVIS IN VEGAS, Richard Zoglin:
"The summer of 1969 was an eventful, often traumatic one for a nation coming to the end of a turbulent decade. In July 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. In the early morning hours of August 9, actress Sharon Tate and four others were murdered in her rented Los Angeles home by members of the Charles Manson family. A week later, thousands of rock fans gathered on a muddy farm in upstate New York for the Woodstock music festival. A new president, Richard Nixon, was in office, promising to bring US troops home from Vietnam, even as protests against the war were mounting and divisions in the country worsening. And Las Vegas was trying to adapt to the social, cultural, and musical changes that were sweeping the country -- changes that were making Vegas entertainment look increasingly dated and out of step."
And it was against this landscape that Elvis, "the King" himself, remade the Las Vegas show with a momentous concert series.
It was the first of its kind "Vegas Residency" at the International Hotel, that changed the landscape of entertainment forever.
Author Richard Zoglin uses in-depth first person research and interviews, historical sources of the day, and original analyses and journalism to set the stage of Las Vegas and the journey of Elvis' career. He begins with the origins of Las Vegas itself - its incorporation in 1905, and then in March 1931, the bill signed that made Nevada the first state in the U.S. to allow legalized gambling, shortly followed by the Hoover Dam, all were pivotal steps leading to the thriving casino scene.
The first of its kind "first-class resort hotel" in Las Vegas was built by Thomas Hull on US Route 91 leading to Las Vegas, the El Rancho Vegas, promising "not only luxury accommodations, but also top entertainment. Its grand opening, on April 3, 1941, featured former vaudeville star Frank Fay and Garwood Van's orchestra."
While the El Rancho's top-tier status didn't last long, it inspired competition and other hotels being built: despite World War II pausing hotel construction, Las Vegas continued to grow. "By the end of the war, Las Vegas was ready for its next big leap forward. And a new group of investors were there to cash in: the mob."
The first of the famous hotels that may or may not have had mob connections? The big reveal on December 26, 1946 of The Flamingo.
The hotel was opulent, but needed to do even more to make a splash. In the words of Richard Zoglin, "Determined to make the Flamingo the prime Vegas destination for big spenders from Los Angeles, Siegel brought in a first-class array of talent for opening night: Jimmy Durante, the big-schnozzed veteran of Broadway, movies and nightclubs, along with emcee George Jessel, singer Rose Marie, and Xavier Cugat's orchestra."
This was to mark an ever-increasing Las Vegas desire to bring onboard the most impressive and top acts. As the famous Las Vegas strip began to take form with the addition of buildings like Wilbur Clark's Desert Inn, the market for entertainment began to continue to grow. In 1952, the Sands was opened, with the notable addition of "one of the nation's top nightclub men, Jack Entratter."
Wrote one journalist of the day: "Jack Entratter is responsible for the transformation of Las Vegas from a little desert village to a town boiling over with glamour."
Richard outlines the brilliant strategy that built Las Vegas: "the hotels needed big stars to attract visitors to their money-making casinos. And they could pay those stars top salaries by using the profits from the moneymaking casinos. By the mid-fifties Vegas hotels were routinely shelling out $25,000 a week for the biggest stars - and charging patrons next to nothing to see them."
There were even some unexpected acts from time to time, like future president Ronald Regan, who in 1954 "debuted his own nightclub show at the Last Frontier hotel."
By the mid-1950s, Las Vegas was a "perfect symbol of postwar optimism, prosperity, and progress." It was the ideal backdrop to create the iconic Las Vegas lounge show.
The Mary Kaye Trio were the first lounge act to really explore the format, "a close harmony group with a bright, upbeat, earl-fifties pop sound...but what made the act click was the third member of the trio - Frank Ross, who played the accordion, harmonized in the vocals, and added freewheeling comedy." This format would pave the way for other entertainers to explore the lounge style.