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    • 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.

    • It wasn't just variety bands, lounge acts, singers and comedians: the next innovation in Vegas was bringing in the French music-hall review.

      The first of these was 1958's Stardust hotel Lido de Paris review, which opened on July 1, 1958.

      The show opened in unprecedented fasihon: "For the opening number, a curtain of showgirls lined the revolving stage, while others descended from the ceiling and dove into an eleven-by-thirty-food swimming pool. One eye-popping number was set in ancient Rome, with a giant mirror reflecting the aquatic maneuvers for the audience." The nudity that was a part of the show drew a lot of attention as well, and inspired the similar genre-defying Folies Bergere to come to Vegas to the Tropicana in 1959.

      However, the show-stopping spectacles didn't stop the ascendance of the celebrity star show for the Las Vegas stage. Acts like Prima and Smith...

      or Liberace...

      Really honed the iconic sounds and sights that people loved about Vegas. And it was in April 1956 that there was a chance meeting between Liberace and Elvis Presley at the New Frontier Hotel.

      Fascinatingly, Liberace and Elvis became good friends and stayed in touch over time: "Elvis never forgot that Liberace was very supportive when he first got to Las Vegas," said Jerry Schilling, a friend from Memphis who worked for Elvis off and on through the 1960s and '70s." They also shared a more private and tragic unique connection: both were twins who lost their twin brother at birth.

      Elvis was fascinated by the energy of Vegas. Even though he had to stop visiting Vegas in March 1958 due to being drafted into the army, it continued to be a force in his life. And as the 1960s began, Vegas began to experience a new kind of energy: that of the "city's most glamorous, star-packed decade." The Summit.

    • Frank Sinatra did his first Vegas show in September 1951 at the Desert Inn: he then debuted at the Sands in October 1953. Even though he'd started out in Vegas in a career slump, thanks to his performance in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, he won an Academy Award, and with the revitalization of the album "Songs for Young Lovers," the stronger sound of Sinatra became a bona fide Vegas draw.

      Sinatra loved hanging out in Las Vegas, not just performing there, and that group dynamic led to the forming of the (second) Rat Pack. The first "Rat Pack" was Humphrey Bogart's mid-1950's group - "a group that included Sinatra, Judy Garland, David Niven, the agent Swifty Lazar, and songwriter Jimmy Van Heusen. Lauren Bacall, Bogart's young wife, supposedly coined the term one night in Las Vegas, when she walked in on the group as they were sitting around a showroom table, looking the worse for an evening's wear."

      The second Rat Pack "bromance" is estimated by some to date to August 1958, when Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine got close filming SOME CAME RUNNING. They continued the friendship, filling in for each other's shows, and then the group expanded from there.

      The group grew with Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford, and "it was Lawford who was responsible for their defining group adventure" helping get OCEAN'S 11 greenlit.

      Filming began in Las Vegas in January 1960, and Richard describes how brilliant the marketing was going into the production: "Sinatra was booked for a four-week engagement at the Sands at the same time, and he suggested combining the two events - bringing some of his Ocean's 11 costars to join him onstage each night after the day's shooting was finished. Someone, most likely Al Freeman, came up with the idea of calling it the Summit, and the publicity drumbeat began."

      The star-studded audience for the show was another big draw: "Lucille Ball, Cyd Charisse, Dinah Shore, Sammy Cahn, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Peter Lorre, and world heavyweight champion Ingemar Johansson were among the many celebrities in the audience."

      The actual content of these shows themselves from the Summit don't sound like they've aged particularly well as per Richard's description, but the musical talent on display was strong. "They gave audiences an insider's peek at how Hollywood stars acted in real life, when they left their hair down." And it was a notable cultural moment in other ways as well. When John F. Kennedy stopped in Las Vegas during his 1960 Democratic presidential nomination tour, Sinatra introduced JFK from the stage as "the brightest man in the political world, in this country or any country in the world today."

    • Sinatra was a star attraction and a force of nature, both good and bad. He could be quick-tempered and violent, while Dean Martin was relaxed and laid-back. Sinatra was not excited about the rise of Rock n' Roll in the mid-1950s. So it made it particularly ironic when Sinatra paid $125,000 for Elvis to make a guest appearance on Frank's ABC special in March 1960, entitled "Frank Sinatra's Welcome Home Party for Elvis Presley."

      Yes, this was a thing.

      It was a huge success for both Sinatra and Presley: "the show drew a phenomenal 67% of the viewing audience, the highest rating ever for a Frank Sinatra show, and proof that Elvis's two-year absence had not dimmed his enormous drawing power." But Sinatra and Presley didn't stay in touch over the years.

      By 1964, the Rat Pack members drifted their own separate ways, with various personal successes and setbacks. In January 1966, Sinatra's album Sinatra at the Sands was seen as a hallmark high point musically, encompassing the full spectrum of his talent and the Las Vegas experience.

      The Vegas Lounge scene, in the meantime, nurtured an entire spectrum of new talents like Sonny King or Buddy Greco. There were known names that tackled difficulties onstage as well, like Judy Garland or Eddie Fisher. And for most of the 1960s, Elvis didn't even consider doing a live show in Vegas. Thanks to his manager, he was making a series of movie musicals, the best-remembered of which is 1963-1964's LEAVING LAS VEGAS. The book dishes on some juicy rumors about the filming.

      And then the Beatles happened. With a 1964 show that shook the Las Vegas scene.

      But Vegas shows continued onwards: stand-up comedians, singers, lavish production numbers. Comedians like Buddy Hackett, Don Rickles, and Shecky Greene built their own reputations, one audience show at a time.

      Vegas was also a paradise for the working musician, as increasingly work had dried up elsewhere: "by the late sixties Las Vegas had at least fourteen hundred working musicians. For seasoned players who were tired of the traveling grind, Vegas was a place to settle down,r aise a family, have a career."

      For women in Vegas, the jobs offered were typically showgirls or dancers ("ponies") that could keep up with complex choreographies. That's not to say that showgirls had it easy, necessarily: "The feathered headresses could be six feet high: strapped underneath the chin, they came close to strangling some girls."

      That being said, towards the end of the 1960s we return to Elvis's story and how his manager, Colonel Parker, set up a surprise top-secret wedding for Elvis with his longtime girlfriend Priscilla for May 1, 1967, at the Aladdin in Las Vegas.

      As the 1960s continued, Richard analyzes the change in hotel management: with Howard Hughes and Kirk Kerkorian starting to take over hotels and shows, new scrutiny was being brought to the often profligate Las Vegas scene. Cultural changes led to shows that tried to tap into the zeitgeist of the time. One successful attempt was Ann-Margret's show at the Riviera.

      However with all these social changes there came a desire for nostalgic entertainment: "the quintissential Vegas entertainer of the post-Rat-Pack years: a corny, crowd-pleasing avatar of an earlier show business era."

      Another new Vegas voice alongside Wayne Newton was that of Tom Jones (nee Thomas John Woodward, originally from South Wales). His dance moves and onstage presence proved to be a huge influence on Elvis's upcoming Las Vegas show.

      Elvis and Tom Jones met each other first in 1965 at the Paramount Lot, and then a few months later in Hawaii. They mutually admired each other's work.

      As everything was lining up for Elvis to go back on stage, this type of influence was essential. In the words of International Hotel Publicity Director Nick Naff: "Tom showed him [Elvis] you have to be sensual in a way that gets through to the overthirties. Tom gave Elvis the freeze poses at the end of songs, the trick of wiping the sweat with a cloth, and then throwing it out on the house."

      The first steps towards Elvis live in Vegas were taken with a Christmas special sponsored by a sewing machine company. Entitled "Singer Presents Elvis," the show aired on December 3, 1968 and was NBC's highest-rated show of the season.

      Meanwhile, Kirk Kerkorian was building the International Hotel in Las Vegas: "a massive, thirty-story tower with three wings, 1,512 rooms, and the largest casino in the world." To bring onboard a big draw, Bill Miller was the head of entertainment, and he had a good eye for spotting trends. "To open the International, he wanted a star who was big enough to fill the huge two-thousand-seat showroom and would set the hotel above and apart from its many Vegas competitors. His choice was Elvis Presley." And luckily, the timing was right to strike a deal - for $100,000 a week for a four-week engagement at the hotel, and only if someone else was the opener for the first few weeks while the hotel was getting its finishing touches.

      The Las Vegas opening date for Elvis was set to be July 31, 1969. He had to assemble a world-class backup band and his song lineup without a director or producer, performing live for an audience for the first time in eight years in the biggest space Vegas had seen yet. No pressure.

      Elvis had two backup singing groups, one all-female and one male: he hired the Sweet Inspirations for the female group, and the Imperials for the male group.

      Plus a full orchestra conducted by Bobby Morris. "Morris put together an exceptionally large group of more than forty musicians, including two dozen string players." Elvis' live show was going to be a really big deal.

      Rehearsals began on July 18 - two weeks before the show was set to open. And Colonel Parker put together a publicity blitz that broke records for Las Vegas and set a precedent for future shows. Think billboards EVERYWHERE. Park benches. Flyers.

      A great quote from Colonel Parker to Elvis? "If you don't do any business, don't blame me, because even the gophers in the desert know you're here."

      When the International finally opened on July 1, the opening headline was Barbra Streisand, whose first few shows fell flat with the audience. Richard describes it as "a bare-bones show more suited to New York cabarets than a big Vegas showroom: no opening act, little production, none of the usual gushy star patter."

      As Barbra's first four weeks wrapped, Elvis-mania at the International geared up. Finally, the big date of July 31st arrive, and the show began with The Sweet Inspirations doing 3-4 songs, then Sammy Shore (father of Pauly Shore - who knew?) doing a quick set, and then - finally - the King arrived onstage.

      The show was electric. The performance energized the crowd to such an extent that the celebrities, fans and critics alike in the audience couldn't stop talking about it. In the words of Rolling Stone's David Dalton, "Elvis was supernatural, his own resurrection, at the Showroom Internationale in Las Vegas last August."

      Unfortunately there are no film or video of the 1969 Las Vegas shows, but some audio is available. The show led to Elvis performing four weeks straight at two shows a night with no nights off, breaking records for attendance: 101,500 people, selling out the show, gross ticket sales of $1.5 million plus. It also created a hit single, Elvis's first number 1 hit in years, in "Suspicious Minds."

      Elvis did some tours after this inaugural show, but it also created a new way of thinking of a Vegas show: "no longer an intimate, sophisticated, Sinatra-style nightclub act, but a big rock-concert-like Spectacle."

      Elvis's second engagement at the International was on January 26, 1970, and it sold out faster than ever before, and then a third engagement followed, in August 1970. January 1971 added a new intro song, and the change to bold, rhinestone-studded jumpsuits became even more pronounced. The residency was twice a year, with a few weeks of nonstop shows each time.

      August 1971's residency started to show signs of trouble, but still, the show went on. "The fans loved him, no matter how he looked or what he did."

      1973's Aloha from Hawaii live music telecast was a highlight, but back in Las Vegas Elvis was under increasing health issues and substances. In 1975, shows had to be canceled due to his health problems, and his last live show in Vegas in December 1976 shows how unwell he was prior to his passing in August 1977.

      With 636 live shows in Vegas over 7 years, the King had passed on but his legend lived on. And as Vegas itself changed in the late 1980s - early 1990s to the resort-driven, big-show attraction it is today, you can still feel his influence.

      There would be no Celine Dion in Vegas, or other artist residencies there, without this lasting influence that showed that megastars could pack arenas with fans from around the globe there. The presence of Elvis is still found all over Las Vegas today, and the history of entertainment was indelibly shaped. I highly recommend this book: it feels like "reading" a documentary, and you learn so much along the way. Viva Las Vegas!